The Role of the United Nations: Meddling in the Ethiopian Civil War

Chloe Els (she/her), Journalist

There is a reason why superheroes are so popular. People love the idea of a savior swooping in to fix all of the world’s problems. It seems great in stories, but in real life, it’s a lot more complicated.


Right now, Ethiopia is involved in a civil war that has been brewing for decades. The two political groups at the center of this conflict are the left-wing nationalists inspired by communism who are called the Tigrayans and the supporters of Ethiopian Prime Minister Aiby Ahmed who favor the current parliamentary republic form of government. From 1974 to 1991, Ethiopia was a communist country; however, this changed with the centralization of the government, according to Britannica. Conflict continued during this political transition from communist to parliamentary republic due to inflation, famine, and intolerance of any groups that opposed the current government. 


For a while, things seemed to be getting better. In 2018, a man named Aiby Ahmed was chosen to become Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and he immediately got to work making peace in the country. His efforts were recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. But as Prime Minister Ahmed has enjoyed the recognition for his efforts to make peace, things in Ethiopia have been far from peaceful.


Over the years, the communist Tigrayans slowly built themselves back up after their defeat in 1991, and now want to reassume national power over Ethiopia and remove Prime Minister Ahmed from office. According to NPR, the conflict that has ensued from this has resulted in the death of thousands of people, increased famine, and countless human rights violations.


Naturally, the United Nations wanted to step in. A U.N. humanitarian aid, Chief Martin Griffiths, called the Ethiopian civil war “a stain on our conscience” back in September (Vox). With a statement like that, who could argue with the U.N. wanting to help? But the declaration may not have been as powerful as it seemed because not long after it was issued, the Ethiopian government kicked out seven U.N. officials for meddling in their political affairs.


This prompts a very important question: does the U.N. have the right to meddle?


The purpose of creating the U.N. was to ensure international peace and security after World War II. From that perspective, the U.N.’s desire to get involved in the chaos of Ethiopian politics makes sense. But the U.N. hasn’t always been solely motivated by peace. For example, when the U.N. got involved in the Korean War, despite promising to only fight to contain communism, the U.N. army chased the communist North Korean Army all the way up to the Yalu border with China rather than just the border between North and South Korea. This way over-exceeded the policy of containment, and is seen by many as the U.N. using its power to promote its own political agenda. So, what really drove the U.N.’s desire to get involved in the Korean War? Peace or politics?


Is it possible that similar gray areas occupy the U.N.’s involvement in other countries? And, if so, does it then make sense that the Ethiopian government would refuse their “meddling”?


It seems horrible to suggest that the U.N. should avoid getting involved with the affairs of other countries, especially because of how devastating the conflicts in Ethiopia are. But the U.N. is not infallible, and it cannot force peace or even force countries to let it try to force peace. 


As much as the world loves superheroes in stories, it’s not always as easy for them to exist beyond the pages.