Ethiopia: A country on the brink
Lotti Norman takes a look at the unfolding situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray province and the potential for a civil war.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, is a country of immense ethnic diversity, and one on the brink of civil war. The national forces of Ethiopia, headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, are currently engaged in an active conflict with troops loyal to the province of Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
For the past 30 years, the Tigrayans have been a dominant ethnic group in Ethiopia. Although only counting for 7 million of the 110 million strong population, they are seen as a capable, heavily armed, resolute collective located in the Northern province of the country.
The TPLF claim, that since Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, with a head-strong campaign to reinforce the rule of law, they have been unfairly marginalised. Yet the government advocate that the Tigrayans opposition can be seen as a continuous attempt to undermine both the institution and the people of Ethiopia.
So, what sparked the current, evidently bitter, conflict? Primarily, it appears to be an armed attack which the government claims took place against an Ethiopian Military division in Tigray, with the finger of blame pointing directly at the TPLF. In retaliation, on November 4th, Abiy Ahmed initiated a drastic military attack against the group.
Hundreds have lost their lives and an estimated 30,000 people have been displaced
However, as customary with political conflicts, there are always two sides to the story. The TPLF have denied responsibility for the ‘attack’, arguing that it has been completely concocted by government officials. They have identified this as a mere story, a perverse excuse to send in the national military. Is this a directly formulated attack against the Tigrayan’s, in an attempt to wipe them out as a people? Or is it a strategic governmental response to a very real threat?
Unsettlingly, the international community is almost completely in the dark, knowing few details about the fighting that is currently occurring. We hear about airstrikes that the government claim are precise and strategic, yet we confoundingly hear that said airstrikes have been hitting mass groups of civilians. There have been reports from Amnesty International, of atrocities including a massacre of 500 non-Tigrayans by the TPLF, but the details are still unconfirmed. The government and associated organisations refuse to give comment.
All we have are the first-hand reports coming from Tigrayan refugees. In the Tigrayan region phone lines and internet access have been cut off, and civilians are being forced to flee to bordering countries. Hundreds have lost their lives and an estimated 30,000 people have been displaced. With Sudan already bursting at the seams, the UN predict a further 200,000 people will be displaced. In this, one thing is painfully obvious, which is that there are large numbers of terrified people, running for their lives.
Driven from their homes by what appear to be brutal bombings and an intense atmosphere of ethnic hatred, the message is clear. An ethnically fuelled civil war is breaking out, a war being fought in the dark, as the international community attempt to unriddle events that the Ethiopian national government are defensively shrouding in a cloud of obscurity. With both sides continuing to maintain that they will fight to the bitter end, domestically, a grotesquely violent stalemate has occurred.
Under international law, disproportionate military attacks against civilians are absolutely prohibited and constitute war crimes. Yet a statement released by the Ethiopian government, worryingly, does not show any concern for the consequences of such international violations. With global interference being considered “unwelcome”, the same statement also proposed that national forces will show “no mercy” with concern to civilians who get in the way. Such vindictive language will have put the UN on high alert, the threat of grotesque violations of international humanitarian law evident.
The UN predict a further 200,000 people will be displaced
To say that the global community is witnessing a tragedy is an understatement. The political integrity of Ethiopia is hanging precariously in the balance, the ideals of ethnic absolutism ringing clear to see. This not only threatens the lives of civilian Ethiopians but implicates those across the Horn of Africa, an area that the big political ‘power players’ have a keen interest in. The likes of China and the US should appreciate the realistic consequences that bode for international peace and security if Ethiopia’s already volatile political climate cascades into anarchy.
What can you do to help? Although the European Commission is mobilising an initial €4 million in emergency assistance to help support the displaced people arriving in Sudan, the situation is inevitably going to get worse before it gets better. Any donations, therefore, are integral to providing shelter, food, and safety for those that have fled. Donate today through the UNHCR website: