Hybrid Wars 8. In The Horn of Africa (IIB)

The content below is a piece of the analysis on Ethiopia. For full anaysis click kichuu.com.

Listen also to the author’s August 2016 prediction why Trump should win the election

By Andrew Korybko (USA)

thumbThe first part of the research on the Horn of Africa described the regional state-to-state political dynamics, and now it’s time to delve into each country more in depth in order to acquire a heightened sense of their strategic positions. This will enable the final section about the Hybrid War vulnerabilities in the region to be more understandable to the reader, since a few of the scenarios admittedly require some detailed background information in order to properly comprehend the manner in which the US intends to effectively apply them.



The second most populous state in Africa is unquestionably one of its emerging leaders and a pole of attraction for Great Power competition and investment. Right now, China is Ethiopia’s unrivaled partner and is assisting its rise to regional leadership in all capacities. The Chinese-financed Ethiopian-Djibouti railroad and LAPSSET network to the Kenyan port of Lamu are instrumental in decisively surmounting the country’s landlocked geographic constraint and directly engaging with the outside world. Altogether, these two megaprojects will catapult Ethiopia’s standing from a regional force into a globally recognized power in its respective corner of the world, and their completion will create a magnet of incentives for foreign investors to compatibly boost its rapid development. Addis Ababa follows Beijing’s lead to such a tee that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is closely modeled off of the centralized administrative-political structure of the Chinese Communist Party. With China assured of its predominant position as Ethiopia’s prized partner of choice, it can thus work on maximizing the win-win benefit that it hopes to acquire from this relationship and help develop the country into one of the most dynamic economic nodes along the One Belt One Road global network.

The Horn of Africa (IIB) - Ethiopia
Pairing nicely with Ethiopia’s envisioned economic leadership role in the coming future, the country has also demonstrated a proclivity in expressing diplomatic, resource, and military leadership as well. For example, Ethiopian diplomacy is very actively involved in bringing a settlement to the South Sudanese Civil War, and Addis Ababa’s plans in constructing Africa’s largest hydroelectric project, the Grand Renaissance Dam, will give it total control over most of the Nile’s headwaters and thereby enable it to exert strategic influence on Sudan and Egypt (much to their grumbling consternation and objections). Finally, Ethiopia’s 2006 anti-terrorist intervention in Somalia, while no doubt controversial and polarizing to some, showed that the country is willing to flex its military muscle when it feels it appropriate to do so. All of these leadership-evoking roles, whether assessed by various observers as being positive or negative in accordance with their personal viewpoints, objectively leave no doubt that Addis Ababa sees itself as one of Africa’s rising powers and a continental force to be reckoned with in the larger Horn of Africa-East Africa super region. In view of this, the factors affecting Ethiopia’s strategic stability can be seen as crucially important for all of its direct and immediately indirect neighbors.

In order to add some additional context to Ethiopia’s examined position, it’s highly recommended that the reader reference the author’s aforementioned Katehon and Sakerworks about the GCC’s anti-Yemen cooperation with Eritrea. The author expanded on some of Ethiopia’s strategic qualities within those articles and they could be useful in helping the reader acquire a more comprehensive assessment of the domestic situation there. Additionally, because the scenario of a renewed Ethiopian-Eritrean war was already discussed earlier, it won’t be reiterated in this section.

When Is A Federation Not A Federation?:

There’s no issue more important to Ethiopia’s domestic stability than the highly partisan one of its existing state of federalization. The so-called “opposition” (both unarmed and armed) state that the country’s form of government is insufficient in granting what they believe to be “equitable representation” to the country’s myriad ethno-regional groups. Even though Ethiopia is already internal delineated according to 10 identity-based regions and the separately administered capital city, they believe that this is nothing but a ‘farcical ploy’ in showcasing a pretense to ‘democracy’. What they’re actually advocating is the pressured transformation of Ethiopia’s centralized federation (a political oxymoron of sorts) into a loose and disjointed Identity Federation that would function as a collection of quasi-independent statelets and undermine all of the leadership advances that Ethiopia has undertaken in over the two past decades. To be sure, there’s definitely a monetary incentive that the envisioned ethno-regional fiefdoms’ leaders and aspiring elite have in seeing this occur, since they’d be able to more closely concentrate their respective entity’s natural resource and human capital profits into their own hands as opposed to having to share it under the present arrangement with the rest of the country in accordance to Addis Ababa’s centralized guidance.

