Ethiopia’s Internal Dilemma: Self-inflicted wounds may spread further havoc in neighboring Africa


Picture Credit: BBC

A boiling pot of ethnic tensions

The recent Tigray Crisis formally took shape on the 4th of November 2020, with previously unresolved political disputes manifesting into relentless armed conflict declared between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a military faction that dominates a majority of northern Ethiopia, following a surprise bombing on Mekelle launched by the government. Whilst the crisis’s vast impact on human life is immensely discouraging with an estimated a little over 40,000 refugees being declared and displaced, attempting to cross into neighboring Sudan. The situation leading to organizations such as the United Nations and African Union (AU) meeting with various political leaders to arrange a peaceful ceasefire.

Pushing the boundaries of power too far

Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ensuring peaceful relations with Eritrea, initiated a military offensive in early November against the Tigray region after blaming the region’s local ruling party for bombarding a government military post and attempting to catch hold of military and artillery apparatus. A long-heated dispute between some of the powerful groups in control of the Tigray region and the federal government has been brisking towards violent clashes for several days. Moreover, massive economic and social challenges accompany the Ethiopian conflict- in the midst of what can be called a volatile democratic transition. The conflict has exacerbated ethnic tensions and divisions so severely that it could lead to ethnic cleansing or even genocide.

Abiy Ahmed has been put in the prime seat to end the two-week conflict by fellow African countries as well as international bodies with fears of Ethiopia’s current instability able to deliver a domino effect to an already fragile Horn of Africa region. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize recipient has downplayed easing military advancement and ceasefire with burgeoning confidence that his government will resolve the matter before international negotiation becomes necessary. Abiy has stated that his goal is to unify the entire nation by increasing the power of the federal government as well as limiting the autonomy of states and regional governments. However, Tigray has time and time again restricted this move as other ethnic groups and regions are uncomfortable and unhappy with Abiy’s centralization drive.

Moreover, Abiy has, on Saturday the 21st of November 2020 rejected the African Union’s pleas to end the increasingly alarming Tigray Crisis hours preceding a strategy initialized by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, chairperson of the African Union appointing three former presidents from Mozambique, Liberia and South Africa itself to counteract the conflict being labeled as ‘’fake news’’ by Ethiopia.

Members of the Ethiopian Defence Forces fighting for Ethiopia in a war that seems to be coming from multiple sides and fronts on a nation that's future hangs in the balance.

Possible speculation of a secret political strategy for Abiy’s grip on Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s current situation is leaving a sour aftertaste and flair of confusion as government reports on the conflict are incredibly difficult to validate with recent statements claiming that the TPLF destroyed four key bridges leading to the epicenter of the conflict, Mekelle. However, this comes after the government allegedly cut off all major phone and internet services once the conflict began. On a more alarming note, the Ethiopian authorities have even gone as far as expelling an International Crisis Group analyst and sending threatening letters to major news agencies such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Reuters to avoid reporting or commenting on the crisis at hand. To add even more fuel to the fire, the Tigray region and its population have suffered one of Ethiopia’s worst locust outbreaks in 25 years leaving more than 600,000 Tigrayans seeking humanitarian aid.

The frustrated Ethiopian citizens may have likely misplaced their faith in former Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Abiy Ahmed, as he uses his position of power to create his own path to peace with his most current strategies being internationally questioned and instead jeopardizing Ethiopia’s democracy.

How is the Tigray crisis affecting Ethiopia and its neighboring countries?

Not too long ago, Ethiopia was considered as a ‘strategic linchpin’ in an extremely volatile and sensitive part of Africa. However, with the eruption of a civil war in the country, many refugees are rushing into Sudan whereas the peacekeeping mission of Ethiopia to Somalia is now in danger because of the national turbulence. Due to this very reason, several analysts are afraid of the fact that Ethiopia could soon destabilize the entire region.

As a result of the ‘internet cut off’ carried out by the Ethiopian government, reports from the affected region are scanty. Though aid workers and analysts believe that hundreds of civilians have lost their lives and many have been displaced since the conflict began.

According to the reports from the United Nations, “even before tensions escalated in the Tigray region, it was the homeland of more than 200,00 displaced people.” Worrying reports by the United Nations Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs identify that more than 5000 people have escaped to Sudan on November 16. Now as the war is intensifying, thousands of people are fleeing and humanitarian organizations are being prevented from helping them.

Various NGOs and International aid groups have made an appeal to the government of Ethiopia with ​official reports highlighting that the EU had delayed 90 million euros worth of aid over the Tigray conflict due to the Ethiopian government not meeting the conditions offered by the EU. Shocking news reports have identified that four aid workers are suspected to have been killed whilst attempting to aid those affected by the conflict confirms the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) one individual is a security guard while the other is a member of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Thus the current crisis at large could potentially result in the outbreak of conflict in Sudan with Ethiopia already having its fair share of disputes with Egypt over the recent construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, with Sudan placed in the middle of the two crunching nations if no plans or talks are held in the coming days.


Richardt Schoonraad | Srinjana Michelle

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