Tigray Conflict


REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Overview

The current tension between the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia and Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy’s government has been on the rise since September 2020. Though the case, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been at odds with PM Abiy since coming to power in 2018. Upon his accession to power, the PM not only removed TPLF “old guards” from top government positions but also dismantled the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The EPRDF, which came to power in 1991 following the Ethiopian civil war,  is a coalition of four major ethnicity-driven political parties which TPLF dominated during their 29 years in power. The rise of PM Abiy, which is a  result of frustration from the public due to political and economic marginalisation of other ethnic groups, meant the decline of TPLF dominance in politics. The EPRDF was also associated with gross human rights violations, including the mass detention of critics of the government, and extrajudicial killings.       

The trigger that set off a domino effect was the 9 September Tigray elections which were held in defiance to the national government. The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), temporarily postponed the national and regional elections, as a precautionary step to curb the spread of COVID-19. The TPLF objected to the move, stating that the NEBE was enabling PM Abiy to centralise power. The national elections were supposed to take place in August 2020.

The 9 September 2020 elections in Tigray, which resulted in a landslide victory for the TPLF, was deemed “unconstitutional and illegal”  by the Ethiopian government. Between September and November, both sides engaged in bitter tit-for-tat exchanges, setting the stage for the current military battle in the Tigray region. In October, tensions escalated further when Ethiopia’s Upper House of Parliament voted to cut off budget subsidies to the Tigray region. The TPLF announced that the sanctions of Tigray mounted a “declaration of war” by the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian military accused the TPLF of staging an attack on an army base, killing several soldiers. 

After months of rising tension between the TPLF and Ethiopian government, Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy announced the “law enforcement operation” on 4 November 2020. The operations aimed to restore law and order in the northernmost region of Ethiopia by expelling “treasonous” elements of the TPLF. During the three week conflict, the Ethiopian military conducted airstrikes throughout the Tigray region. At the same time, its ground forces allegedly captured towns and villages from TPLF as they marched towards Mekelle, the regional capital city. The rebel group responded by firing rockets into Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. On 29 November, PM Abiy announced on Twitter that government forces are in “full control” over the capital city of Mekelle and that the conflict has officially ended. The TPLF countered PM’s statement, stating that the conflict is still ongoing. 

A month after the Ethiopian military began “law enforcement operation,” the Tigray region descended into chaos. Recent estimates indicate more than ⅙ of the Tigrayans (1 million)  have been displaced while another 45,000 have fled to neighbouring Sudan for safety. The exact figures for casualties are unknown due to the decision by the Ethiopian government to cut off communication and internet in the Tigray region. From the little information that has been able to be shared, at least 1000 people have been killed. In one instance, a massacre in  Mai-Kadra town, western Tigray state, resulted in at least 600 people killed. The numbers are expected to rise sharply. 

The looming humanitarian crisis has led to calls from the African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and international aid organisations pleading with the Ethiopian government to open an aid corridor. Aid organisations have warned of a shortage of basic necessities such as food, water, shelter and cash. The crisis has also affected the 100,000 Eritrean refugees living in Tigray. The blockade by government troops on Tigray is not helping the situation since no vehicles, including aid trucks, are allowed to enter or leave the region. 

Current Situation

Currently, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian military have been fighting since 4 November when the Ethiopian government announced Operation law enforcement aimed at defeating “treasonous” elements of the TPLF. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy announced on 29 November 2020 that the conflict was over now that the military is in “full control” of Tigray’s capital, Mekelle. TPLF countered the PM’s announcement by saying that the fighting is still ongoing in the outskirts of the capital city. The Ethiopian government has refused mediation pleas by regional (AU, IGAD) or international institutions (UN). The month-long conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis that has affected Tigrayan and Eritrean refugees alike. At least ⅙ of the Tigray population has been rendered internally displaced persons (IDPs) while another 45,000 people have fled to Sudan.

Classification: Ongoing conflict, humanitarian crisis, 

 

Trend:

 Worsening

Facts

Where: Tigray Region, Ethiopia 

Tigray militia force: 250,000 (International Crisis Group)

Population: 6 Million (Tigray region), 

Dates of conflict:  4 November – Present 

Deaths: between 600 – 1200 (Estimates from human rights organisations, numbers expected to rise) 

Refugees/Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs): 45, 000 Refugees in Sudan (Estimates by UNHCR), 1 million IDPs (Estimates by aid organisations) 

Key actors

Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy came to power in 2018 after his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned in February 2018. His accession of PM Abiy to power, the first ethnically Oromo PM, signalled that Ethiopia was moving towards a more democratic country. He freed thousands of political prisoners, and self-exiled personalities returned to the country. Ethiopians had more space to express their thoughts and opinions without fear of prosecution. The PM quickly gained international notoriety, getting a Nobel Peace Prize for re-establishing a relationship with Eritrea following a two-decade stalemate. 

Ethiopia began receding to its prior authoritarian tendencies. Critics of his government were quickly detained, arrested, and charged with terrorism, similar to what previous governments had done. The increasingly authoritarian nature of his government led to mass protests throughout the regions, with Ethiopians dissatisfied with the fact that some major issues were not addressed such as the expansion of the capital city of Addis Ababa into traditionally Amhara territory. Moreover, the use of excessive force by the police while quelling protests, including those after the assassination of a famous government critic Hachalu Hundiessa, who is also Oromo, did not help PM Abiy’s image. 

