Our Boys in the Tigray

The expulsion of four of our diplomatic staff from the war weary nation of Ethiopia last November was met with bafflement by the general Irish population

Experiencing a year-long civil war pitting northern Tigrayan rebels against government forces under the command of prime minister Abiy Ahmed, Ireland had previously built up considerable street cred with the East African nation in its aid efforts since the 1990s assisting with famine relief and economic development.

A largely Orthodox nation of 115 million souls, the trigger of the diplomatic spat was given as being Ireland’s support at the UN for northern Tigrayan separatists in the form of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) through the condemnation of the embattled Ethiopian government and attempts to internationalise what is an internal dispute.

Emerging from the overthrowing of the Derg military dictatorship in 1991, the TPLF has garnered a reputation both for its strong ties to the American foreign policy establishment as well as its sequestering of humanitarian aid for its military operations. 

Rather famously the militia pocketed a great deal of the money raised off Live Aid fundraising with accusations of the deployment of child soldiers popping up yet again during the ongoing turmoil.

The favouritism extended towards the TPLF is partially driven by the military disaster of America’s Mogadishu expedition in 1993; since then the US has been hesitant to involve itself directly in the region so has established working relations with the TPLF to advance its foreign policy interests as an effective partner.

Representing approximately 6% of the total population in the form of the Tigrayan ethnic group located in the north of the country, the TPLF entered opposition in 2018 following the election of the populist and increasingly anti-American Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party. 

Despite being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his brokering of a peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea, Ahmed has increasingly drawn umbrage from America for his positive relations with China and moves to dam the Nile against the wishes of American allies down river in Sudan and Egypt.

Indicative of his fall from grace with the West, in August of last year Ahmed refused an audience with American envoy Samantha Power over the latter’s backing of the TPLF as well as attempts to embarrass the Ethiopian government through strategic press leaks.

The present conflict commenced in November 2020 when TPLF Special Forces assaulted government installations 800 kilometers north of Addis Ababa at the town of Mekelle. Taking the initial advantage, the TPLF insurgency has met with tacit American support though government forces have rallied partially through the help of Chinese military aid. 

Influenced heavily by a wider power struggle around the Horn of Africa and America’s attempts to prevent the consolidation of the region by outside powers like China and sovereign local nation states, the geopolitical considerations of the war were commented upon by Ethiopian diplomat Mohamed Hassan.

Outlining a cynical alliance between the US State Department, aid agencies as well as the TPLF upper crust, the result has been a blind eye shown towards human rights abuses committed by the TPLF. While the Ethiopian government is certainly much tarnished with its own atrocities, the near banditry which almost defines the TPLF makes it much more ripe for condemnation yet is given far more leniency due to their friends in Washington.

Explaining the sudden bolt to topple Ahmed, Hassan goes on to describe the long term political machinations at play in which America seeks to prevent the rise of an alternative anti-NATO bloc in the region.

‘They now want to overthrow the government. Because they didn’t like the Tripartite agreement, which was signed in 2018 in Asmara between Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Through this agreement, the three states declared that the conflict among them had been resolved, and that they are going to start a new project for cooperation called The Horn of Africa Project. 

This resolution of the antagonism between African states and people is not appreciated by the United States and the European Union (EU). They find this is a very bad example because, in the long term, it might weaken and eventually collapse Africa’s NATO, namely the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). This is a problem for Brussels and Washington.

With deep symbiosis between the US Democratic Party as well as TPLF, the commencement of hostilities in November 2020 had much to do with the American elections and confirmation that Biden would enter the Oval Office ergo giving the TPLF a friendly regime in Washington.

According to Hassan,

“There is a difference between the Democrats and Donald Trump’s government. The Trump government was disengaging in this region; it was not very interested in this area. It didn’t follow the same political line as (its predecessors). But the Democrats have a long history of deep involvement with the TPLF (since the 1990s when it came to power and ruled Ethiopia till 2018). The TPLF has also been paying individuals in return. Susan Rice and others became wealthier with payments from the TPLF. 

From Clinton to Obama, and now with Biden, it is the Democrats who have been the lifeline of the TPLF, hoping to fight Eritrea and the idea of Eritrea in the region-think forces within the (then incoming) Democrats assured them of diplomatic cover. They thought it was the appropriate time because it would take two months until the new president came into the White House. They had assumed that the TPLF could finish the job in two months. But the TPLF, by taking their advice, have committed suicide”

With the initial Tigrayan assault collapsing due to overextension, the conflict at the time of writing is presently back where it started despite US attempts to hype up hysteria against the ruling government in Addis Ababa. The resolve and quick acting by the Ethiopian government killed cold attempts to shatter their country’s unity for a generation and avoided Ethiopia being added to the litany of broken nations like Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria.

Like Belarus and Syria before it, the Empire of Human Rights wherever it seeks to undermine a sovereign nation fixates if not outright fabricates matters of human rights all the while propping up less than favourable opposition groups. In Syria it was Sunni militants, in Ukraine ultranationalists and now in Ethiopia its ethnic separatists.

