Ethiopia is an ethnically and politically diverse country in North East Africa. Regions are divided based on ethnicities and local political parties administer the region with significant autonomy. However, the federal government, which is located in the capital Addis Ababa, possesses a higher level of authority.
Tigray is a Northern Region home to Tigrayans, a minority ethnic group in the country comprising 6% of the nation’s population. It is also the founding place of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). They ruled the country for nearly 30 years after forming coalitions with other regional parties and successfully overthrowing their authoritative predecessor. However, active incarcerations of journalists and political dissidents undermined their popularity. This followed mass protests against their dictatorial and dysfunctional rule.
Abiy Ahmed’s Government
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is the current head of government. He was elected in 2018 and is a member of Ethiopia’s majority, the Oromo community. Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for renewing relations with its long-term adversary, neighbour Eritrea. However, the TPLF disapproved of this achievement.
Furthermore, Ahmed’s new plan of establishing the ‘prosperity party’, aimed to merge existing political parties under one. To some, this proposal may be causing the autonomy of regional governments and consolidate federal power to diminish. The TPLF refused to join the party. Ahmed subsequently attempted to suppress the party by dismissing top TPLF members from their positions. They were prosecuted under charges of corruption and abuse of power.
Rise of Conflict:
In March, elections were postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 outbreak. However, in September, the TPLF conducted one. The government declared the votes as invalid, while the TPLF asserted they do not recognize Ahmed as a legitimate leader. They attacked a government military base shortly after.
The government announced a military offensive against the TPLF on November 4. Since, they have launched airstrikes while the opposing side, the TPLF, have fired rocket attacks as well; Ultimately sparking a civil war. Military personnel and civilians have lost their lives during these exchanges. Sources state that there are casualties in the hundreds, but authorities have yet to disclose and confirm the numbers.
The Ethiopian government has placed the Tigray region on a lockdown, blocking roads, airport, fuel, electricity and internet. The cabinet has also declared a six-month state of emergency.
Eritrea has been accused of supporting the government and sending troops, which has been refuted by the state. However, TPLF forces refused to acknowledge the statement, initiating incursions against Eritrea and potentially widening the conflict to external borders. This could destabilize not only the countries involved but the entire ‘Horn of Africa’.
Exacerbating violence has forced civilians in Tigray to escape and seek refuge outside. Sudan is currently witnessing growing numbers of refugee camps across its borders with Ethiopia. Around 50,000 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan so far, out of which 3000 are presently residing in Hamdayet. This mass exodus has raised concerns of ethnic massacres. UN reports warn of an imminent humanitarian crisis.
The conflict has received mixed reactions from Ethiopians residing outside of Tigray. Some support the TPLF, donating blood for their troops, whereas some support Abiy Ahmed, citing the TPLF has seeded ethnic violence nationwide.
Nevertheless, there are growing discussions on Ahmed’s failure to live up to his promises and bring peace, instead of choosing war.
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Written by Samah Noor Nausheer