Ethiopia's "Existential War": Government Orders Citizens To Prepare For Final Stand
Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency on Tuesday, November 2nd, after the People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel forces from Tigray announced that they were gaining territory and considering marching on the capital Addis Ababa.
The Tigray Coalition
At least nine different groups have now joined forces with the TPLF and formed a coalition with the goal of ousting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The newly announced coalition includes the Tigray forces, as well as the Oromo Liberation Army and the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, Agaw Democratic Movement, Benishangul People's Liberation Movement, Gambella Peoples Liberation Army, Global Kimant People Right and Justice Movement/ Kimant Democratic Party, Sidama National Liberation Front and Somali State Resistance.. The coalition has declared that it seeks to "establish a transitional arrangement in Ethiopia" to remove the prime minister as soon as possible, organizer Yohanees Abraha, who is with the Tigray group, told the AP. "The next step will be, of course, to start meeting and communicating with countries, diplomats and international actors in Ethiopia and abroad."
The coalition was announced hours before the UN Security Council issued a unilateral call for an end to the war in Ethiopia. The UNSC also called for unhindered access for humanitarian aid to tackle the world's worst hunger emergency in the Tigray region. At least 350,000 people in Tigray face famine conditions. 5.5 million people are in dire need of food aid. 62,000 people have been forced to flee the country into Sudan.
How did this start?
In 2018, Tensions between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) the political party that represents the Tigray region, escalated after a dispute concerning elections during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rode a popular wave of anti-TPLF sentiments and grievances to try to consolidate his power, especially after failing to deliver on political promises he’d made. To deflect increasing criticism of him he began to follow a Trumpian-like increasingly antagonizing Tigrayans and blaming them for all the countries ills and his own failures. According to experts Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed portrayed Tigrayans as “the Ethiopian equivalent of the ‘deep state.’ His Trump-like rhetoric blurred the lines between the TPLF leadership, which is corrupt and has been in power for decades, and the Tigrayan people.
How did the war start?
Tensions spiraled out of control 2020 after the election was postponed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with the approval of Parliament, due to COVID-19 concern. Many accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of an illegal power grab, including the TPLF. The Tigray region decided to hold elections in September in an act of defiance. Abiy’s government declared those elections illegal. Ethiopia’s Parliament then voted to cut funds from the regional Tigrayan government, a move the TPLF said violated the law and was “tantamount to a declaration of war.” In late October, the TPLF blocked an Ethiopian general from taking up a post in Tigray and a few days later, the TPLF attacked a federal military facility in Tigray in what it claimed was so-called “preemptive self-defense.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed chose to escalate the situation by declaring “The last red line had been crossed,” and sending a heavy military force, accompanied by airstrikes into Tigray. The Ethiopian government launched what it called a “law enforcement operation” in response, a justification for a full-scale military invasion. Tigrayan defense forces are fighting against the Ethiopian National Defense Force. The ENDF is allied to its longtime enemy Eritrea and other militias within Ethiopia, specifically Amhara forces.
Human rights abuses rampant
The situation has since turned into a protracted conflict over power and political influence with horrifying humanitarian implications, especially to women and children. An internal United States government report assessed that the Ethiopian military and their allies were “deliberately and efficiently rendering Western Tigray ethnically homogeneous through the organized use of force and intimidation.” Eritrean forces have been accused of mass looting, pillaging, and wanton destruction of everything from banks to crops to hospitals. There have been massacres and mass executions. Researchers from the University of Ghent have compiled a detailed list of 1,900 Tigrayans killed in more than 150 mass killings since the start of the conflict.
When the Eritrean or Ethiopian forces lose a battle, they take revenge on civilians in the surrounding areas. Rape has been used as a weapon of war; a USAID report includes testimony from a woman who recalled her rapist saying he was “cleansing the blood lines” of Tigrayan women. Hundreds of women and girls in Tigray have reported being subjected to horrific sexual violence and rape with levels of cruelty beyond comprehension by Ethiopian and allied Eritrean soldiers and militias. At least 829 cases of sexual assault and rape by Ethiopian and allied forces have been reported at hospitals in Tigray, there are many more that have gone unreported. Doctors say cases of rape, gang rape, and extreme sexual violence are being reported every day and they believe rape is being used systematically as collective punishment on Tigray.
Most of the reported atrocities point to Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces, though Tigray People’s Liberation Front-linked groups have also been linked to at least one mass killing. In March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed acknowledged that reports “indicate that atrocities have been committed in Tigray region.” He said those responsible should be held accountable, though he also claimed all criticisms and reports were “propaganda of exaggeration.” As a result, the United States has declared sanctions for Ethiopia and its leadership.
Abiy's Final Stand
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has now urged citizens to arm themselves to combat rebel forces. He has also called on military veterans to join what he calls an "existential war." Addis Ababa authorities urged residents to register their firearms and prepare to defend their neighbourhoods. The state of emergency was imposed with immediate effect after the TPLF claimed it had captured several towns in recent days and said they might march on Addis Ababa, about 380 kilometers (235 miles) to the south of their forward positions. Anyone violating the emergency decree would face three to 10 years in prison, for offences such as providing financial, material, or moral support to “terrorist groups”. In a statement, Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos announced, “Our country is facing a grave danger to its existence, sovereignty and unity. And we can’t dispel this danger through the usual law enforcement systems and procedures,”
Similarly, authoritarian measures were last imposed in February 2018 for six months prior to the transfer of power to Prime Minister Abiy. There are curfews and restrictions on movement, while thousands of people have been detained. The Ethiopian government also urged people to register their weapons and organize self-regulated militias. “Residents can gather in their locality and safeguard their surroundings. Those who have weapons but can’t take part in safeguarding their surroundings are advised to hand over their weapons to the government or their close relatives or friends.”