The most recent crisis came as a tag-of-war between his government and the Tigray region over the postponement of the regional and national elections in March and the subsequent defiant regional elections in September. His decision to employ the military, known for its oppression, to deal with the Tigray conflict has called into question his earlier moves for the democratisation of Ethiopia. Many are also questioning whether he should be allowed to retain his Nobel Peace Prize. 

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has a long history in Ethiopia. The TPLF was among the leading forces that brought down the highly centralised and authoritarian Derg  (1974 – 1987) and People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia government (1987-1991). Upon their victory, they created the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition government with lesser powerful ethnic-affiliated political parties, Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). The TPLF-led EPRDF created a new constitution that created a federalist system which gave the regional states partial autonomy and the right to self-determination. 

Though EPRDF had made significant changes in Ethiopia, the government faced opposition from the public, with many criticising the government for not addressing major issues, i.e. land disputes, imprisonment of government critics and political and economic marginalisation. Mass protests in 2017 and 2018 eventually led to the end of TPLF-dominated political space with the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgn in February 2018 and the subsequent election of Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy, an Oromo from the ODP party. 

The TPLF has been sceptical of PM Abiy since he came into power in 2018. Months after becoming Prime Minister, he urged three out of the four major parties that belong to the EPRDF (mentioned above) to form a united political party, the Prosperity Party. The TPLF viewed the creation of the Prosperity Party as a sign that Ethiopia was receding to its authoritarian one-party system that they had fought a civil war to remove. To add salt to the wound, PM Abiy removed some of the Tigrayans, who had been in politics for decades, from top government positions. Their fears continued to build when the national electoral board issued a decree in March 2020 postponing the regional and parliamentary election to an unspecified date. Moreover, the PM’s decision to restore relations with Eritrea, a rival of the TPLF, was another icing on the cake, sowing seeds of mistrust. 

The current situation in Tigray is a result of TPLF’s mistrust of the government and feeling of political marginalisation and PM Abiy’s decision to deal with the problem militarily. 

In terms of human rights, TPLF and affiliated groups have been accused of committing human rights abuses during the ongoing conflict. 

The Ethiopian military, Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), has been the primary driver for the “Operation law enforcement” in Tigray. The ENDF have been using a two-pronged attack against the TPLF: 1. airstrikes and 2) ground forces ‘liberating’ towns and villages from TPLF while marching towards Mekelle, capital of Tigray. In three and a half weeks, the military claimed to be in “full control” of the Mekelle, a fact that TPLF has disputed. 

ENDF does not have an excellent track record of following international law and has been accused of human rights violations. The PM government sometimes uses the military to support the police to respond to protesters. Human rights and aid organisations have accused the government troops of using excessive force while conducting Operation law enforcement. The accusations are hard to verify due to the communication blackout.

AU:

The escalation of tension between TPLF and the Ethiopian government quickly gained the attention of the African Union (AU), with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.  The AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, issued a statement calling for both sides immediate cessation of hostels while “respect[ing] human rights and ensur[ing] the protection of civilians.”The Chair of the AU, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, reaffirmed AU’s position in Ethiopia, saying that the crisis “should be brought to an end through dialogue.”  In addition to calling for calm, AU sent three former African heads of states, former presidents of Liberia, Mozambique and South Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Joaquim Chissano, Kgalema Motlanthe, respectively, to seek a peaceful resolution to the Tigray conflict. The meeting did not result with the preferred outcome of bringing PM Abiy to the table for a dialogue with TPLF. The PM justified his Operation law and order, adding that the operations aimed to stomp out a “culture of impunity” that could have a “devastating cost to the survival of the country.”

It is unclear what influence the AU can have to ease the tensions in Ethiopia. Its limited budget, which forces the institution to rely on funding from western countries, and weak structures contribute to its limited influence in other conflicts in the continent. Analysts are critical of the AU Chairperson decision not convening a special heads of state meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) to discuss the situation in Ethiopia, as other chairpersons have done with Libya and Sudan. 

The weakness of the AU is further demonstrated by reports sourced from a UN document detailing Ethiopia’s efforts within the AU to remove the head of security, who is Tigrayan. The government claims that his loyalty is questioned due to the conflict. Furthermore, other reports indicate that the conflict in Ethiopia has impacted the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Local reports, supported by Reuters, say that Tigrayan AMISOM troops have been disarmed, but are still expected to continue to fight Al-Shabaab. They have been increasing the number of attacks against Ethiopian bases in Somalia. The AU is yet to comment on the allegations. The Ethiopian government confirmed the disarming of the Tigrayans, though claims that the disarming was not due to their ethnicity but rather their disloyalty and infiltration by the TPLF. 

UN: 

Similar to the AU, the UN has also offered to mediate the Tigray conflict, but its request was rejected. The international body has published statements voicing their concern while calling for calm, and swift resumption of the rule of law. Secretary-General António Guterres has urged both parties to engage in dialogue which will lead to “true and lasting reconciliation.”  The UN supports the latest effort by AU to send a delegation to Ethiopia to offer support so that the conflict can come to an end. Moreover, the Secretary-General and the AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki hold virtual press briefings on the situation in Ethiopia. 

