14 November 2020   Leave a comment

Fighting between the central government of Ethiopia and one of its provincial governments has been going for over a week and it appears as if the fighting might escalate. On 4 November Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military strike against a military base in its northern state of Tigray. The dispute reflects long-simmering tensions between the people of Tigray who were the main governing group in Ethiopia for a long period of time. Ethiopia is one of the oldest states in the world and is comprised of about 80 distinct ethnic groups. For much of the 20th Century is was ruled by the Emperor Haile Selassie who was overthrown in 1974. In 1991 the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took control of the government despite the fact that Tigrayans only constitute 6% of the population. The minority rule alienated the much larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front took control of the government in 2018 after three years of civil conflict, and Abiy, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, was named Prime Minister.

Abiy accomplished much in his initial years, most notably bringing an end to a devastating war with Eritrea, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Additionally, the Ethiopian economy was among the fastest growing economies in the world. The tensions between the Tigrayans and the Ethiopian central government are described in Time:

“In November 2019 he [Abiy] did away with the coalition of regional parties that had ruled the country for 27 years in favor of a single Prosperity Party. The TPLF declined to join, and Abiy removed all remaining TPLF ministers from his cabinet, essentially cutting off Tigray from power. Then, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, he declared that national elections scheduled for August 2020 would be postponed until 2021.

“Tigray wasn’t having it. The state held its own elections in September. Not surprisingly, the TPLF won handily. The federal government declared the elections void and retaliated by withholding funding. Then, on Nov. 2, Ethiopia’s federal parliament designated the TPLF a terrorist group, all but shutting the door to any kind of negotiated resolution. ‘The TPLF crossed a red line,’ says Zadig Abraha, Abiy’s minister in charge of Democratization. ‘The Prime Minister is committed to peace. He brought peace to our country, and he was able to solve the longstanding conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, so when you come to his record there is no doubt. The problem is not him, but the TPLF.’”

The Tigrayans resisted the control of the central government and Abiy ordered the military strike to assert the control of the central government. The Tigrayan provincial government, however, is exceptionally well-armed due to its proximity to Eritrea during the war with Eritrea. The fighting has led to the killing of many civilians, and many analysts fear a protracted civil war which could easily spill over into neighboring countries such as Sudan. Communications from the county are limited, but Amnesty International asserts that massacres have occurred:

“Amnesty International can today confirm that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November.

“The organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab has examined and digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers. It confirmed the images were recent and using satellite imagery, geolocated them to Mai-Kadra in western Tigray state (14.071008, 36.564681).

“’We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,’ said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.”

Posted November 14, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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