Turkey's 'Game-changer' Bayraktar Drones Won't Secure Ethiopia's Shaky Peace | Opinion

After 13 months of bloodletting, deliberate starvation and war rapes, Ethiopia's horrific civil war has quieted a bit because of Turkey. Turkey allegedly shipped its "game-changer" Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ethiopia. This enabled Ethiopia's army to slap hard on Tigray rebels and cajole them into a ceasefire.

This "peace" is just a lull in a storm. Turkish drones won't keep Ethiopia's guns silent.

There's a rare chance for peace in Ethiopia after Tigray rebels decided to retreat to their home province and hinted at tentative dialogue with Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy in the capital Addis Ababa. The federal government returned the favor and halted a push into the Tigray province to try and completely defeat the rebellion. As a sweetener, Ethiopia's parliament removed a punishing state of emergency last month.

Turkey the Game-Changer

Though not admitted publicly, investigation from civilian bombing debris and open-source military flights logs indicated that Turkey likely shipped its Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ethiopia. The drones, which tipped the balance in the 2020 Azerbaijan-Armenia border war in favor of Azerbaijan, are arguably the game-changer in Ethiopia.

"The drones, mainly from Turkey, but some also from the UAE, were a game-changer. They allowed attacks without Ethiopian casualties. They allowed aerial dominance without the use of warplanes. And they allowed a degree of precision. Basically, the future of all war was demonstrated to an extent in the use of drones against Tigrayan targets," said Stephen Chan, former British diplomat and professor of conflict and peace at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Bayraktar TB2 drones have enabled Ethiopia's army to claw back territory from Tigray rebels who were on the verge of encircling Addis Ababa. This follows an August 2021 military summit between Ethiopia's Abiy and Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which culminated in Ethiopia taking delivery of the first batch of six Bayraktar TB2 drones.

Drones Won't Fortify Peace

There's no prize for the prediction that Turkey's sophisticated drones won't preserve Ethiopia's fragile peace.

A hellish nightmare has unfolded in Ethiopia's rebellious Tigray province since the federal government imposed a humanitarian blockade of food, emergency medicines and fuel as a whip to subdue the province. The U.N. warned that 4.6 million people in Tigray are on the verge of man-made starvation. Doctors say surgeries and essential procedures in Tigray are now almost impossible as 80 percent of hospitals have been shut. "The blockade is designed to prevent easy rearmament," Chan told Newsweek.

If Tigray's humanitarian blockade persists, hostilities could resume again if Tigray attempts to break the blockade. It's in the interest of durable peace to ease the blockade.

Bayraktar TB2 drone
The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone is pictured on Dec. 16, 2019, at Gecitkale military airbase near Famagusta. BIROL BEBEK/AFP via Getty Images

Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones might have given Ethiopia's army a slight hand over the rebels, but without honest dialogue, it's a matter of time before the Tigray rebels find their own lethal weapons to match the government's armory. Tigray rebels have recently been accused by Amnesty International of conducting their own version of war-time gang-rapes, looting and indiscriminate killings. They have shown a devastating ability to forge an alliance with other militias and take on Ethiopia's federal army.

Ethiopia's government, going by its new confidence, is basking in the glory of the lethality of Bayraktar TB2 drones, putting Tigray rebels on the back foot. Lifting the state of emergency, though welcome, is also a propaganda cue by Ethiopia to demonstrate that Tigray rebels are at its mercy.

Soon, Ethiopia's government will likely overestimate its invincibility and may commit new deadly mistakes—trying to finish off the rebels.

How to Secure the Peace

It is possible to salvage durable peace from the ashes of Ethiopia's devastating civil war. First, the Ethiopian federal government must scrap off the torturous blockade of fuel, food and medicine in Tigray province, which has caused unnecessary hunger and disease.

"Both sides are tired of conflict and many military supplies on the Tigray side are depleted, [but] there have to be goodwill and confidence-building measures to allow plentiful humanitarian aid through," said Chan.

Second, troops from neighboring Eritrea, who have joined the war with Ethiopia's government and allegedly committed killings, must withdraw from Ethiopia. One of the reasons Tigray rebels have strategically retreated, according to a letter to the U.N. secretary-general, has been to regroup and confront the threat of foreign Eritrean troops on their rear flank.

Ethiopia's catastrophic civil war is unwinnable. Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drones have given Prime Minister Abiy, a brief battlefield boost, but drones won't hold the peace.

A lull in gunfire should not be a moment to strategize fresh war plans. It should be a chance to fortify peace.

Ray Mwareya was a fellow of the U.N. Dag Hammarskjöld Media Fellowship, and receiver of the 2016 U.N. Correspondents Association Media Prize.

Ashley Simango is a freelance global affairs journalist.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.