Both the UN and its aid agencies have urged the Ethiopian government to create an aid corridor for humanitarian aid to be distributed throughout Tigray, a call that has been ignored by the Ethiopian government. The UN Secretary-General has called for the “unfettered access of humanitarian assistance.” UN agencies have called for the “freedom of movement to affected civilians seeking assistance, safety and security within the Tigray region or outside the affected areas.”

The UN agencies have been focused on creating contingency plans to lessen the impact of the ongoing conflict on Ethiopians. Within the country, UNHCR, WFP, IOM, OCHA and UNICEF are attempting to secure aid transport to the Tigray region to help the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced, as well for the 100,000 Eritrean refugees. The Ethiopian government has blocked travel going in and out of Tigray. In Sudan, UN agencies, supported by other international organisations, have been supporting the influx of refugees. The most recent estimates (December 2020) show that at least 50,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan. UN agencies noted that they are preparing for at least 200,000 Ethiopians to cross the border into Sudan. According to UNICEF and UNHCR estimates, at least 45% of those who have fled to Sudan have been children under the age of 18. To support the influx of refugees, UN aid organisations have been airlifting tons of aid, including tents, blankets, sleeping mats, solar lamps, mosquito nets, plastic sheets. 

IGAD: 

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has traditionally been an instrument that addresses political, economic and climatic issues affecting Horn and Eastern African countries. Days after the commencement of Operations law enforcement, IGAD issued a statement expressing their concern over the ongoing conflict in Tigray. The regional institutions called for both sides to show restraint and work together to deescalate the tensions. 

Events that led to “Operation law enforcement”

The fall of the Derg dictatorship (1974-1987) and People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia government (1987-1991) under the coalition forces under Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), signalled a new era for Ethiopia.  The 1994 constitution created the federalist system in Ethiopia. The constitution states that Ethiopia would be divided into ten ethnolinguistic regions as a way to address past injustices of ethnic marginalisation and national identity issues. Additionally, ethnic groups have the right to self-determination. Theoretically, the ethno-federalist system aimed to strengthen regional states so that they could serve as a check and balance to the central government. 

In the beginning, the EPRDF, a coalition government composed of ethnic-affiliated political parties, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), and Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), made significant progress. Ethiopia became more democratic, modernised the economy, reduced poverty rates, and regularised the elections. 

As time progressed, the EPRDF slowly shifted towards becoming an illiberal democracy, and later, an authoritarian government. TPLF dominated the political scene with Tigray region benefiting the most from the 29 years in which EPRDF maintained power. The theory that the regional government would act as a check and balance to the central government proved to be inaccurate. The regional governments remain weak, ineffective and utterly dependent on the central government. Essentially, Ethiopia was only a multiparty government on paper. The federalist system also did not solve the ethnic tension between the major groups – Omoro, Amhara, and Tigray. The tension between Islam and Christianity also complicated the federalist system. 

The growing frustration with the government led to mass protests in 2005, 2014 and 2016 -18. In addition to protesting the political and economic marginalisation, they disapproved of the endemic corruption and entitlement. The protests were dealt with in brutal force by the Ethiopian police and military. Human rights organisations have documented instances of security forces using grenades and live bullets. Critics of the government were detained, arrested, and charged with various offences including terrorism, and sedition. Extrajudicial killings of opposition leaders and critics increased with many of their cases not solved. 

The election of PM Ahmed Abiy to power in June 2018 hailed a new era for Ethiopia, similar to EPRDF in 1991. Like EPRDF, PM Abiy started the democratisation process with the release of thousands of political prisoners, created a joint consultative body made up of representatives of all political groups, and normalised relations with Eritrea, which led to his Nobel Peace Prize.  PM Abiy disbanded the EPRDF and created the Prosperity Party. This coalition party included the three out of the four founding political parties and also added smaller ethno-affiliated political parties. He noted that the new political party is a “crucial step in harnessing our energy to work towards a shared vision.”  Moreover, he stated that the appointment to any government position would be based on merit rather than based on balancing ethnic groups as the EPRDF had done. 

The changes by PM Abiy threatened the status quo that the TPLF had created over the last two and a half decades. The TPLF refused to join the Prosperity Party, saying that the party will bring back the authoritarian one-party system that they had fought to bring down. Additionally, they objected to moves by PM Abiy to remove TPLF “old guard” from high ranking government positions. The tensions between PM Abiy and TPLF remained at minimal levels until March 2020 when the parliamentary and presidential elections were postponed due to COVID-19. 

The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), temporarily postponed the national and regional elections scheduled for August. The national body cited COVID-19 concerns as the reason for the postponement of the election. 

The Tigrayan regional government did not approve the NEBE decision to postpone the election. Legislators from Tigray, including the Speaker of the Upper House, withdrew from the national parliament in protest.

In defiance, the Tigrayans held an election for regional government. The elections saw the TPLF win 98% of the votes. Following the election, which had no election observers, the regional legislators declared that the Addis Ababa government lacked the legitimacy to govern the country, therefore, they do not recognise it.

In March, the national election board postponed all regional and national elections due to COVID-19 pandemic. The Ethiopian government deemed the election “illegal” and “unconstitutional.”  

