After several months of fighting, the government and the TPLF leaders are still intransigent despite international calls and sanctions threat.
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Northern Region does not date yesterday. For several decades, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from the north has been the dominant party in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition. But the ascension of Ahmed Abiy (who is not from the north) as Prime Minister in 2018 heralded a recalibration of power. The long standing verbal conflict in Ethiopia took another twist. In early November 2020, tensions between the federal government and the leadership of the Northern Tigray region exploded into military confrontation. Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed launched what he called a “law-and-order operation” targeting domestic terrorists. It involved large deployments of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and aerial bombardments.
By November 28, federal forces had taken control of the region’s capital and declared victory after being aided by Eritrean troops that are still in the Ethiopian territory. Since then, the security situation is unstable in parts of Tigray, and many analysts are concerned about the prospect of a drawn-out insurgency. The war-torn Tigray region is facing a dire humanitarian crisis as ongoing conflict drives children and families from homes and deeper into despair. At least 2.6 million children and adults need life-saving aid, many of whom are displaced within the region and across regional borders due to escalation of violence. An estimated 62,255 more children and adults fled homes and livelihoods in Tigray in search of shelter in Sudan. Many faced increased risks of hunger, abuse, and separation from their parents, according to UNICEF.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is investigating reports of killings and sexual violence in Tigray that may amount to war crimes. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says: “Deeply distressing reports of sexual and gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property by all parties continue to be shared with us, as well as reports of continued fighting in central Tigray in particular.”
Analysts say, to bring an end to these suffering, both conflicting parties have to collaborate with the Ethiopian government providing immediate access to humanitarian agencies. Sending back Eritrean forces because their destabilizing presence undermines international and regional norms, while the communications blackout imposed by the government should be re-establish with acceptance to allow a credible and independent investigation into allegations of atrocities.
Since it is crystal clear that the origins of this crisis are political, the Ethiopian government should seek a broadly inclusive dialogue about the way forward for the country’s many restive constituencies. At the same time, the international community should redouble its international cooperation, careful diplomacy, and an inclusive political process that would help restore confidence among the country’s diverse population.