This draws into question what the exact nature of Ethiopia’s present federalized arrangement actually is if it’s not autonomous enough to the pro-Western Identity Federalists’ liking. Interestingly, broad structural parallels can be made to the effectiveness of Ethiopia’s model of federalism and that of the US, since both are in essence federalized models that satisfy certain symbolic criteria for their respective constituencies but inarguably retain very powerful centralized cores that have the overriding and final say on the most important elements of coordinated domestic affairs. That is to say, Ethiopia and the US are “federations” in the technical textbook definition sense of the word, but they don’t function in the manner that many people have rightly or wrongfully come to stereotypically expect from such a system. This is the bone of the externally provoked domestic contention that occasionally flares up in Ethiopia, since the existing federal system itself efficiently works to its full potential but does not legislatively manage itself in the manner that some of its citizens have falsely been misled by the US and others into believing is the “proper” way that a federation should run.

Internal Anti-Systemic Threats:

The EPRDF’s centralized federal system that’s actively practiced in Ethiopia is under threat by two complementary Hybrid War forces that regularly conspire against it and which can by theoretical definition be divided into their constituent Color Revolution and Unconventional Warfare components, however, the country’s circumstances are such that there is more often than not a strategic-tactical blurring between these two parts. For example, the Ginbot 7 “opposition group” is regularly presented to Western audiences in a favorable light but is in reality a self-described “armed” organization, or in other words, a domestic regime change terrorist network that is also suspected of having ties with Eritrea. What would otherwise be a purely Color Revolution vanguard group had it not self-described itself as “armed” and admitted to taking up weapons to violently overthrow the government is in reality a doubly dangerous organization, in that it functions as a ‘publicly presentable’ international face for the anti-government ‘protest’ movement but also simultaneously carries out very clear Unconventional Warfare goals. Being the closest that Ethiopia has ever come to having a leading Color Revolution organization yet not tactically ‘pure’ enough to fully be described as one owing to its stated terrorist agenda, it can be generalized that the regime change conspirators have conclusively decided that all anti-government groups must have some sort of Unconventional Warfare attributes in order to immediately transition into Hybrid War battle mode at a split second’s notice.

What makes Ginbot 7 unique though is that it is technically not tied to a given ethno-regional identity and claims to be broadly inclusive of all potential members that it can cull from the domestic Ethiopian pool. This stands in contrast to the more traditional Hybrid War organizations such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) which are generally tied to a given demographic, the Oromos and Somalis respectively. Concerning the first ethnic group, the rioting protests that some of its members initiated at the end of the year and which the author analyzed at the time have been accused of being linked to the OLF and Eritrea, which if true would be a reverse tactical application in which a generally Unconventional Warfare group engages in Color Revolution techniques and not the other way around like with Ginbot 7. It’s worthy at this moment to mention that the Oromo are the largest ethno-regional plurality in Ethiopia and that some of its members aspire to use this demographic fact to attain internal hegemony over the rest of the country, so the related doctrines of Oromo separatism and Identity Federalism are appealing to a certain segment of this group for these very reasons. However, no single terrorist group is strong enough to defeat the EPRDF and the Ethiopian military on their own which is why some of them have united into a semi-organized front, such as last May when the Tigrayan People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM), Benishangul Peoples Liberation Movement (BPLM), Amhara Democratic Force Movement (ADFM), and Ginbot 7 came together under an unnamed umbrella.

Assessing the state of Ethiopia’s strategic stability, the authorities must properly confront Hybrid War terrorist groups that masquerade in front of the global cameras as “pro-democracy” and “pro-federalization” ethno-regional-based civilians, but which can quickly reveal their true colors as lethal Unconventional Warfare foes capable of inflicting inordinate damage to the state system. Although the US has publicly distanced itself last year from such terrorists as Ginbot 7, OLF, and ONLF by stating that it does not support the use of armed force (especially by these particular groups) to overthrow governments, its hypocritical actions in Syria and elsewhere prove that this was nothing more than a public relations gimmick and likely presages that Washington is in fact actively cooperating with these terrorists but has wanted to present a semblance of ‘plausible deniability’ in order to proactively cover its tracks. The Hybrid War threat posed by these organizations is a difficult one to respond to, but Ethiopia has no choice but to rise to the existential challenge and face this major problem, as it’s predicted that this danger will probably become even more acute in the coming years as China solidifies its One Belt One Road influence in the country and Ethiopia naturally becomes recognized as one of the continent’s up-and-coming regional leaders.

