Regardless of where in the world you are right now, you have probably heard about the civil war in Ethiopia that we are all scared about. But even those of us in Ethiopia are confused about what it all means. We know about school openings being postponed because of the conflict. We were informed that there might be an Internet shutdown. We learned that communication to and from Tigray is fully blocked. We heard honking cars and clapping people in support of the National Defense Forces. We saw pictures of thousands of Tigrayans leave the country due to the conflict.
But most of us don’t fully understand what is happening and why it is happening. In a country with 80 different ethnic groups, it is expected that there is some conflict between them. So finally, after several years of division and resentment, we have reached the tipping point.
So, what is happening in Ethiopia right now?
November 21, 2020: Refuge count update: More than 40,000 refugees have fled into Sudan. And nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees at camps in northern Tigray have come close to the line of fire.
November 22, 2020: Abiy Ahmed, the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, gave the TPLF 72 hours to surrender ("Surrender").
November 23, 2020: Ethiopian federal forces have surrounded Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigray region.
November 25, 2020: Abiy Ahmed rejected international interference in the war (Anna).
November 26, 2020: After the TPLF rejected the ultimatum, Abiy Ahmed released this statement announcing the Final Phase of the Rule of Law Operations, troops close in on Mekele.
November 28, 2020: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared that military operations in Tigray were “completed” after the army claimed control of the regional capital Mekelle. Rockets were fired into Eritrea from the Tigray region for the third time since this conflict started on November 4 ("Rockets").
November 30, 2020: The Tigray leader said the fighting is not over and “we are sure we will win.” Communication to and from Tigray is still blocked ("Leader").
What led to this?
Ethiopia has several regions and ethnic groups but the central power is the capital city, Addis Ababa. Tigray, however, has its own government. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is the party that not only controls Tigray but ran the country for 27 years after overthrowing the military government (Al Jazeera). Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister during that time, said that his goal was for Ethiopians to be able to eat three meals a day. During his time in power, he was able to decrease the child mortality rate from one in five to one in twenty. Large-scale civil war was ended and famine was banished (Waal).
While these are positive goals accomplished, we cannot ignore the fact that this party was corrupt, autocratic, and oppressive. People were silenced, reporters were arrested and killed and the conflict with Eritrea was worsening. Years of anti-government protests led to Abiy Ahmed, the country’s first Oromo leader, becoming the elected Prime Minister. He promised peace, prosperity, and democratic reforms. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for putting an end to the conflict with Eritrea. Abiy Ahmed wanted to disband the old government coalition and unify the country under a new party. The TPLF refused to join his new Prosperity Party and Abiy Ahmed removed members of the TPLF from high positions of power. The TPLF did not take this well. Abiy Ahmed has been accusing the leaders of Tigray of provocation ever since (Al Jazeera).
What sparked this specific conflict?
In March, the federal government postponed the elections because of the pandemic. The TPLF ignored this command and held elections anyway in September. The Ethiopian Parlament said that the election was illegal, the TPLF responded by saying it does not recognize Abiy as a legitimate leader. On November 4, Abiy Ahmed accused the TPLF of attacking the federal government military base in Tigray, leading to troops being sent to Tigray (Al Jazeera).
What are the implications?
Right now, both sides are attacking. Soldiers on both sides and civilians are being killed. We are unsure how many people have died because the Tigray region is inaccessible at the moment but numbers are being estimated. Here's a quote from Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director of East and Southern Africa:
“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day laborers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down (Ethiopia).”
This conflict is involving other countries as well. Tens of thousands of refugees have crossed the border from Tigray to Sudan to get away from the war. They have been accepted into UN refugee camps but there are not enough resources to support all of them.
“Help us so that we don’t die,” said one refugee, Terhas Adiso. “We came from war. We were scared we were going to die from the war and we came here, we don’t want to die of hunger, disease. If they are going to help us they need to help us quickly. That’s all I am going to say (Anna).”
Eritrea has also gotten involved in this conflict. Tigray's regional president, Debretsion Gebremichael, accused Eritrea of sending in troops in support of the federal government forces, Eritrea denies this claim. In addition to that, rockets were fired into Eritrea. "On 13 November, Tigray launched rockets at two airports in neighboring Amhara province and the next day said it had fired rockets at targets in neighboring Eritrea (Culbertson)."
This conflict also has an effect on Somalia. Tens of thousands of Ethiopian troops are in Somalia on a mission to protect Somalia from Al-Shabab, the militian terrorist group based in East Africa. Troops from countries in the horn of Africa have troops surrounding Somalia. However, Ethiopian troops are being withdrawn because the government needs them for the current crisis.
“Should the Tigray military confrontation escalate and spill into other Ethiopian regions — and should Ethiopia’s government withdraw more forces from Somalia — AMISOM, [African Union Mission to Somalia], will be severely weakened (Felbab-Brown).”
This conflict has also caused more division within the people. Some people support the National Defense Forces and are sending blood to wounded soldiers. Some fully support Abiy, saying that he had no choice but to send in troops because the TPLF has been stirring up violence for a long time. Some fully support the Tigrayan government and blame Abiy Ahmed. Others believe that while this conflict cannot be blamed fully on him, Abiy Ahmed is not living up to his promise to bring the country peace and disapprove of what he did.
This conflict comes down to a fight for power. The TPLF lost its power over the country and refuses to accept the new party as a legitimate government power, which is why it refused to join the new party. Abiy Ahmed's party views TPLF members as criminals who deserve justice. This back and forth has been going on for years. The final straw is bringing us closer and closer to a full-blown civil war, leaving citizens and neighboring countries caught in the middle.
This story is still developing so read the news to keep yourself updated. This article is being constantly updated so check back here for quick information on any new developments.
This blog was written by grade 12 student Blen Abate as part of her independent partnership with the Youth Impact Change organization and focuses on the UN Sustainable Development Goal: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.
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Al Jazeera. “Rockets Hit Eritrea Capital after Ethiopia Declares Victory.” Eritrea | Al Jazeera,
Al Jazeera, 29 Nov. 2020, www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/29/rockets-target-eritrea-
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Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 25 Nov. 2020, www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/25/surrender-
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Nov. 2020, www.aljazeera.com/program/start-here/2020/11/19/whats-happening-in-
Anna, Cara. “Ethiopian Leader Rejects International 'Interference' in War.” AP NEWS,
Associated Press, 25 Nov. 2020, apnews.com/article/ethiopia-abiy-ahmed-kenya-
Culbertson, Alix. “Ethiopia Conflict: What Are They Fighting about and Why?” Sky News,
Sky, 23 Nov. 2020, news.sky.com/story/ethiopia-conflict-what-are-they-fighting-about-
“Ethiopia: Investigation Reveals Evidence That Scores of Civilians Were Killed in Massacre in
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Nov. 2020, www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/11/20/what-ethiopias-crisis-
Waal, Alex De. “Tigray Crisis Viewpoint: Why Ethiopia Is Spiralling out of Control.” BBC
News, BBC, 15 Nov. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54932333.