The House of Federation (HoF), which is Ethiopia’s Upper House of Parliament, voted to withhold budget subsidies to the Tigray regional government. The move was unsurprising as the HoF is filled with PM Abiy’s allies.

This is the latest in an increasingly tense situation between PM Abiy and the Tigray regional government. Last month, the Tigray people held an election for local government, a move that was viewed as “illegal” and “unconstitutional” by the prime minister. The election came after the central government announced their decision to postpone national and regional elections, citing COVID-19 precaution, an excuse that TPLF rejected. TPLF leadership viewed the move as a way for PM Abiy of re-centralising the government.

The effects of the budget cuts on the Tigray region has been questioned. Previously, the Ethiopian government said that would by-pass the executive and regional government and would channel the budget to lower government. One analyst says that the buts will affect both sides. “Tigray has a big tax base and relatively robust manufacturing base…An economic siege by the federal government would likely backfire, as it would create solidarity between the people and the government in the face of a perceived threat by the central government.”

In an escalation of events, PM Abiy appointed Brigadier General Jamal Mohamed, as the new leader of the Tigray region.  As expected, the TPLF has rejected the move, going a step further by blocking him from taking office in the region. The Brig-Gen travelled to the region on 29 November and was forced to fly back to Addis Ababa. The government nor the military have commented on the incident.

In a televised statement, the President of Tigray region, Debretsion Gebremichael, assured its people that their military is prepared to address any situation that might arise. He added that the Ethiopian government stopped support to the region to avenge the region’s decision to hold elections. The president noted that the Ethiopian forces have a standby military order to attack the region.

Timeline

Prime Minister Abiy announces the “law enforcement’ operation, as well as a state of emergency, in the Tigray region. In a statement, the Ethiopian government said that the “situation has reached a level where it cannot be prevented and controlled through a regular law enforcement mechanism.” The operation aims to attack Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) safe havens through airstrikes and ground operation. PM Abiy noted that the operation is a response to the attack by TPLF on a military base, which killed soldiers.

A day after the Ethiopian military began its offensive operations in Tigray, the US has called for the de-escalation of events. Ethiopia’s ally has strongly encouraged “all parties to prioritise civilian safety and security.”

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) expressed their concern over the ongoing conflict in Tigray. The regional institution called for both sides to show restraint and work together to deescalate the tensions.

Prime Minister Abiy has fired the army chief, head of intelligence and foreign affairs minister. The announcement was made on Twitter with no explanation for the sacking of the officials. The Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, has been appointed as the foreign minister, Dirhau Jula promoted to army chief of staff from Deputy Army Chief and Temesgen Tiruneh, who served as the president of the Amhara region, is the new intelligence chief. 

The new changes come as the country engages in a military battle with the Tigray region. The Ethiopian military has conducted airstrikes on the Tigray region capital, Mekele. As the troops move towards the capital, the government has shut down all communication masks, making it very difficult to get accurate information on the humanitarian crisis.  

Amnesty International says photo and video evidence shows scores killed and wounded in knife and machete attacks in Mai-Kadra town, western Tigray state.  The evidence shows bodies being carried away by civilians on stretchers. Witnesses have claimed that the perpetrators are forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

In a statement, the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, appealed for the immediate cessation of conflict in the Tigray region.  He called for both parties to “respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians.”

The statement comes a week after Ethiopia announced the military-led “operation law enforcement” which aims to deal with the elements of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that the government believes are sowing seeds of sedition.

PM Abiy has appointed Dr Mulu Nega as the new Chief Executive of the Tigray Regional State. In a tweet, the PM said, “On the basis of the decision of the House of Federation and the Council of Ministers Regulation Concerning the Provision Administration of the Tigray National Regional State, Dr Mulu Nega has been appointed as the Chief Executive of the Tigray Regional State.”

On 30 October, the president had attempted to do the same thing, but TPFL sent the military general back to Addis Ababa. The election of Dr Mulu challenges the presidency of Debretsion Gebremichael who was elected in the September regional elections that the federal government termed “illegal.” The government has issued an arrest warrant against Debretsion and other TPLF leaders for “endangering the country’s existence” and “trying to erode the constitution.”

In an escalation of events, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) launched at least two rockets into Eritrea’s capital of Asmara, and Gondar. Local reports indicate that the TPLF is targeting two airports in Asmara which partially damaged the airport in Gondar. A doctor in Eritrea told AFP that the attack resulted in the death of 2 military personnel and another 15 were injured in Gondar. The TPLF claimed that Eritrea, a once bitter rival of Ethiopia, was helping PM Abiy in suppressing their liberation movement.  

Eritrea and TPLF have had a strenuous relationship as they share a border. A dispute over territory along the border caused a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1998 and 2000, with the town of Badme as the primary source of contention. Ethiopia’s normalisation of relations with Eritrea was a slap on the face for the TPLF. The leadership called the PM’s friendship with the Eritrean president as “unprincipled.” PM has accused the TPLF of instigating problems by wearing similar military uniforms to Eritrea and implicating the government of “false claims of aggression against the people of Tigray. 

Various Eastern and Horn of African presidents, as well as the AU, have called for peace in Ethiopia. Kenyan president urged the fighting parties to find a “peaceful means to end the crisis.” He added that the conflict within the country could impact the region since Ethiopia and Kenya have long served as “anchor states for regional peace and stability.” Uganda has offered to mediate the conflict; a role it frequently plays in regional conflicts. Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister met with the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni.

The Ethiopian government conducted airstrikes on Mekele, the capital city of the Tigray region. Redwan Hussain, the spokesperson of the newly formed emergency task force on Tigray, said they hit military targets while the army engaged in an armed confrontation with the rebels. As the crisis worsens, the military intensified precision airstrikes in the region in an attempted to squash the TPFL rebels

Responding to rumblings on social media, the AU confirmed the contract of the AU security chief, Gen Gebre Egziabher Mabratu Melese, was terminated a week prior. The statement further states that Ethiopia’s request influenced the decision. The AU maintained that they could not keep the General with the knowledge that his government no longer trusted the officer. “The commission is responsible for the safety and security of the personnel. It is clear that this role cannot be entrusted to an individual, who remains a serving national military officer, and in whom his national hierarchy withdrew its full trust and support.”  Mahamat Zene Moussa has been appointed as the acting security chief. 

The security chief was supposed to retire in June 2020, but his contract was extended as the AU found his replacement. The Ethiopian government also issued an arrest warrant for him and other top TPLF leadership including the Tigray president Debrestion Gebremicheal, and Ethiopian military chiefs Tadesse Werede Tesfaye and Yohannes Goldegiorgis.

As the deadline for Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to surrender expires, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned the “final and crucial” military operation would soon be launched. He announced the military plans through a Facebook post. A few days earlier, the Ethiopian Minister in charge of democratisation, Zadig Abraha, justified the airstrikes, adding that the TPLF “raided our Northern Command, it looted our artillery…surrounded our soldiers and took hostages with them.” He said that for the war to end, the rebels must adhere to the conditions spelt out by the government, including handing over the top leadership.

For the last two weeks, the Ethiopian military has been conducting devastating airstrikes on TPLF bases in their region. Foreigners, mostly from international organisations working in Mekele, have fled to Addis Ababa for safety.  Though the government has denied reports, hundreds of civilians are reportedly killed based on estimates by news organisations and NGOs.  Amnesty International stated that “scores and likely hundreds of people were stabbed or hacked to death” in the town of Mai-kadra on Monday alone. The constant airstrikes have led thousands of Ethiopians to flee to Sudan for safety. So far, the Ethiopian government/military taskforce for Tigray have claimed to have liberated several towns from the TPLF. The current situation in Tigray is that there is no electricity, telecommunication has been blocked, while lack of access to fuel and cash have hampered humanitarian efforts. To make matters worse, the internet services in the region have been shut down.

As the crisis intensifies, the UNHCR warms of a looming “full-scale humanitarian crisis” in Ethiopia. Approximately 27,000 people have fled the heavy fighting to seek refuge in Sudan. UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch stated that the agency is “on standby to provide assistance in Tigray when access and security allow.” OCHA, another UN Agency, through its spokesperson, stated that the organisation and its partners are “supporting the Sudanese government in its response, ramping up humanitarian assistance at the borders as the needs continue to grow.” He also noted that they would “try to prepare the best way possible.”

The now-refugees are sharing their stories of atrocities committed towards them by the military. One refugee said that military officers attacked his town with their tanks and the civilians only had knives and sticks to defend themselves with.

PM Abiy has appealed to the refugees to return home as the war is about to end. Analysts disagree with the PM statement. The TPLF have a sophisticated arsenal and a massive militia, therefore the conflict can drag on for some time.

An Ethiopian official claims that the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom, has been “fully engaged in soliciting diplomatic and military support” for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Previously, Tedros, who had served as Ethiopia’s Health Minister (2005 – 2012) and Foreign Affairs Minister (2012-2016), was allegedly a member of the powerful Executive Committee. The official, who chose to speak as long as his identity remains secret, told the Turkish newspaper, Anadolu Agency, that the Ethiopian military has been aware of Tedros’ activities, especially his lobbying efforts in the UN to “exert pressure on the Ethiopian government to unconditionally stop its military action against TPLF.” The official further stated that Mr Tedros has been soliciting military support in Egypt. “To ally with Egypt, which had been bent on destabilising Ethiopia for decades and aborting construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), is tantamount to treason,” he added.  

Ethiopia has confirmed reports that Tigrayan peacekeepers part of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) were disarmed. The government claimed the exercise was done purely based on security issues, rather than ethnicity. Local reports indicate between 200 and 300 Tigrayans were disarmed. 

The disarmament of the soldiers puts more pressure on AMISOM who are battling the insurgent group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. The group has been increasing the number of attacks, especially planting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on roads frequently used by AMISOM and Somali security forces. Analysts question whether the disarmament will impact the ongoing operations by AMISOM. 

Both sides are claiming “military gains” as Ethiopian troops proceed towards Tigray’s capital of Mekele. The Ethiopian military has continued with air raids as the troops march towards the regional capital. Ethiopia’s army chief said that they are “winning on all fronts” and TPLF troops were “in a state of desperation.

TPLF remained determined to keep fighting, with their leaders refusing to listen to the government’s command to surrender. A local official is quoted saying “Tigray is now hell to its enemies.” Tigrayan president, Debretsion Gebremichael, announced that TPLF is “inflicting heavy defeats on all fronts against the forces that came to attack us.”

The international community is calling for calm in Ethiopia. The UN has offered to mediate the recent tensions, but the Ethiopian government has rejected the move. The international body warns that a “humanitarian disaster is unfolding.” Some organisations claim that the roads are blocked, and the airport is closed, making it difficult for aid groups to bring humanitarian assistance to the Tigray region.

Local reports indicate that suspected Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) PLF rockets were fired on Bahir Dir town in Amhara region at approximately 1:40 AM. The Amhara regional government communication office announced on Facebook that no casualties or damage was reported.

The African Union (AU) dispatched a high-level delegation to Ethiopia to meet with PM Abiy to find a resolution to the Tigray crisis. The delegation consists of three former presidents of Liberia, Mozambique and South Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Joaquim Chissano, Kgalema Motlanthe, respectively. In a tweet, the AU stated: “the primary task of the special envoy is to engage all sides of the conflict with a view to ending hostilities, creating conditions for an inclusive national dialogue to resolve all issues that led to the conflict, and restoring peace and stability to Ethiopia.” 

Ethiopian forces announced that they had captured two towns of Axum and Adwa from Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the Northern Tigray region. The government also claims that an unspecified number of TFPL fighters have surrendered to the military. The military is suspected to be advancing towards the town of Adigrat, 120KM from the capital.

In televised response, the Tigray president’s spokesperson, Getachew Reda, did not directly respond to the capture of Axum and Adwa. Instead, he announced the apparent successes by TPLF troops on the battlefield. He said they have inflicted “increasing casualties” to government troops at Raya, which is south of the capital. He also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack in the neighbouring Amhara region, on Bahir Dar town.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres commended the AU’s decision to send three high-level envoys to support the peaceful resolution of the Tigray region in Ethiopia. In the statement, he noted that the UN extends the full support for the initiative. He reiterates the commitment of the UN to support efforts towards ensuring a peaceful, stable and prosperous Ethiopia.

The fighting in Tigray region, which officially began on 4 November, has resulted in a humanitarian crisis with thousands displaced and thousands more fleeing to Sudan for safety. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres continued to urge both sides to restrain themselves. He added that a humanitarian corridor is needed to assist civilians caught in the fighting. UNHRC announced that 31,000 Ethiopians had crossed the border into Sudan over the last two and half weeks. The agency added that they are preparing for 200,000 Ethiopians to flee to Sudan. 

In response to the humanitarian crisis, the Prime Minister said that his government, “with the rest of Ethiopia would work to ensure that all humanitarian needs [are] addressed. “The overall safety and well-being of the people of Tigray is of paramount importance to the federal government, and we will do all that is necessary to ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want,” he added.

After the meeting with the AU high-level delegation sent to assist with quelling the tensions in Tigray, Prime Minister Abiy issues a statement detailing the country’s response to the AU. The Prime Minister began with defending the operations, stating that the failure to enforce would create a “culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country.”  In terms of dialogue, he maintained that his government would only speak to representatives “operating legally” in the Tigray region. Finally, he finally quoted the UN charter that calls for the non-interference policy of internal affairs of a sovereign nation. He concluded by appreciating what he termed as “elderly concern” of the African Union and its commitment to the principle of African solutions to African problems.” 

Note. Though the PM used the UN charter to say that the AU should adhere to the non-interference principle, the AU can intervene in internal issues through the AU Constitutive Act, Article 4(g). The article states that the AU has the right “to intervene in a member state…in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” International human rights organisation has accused the Ethiopian military of war crimes, though the allegations are hard to verify due to the communication shutdown in the Tigray region.

As Ethiopian forces advance to Tigray’s capital of Mekelle, they claim to have seized the Tigrayan town of Adigrat. The announcement comes just a day after they claimed to have captured Axum and Adwa. Adigrat is the second-largest city in the Tigray region, about 116 KM from the capital. TPLF confirmed that the Ethiopian military bombarded the city of Adigrat but did not respond to the claims that the army controls the city.

Prime Minister Abiy has given Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender. In a tweet, PM Abiy tweeted “We urge you to surrender peacefully within 72 hours, recognising that you are at the point of no return.” The call comes as the Ethiopian troops approach the regional capital of Mekele. It is reported that the soldiers are only 60KM from Mekele, where half a million people are still living. The army warned the residents of Mekele that “anything can happen” as the troops advanced to the capital. The spokesperson of the military also urged the civilians to “save themselves.”

TPLF regional president, Debretsion Gebremichael, told the media that the halt of operations was a way for the military to regroup after apparent defeats in all three fronts in the battleground.

The Ethiopian military has claimed to have captured Axum, Adwa, Adigrat and Idaga Hamus.

Michelle Bachelte, the UNHCR boss, voiced concern over the protection of civilians during the ongoing battle in Tigray. She said she is concerned over the rhetoric both sides are using, as it is “dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger.” 

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres issued a statement also voicing his concern over the situation in Tigray.  He called on “leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians.”  He urged both sides to uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access to those who need assistance. 

Prime Minister Abiy announced the end of the “operation law enforcement” in Tigray region after its troops allegedly took “full control” of the regional capital of Mekele. In a tweet, the PM noted, “We now have ahead of us the critical task of rebuilding what has been destroyed; repairing what is damaged; returning those who have fled, with the utmost priority of returning normalcy to the people of the Tigray region.” In response to the Prime Minister’s announcement, TPLF leader, Debretsion Gebremichael affirmed that his forces would keep fighting. He added, “Their brutality can only add (to) our resolve to fight these invaders to the last…. this is about defending our rights to self-determination.”

Red Cross, one of the international NGOs operating from Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region,  stated that 80% of the people in hospital have trauma injuries. An increase of such injuries, the aid organisation said, means that the hospital would “suspend many other medical services so that the limited staff and resources could be devoted to emergency medical care.” The increase in patients has resulted in a shortage of medical supplies and body bags

The reality on the ground is hard to ascertain since the government still has closed the communication channels in the Tigray region. Analysts and organisations operating in the area suspect thousands of civilians have been killed in the three-week conflict. Conservative findings from the National Human Rights Council indicate that at least 600 civilians have been killed in one attack which they attribute to militias linked to the TPLF. The fighting has forced over 1 million people from their homes, and another 43,000 have fled to Sudan for safety.

At approximately 10 PM, Eritreans reported six loud explosions in the capital of Eritrea, Asmara. Preliminary reports indicate that the rockets fell near the airport and military installations. The country has provided no information to support the social media reports or whether any sustained damages. This is the third attack on Asmara since the conflict ensued on 4 November.

The attack comes just hours after Prime Minister Abiy claims victory against the Tigray region, adding that they have successfully taken over the capital city of Mekelle.

Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary force operated by the government, announced the seizure of a weapon cache, ammunition and military equipment on its eastern border with Ethiopia. It’s unclear whom the weapons belong to and whether it is related to the current conflict in the Tigray region.

While addressing the parliament, Prime Minister Abiy stated that the Ethiopian military had not killed a single civilian during the three-week conflict in Tigray region. The PM further noted that all military action was approved by “a signature of authority.” “99% of them hit their targets and 99% of them didn’t have collateral damage. No country’s army can show this level of performance. Our army is disciplined and victorious” he maintained. He added that the military will not destroy the capital city of Mekele, now that they are in control of the city.

In a telephone interview with Associated Press (AP), Tigrayan President Debretsion Gebremichael maintained that Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) would win the conflict. He added that the conflict “will continue until the invaders are out.” 

In another interview with Reuters, Tigrayan president claimed to have captured prisoners of war from Eritrea who allegedly were fighting alongside the Ethiopian military. The Eritrean military has yet commented on the allegations. In the interview, President Gebremichael claimed that TPLF has recaptured the city of Axum and has shot down a military plane in the process. He claims that the pilot of the aircraft was captured. The Ethiopian government is yet to comment on the allegations.

The conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government has caused food shortages in Eritrean refugee camps in the Tigray region. The UN is concerned with the trend, requesting “urgent access” to the region to deliver the needed aid. Spokesperson of UNHCR, Babar Baloch stated, “We, as humanitarians, have lost access and contact with the refugees since the last month that this fighting has been ongoing, and now there are worrying reports of attacks, of abductions and also of recruitments in and around these refugee camps.” He added that there are reports that some of the refugees have fled the camps seeking refuge in other parts of the region.  One hundred thousand Eritrean refugees are living in Ethiopia near the border, 60,000 of whom depend on monthly food rations and have not received this month’s quota. The international institution is still attempting to convince the Ethiopian government for access to the Tigrayan region, with little success.

Ethiopia announced that the government and the UN have agreed to coordinate the distribution of essential supplies in Tigray. The spokesperson of Prime Minister Abiy said that the two sides have “signed an agreement for an enhanced coordination mechanism for humanitarian access in Ethiopia’s Tigray-region which complements the humanitarian assistance efforts the federal government has begun.”

A week after the Ethiopian government claimed to have taken full control over Tigray’s capital city of Mekelle, both sides are trying to tell the narrative of what is happening on the ground. In a statement, Prime Minister Abiy said, “The criminal clique [TPLF] pushed a patently false narrative that its fighters and supporters are battle-hardened and well-armed, posing the risk of protracted insurgency in the rugged mountains of Tigray. It also claimed that it has managed to undertake a strategic retreat with all its capability and regional government apparatus intact. The reality is the criminal clique is thoroughly defeated and in disarray, with the insignificant capability to mount a protracted insurgency.” On the other hand, Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) spokesperson, Gebre Gebresadkan, told Tigrayans in a televised interview that “the war is a people’s war and will not end easily.” He added that the fighting is still continuing in the outskirts of the capital city of Mekelle.

The communication and travel block in Tigray region has made it challenging to verify statements from either side.  Though communication has been blocked in the region, some aid organisations have been able to share some information about what is happening in Tigray. One aid worker confirmed TPLF accounts that fighting is continuing in the outskirts of Mekele. Ethiopian refugees in Sudan is another source of information. Many have said that they ran past dead people as they fled the country. Some of them witnessed armed attackers with machetes, sticks and other rudimentary weapons, killing civilians.

With thousands fleeing the Tigrayan region into Sudan, the country’s Red Cross has started the “family reunification” programme. The programme has proved vital since many have lost contact with their families as they fled the violence in the northern region of Ethiopia. A Red Cross official noted that they have started with free phone calls to family members to attempt to find them. If this option does not work, the Red Cross alerts other organisations working with Ethiopian refugees. The official adds that out of 2500 phone calls that they have made, 70% of them have been able to find their relatives.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy assures the country that efforts are underway to restore order in the Tigray region. He added that now that the fighting is over, protection and security of civilians “remain an essential priority.” In addition to helping the affected population, he stated that other priorities include bringing fugitives to justice, restoring law and order, and granting unfettered access to humanitarian aid.

The statement from the PM comes as aid organisations and the UN call for the reopening of roads and end of the communication blackout in the Tigray region so that aid can be delivered to the Tigrayans.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed his concern over the Ethiopian crisis in the Tigray region. Through his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, he stated that it is “essential to quickly restore the rule of law, in full respect of human rights, promote social cohesion, an inclusive reconciliation, as well as to re-establish the delivery of services and guarantee unfettered humanitarian access.”

The police headquarters announced that they had issued arrest warrants for ten police officers who allegedly left their duty station in Addis Ababa to defect to TPLF. The statement accused the officers of treason and human rights abuses.

The Ethiopian government confirmed security forces shot at and detained UN workers in Tigray region.  According to a senior government official and head of the emergency task force for Tigray, Redwan Hussein, the UN staffers allegedly “broke” past two checkpoints to go to areas where “they were not supposed to go.” He added that they had been released. Redwan said that it would invite the international community to assist with the investigation only if they feel “it failed to investigate.”  He said that assuming that Ethiopia cannot conduct such an investigation is “belittling the government.” 

In response to the attack, Secretary-General’s spokesperson, Stephanie Dujarric, called the reports “alarming.” He added that the UN is “engaging at the highest level with the federal government [of Ethiopia] to express our concern and avoid any such incidents in the future.” According to the UN, the staffers were assessing roads, an essential step before an aid convoy passes through an area. State-owned news claimed that the UN Resident Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs, Catherine Sozy, apologised for the behaviour of the UN staffers. 

UNHCR chief, Michelle Bachelet called the ongoing conflict in Tigray as “exceedingly worrying and volatile.” She said that corroborated information shows gross human rights violation and abuses, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, looting, abductions and sexual violence against women and girls. She did not say who the perpetrators of violations and abuses. Michelle added that Tigrayan youth had been forcibly recruited to fight for Tigray. 

Contrary to the government’s claims that all fighting is done, the UNHCR boss noted that fighting is still ongoing in the outskirts of Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. 

Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and International Rescue Committee (IRC) have confirmed that at least four aid workers from their respective organisations in total were killed in two separate incidents. For DRC, three of their staffers working as guards at a project site were killed in November. The organisation said that due to lack of communication and ongoing insecurity, they had not informed the next of kin. For IRC, one of their staffers was killed in Hitsats refugee camp in Shire. The organisation is still working on gathering information that led to the death of the colleague, but the lack of communication is contributing to the slow investigation. 

Locals report that Ethiopia rounded up thousands of refugees, who had fled from camps to seek refuge, and drove them to the Eritrean border. 

The UN responded to the allegations, saying that the reports were “disturbing.”  Filippo Grandi, the UN refugee chief, added that they have been receiving reports of killing, abduction and forced repatriation of Eritrean refugees over the past month. He said that they are still trying to verify the allegations. If true, he added, Ethiopia would be violating international law. 

Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), supported by the police, claimed to have rescued at least 1000 military officers who had been captured by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). One of the rescued officers is Brigadier General Admeh Mengiste, the deputy commander of the North Command of the ENDF. 

In an interview with an Indian newspaper, Ethiopian Ambassador to India, Tizita Mulugeta, said the Tigray situation “is now under control.” She added that the objectives of “operation law enforcement” were successfully achieved. She affirmed that the government is hunting the “few number of criminals [who] are in hiding.” Addressing the refugee and humanitarian crisis as a result of the operation, she stated that Ethiopia is now “in a position to start the rehabilitation programme.” She noted that the government had identified four sites to house the internally displaced persons (IDPs). 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with the Sudan counterpart where they discussed bilateral cooperation between the two neighbouring nations. In relation to the ongoing conflict in Tigray, PM Abiy’s office tweeted that the Sudanese government fully supports Ethiopia. “The Sudanese side reiterated their solidarity with the government of Ethiopia in the law enforcement operations it has been undertaking.”  TPLF and Ethiopian military confrontations have led to thousands of Ethiopians to flee to Sudan for safety.

IGAD will call for an emergency meeting to discuss the ongoing Tigray conflict, Sudan Prime Minister tells the media. This came after the meeting between Sudanese and Ethiopian prime ministers, Abdalla Hamdok and Ahmed Abiy respectively. Ethiopia is yet to comment on the announcement by Sudan’s Prime Minister about the IGAD emergency meeting.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy made a working visit to Mekelle, capital of Tigray region. In a tweet, he said, “went to Mekelle and met with commanders of the ENDF, as well as the PRovisional Administration of Tigray.” He claimed that telecom and electricity had been restored in the area. He alleged that they were not working due to repairs. PM also said that infrastructure projects have commenced repairing the damages from the conflict.