Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Ethiopia, one of the most prosperous regions in the horn of the African region, is facing a civil war that has ravaged the homes of hundreds of thousands of people. A conflict started in 2020 by the Ethiopian forces against the Tigrayan militia has led to mass migration and genocide.
Abiy Ahmed, the PM of Ethiopia, called on the citizens to join his pursuit against TPLF. This shows the intent of the government towards war, which seems to be never-ending. Although a temporary truce has been in place since June 2021, clashes are still commonly witnessed. TPLF has also started to move towards other regions such as Amhara and Asfara. Reports of dead bodies flowing in the Tekeze river have become frequent and horrifying as thousands of people are fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Recently, Ethiopian troops have recaptured the historic town of Lalibela from Tigrayan rebels. TPLF has said it is making "strategic withdrawal" from certain areas. However, the situation has only worsened and if the conflict continues, it would led to a broader civil war, thereby creating regional and global security challenges. Moreover, it could also lead to rise of terrorist organizations such as al-Shabab and ISIS affiliates, which can exploit the chaos in Ethiopia.
HISTORY AND CAUSES OF THE CONFLICT
Tigray, one of the ten provinces, is in the northernmost region of Ethiopia, joining its border with Eritrea and Sudan. Ethiopia is one of the few African countries which has never been colonised by any European power. It was ruled by a monarchy under Haile Selassie until 1974, when the communist group, Derg, came to power and ruled till 1991.
He created a federal system that divided the country into ten provinces based on ethnicity. During the reign of Derg, Tigray People's Liberation Force(TPLF) was formed. It resorted to a protracted conflict along with several other groups against Derg.
In 1991, Meles Zenawi of TPLF became the interim president, his rule was also characterised by reforms and stability. He eventually became the PM in 1995 and ruled Ethiopia for the next 17 years until his death in 2012. His rule was unpopular among the masses because of human rights violations, authoritarianism, corruption, etc. He supported the Tigrayans, who were just 6% of the total population, which led to further resentment among the masses.
The tide of change came in 2015 when thousands of protesters came out on roads against the corrupt government of TPLF and accused them of rigging the elections. In 2018, the former military intelligence officer, Abiy Ahmed Ali, came into power and was seen as a dynamic and promising leader.
He made the alliance called the Prosperity party, which included several regional parties except for TPLF. After being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the conflict with Eritrea in 2018, the tide of the problem soared high.
Image Credits: The Economist
THE CURRENT CONFLICT
Ahmed postponed the 2020 elections by citing Covid-19 as the reason. That enraged the TPLF and accused Ahmed of showing dictatorial inclinations. The final nail in the coffin came when TPLF independently announced to hold elections in Tigray where it won 98% of votes. To put salt on the wound, the TPLF also attacked the federal military base in Tigray. Calling both acts traitorous, Abiy sent the federal army into the region.
Since then, the situation has been very fragile and thousands of Tigrayan people have left their country. They have moved to Sudan, causing a huge refugee problem. According to the UN report, famine has struck the entire region with many Tigrayans not being able to receive any aid from any international agencies due to the restrictions imposed by the government. The government is also accused of inducing a man-made famine in the region and pillaging hospitals that provide primary healthcare services. Though the federal army has stopped the Tigrayan militia and a temporary truce is in place, violence has not yet stopped. The Army has committed several war crimes like sexual violence against women, killing the citizens, etc.
A very interesting part of this conflict is that many citizens are supporting the government which is somewhat obvious as Tigrayan people have dominated the nation’s politics for 17 years, not giving much opportunity to other ethnic sects such as Oromos which is the ethnic group in majority in the country. Photos of people celebrating the violent quest of the government have been captured frequently.
Ethiopia historically has been a home for many ethnic and linguistic communities. It is today made up of 80 varied ethnic groups, with Oromo and Amhara in the majority. It has led to tensions among them on several occasions. People have resentment against the former government that represented only 6% of the population. When Abiy came into power, it was expected that ethnic tensions might reduce, but the opposite has happened. Ethnic clashes have risen substantially with opposition leaders being held captive.
Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa with a growing economy and has strategic geographic importance. Ethiopia’s stability is critical to the region as it plays a crucial role in shaping regional geopolitics and it is clear from the fact that the headquarters of the African Union is located in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
Eritrea, throughout the war, has supported the Abiy government for the reason that it hates the TPLF. Reports have been published saying Eritrean Soldiers crossed the border and killed several Tigray people. Sudan, on the other hand, is facing the problem of refugees brought out by the war. It has been reported that 60,000 Tigryan refugees have entered Sudan. Ethiopia’s plan to build the Great Renaissance Dam on the Nile river, which is the lifeline of many nations, has caused tensions with several other nations too.
THE WAY FORWARD
The situation is very fragile and by paying attention to what the PM has to say; it doesn’t seem the government has any plan to end the conflict. No international organisation, for the time being, is allowed to go into the Tigray region. Essential supplies have been blocked, and the military is damaging agricultural fields. The opposition leaders have been arrested, and the elections conducted are not very democratic, with different ethnic communities attacking each other. While the government has been able to capture much of the Tigray region, the resistance is still there by the TPLF. It remains to be seen what will happen in the future. If the existing situation persists, then the future is not very favourable to anyone in the region.
BY NAYAN CHANDRA MISHRA