The author of this article employed various primary and secondary data sources, as well as personal travels to substantiate their claims. The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of our institution.

TPLF and OLA-Shene are widely active terrorist groups operating in Ethiopia with documented acts of terrorism in the country, and the wider region. These groups, who aim to widen their sphere of influence, wish to see a strong belt of terrorist forces, including the Al-Shabab, that can effectively strongarm governments in the region. If successful, this tactical alliance would threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both Ethiopia and other Horn nations, creating a region without strong states and governments.

Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and under Article 93(1) of the constitution, the federal government postponed the 6th general and regional elections tentatively planned for August 29, 2020. As a strong coalition in Ethiopian politics and economy, TPLF was not in favor of the political reform process that started in 2018. In defiance of the federal government, TPLF held state council elections which were not received well by other regional states. TPLF, in addition, refused to handover over suspects of various crimes hiding in the Tigray. Article 50 of the Ethiopian constitution stipulates that regional states shall respect the authority of the federal government. In violation of the constitution, which gives exclusive rights to establishing and deploying national defense forces to the federal government, TPLF established an unconstitutional paramilitary force named the “Tigray Defence Forces (TDF)” in 2019. TDF operating under the auspices of the ‘Tigray Military Command’ was led by retired and deflecting generals and colonels from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF). Given TPLFs goals and means of attaining them, the Ethiopian parliament voted to designate TPL, along with OLA-Shene as terrorist organizations.

TPLF also diverted the allocated state budget to arms procurement and mobilizations. Deifying the Ethiopian Firearm Administration and Control Proclamation No.1177/2020, TPLF Special Forces and paramilitary owned mechanized weaponry that should not be owned by regional governments. Additionally, TPLF continues to finance and support ethnic-based violence in various parts of the country. For instance, in the Benishangul Gumuz region, TPLF has been sponsoring armed group operatives, causing several inter-ethnic conflicts that eventually resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Similarly, TPLF, in collaboration with OLA-Shene, has caused the loss of hundreds of innocents, destruction of property, and displacement of hundreds of thousands in the Oromia region.

The OLA-Shene militias and operatives continue to violate human rights in Oromia Region; sexual assault and rape of girls and women, abductions, ruthlessly executing innocents; causing significant and/or full destruction, as well as looting of public and government property. Abandoning the federal government’s call for peace on several occasions, the group continues to reiterate its goal of toppling the federal government by every possible means, including armed force. OLA-Shene has formed a clandestine killing squad called Aba-Torbe, which has, in cold blood, killed thousands of officials, community leaders, alleged government supporters, and innocents in rural Oromia. Through ethnic profiling, OLA-Shene continues to commit targeted attacks, resulting in the brutal execution and displacement of thousands of people. This is an intentional act meant to not only frustrate the public but also weaken the legitimacy of the government.

Joint objectives and tactics

Although these groups have diverging ideologies and approaches, they have common characteristics and goals. It is the common goal of the three to create a conducive environment, a power vacuum, for their own ends in the region. Such a partnership allows Al-Shabab a greater vantage point into Somalia and access to establish a regional Islamic caliphate while also providing resources and opportunities for TPLF and OLAShene. By design, these groups jeopardize not only the territorial integrity of Ethiopia but also others in the region. For Al-Shabab, the goal is to see the establishment of an Islamic state structure, education, and legal system in Ethiopia and the Horn. Finding a common with Al-Shabab, in the wakening of state structures in the region, OLA-Shene and TPLF aim to pursue their secession agenda symbiotically with Al-Shabab. The destination of the OLAShene and TPLF tactical alliance is designed to
realize the secession of their respective regionsOromia and Tigray and ultimately result in the
balkanization of Ethiopia.

OLA-Shene has adopted the AlShabab modus operandi in the use of kidnapping as a tool to amass resources.

Tactically these terrorist groups have engaged in a range of cooperative arrangements, one of which is the exchange of experience and information. For instance, Al-Shabab acquired insurgency tactics from TPLF in exchange for TPLF importing guerilla experience. OLA-Shene has adopted the Al-Shabab modus operandi in the use of kidnapping as a tool to amass resources. In October of 2021 alone, OLA-Shene militias carried out attacks in 26 locations killing 192 people, wounding 44, and abducting 543 people. Of these hostages, 60 were released upon payments of 10,000 and 20,000 ETB. Another abduction case involved the mother of Gindeberet’s woreda administrator in West Showa Zone. She was released after a ransom of 100,000 ETB was paid. Foreign nationals are not exempt from kidnappings as evident by the detention of three Chinese nationals who were held hostage and released after 4 days to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Attacks by OLA-Shene have plagued civilian life with fear in Horoguduru Wollega, West Guji, East Guji, West Showa, and East Wollega zones of the Oromia region, where 34 government officials and more than 100 innocent civilians have been brutally killed. Similar accounts of TPLF brutalizing its citizen have been shared especially following the withdrawal of ENDF from the Tigray region and the declaration of unilateral ceasefire, where TPLF soldiers executed hundreds of Tigreans on charges of supporting the federal government.

