Ethiopia: Has international peacekeeping become a platform of legitimacy for authoritarian regimes?



The reputation and credibility of international peacekeeping is at stake

“The regime in Addis Ababa could recall its peacekeepers as the political crisis in the country deepens.”


Like a keen school kid who thinks he knows the answer to all the questions that the teacher asks the regime in Addis Ababa is the first one to raise a hand whenever there is a talk or a need for international peacekeeping. The immediate question is why? Is it because the authoritarian and brutal regime that continues to terrorize its own people cares about world peace or is there an ulterior motive behind it? How could it be that the regime that uses all available military and police forces against peaceful and unarmed civilians would be concerned about regional and global peace?

The answer to these questions is simple and straightforward. However, it is important to establish a context within the international diplomatic arena and the state of the world as it relates to the world strategic and political order. For those who are not familiar with the current political contour of Ethiopia, the country is effectively a one-party state of ethnic-kleptocracy. This single party authoritarian system of governance is further compounded and riddled with problems because the political and economic power is solely controlled and managed by the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) which claims to represent less than 6% of one hundred million population of Ethiopia. Astute and curious 21st century political analysts might raise two key questions from this fact. Firstly, what is a liberation front created to “liberate” a particular ethnic group doing governing the entire country? Secondly, why is the country’s political landscape entirely saturated with ethnic political groups. Well, these two questions by themselves require separate analysis and examination. Nevertheless, I believe the questions themselves offer some kind of context to the political reality of Ethiopia.

So, why is the TPLF so keen to participate in international peacekeeping. Obviously, all authoritarian regimes suffer from a malnutrition of legitimacy from their own people whom they claim to govern. In the absence of consent from citizens, they search for legitimacy and recognition elsewhere. Most of the time, they feed their illusion of legitimacy by concocting bogus elections and ultimately declaring themselves the winners of 100% of the vote. As was the case in the 2015 national election in Ethiopia where the regime declared 100% victory. No, it is not a joke. Just ask United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Currently, this hundred percent ‘victory’ is being rejected by the people of Ethiopia, as a popular uprising spreads like a wild fire across the country. As far as the people of Ethiopia are concerned the regime is an elected and illegitimate. While this is the reality of the political landscape in Ethiopia, the regime is attempting to garner support and legitimacy from outside the country. Its involvement in international peacekeeping is precisely meant to achieve this objective.

Hence, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)-led authoritarian regime in Addis Ababa has significantly accelerated its contribution to international peacekeeping, and currently there are 59 police, 104 military experts, and 8170 troops dispatched by the TPLF regime serving in peacekeeping missions in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, the Sudan regions of Darfur and Abeyi, and South Sudan.

Concern for peace is the least defining characteristic of the regime in Addis Ababa. In fact, since its inception the TPLF has exploited conflicts in side the country and the region. Furthermore, this violent group directly and indirectly manufactured national and regional conflicts to advance its political and economic agenda. For instance, its role and involvement in Somalia and South Sudan raises a serious concern. Peace and conflict analysts and political observers allege that the rise of al Shabaab in Somalia and the ongoing crisis in South Sudan is the making of the TPLF regime. These are the true natures and the distinct characters of the regime. In this context why is the TPLF always jumping on peacekeeping missions?

Here are the main reasons:

First, TPLF views international peacekeeping as lucrative business/money making opportunity. According to the UN’s publicly available information “countries volunteering uniformed personnel to peacekeeping operations are reimbursed by the UN at a standard rate, approved by the General Assembly, of a little over US$1,028 per soldier per month.” Which means based on the current troop contribution TPLF pockets close to one billion US dollars a year (8333 troops x $1028= $85,663.24 x 12months =$10279588). How much of this fund is allocated to the participating troops or police officers is not disclosed, and there is no system of accountability or an official audit. Peacekeeping to the TPLF regime is the wider extension of entrenched corruption within the economic and political system of Ethiopia.

Second, the regime’s eagerness to dispatch troops to international peacekeeping is motivated by gaining some level of international prestige/recognition, which it often propagates for a local audience, as well as the outside observer. This allows it to project an image of an internationally responsible regime. In doing so the regime believes it can harvest legitimacy to govern, which it has lost from the citizens of the country it rules with an iron fist.

Third, participating in international peacekeeping helps the regime create an illusion of ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ at home. The fact is that the situation in Ethiopia is a full blown crisis. There is no a single part of the country which is not experiencing anti-government uprising. In addition, on top of the peaceful popular uprising, several armed groups are challenging the regime’s legitimacy and authority to govern. Given this fast escalating political crisis in the country, diplomatic sources are indicating that the regime could withdraw its peacekeeping troops posted in several countries to quash pro-democracy movement in the country.

TPLF routinely uses its military and police to silence dissent, torture citizens, and murder peaceful protesters. This has been the case in Ethiopia over the last twenty-five years. Furthermore, authoritarian regimes such as the regime in Addis Ababa, and many others including Burundi and Uganda have blackmailed the international community threatening to withdraw their troops from various missions unless the West stops advocating for human rights or criticize their overall political and economic policies. This is further confirmation of the regime’s unreliability as they see their participation in international peacekeeping as a reward for their brutality and violations of citizen’s rights.

How is it morally and ethically acceptable that members of the same police and army are welcomed the fold of international peacekeeping? Doesn’t this contradict the very values and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)? The UN must uphold its own values and principles and hold those who violate the rights of citizens accountable instead of offering them a platform of legitimacy at the international stage. Furthermore, engaging authoritarian regimes in international peacekeeping has a reliability problem. The possibility of the troops from Ethiopia being recalled is real. Hence, the UN must consider this factor seriously before involving peacekeepers from countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.

The author can be reached at alem6711@gmail.com
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