Everyone is busy with the American elections, but at the same time an old conflict has flared up. So much that even the American government had time to dedicate a few words to it. What I’m talking about is the conflict in Ethiopia. Many people think a civil war is on the rise, but it’s still unclear if that thought will become reality. What we can look at, however, is why the old tensions have escalated now.

Already since the 1990s there have been tensions in Ethiopia. The tensions between the government of the Tigrayan region (an area in the north of Ethiopia, next to the border of Eritrea) and the in 2018 chosen Ethiopian prime minister go back to the very powerful role of the Tigray. They controlled the country for several years, even though only a very small part of the Ethiopian population is Tigray. Tigray, however, still holds a lot of power and is, compared to other Ethiopian regions, very autonomous. In 1991 the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) gained power after the dictatorship of that time was defeated. Until 2012 Ethiopia was led by a Tigrayan: Meles Zenawi. This government oppressed all other political parties and in 2018 there was an anti-government protest in which the current prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, participated and he eventually won. Some Tigrayan people were arrested and this was the start of the current situation. The Tigrayans have openly expressed their opposition against the government.

Wednesday morning, November 4, Tigrayan armies attacked the barracks of the national army. According to the prime minister the goal was to gain weapons. An important factor that made it possible for them to do this is that Tigray still has their own armies and in the national army are many soldiers from Tigrayan origin. The attack was caused by a problem every person deals with nowadays: corona. Abiy Ahmed decided to postpone the elections of Ethiopia due to the pandemic, but the Tigrayans didn’t agree and continued their regional elections. This made the federal government stop all financial support for the Tigrayan region.  Besides, the Tigrayan authorities defied the command of Abiy Ahmed to restructure their armies. All this together caused the attack on the barracks and the possibility of a civil war.

Another reason for the Tigrayan attack is the fact that Ethiopia has finally solved the war with Eritrea and itself. Tigray is a northern region, next to Eritrea. The Eritrean government has a lot of influence in the federal Ethiopian government and it supports Abiy Ahmed. This is a big threat for Tigray, since they are enclosed by enemies: the rest of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The federal government has declared a six month state of emergence and has cut off all communication resources after the attack. The reason for this was that “illegal and violent activities within the National Regional State of Tigray are endangering the constitution and constitutional order”. Human Rights Watch has demanded that the communication ways need to be restored, because having no ways of communication harms the freedom of the Tigrayan people and undermines their right to question the government.

The future of this conflict is uncertain, but at least now we understand the origin of it a bit better.

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Image by: Tiksa Negeri/REUTERS, 2020, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2020/11/10/ethiopia-tigray-mekelle-conflict-army-TPLF

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