Tigray conflict

Conflict breaks out in Ethiopia with one of its states attempting to become autonomous from the national government

Photo by John Macdougall.

— 2 minute read — By Sam Feierabend

Africa is a blend of multiple cultures that, following post-colonial rule, found itself split up into different states that were mixed in ethical backgrounds causing multiple flashpoints of tension in the modern world. Ethiopia is a country that has found itself in that exact situation. The East African country finds itself with a population split into ten ethnicities which makes it difficult to govern. The current iteration of Ethiopia was declared through a constitution founded in 1995 which split the country into nine regions that formed its own government that fed into a central ruling system in its capital city of Addis Ababa.

The state of Tigray lies at the most northern point of Ethiopia on the border with Eritrea. After the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in 2018, he was replaced by Abiy Ahmed who wanted to distance Ethiopia from ethnic federalism and move towards a nationwide Prosperity Party which would rule each ethnic group as one. This did not sit well with the Tigray Government, especially as the region had held power over the central government for 30 years, who refused to join the new central government in 2019- something that prompted Ahmed to label the region’s rulers (Tigray Liberation Front) as a terrorist organisation.

Tensions spilled into 2020 with Ahmed rescheduling summer elections into 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This move was labelled by the Tigray Government as ‘one by illegitimate leader’ and continued to hold their own elections in September, defying the central government which declared the Tigray election illegal.

The situation escalated to violence on 4th November when the Tigray Liberation Army attacked command centres of the Ethiopian National Defence Force and rockets spilling over into neighbouring Eritrea. Conflict was concentrated solely in the Tigray region, with airstrikes ordered by the central government to eliminate any rebel strongholds. On 28th November, the National Defence Force announced it had captured the region’s capital of Mekelle informally bringing the conflict to an end. The Tigray Liberation Army have said they will continue to fight.

It is estimated that 550 civilians have lost their life in the conflict with an approximate 44,000 fleeing the region into Sudan for relative safety. This may just be the beginning of finding out the extent of the humanitarian cost of the short conflict, but is a stark reminder of the dangers of powerful countries drawing borders of countries and ethnicities that have no control over who they are governed by.