As the world turned to covering US elections, Ethiopians started a serious armed conflict in the northern Tigray region.
Almost exactly a year after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an attack on Tigray that could start a civil war in the country. Put in power in 2019, Ahmed was awarded for establishing peace with neighboring Eritrea after two years of war, in addition to making significant changes in his first year in office. Among them is the end of repressive measures, which were common in the Ethiopian government until then. Discontent with the ruler only began in 2020, after the elections scheduled to take place in August were postponed indefinitely on the grounds that they would pose a risk to the increase in coronavirus cases.
The vote would serve to elect a new parliament that, in turn, would appoint a new prime minister. Among the parties that disapprove of the decision is the Liberation Front of the Tigre People, an ethnic group that makes up the majority of the country’s population and gives its name to the northern Tigray region. Unhappy with the extension of Abiy Ahmed’s term, local authorities decided to hold their own elections in September, which were attended by more than two million people. The federal government did not recognize the vote as legitimate and, in retaliation, withheld funding from the opposing party. The tension between the parties increased until, on Monday, 2, the main local leader, Debretsion Fremeichael, warned that a bloody conflict could start.
On Wednesday, when the international media followed the counting of the elections in the United States, the prime minister cut off communications from the region and said that tigers had attacked a military base, which is why he would have sent troops from all over the country to attack the place. Tigray, for his part, says that these accusations are false and that it was the federal government that started the fight, but that tigers were ready to become martyrs.
Being very close to Eritrea, the region has experienced conflict and has about 250 thousand soldiers, as estimated by the International Crisis Group. In addition, Ethiopia is considered one of the best-armed nations in Africa.
On Friday, the situation worsened with the announcement that Abiy Ahmed had ordered airstrikes. Although the numbers are still uncertain because of the lack of communication with Tigray, deaths have been reported on both sides of the battlefield. As the Liberation Front of the Tigre People stated that it has no interest in negotiating with the government, the main concern at the moment is that the conflict will spread throughout the country, as other regions have been asking for more autonomy in recent times. Home to 80 different ethnic groups and the continent’s second-largest population, Ethiopia it has also seen violence between groups rise, which has led the government to restore some repressive measures that Abiy Ahmed was rewarded for setting aside.
Like many other African countries, Ethiopia has a fragile and recent democracy. Although it differs from the others because it has been continuously independent over time, its democracy was only consolidated even in 1995. In addition, the country still suffers from hunger, despite having 90% of the GDP composed of agriculture and being one of the fastest-growing economies across the continent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The country overcame the crisis of the 1980s that led to millions of deaths, but half of its population still has chronic malnutrition. An Ethiopian civil war can also reverberate across the continent, as the country is home to several international organizations focused on Africa, such as the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.