War sharpens in Ethiopia

Submitted by AWL on 23 November, 2021 - 9:10 Author: Luca Brasco
Tigray protest in UK

A ceasefire is looking unlikely in Ethiopia, as tensions remain high in the conflict between the central government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

On 2 November, the federal government declared a state of emergency, and granted authorities the power to conscript “any military-age citizen who has weapons”. Five days later, a pro-military demonstration was held in the capital, with tens of thousands of attendees, denouncing efforts to stop the conflict through negotiations. Recently, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed even called on all Ethiopians “to organise and march... using every weapon and power... to prevent, reverse and bury the terrorist TPLF.”

Meanwhile, starvation is spreading in Tigray, due to the systematic blockade maintained by the federal government. According to former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock: “There’s not just an attempt to starve six million people but an attempt to cover up what’s going on.” The TPLF hopes to make receiving aid easier by seizing the roads leading to the port in Djibouti.

Tigrayans living in areas outside of TPLF control also suffer from arbitrary detentions. Amnesty International reports that more than 1,000 people are held at one camp in squalid conditions.

Sexual violence is reported from all sides. Recently TPLF fighters have been accused of gang rape by 16 women in the Amhara region. TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda denied the allegations and called for an independent investigation. Amnesty International says all sides have been accused of human rights abuses in the year-long war.

As the Tigrayan forces are now less than 300 kilometers away from the capital, Addis Ababa, pressure is mounting on Abiy Ahmed.

“The TPLF wants to put the government under pressure to negotiate. I don’t think they [TPLF] will enter Addis Ababa. They are very unpopular there” — says Samuel Ghebhrehiwet, former BBC Tigrinya editor.

Earlier this month, nine groups formed a coalition known as the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces, with the goal to oust Abiy. The group includes the Oromo Liberation Army, historically an opponent of the TPLF. Abiy himself came to power due to protests led by Oromo democracy activists.

Although mountainous Tigray includes a relatively small part of Ethiopia’s population, it has historically often been a dominant element in Ethiopia. The TPLF was the main force in the central government from 1991 to 2018, and claims some credit for the relatively rapid economic growth under that government from about 2011.

Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018, and proclaimed a policy of releasing political prisoners, privatising the economy, and making peace with neighbouring Eritrea. In September 2020 the TPLF went ahead with regional elections in Tigray, despite Abiy postponing them, allegedly due to the pandemic.

Abiy would soon arrest the leaders of the Oromo democracy movement, and dissolve their parties.

Shortly after, allegedly in response to TPLF attacks on Ethiopian Northern Command headquarters, Abiy attacked Tigray with his Eritrean ally.

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