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On November 4th, violent conflict erupted in Ethiopia between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the TPLF of armed revolt. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a three-day surrender period after which he commanded troops to march on the Tigray region’s capital city, Mekelle. The entire region is in a blackout of communication, preventing outside news sources from reporting about the region’s current state. Refugees fleeing the area recount endless fighting and bloodshed. Indeed, the conflict has created a huge humanitarian crisis as over twenty-seven thousand civilians have fled into nearby Sudan, carrying few possessions with them in their hasty escape. Since November 10th, four thousand refugees have entered over the border at three different points, overwhelming Sudanese capabilities. Refugees desperately lack shelter, food, and hygiene. Although multiple humanitarian organizations have partnered with the Sudanese government to care for the Ethiopian refugees, conflict hinders the aid as workers have to evacuate dangerous zones.
The Tigray ethnic group makes up just six percent of Ethiopia’s one hundred and ten million population; however, they have held many powerful government and military positions. In recent years they have accused Ahmed, from the Oromo people group, of persecuting the Tigray people and unjustly removing them from office since 2018. They view this as a direct attempt to silence the Tigray people. Tensions began to escalate in September when the Tigray held regional elections despite Ahmed’s order to postpone elections due to COVID-19. Ahmed accused the TPLF of destroying bridges and roads into Mekelle in the time leading up to the outbreak of conflict, giving federal forces more reason to attack. However, whether or not the TPLF actually initiated conflict is still unknown.
Although both sides claim that they have not attacked civilians, mounting evidence shows that both sides may be guilty of violence against Ethiopian civilians. Amnesty International reported that over five hundred civilians were killed by military forces. Another source reports that an unknown gunman killed thirty-four civilians elsewhere. Due to the communication blackout, news agencies are unable to verify whether the Federal Forces or the TPLF are responsible, and the actual death toll is likely much higher. Eyewitnesses suggest that both parties may have been involved. The TPLF accused Federal forces of destroying a dam and a sugar factory and attacking civilians; however, these claims also cannot be verified.
This open warfare may have devastating consequences for the entire region on the horn of Africa. Already, TPLF forces have fired rockets into neighboring Eritrea, claiming that Eritrean forces had sided with the Ethiopian federal forces against the TPLF. If the fighting continues, surrounding countries such as Egypt, Somalia, and Djibouti may be dragged into the turmoil, threatening to undermine the security of the entire strategic region. In 2019, Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Recently, many international diplomatic organizations, including the Nobel Peace prize committee, have urged Ahmed to de-escalate the conflict. Despite this pressure, Federal Forces continue their attack, seeking a swift victory against the TPLF. A quick triumph has been in no way ensured since. Instead, conflict drags on, embroiling Ethiopia into war and harming its citizens. Many worry that ethnic tensions will boil over in many parts of the country, leading to all-out civil war and unrest. Although the Prime Minister was previously highly regarded by many internationally, this war will tarnish his name.
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Bariyo, Nicholas, and Gabriele Steinhauser. “Ethiopia: What We Know About the War in the Tigray Region.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 20 Nov. 2020, www.wsj.com/articles/ethiopia-what-we-know-about-the-war-in-the-tigray-region-11605530560.
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“Ethiopia: Investigation Reveals Evidence That Scores of Civilians Were Killed in Massacre in Tigray State.” Amnesty International, 2020, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/ethiopia-investigation-reveals-evidence-that-scores-of-civilians-were-killed-in-massacre-in-tigray-state/.
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McSweeney, Eoin. “A Full-Scale Humanitarian Crisis Is Unfolding in Ethiopia, the UN Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Nov. 2020, edition.cnn.com/2020/11/17/africa/un-humanitarian-crisis-ethiopia-intl/index.html.
Paravicini, Giulia. “Ethiopia Says Its Troops Marching on Tigrayan Capital.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 17 Nov. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-conflict/brothers-at-war-battle-for-ethiopia-state-capital-looms-idUSKBN27X0G5.
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Tisdall, Simon. “If Ethiopia Descends into Chaos, It Could Take the Horn of Africa with It.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Nov. 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/nov/22/if-ethiopia-descends-into-chaos-it-could-take-the-horn-of-africa-with-it.