Need to Know: Tigray Conflict in Ethiopia
As featured in Edition 37, available here.
WHAT IS IT? In November 2020, tensions between the Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa and the regional President of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, erupted. Tensions have been rising since Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister in 2018. Ahmed recently enforced a merging in the region of Tigray between his party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The breakdown in relations occurred when the TPLF refused to merge, alleging that Ahmed’s rule was an illegitimate one. Despite federal forces capturing Mekelle in late November, fighting and protests have continued.
ITS RISE In 1991, Ethiopia came to be ruled by the EPRDF, a coalition of ethnically-based parties, with the TPLF dominating. Although Ethiopia experienced significant economic growth throughout Meles Zenawi’s prime ministry, EPRDF repressed political opposition, becoming a controller of power in the country. Formed in 1975, TPLF ruled Africa’s second most populous country for 30 years. The rise of TPLF, inspired by Marxist-Leninism and a strong sense of national identity, took 16 years; however, with Abiy’s insistent efforts to eliminate TPLF as a political force, the party is exposed to the risk of a dramatic descent.
NOBEL PEACE PRIZE An international element is the neighbouring Eritrea that shares the border with Tigray and was in conflict with Ethiopia until Ahmed's peacemaking efforts. On 14th November, Tigrayan forces fired missiles into Eritrea after Gebremichael accused Eritrea of sending troops to Tigray in support of Ahmed's government. Ahmed was praised on an international scale for his reform agenda where he won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. However, Ethiopia is facing a potential civil war where a dubious amount of regard to civil safety is given by both sides. Given recent political events, the question now being asked is whether Ahmed truly is a man of the peace.
MASSACRE TRAGEDY Amnesty International recently reported of a massacre in Tigray, allegedly identifying bodies of civilians “who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive". The extent of this tragedy however, is hidden due to the shut-down of communication in Tigray. Witnesses said forces loyal to TPLF were responsible for the massacre, after their defeat against the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF). Apart from this humanitarian crisis and a refugee exodus where 33,000 people have fled the country, there are major concerns that the combination of this armed conflict, the pandemic and the impact of climate change will mean great food insecurity levels.
THE FUTURE Ethiopia has been one of the leading elements of peace-keeping missions for the United Nations, which aims to reduce conflict. However, as the situation is spiralling out of control, these missions are likely to be reduced. Foreign countries have urged both sides to engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve the conflict, agree to a cease-fire and have respect for international humanitarian law. Although Ahmed declared victory in Tigray, Gebremichael says the conflict is not over yet. This worrying development means that if the situation continues and escalates even further, this could incite a war that could destabilise the horn of Africa.
Image: Flickr / Rod Waddington