Rhetoric aside, the ideal state of affairs for America is seeing a fragmented and defenseless Ethiopia living at their feet off aid agencies perpetually binding the country to Western Aid and subsequent meddling.

Amid all this geopolitical rancour the question still remains what does neutral Ireland have to do with it all? 

Has America Subsumed Irish Foreign Policy?

To the surprise of many, Ethiopia ranks number one in terms of being a recipient of Irish Aid at a hefty €40m plus per annum mainly distributed to various UN and Irish based NGOs.

Taking a serious leadership position by way of the now castigated Irish embassy, Ethiopia of all places is a country where Ireland despite its size and distance has a genuine seat at the table.

The primary intermediary between the UN and Ethiopia according to a report by Irish Aid our diplomatic staff played a serious role in daily reporting on the conflict before being expelled.

Very much linked to our elevation to the UN Security Council, Ireland and in particular our UN representative Geraldine Byrne Nason took a perplexing stance of implicitly backing the TPLF through condemnation of the Ethiopian government and repeated calls for a ceasefire once the war tilted against the Tigrayans.

In the weeks before the expulsions Byrne Nason made forthright statements calling out human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government and calling for a cessation of hostilities against the wishes of Russia and China who backed the Ethiopian government unequivocally.

The strife has impacted upon the Ethiopian diaspora in Ireland with members of that community taking to the streets backing the Addis Ababa government for chastising Irish involvement in the conflict with pro-TPLF protests also occurring outside Leinster House.

Resident in Ireland for some years, our embroilment in the conflict has dismayed Irish national Rahel Dalton of Ethiopian origin who spoke to The Burkean about the souring of relations between the two nations in the resulting diplomatic fallout.

Formerly held in high esteem for our humanitarian efforts, Dalton describes how effective Irish support for the TPLF is both baffling and tied directly to a failure to gauge the wider nuances at play and track record of the militant group.

A black hole for reporting for the Irish media, some blatant mistruths about the state of the war have been aired according to Dalton such as imminent danger to the capital as well as whitewashing of the TPLF.

Of particular note has been the reporting standards of Irish and New York Times Africa correspondent Declan Walsh who took a distinctively pro-TPLF line through his journalism on the conflict.

The experience of the Ethiopian people is an archetypal one paralleling that of the Irish against our own colonial outsiders anxious to subjugate the nation to geopolitical and economic currents not our own.

While the situation is hazy, it would appear that Irish influence in the region has been latched onto supporting American interests which lie specifically in destabilising the country through assistance of the TPLF and the usual playbook of engineering conflict seen throughout the past three decades. 

With strong indicators that some Western and even Irish aid has found its way into fueling the conflict by way of the TPLF’s usual operational practices, one quickly begins to ascertain the reasons why Irish diplomats were banished.

Ethiopia expelled Irish officials for the same reason we would look unkindly at Brazil or Japan aiding or at least siding with criminal UVF gangs trying to storm Dublin and with as much confusion. 

With multipolarity on the horizon, Ethiopia is fast discovering an alternative manner of national development away from the drip feed and dependency of humanitarian aid and the duplicity of human rights jargon. In that pursuit we can only wish them well.

The shameful manner in which what little foreign policy importance we’ve accrued over the years has been squandered and gobbled up by America is a matter of national humiliation.Like the TPLF our own elites are inherently wedded to the Democratic side of the US establishment through the gateway of the Irish-American lobby.

Formerly most keen to stand behind the rights of non aligned countries, we are increasingly jumping on the bandwagon of each and every colour revolution pushed by a moribund US Empire.

Whatever happened to an Irish foreign outlook that supports the notion ‘that small nations might be free’?

Posted by Ciaran Brennan


  1. Very good piece, well balanced and informed. Let voices like this multiply. Amen


  2. Very good article . It is hypocritical in the part of the west to ignore the the suffering of Ethiopians under TPLF’s rule and to aggressively attack the federal army that had served their security for many years. Aid should not be used to destabilize poor notions. Sovereign countries like Ethiopia have the capability of resolving their issues. Had it not been for the interference of foreign powers TPLF would have vanished from the scene with in 3 weeks of war.


  3. Outstanding article – not just “good” or even “very good”
    … Of course I knew nothing of Ireland’s connections with Ethiopia – that in itself is revealing, once again underlining how much is missing from the mainstream press here in the US of A where I reside.
    But besides that, the explanation of they dynamics of US politics towards Ethiopia is very well done and helps answer certain questions that have been on my mind (like – why this shift in U.S. politics toward Ethiopia as both TPLF and the Abiy government follow an essential neoliberal line on economic matters). I have read that Kissinger wrote a piece, still under security raps, to give guidance to U.S. policy from the 1970s when it was written until today – suggesting that U.S. policy should always favor a weak Ethiopia and a divided Horn of Africa into as many pieces as possible. Brennan’s piece indicates the degree to which “Kissinger’s Horn of Africa Legacy” – if one can call it that – is still very much alive. Cheers from Denver, Colorado. R. Prince


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