Ethiopia: Political Conflict Gives Rise To Civil War

Attacks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.F.L.), a political party established in the north Ethiopian region of Tigray, are growing into an increasingly dangerous civil war. The conflict began to unfold when Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 2018. Four ethnic-based parties make up the ruling system in Ethiopia, with the T.P.L.F. being the most powerful. Ahmed intends to unite the country by creating one sole national party called the Prosperity Party, but some groups, including the T.P.L.F., ruled against joining. The conflict heightened when the T.P.L.F. criticized Ahmed’s governance and attacked a government military base. Ahmed retaliated with military force.

Ahmed’s drive for peace and plans for unity are what brought him successfully to office. Ethiopia is divided into 10 regions, each representing a different ethnic group. For many years, Tigray was in conflict with their neighbouring country, Eritrea. As a new governor eager for peace, Ahmed successfully reconciled with the Eritrean government, which, in 2019, earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Ahmed is known as the prime minister eager to make peaceful change in Ethiopia and provide security for civilians. The prime minister is driven to disband the T.P.L.F. and rebuild Tigray as a conflict-free region united with the rest of Ethiopia. In support of this, he has successfully removed some of the T.P.L.F.’s members on counts of abuse of power and corruption, but this has only furthered the battle and driven the T.P.L.F. to retaliate. Using military force will likely not solve the conflict. CNBC reported that the conflict has shut down factories and mining sites, causing the Ethiopian economy to lose approximately $20 million a month. While Ahmed is driven to bring Ethiopia to peace, this conflict is increasingly harmful to the country’s health.

Eritrea has provided support to Ethiopia in the form of troops and humanitarian aid. In its partnership with Ethiopia, the Eritrean government clothed, fed, and armed soldiers to prepare for battle. Ahmed confirmed that Eritrea’s help allowed his soldiers to continue fighting. Recently, however, Eritrea made the decision to remove its forces.

Though no powerful countries have intervened with force, they have appealed for peace. The international community is urging the Ethiopian government and the T.P.L.F. to make amends in order to maintain the economy and save civilians from harm. United States senators have expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis and have urged the U.S. to increase its involvement in helping Ethiopia regain peace. Egypt and Sudan have similarly urged Ethiopia to find a non-military solution. Rather than sending military forces, which will escalate the matter, powerful countries are increasing international pressure on Prime Minister Ahmed to employ a nonviolent solution.

These efforts have had limited success in bringing Ethiopia to peace. Ahmed’s position in this conflict remains unchanged, and he continues to use military force. By November 2020, the Ethiopian military had reached Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. After a heavy shower of bullets, Ahmed announced his victory against the T.P.L.F. and declared that government militia will begin searching for and arresting the Front’s leaders. Many hoped this would soon allow peace, but the T.P.L.F. refused defeat and continued its attacks towards the Ethiopian government.

Abiy Ahmed’s response to the T.P.L.F. fails to account for its consequences on Ethiopia’s people. According to the Washington Post, as of November 2020, hundreds of people have died and more than 33,000 Ethiopians have fled to Sudan to escape the armed conflict. Families have been forced to leave their homes in search of safety. