The landlocked state of Ethiopia is located in the Horn of Africa. The immediate neighbors of this state include the state of Sudan towards the West, the state of Eritrea to the North, the state of Kenya towards the South, towards the East there is Somaliland and the North-eastern side holds the state of Djibouti.
The country is known as the oldest one as it has some old traces of the human race, hence making it an even more interesting area in the history of human evolution. Of all the states in the African continent, Ethiopia after Egypt and Nigeria stands as the most populated one.
The neighboring states of Ethiopia have been indulged in various conflicts whether inter-state or intra-state causing havoc in the whole region. Ethiopia too has been a prey of such events and has been struggling.
The Ethiopia-Tigray conflict is a recent one as things escalated quickly in the year 2019 and a civil war broke loose. It has been over a year and the state of Ethiopia is still in the middle of a violent civil war that has led to massive casualties. The state was already dealing with economic, political, and social contests before this conflict bloomed between the federal government and the party residing in the North.
However, there was not just one specific event that led towards this intra-state war but there have been many factors at play that have contributed to this situation. The ongoing conflict has become a topic of scrutiny for the International community which shows how much of a dangerous turn this war has taken and if it’s not dealt with would have broader regional implications.
The conflict came into action in November 2020 when the federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy directed a military offense in the Northern region; Tigray. The reason behind doing so was that the Tigrayan people attacked and held a military base and this was not something that the Prime Minister let pass by. Instead, a counter offense was launched with much more force and thus the war started.
Labeling it a law and order situation, Mr. Abiy guaranteed that this attack would not turn into something big and would be over within a few weeks. He also assured that it would be bloodless and it was just a measure to deal with the rebels and to bring them to justice. But as a few weeks passed and the situation intensified, the Tigrayan leaders captured several important cities including the capital.
Hence a state of emergency was announced and the general public was also encouraged to take part in this war to protect their state from falling into the hands of rebels.
The conflict is an interstate one. The Ethiopian government is fighting with its Northern region; Tigray. It’s an asymmetric conflict and both sides have refused to back down and have ignored any efforts at a resolution which has further aggravated it. The nature of the conflict is purely political as both sides have aspirations of being the sole ruling party and gaining such power at the expense of another.
Tigray is one of the many regions of the state of Ethiopia and the inhabitants of this region are known as Tigrayans. This region is located towards the North and shares a border with Sudan and Eritrea. Tigrayans have played an important role in the history of Ethiopia.
They were the group along with Eritrean People’s Liberation Front who overthrew the brutal dictatorship in the 1990s. As Eritrea became its own independent state in the year 1991, the only dominant party that was present in Ethiopia was the TPLF. From here onwards they rose to power and retained it for almost 30 years.
The region has a mountainous landscape which serves as a great opportunity for the conduction of guerilla warfare. Tigrayans have been the most leading and influential party to rule Ethiopia for decades but they only make up 6 percent of the total population.
Tensions among ethnic groups:
In order to understand what led to this inter-state conflict, it is essential to have a look at the background. The conflict has been in making since 2018. In this year the ruling party; TLPF was forced to step down as the people were unhappy with their discriminatory behavior. The frustration between the ethnic groups of Amhara and Oromo was what led them to consider another ruling elite.
Such an uprising bought Abiy Ahmed into power. Abiy hailed from an Amharic-Oromo background. The Tigrayans did not perceive him as a threat as he was already a part of their coalition and they thought that he would help retain the status quo. But unfortunately, Mr. Abiy had different plans. He supported democratic transformations and also made peace with the neighboring state; Eritrea, which it had been at war with for several years.
This step won him a noble prize and made him a hero in the eyes of the International community. The opposition party did not respond happily to his democratic and unifying initiatives and thus denied to be a part of every method he took to for unifying all.
The state of Ethiopia was about to hold its elections but due to Covid-19, they were postponed. The Tigrayan opposition used this against the government by labeling them as incompetent and went on to hold elections in their own region. This action was highly criticized by the government and they called it illegal. Then in November, the Tigrayan leaders were accused of attacking a military base on the basis of which the federal government mobilized their military forces and hit back.
The conflict is an ongoing one and even though many efforts have been made, the de-escalation is less likely to take place due to a lack of cooperation between both forces. This poses a larger threat as Ethiopia being the second most populated state would lead to massive displacements. This situation would allow spoilers to benefit from it and further create tensions. The neighbors of the state are in turmoil themselves and Ethiopia has played a great role in extending help to them in order to ensure regional stability and security.
Peacekeepers in Somalia:
The peacekeeping initiatives in Somalia are heavily supported by Ethiopia and the inner disorder threatens its victory. Sudan has been going through a transition and Ethiopia has extended massive diplomatic backing in order to bring about harmony in the region. Hence a great responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of this state. It has to reach a mutually acceptable and inclusive political arrangement in order to deal with this conflict otherwise there is much at stake. This would exacerbate the refugee crisis and could also lead to the Tigrayan people separating themselves from Ethiopia, breaking it. Internationally, people would lose interest in this region, and the actors to whom this region seems like a perfect opportunity would use it for a proxy war.
The peace remains elusion as well as it is a threat to regional security. The International community has to reach out and play an active role in order to simmer down this situation. The Tigrayan leaders do not accept Abiy’s leadership as illegitimate and the federal government sees them as ones who are violating the law. No peacemaking took place, the conflict escalated when the government reiterated with force. structural and cultural peacebuilding can play a vital role in normalizing the situation. Recently, Tigray fighters have withdrawn from the Afar and Amhara regions, but people there remain wary. DW’s Mariel Müller reports from the Amhara town of Lalibela, where more are taking up arms.
This article is written by Syeda Maryam Imtiaz, she is a graduate of International Relations from the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad Pakistan. she is a researcher and interested in diplomacy, foreign policy, International law, global institutions, etc.