Ethiopia: Christian crisis looms as rebels advance

Christmas in Amhara’s famous Lalibela, which fell to the rebels in August (PHOTO: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin)

By Elizabeth Kendal — originally published in Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

Enabled by foreign powers – particularly Egypt, the Sudanese military and the US Biden administration – the Marxist, separatist Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF, also known as the Tigray Defence Force) and the ethno-nationalist Oromo Liberation Army (OLA, formerly OLF-Shane) have achieved a strategic and possibly pivotal victory.

Despite lacking popular support, the hated rebels are now poised to advance on the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The collapse of Ethiopia would herald a Christian crisis of monumental proportions as the TPLF and OLA would move with genocidal intent against the Christian ethnic Amhara.

In October 2020 the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) warned that the fragmentation of Ethiopia (population 105 million) would be “the largest state collapse in modern history”, and would likely lead to “mass inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict [code for a genocidal war against Amhara Christians]; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists [code for Islamic jihadists]; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; as well as a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow the existing conflicts in South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen”.

Not short on looted funds, the rebels have won the struggle for information dominance; their propaganda is everywhere. The claim parroted by mainstream media, that the war in Ethiopia started when PM Abiy sent troops into Tigray, is simply untrue as is the claim that the Ethiopian government is deliberately starving ethnic Tigrayans.

The TPLF launched its planned war against the Ethiopian government in the early hours of November 4 2020 with surprise attacks on the Northern Command’s headquarters in the Tigray capital, Mekelle, and bases across Tigray. TPLF fighters and sympathisers within the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) slaughtered ethnic Amharan soldiers in cold blood so they might loot the army’s heavy and mechanised weaponry.

The TPLF called the attacks “a pre-emptive strike” for the purpose of “self-defence”. The Ethiopian government took the multi-pronged attack for what it was — a declaration of war — and sent in the troops. By the end of November 2020, the ENDF had captured Mekelle. A caretaker government was subsequently installed comprising members of Tigrayan opposition parties. The TPLF staged a strategic retreat but continued the fight in rural areas. This, as Tigrayans were struggling to avoid famine amidst Tigray’s worst locust plague in 25 years.

In June 2021 the US Biden administration forced the Abiy government to declare a unilateral ceasefire. Tigray’s caretaker government fled Mekelle, the TPLF returned and thousands of withdrawing ENDF troops were taken captive. Rejecting the ceasefire, the TPLF then went on the offensive, taking their war into Afar and Amhara regions [see:‘Ethiopia’s Future Hangs in the Balance’ RLM, 11 July 2021].

On August 5 the TPLF seized control of the historic city of Lalibela — a UNESCO heritage site, famed for its ancient rock-hewn churches. On August 11 the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) announced it had forged an alliance with the TPLF to oust the government of Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed [see: RLPB 611, ‘TPLF-OLA Move to Escalate War,‘ 18 Aug 2021].

Fighting has been concentrated in the east of Amhara Region, particularly in North Wollo Zone (where Lalibela is located) and South Wollo Zone (where the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha are located). Dessie and Kombolcha sit on Ethiopia’s A2 highway, which links Addis Ababa to Mekelle, historic Adwa and the two main border crossings into Eritrea. Industrial Kombolcha is a junction town from where the B11 highway starts its route east into Afar Region, where it meets up with the A1 highway which connects Addis Ababa to ports in Assab, Eritrea and Djibouti.

On Sunday October 31 the TLPF claimed to have seized control of Dessie and its “twin city” Kombolcha, along with its airport. The government denied the claim, insisting the ENDF is still in control amidst fierce fighting. PM Abiy also claimed that foreign fighters were fighting with the TPLF in Dessie and Kombolcha and that the TPLF had rounded up and summarily executed some 100 youths in Kombolcha — a claim the TPLF has not denied.

Meanwhile the OLA claims to have captured Kemise, 53km south of Kombolcha on the A2 and just 325km north of Addis Ababa, in Amhara Region’s Oromia Zone (which is 86% ethnic Oromo).

The Amhara regional government has declared a state of emergency and ordered all government institutions to suspend regular services and divert their budgets to the “survival campaign”. According to news on Livemap, senior Ethiopian government members are making getaway plans, pre-booking flights and getting their families to safe havens. On Tuesday November 2 the US Biden administration escalated pressure on Ethiopia, revoking trade preferences over alleged gross human rights abuses. The TPLF and OLA have now physically linked up south of Kombolcha. As The Africa Report warns (Nov 2): “A likely advance on Addis Ababa now seems imminent.”


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw Ethiopians and Christians throughout the world onto their knees for the nation of Ethiopia — an ancient nation of great geo-strategic significance and missions powerhouse!

* protect and sustain his precious Church in Ethiopia — the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church, as well as the Catholics and Protestants, which includes ever increasing numbers of converts from Islam — as we recognise that this is first and foremost a spiritual battle.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God … praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints’ (from Ephesians 6:12-18).

* protect our brother Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed and his government and grace them with divine wisdom, discernment, courage to strengthen and to deliver justice and turn back the battle.

In that day [of existential threat] the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people, and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate (Isaiah 28:5-6 ESV).

[Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when a repentant King Hezekiah returned to the way of faith. His ‘wait’ over (Isaiah 30:18), God responded in grace and the Assyrian conquest of Jerusalem – which was both imminent and inevitable (Isaiah 36) – was miraculously turned back at the gate (Isaiah 37).]

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God… the Lord loves the righteous… but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin (from Psalm 146). Please pray!

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