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Civil war in Ethiopia: the conflict between the federal government and the ruling party of Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia, broke out at the beginning of November. After multiple cases of disobedience of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unleashed the military forces to reconfirm his reaffirm his influence across the country.
Such conflict has the potential to upend the entire Horn of Africa, experts say. The rush to war has exacerbated ethnic divisions so badly it prompted warnings of potential ethnic cleansing and even genocide.
What is the story?
The conflict between the federal government and the northern province started in September when Tigray leaders defied Prime MInister’s authority and held the election despite the official election postponed due to coronavirus. Since then ruling party of Tigray started preparing for an armed conflict and multiplied their attacks on federal army bases and initiated armed militia.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front leaders had ruled in Tigray and in entire Ethiopia for the last three decades in a classic variation of post-war dictatorship with flourishing corruption at all levels and human right violation. They lost their power and influence with a new democratic Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking to the post two years ago. He freed political prisoners, welcomed back exiled dissidents, installed democratic principles of free elections and press freedom. Since then leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front were unceremoniously sidelined and had to retreat to Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray.
“Everyone saw this [civil war] coming,” said Kjetil Tronvoll, a scholar of Ethiopian politics at Bjorknes University College in Norway. “Both sides felt insecure and started to mobilize troops. It was a clear signal of a civil war in the making.”
Even though initially, the government estimated that the operation in Tigray will last between three and six months, and already last Saturday 29 of November the central government claimed control over the capital of the region Mekelle, - experts and humanitarian workers predict much longer operations and long-lasting impact on the society and refugees.
Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous country with a 110 million population. Tigray represents around 7% of the population, however, it is home to the largest army base - half the troops in Ethiopia Army and much of its artillery and heavy weaponry. Moreover, Tigray was already home to 200 000 refugees before the fighting started.
The tension limited travels from and to the Tigray region, which badly affected the humanitarian response to refugees in this area. With communications shut off and access to the region blocked, there have been few reliable reports about the impact of the fighting.
“The telecommunications are down, road access is closed, and fuel, water and cash in particular for our remaining staff and civilians to buy food wherever they may be is cut off,” said Catherine Sozi, the United Nations resident coordinator in Ethiopia.
While reports from the region are sparse, analysts and aid workers say that hundreds of people have died in the fighting since the beginning of the conflict, and thousands have been displaced.
With the capital taken by central forces, rural citizens are fearing to be caught in the crossfire between the military and militia of the TPLF who is scattered around the region, and continue the contra attacks against the federal forces.
Complicated ethnical relationships in Ethiopia and in the entire Horn of Africa where different ethnic groups live in constant tensions can bring fire to the whole region if sparked. There are at least 10 ethnically based federal states governed by different groups. Rivalries among ethnic groups like the Oromo, Amhara, Tigray and Somali burst into the open, leading to violent clashes that have increased in frequency and intensity this year, often killing scores of people.
There have been accusations of war crimes against both sides, including a massacre reported by Amnesty International in which dozens of villagers were said to have been chopped to death with machetes, possibly by pro-Tigray militiamen.
At least 600 people were killed in a massacre perpetrated by Tigray militiamen on November 9 in Mai Kadra, dissident region of northern Ethiopia, announced by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).In a preliminary report they accuse informal militia of young Tigrayans and security forces loyal to local authorities of the "carnage" targeting non-Tigrayan seasonal workers.
At Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, human rights workers say, security officials, have begun to ask Ethiopian passengers for their identity cards, which show ethnicity, instead of their passports, which do not.
“The situation in Tigray is analogous to the one in post-Saddam Iraq with members of the armed forces going into opposition after being purged,” said Dan Connell, a visiting researcher specializing in Ethiopia and Eritrea at Boston University. “It’s an understandable move at some levels, but extremely dangerous and it is coming back to haunt Abiy.”
Mr. Abiy was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea”, however recent developments made the Committee concerned about the rightfulness of this award.
What to do?
Join Amnesty International campaign “I Welcome” to help refugees;
Donate to ETHIOPIA AID who is at the forefront of helping people right now suffering from the consequences of the civil war;
Support work of the Amref Health Africa in Ethiopia;
Learn more about the work of the Red Cross in Ethiopia and globally.
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