Foreign-Originating Unconventional Threats:

Ethiopia is obviously under threat from Eritrea’s myriad intrigues that are aimed at undermining its leadership, but having already covered that in the previous section, it’s necessary to speak more about the other dangers that it’s facing. There are generally only two others that are significant enough to talk about, one of which has already been explored pretty comprehensively thus far. Al Shabaab is obviously a major threat to Ethiopia’s stability, although Addis Ababa can be applauded for keeping the organization outside of the country and largely contained to Somalia. It can be assumed that there are some terrorist cells residing in the Somali Region (formerly called Ogaden) and possibly even some attempted attacks that have been thwarted at the last minute over the past couple of years, but by and large, there doesn’t seem to be a considerable Al Shabaab presence in the country in spite of the presumably porous borders that Ethiopia shares with Somalia. The Daesh effect in using social media and other information-communication technology tools to propagate the terrorists’ message is mostly inept in this part of the world because less people are plugged into these platforms than they are elsewhere across the globe, which thus mitigates the potential for this occurring but of course doesn’t preclude it from eventually becoming a sizeable threat sometime further down the line.

There’s no ‘rule’ saying that Al Shabaab has to concentrate on recruiting the Somali community in Ethiopia or targeting areas within its namesake region, although these will predictably remain its areas of focus. That said, it’s very possible that the terrorists could be planning and eventually end up carrying out a large-scale attack across Addis Ababa or other larger cities within the country, and it can’t be excluded that they could team up with some of the many ethno-regional Hybrid War groups throughout Ethiopia in maximizing their collective chaos potential. Depending on the severity of any possible Al Shabaab attack, Ethiopia might be pressured to once more stage an anti-terrorist intervention into Somalia, although this time it might be of a considerably lesser scale and for a much briefer period of time than what it did in 2006-2009. It would of course have to exercise caution so as to not get itself caught in a debilitating quagmire that could unbalance its security forces from dealing with pressing domestic threats such as those from Ginbot 7 and its terrorist allies, so this policy option would have to be utilized judiciously and only in the most extreme cases. Be that as it may, the nature of Al Shabaab’s threat is that it’s so entirely unpredictable and always recently results in a highly publicized incident (e.g. the Westgate shopping center and Garissa College attacks in Kenya)  that Ethiopia might have no choice but to launch some sort of symbolic attack in Somalia regardless, no matter if it’s purely superficial and not tactically helpful.

The other main foreign-originating unconventional threat is the potential for South Sudan’s violence to spill over the border and destabilize Gambella Region. The UN refugee agency reported that Ethiopia “became the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa” in August 2014 after more than 190,000 South Sudanese refugees cumulatively had streamed into the country, many of which entered into Gambella. This frontier territory is estimated to have only around 300,000 people, and yet the UN accounted for 271,344 South Sudanese refugees being located there on 1 April, 2016. It’s clear to see that the region has been overwhelmed by what might also be cynically functioning as “Weapons of Mass Migration” in attempting to trigger a centrifugal identity reaction in tearing apart Gambella and the neighboring diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). The SNNPR is a quilted patchwork of various tribes and ethnicities and is the area of Ethiopia which most closely bears a structurally identity diverse and potentially conflict-prone resemblance to South Sudan. The incipient danger is that the structural destabilization that the refugees might inflict in Gambella could spread into the SNNPR and be taken advantage of by Ginbot 7, its allies, and Al Shabaab in order to throw Ethiopia into the burner of full-scale and nationwide Hybrid War violence, putting the authorities on the defensive in all fronts and inevitably leading to one or another regime change group making relative gains on the ground in the immediate aftermath.

To be continued…

Andrew Korybko is the American political commentator currently working for the Sputnikagency. He is the author of the monograph “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” (2015). This text will be included into his forthcoming book on the theory of Hybrid Warfare.

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