Tigray is a state in northern Ethiopia, led by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). Before the election of Prime Minister Abiy in 2018, the TPLF had been in power of the country’s governing coalition. Since the elections, tension between the TPLF and the Ethiopian federal government has escalated, but the outbreak of violence can be pinned down to early November 2020. In November, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed accused the TPLF of having attacked a military base. Although the TPLF denied the accusation, troops were sent in the Tigray region. Tigray is a very important region in Ethiopia, Tigrayans make up around 5% of the country’s population. Federal troops were sent in with the function to “restore the rule of law” and within three weeks the TPLF was forced to leave Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. This led prime minister Abiy to declare that the offense had been successful. However, five months into the conflict, Abiy backtracked and admitted that a guerilla war was taking place.
The TPLF leadership has accused the Ethiopian government of starting a genocide in the region, threatening the stability of the country and initiating a civil war. While the causes of the war may vary depending on who you talk to and who you choose to believe, no one can deny that a civilian massacre is taking place. As of 2 April 2021, 1,900 people were identified as victims. Researchers studying the conflict hold that there have been around 150 massacres, defined as episodes where at least five people were killed, and 90% of the victims are identified as male. The victims range from all ages, starting from infants to elderly men and everyone in between. The report of the massacres does not include perpetrators as a lot is still unknown and uncertain, but researchers estimate that 14% of killings can be attributed to Ethiopian forces and 45% have been carried out by Eritrean troops collaborating with the federal government. Furthermore, it has been estimated that over 60,000 people have fled the region and sought safety in neighbouring country Sudan. Over 2 million are internally displaced and there is a dire need for food and supplies as most of the region has been closed off by the Ethiopian federal government.
A shocking and scary report by Save the Children, states that as a consequence of the conflict in Tigray thousands of children have been separated from their families, they live in dire conditions with insufficient food and are at risk of physical and sexual violence. Another alarm bell is the number of reported rape cases, sexual violence against women and girls of all ages has been prominent throughout the conflict. Only in the last two months, 950 reports of rape have been made, but the number is likely to be much higher. The effects of the conflict are devastating, especially on vulnerable groups like women and children, health facilities have been destroyed and there is a lack of mental support for the victims.
What is Eritrea’s role in the conflict?
Civil wars are rarely localised and instead cause turmoil in the region, often leading to neighbour and foreign intervention. At the beginning of the conflict, Abiy thanked Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki for the support shown to Ethiopian troops that were fed and clothed by the neighbouring country and could thus resume fighting against the TPLF. TPLF then claimed that Eritrea was not only providing shelter to Ethiopian soldiers but Afwerki was actively sending troops in Tigray. While at the beginning both parties denied the accusation that the Ethiopian federal government had been collaborating with Eritrea to attack Tigray, government officials have reported that Ethiopian troops are in Tigray.
Who is Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed?
Abiy was elected in 2018, he promised to put an end to the previous autocratic regime and initiated an era of democratic reforms where all the different ethnic groups in Ethiopia would be respected and have equal standing. He liberated thousands of political prisoners and allowed political parties to operate. In 2019 he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution towards ending the 20-year conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. While his election seemed promising for the country, during the time that he has been in power the nation has been highly divided along ethnic lines, with many episodes of violence and armed conflicts.
Solomon’s take on Abiy Ahmed:
“I think everyone should know that Abiy Ahmed is a liar. At the beginning he said that the Eritrean troops were not in the Tigray region. He also said the Tigray military (TPLF) are like flour in the air, this means that they are not organised, they are everywhere and nowhere…. Then, he went back on his words and said there were Eritrean troops in Tigray, and it was important that they stayed there to protect the Eritrean border from the TPLF because the Ethiopian military does not have the capabilities to protect Ethiopia as well as Eritrea from the TPLF. So, one moment he says the TPLF is weak and the next he says he needs Eritrean troops to be able to fight them.”
“The TPLF wanted to have the fighting take place away from the cities so that civilians would be safe, and it would be a war only against the military. Instead, when Eritrean troops, the Ethiopian military and the Amhara special military entered the Tigray region a lot of fighting happened, and thousands of civilians died. Abiy Ahmed announced that no one was dying while this was obviously a lie.”
Solomon, is there anything we can do?
“Everyone knows what is happening in Tigray, but it would be nice to collect donations and help them financially. Let’s all be the voice for the voiceless, the world needs to know what is happening in Tigray.”
“There are NGOs that are helping in the Tigray region, they are giving them food and offering shelter. But the Ethiopian military is taking their food away, so for example if a person should receive 15kg of wheat the military comes and takes 9kg and only leaves 6kg for the person. That’s unacceptable.”
“There is no bank, there is no medicines, no water, no transportation, no clothes and worst of all, women of all ages are being raped. In certain cases, women are forced to sleep with the men from the military in exchange for a little money so that they can buy food for their families. It’s important that we keep talking about what is happening and raise awareness in every way we can.”
By Francesca Celenta, with the help of Solomon Yeebyo