Ethiopia's Descent Into Darkness In Tigray
In 2019, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after ending a 20 year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In 2020, No less than a year after being honoured as a harbinger of peace, Abiy Ahmed launched a brutal military attack on Tigray, a regional state within his own country.
Abiy promised to bring peace to Ethiopia; now he’s presiding over a war that is quickly turning into ethnic cleansing and possible genocide. Thousands have died and many more have been injured and displaced. Credible reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity have emerged, including evidence of ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans. Telecommunications blackouts and limited access, including the blocking of humanitarian aid by the Ethiopian government, to parts of Tigray have made it difficult to fully assess what is unfolding there.
How did Ethiopia get to the point of civil war?
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 and 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.
Multiple countries worldwide have condemned Abiy's violent crackdown. Human rights defenders plus investigators now demand to be allowed into Tigray and an end to hostilities. Famine and displacement are now on the horizon for hundreds of thousands... all the meanwhile the Nobel prize winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, continues to descend the country into further darkness.
Ethiopia's government on Monday, June 29, declared an immediate, unilateral ceasefire in its Tigray region after nearly eight months of fighting after Tigray forces recaptured the regional capital of Mek'ele. Soldiers retreated and hundreds of thousands of people continue to face the world's worst famine crisis in a decade. Mek'ele residents cheered the return of Tigray forces, meanwhile Tigray forces captured the airport and other key positions in Mekele and broadcast a message telling residents to stop celebrating and go home. The ceasefire comes as the country awaits the results of national elections. Ethiopia's government said the ceasefire will be upheld until the end of the crucial planting season in Tigray, which ends in September.
Quick facts about the Tigray conflict: