Why Canada Should Take a Stronger Stance Against Ethiopian Drone Warfare

Why Canada Should Take a Stronger Stance Against Ethiopian Drone Warfare
Photo by Ian Usher on Unsplash.

In Ethiopia, the impact of drone warfare is the most catastrophic in Africa. Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in March 2018, he has presided over one civil war after another. Imported drones are part of his strategy, but the international community, including Canada has been indifferent to continuing civilian casualties.

Abiy started with a largely received rhetoric that he was committed to the ideals of democracy and human rights. In his speech at the Ethiopian parliament, he labeled the actions of his own government over decades as “terrorism” against the Ethiopian people and signaled a change of course. In his first year in power, he opened the political space in the country, releasing a large number of political prisoners, putting an end to bans on diaspora-based media outlets and websites, revising draconian laws such as the anti-terrorism law, civil society law, and media law, among other things. Unfortunately, such initial moves did not last long as his government resumed the usual crackdown on voices of dissent in Ethiopia.

In 2020 Prime Minister Abiy announced the start of a “law enforcement operation” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region which later became one of the most devastating civil wars in modern world history. The war started after the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), a group that had dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades, attacked the Ethiopian National Defense Force of the northern command in November 2020 reasoning it as a pre-emptive strike. On the night of November 3, Prime Minister Abiy declared war on the “perpetrators”. Lasting for two years and ended with the government’s signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement with the TPLF in November 2022, this war cost an estimated 600,000 lives.

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During the civil war, Prime Minister Abiy’s government heavily relied on drones imported from Turkey, China, and the UAE. Hundreds of civilian fatalities in the Tigray region have been associated with drone attacks.

As the world was watching the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement ending two years of civil war in Tigray with a glimmer of hope, Abiy’s government declared another “law enforcement operation” in August 2023 in the Amhara region. Like Tigray, drone strikes have been conducted to quash armed resistance in this region. It has been more than a year since the conflict between the federal government and Fano, an informal militia group with a loose chain of command that claims to fight for the survival of the Amhara people in Ethiopia, erupted in April 2023. The former has conducted about 70 drones strikes resulting in indiscriminate killings, including civilians and children, and leaving serious psychological trauma. A recent article in The Globe and Mail manages to poignantly depict the tragedy.

Despite the catastrophic nature of such war making, the international community, including Canada, has not put meaningful pressure on the Ethiopian government to halt its arbitrary drone strikes. In most cases, if not all, they seem to have turned a blind eye. The strongest statement Canada has made regarding the current conflict and/or the deadlier drone strikes in the Amhara region in Ethiopia is ‘Canada is concerned’.

This position does not serve Canada and other global powers’ interest in the region.

While drone attacks may have helped the Ethiopian regime to gain temporary victory on the battlefields, it is undoubtedly feeding radicalization, with the prospect of prolonged civil war in the country.

Amhara is the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. There has been a strong feeling of designed disenfranchisement and victimization among this community for decades, first under the TPLF dominated Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and now under Prosperity Party governments. Amhara nationalism was already ‘spreading like a wildfire’ before the start of the current conflict because of that. The incumbent’s continued deadlier drone attacks culminating in indiscriminate killings of civilians fuels the popularity of this nationalism and the current armed resistance in the region. Given the already precarious state of security in the country, the crisis in the Amhara region will undoubtedly put the survival of Ethiopia at a greater risk.

Ethiopia is the home of the African Union, and one of the oldest nations in the world which survived the European onslaught of colonialism, a legacy that resonates with other African nations and black communities worldwide. It is a “linchpin of the Horn of Africa” and the security and stability of countries in the Horn are highly interlinked. The regional destabilizing effect of protracted war in Ethiopia is evident. Currently, the region is facing civil war in Sudan; uncertainty in South Sudan, which is operating under the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity and where major political groups are at odds over the date of an upcoming general election; and al-Shabaab remains undefeated in Somalia despite concerted regional efforts to defeat it. If Ethiopia, the largest and most populous nation in the region, descends into anarchy this will pose a security threat to and affect the economic interest of global powers including Canada due to the geo-political and strategic significance of the region. It would also exacerbate the growing refugee crisis – a challenge that the major powers are already struggling to address.

Such inaction puts into question the ideals of human rights and democracy that the West, including Canada, depend on to advance their interests overseas.


Second, such inaction puts into question the ideals of human rights and democracy that the West, including Canada, depend on to advance their interests overseas. Despite the hypocrisy and the double standards, people in the Horn of Africa and certainly elsewhere in the global south still look up to them in promoting human rights and supporting democratic movements in their respective countries. This undesignated leadership has served the West to help perpetuate the economic advantages of the global structure of their own making. Turning a blind eye to human rights tragedies and catastrophic events—such as drone strikes in regions like Amhara, Ethiopia—not only alienates the hearts and minds of people overseas but also helps authoritarian systems to grow and challenge the current global order.

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