Ethiopian Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed has declared a state of emergency in the region of Tigray and has accused the opposition-ruled region of attacking and stealing from military bases and assets. Ahmed made a statement declaring that the activities in the region of Tigray are threatening the order of the state. He deployed the military to subdue the unrest. The prime minister’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, did not give details on the degree of unrest or the strategy of military deployment.
The region is controlled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Historically, they have held a large share of power in the government of Ethiopia since the overthrow of the Communist regime in 1991. With Abiy’s election in 2018, he has implemented many reforms in parliament that have destroyed the coalition which involved the TPLF. The TPLF oppose these democratizing reforms because the region only represents 6% of the population, and the coalition granted them a disproportionate amount of power. However, tensions are also rising amidst mounting accusations of the prime minister detaining Tigrayan federal officials in an attempt to crack down on corruption.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PM Ahmed pushed the elections back, allowing them an additional 9 months in power. The TPLF opposed this move and continued with the regional election in September 2020. That election resulted in the TPLF party gaining control of 189 out of the 190 seats in the regional parliament. In response to what the PM has declared an ‘illegal’ election, the Ethiopian government promised to sever ties with the regional state assembly and Tigrayan leaders in October.
Now, tensions are rising and both the prime minister and the leaders of the TPLF are accusing each other of abusing power and contributing to violence. The national government’s order for a military response to an alleged attack by Tigrayan forces is a dangerous tactic that diplomats warn could plunge Ethiopia into a violent civil conflict. The PM is appealing to the many others in the country who do not identify with the Tigrayan forces by saying this act of government force is an effort to save the country.
The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front is well-equipped and has defeated other substantial forces in conflicts before. In 1991, the TPLF partnered with the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement to form the EDRDF group which fought against the Communist People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and eventually defeated the regime. This allowed for the successful domination of the TPLF in the Ethiopian government for so long and suggests that their wealth and ability to fight against power structures would make this most recent conflict potentially catastrophic.
Federal authorities have shut down internet and telephone lines to the Tigray region, and details have not been explicit in the ‘attack’ on military personnel and assets. Additionally, details are not yet clear about what kind of military response was launched against the Tigrayan officials.
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