Another finance source for their operation comes from looting public and government property. For example, OLA-Shene has looted 2.5 million ETB from Awash Bank, 2.2 million ETB from Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and additional millions of Birr from both Cooperative banks of Oromia and Oromia International Bank in Oromia Region Begi town since October 8, 2021. Additionally, this group seized two excavators along with seven operators engaged in the excavation of materials for Muger cement factory in Ada’a Berga Woreda, West Shewa Zone, releasing them for 2 million ETB ransom. OLA-Shene in East Guji Zone, Sababoro Woreda, Urulu Kebele, looted 700,000 ETB from locals, seizing 28 weapons, and 20 motorcycles from government and private owners in the town of access in Gumi Eldolo Woreda. This group is also involved in the international smuggling of arms and drugs, namely to Kenya and Uganda, through territories that it influences.

Similarly, TPLF carried out a widespread campaign of killing and looting in Afar and Amhara regions, damaging public and government property including those of aid agencies. Sean Jones, Mission Director of USAID Ethiopia, told EBC18 on August 31, 2021, that TPLF militants looted several USAID depots and warehouses, and confiscated aid trucks. Corroborating the scale of the looting, UNWFP also announced on September 17, that only 38 trucks of 445 sent to Tigray since July 9, 2021, have returned. TPLF continues to obstruct the work of international humanitarian organizations by redirecting food aid away from the region’s most vulnerable.

Implications for Ethiopia and East Africa

Since its inception in 1974, TPLF has a clear project of secession, and it has put this project on its first manifesto in 1976. But when it established a government in which it maintained a hegemonic political and economic power, TPLF concealed its secession project in favor of economic extraction through politics. Following the premiership of H.E. Abiy Ahmed in 2018, TPLF was to lose the political and economic dominance it enjoyed for nearly three decades. The core TPLF leadership opted to retreat to the Tigray region and renewed their ambition of secession, using it to mobilize innocent Tigrayans into participating in a bloody war For the realization of the concealed secession agenda, TPLF has used OLA-Shene and other hand-picked individuals (in the name of organizations) as errand-runner. This wellthought-out project, per their claims, would erase Ethiopia from the world map, replacing it with multiple small and weak states in the Horn of Africa. Therefore, all should bear in mind, that where there is disintegrated Ethiopia there will be the disintegrated Horn of Africa.

But when it established a government in which it maintained a hegemonic political and economic power, TPLF concealed its secession project in favor of economic extraction through politics.

Al-Shabab has control in much of Central, Western, and South-Western Somalia, and used the TPLF and OLA-Shene to expand its operations to Ethiopia and Kenya. Given that Al-Shabab’s long-term plan is to establish an Islamic state in the East Africa region, the intensification of the TPLF and OLA-Shene terrorist groups poses a serious security threat. It is important to note that it exposes Horn countries, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and others, to the worst possible terrorist attacks and that it would make the region the hotbed of terrorism.

States should consider that the loss of Ethiopia as a strategic partner in the Horn of Africa, is tantamount to losing strategic and national interests in the Horn region.

In light of the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia, many Western countries, institutions, and influential figures, along with the mainstream media, have unwittingly supported TPLF, primarily by placing undue pressure on the Ethiopian government. Any support provided for the TPLF is inadvertently extended to both AL-Shabab and OLA-Shene terrorist groups. States should consider that the loss of Ethiopia as a strategic partner in the Horn of Africa, is tantamount tolosing strategic and national interests in the Horn region. The United States and Europe, once considered custodians of international humanitarian law, have turned a deaf ear to individuals and groups who assist terrorist groups in the region.

According to the UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/2462/2019, those responsible for financing, planning, and supporting terrorists must be must face consequences. UN Security Council resolution S/RES/1189/1998 also stipulates that no government shall coordinate, incite, or participate in terrorist activities in another country. Similarly, the UN Security Council Resolutions S/RES/1373/2001 stipulate that all countries are criminally liable if they collect money, whether directly or indirectly, within their citizens or territorial boundaries, knowing that it is being used to aid terrorism or to commit acts of terrorism. Consistently, U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Act INA313 and INA240(c) stipulate that any U.S. citizen must comply with U.S. laws and regulations and that any member or supporter of the terrorist organization should have his or her citizenship revoked. Partners and allies of Ethiopia, countries, and organizations, should adhere to customary international law in maintaining stability in the Horn.