Everything you need to know about the Ethiopian-Tigray Conflict

One of the largest humanitarian crises of the 21st century

History of the Conflict

Although this conflict started in November of this year, it’s roots go back at least 30 years.

Up until 1991, Ethiopia had been ruled by a communist military junta, which was established in 1987 as the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia by the DERG or Provisional Military Government of Ethiopia. At first, this state was a symbol of freedom, anti-colonialism and pan-africanism, but it slowly descended into corruption, chaos and disorder. For example, after the DERG took power, it redistributed the land from the landlords and slave owners to the peasants, giving people new opportunities for self determination and growth.

This would all end when, in 1974, Ethiopia would enter its first civil war. On one side, you had the DERG, which was supported by the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Poland and Libya, while on the other side you had the main force, the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). The TPLF wasn’t alone in their efforts, and were supported by 12 other political movements and parties, including the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (MEISON), with most of the supporters being Marxist-Leninists or socialist. This other side was supported by the likes of China, the USA, West Germany and others. Unlike other civil wars, this was not a communism vs capitalism conflict, but rather, it was a chance for the people of Ethiopia to have a say in their own self-determination, and be able to get what they wanted.

Ethiopian Civil War (Map by Skilla1st on Wikimedia)

Fast-forward to 1991, when the TPLF had finally succeeded in their aims, creating the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a Marxist-Leninist-Hoxhaist anti-revisionist party which brought freedom to Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the conflict caused around 1.5 million deaths in Ethiopia, with 1,000,000 deaths due to famines caused by the conflict and the incompetent DERG.

The EPRDF ruled the Ethiopian political landscape, becoming a more moderate party after 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union. Despite this, many ethnic and ideological tensions were present within Ethiopia, especially in the Tigray region, which remained a left-wing stronghold. Regardless of these tensions, Ethiopia managed to remain reasonably stable until 2019, when Prime Minister and EPRDF chairman Abiy Ahmed decided to dismantle the EPRDF and form one inclusive and comprehensive party called the Prosperity Party, which angered the TPLF, as they believed it went against their right to self-determine. This meant that the TPLF was the only party which did not join.

Catalyst of War

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Abiy Ahmed postponed the General Election, from May 2020 to August 2020, and then from August 2020 to an undetermined date in 2021. This also angered the people of Tigray, and they were quick to claim that Abiy Ahmed was an illegitimate ruler, claiming that it was undemocratic to postpone the elections and retain power for possibly over a year.

Map of Ethiopia and Tigray (Via Nationalia.info)

After this, tensions were at an all-time high, and people were afraid of a possible civil war. In September 2020, the TPLF, led by chairman Debretsion Gebremichael decided to ignore the government directive to cancel the elections, and went ahead with their own regional elections, where the TPLF won 98.2% of the votes. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was quick to call this election illegitimate and illegal, swiftly impeding any journalists access to the Tigray region, trying to repress freedom of press in the region.

Beginnings of the War

This all escalated to when on the 4th of November 2020, the TPLF attacked several bases belonging to the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and its Northern Command bases in the Tigray region. The TPLF attacked their headquarters in Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray, and bases in Adigrat, Agula, Dansha and Sero.

It all led to one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the 21st century, with around 1 million people displaced in just a few months of fighting. Although there are is no precise data available for the number of deaths, it is estimated that 911 civilians have died, although it is quite possible that this number is in the thousands, and the Ethiopian government claims they have killed 550 TPLF members, and the TPLF claims they have killed around 10,000 Ethiopian soldiers.

Government Militia troops on their way to fight the TPLF (Tiksa Negeri from REUTERS)

This conflict was also met with international backlash, with ethnic profiling against Tigray Ethiopians becoming more and more common by the Ethiopian government. The UN and EU were not quick to act, with the first aid in the region arriving on the 12th of December. The UN and EU effort was also disrupted by the fact that Abiy Ahmed denied any help, and quickly shut down internet and media access within the country and region.

By the time that UN and EU aid arrived in the region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had already declared victory, precisely on the 28th of November, when his forces marched on Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, and captured it. He declared that the operation in Tigray was “over”, while high ranking officials of the TPLF stated that they would continue fighting for their freedom.

Leader of the TPLF, Gebremicheal said “we are in our homeland, the invaders are attacking us”, while also claiming that Eritrea, a bordering country, has been aiding Ethiopia against the TPLF meaning that they are surrounded. Despite this, the TPLF has claimed that they have re-captured the city of Aksum. Furthermore, Gebremicheal has claimed that both Ethiopia and Eritrea have been looting different cities and factories in Tigray, going as far as looting medicine suppliers.

Humanitarian Crisis

This conflict has not only caused the loss of life for thousands of people, but has now caused a new wave of refugees running away from their homes, into the neighbouring country of Sudan. This has raised many questions by both local and international groups, with Human Rights Watch declaring that the Ethiopian government has violated international humanitarian laws by committing “actions that deliberately impede relief supplies”. Furthermore, the United Nations claims that there are roughly 2.3 million children which are in dire need of aid and assistance, as they are lacking basic necessities such as food, water and medicine, with children being in danger of malnutrition.

Ethiopians who are currently fleeing (Via VoaNews)

UNICEF has also commented on this issue, saying that “food, including ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of child malnutrition, medicines, water, fuel and other essentials are running low”. Outbreaks of COVID-19 are also said to be occurring within refugee groups due to the fact they are living in crowded camps and unsanitary conditions.

This conflict has carried on into late December, and it does not show signs of stopping.

18 year old writer based in Milan. Photographer and student. Lover of philosophy and history.

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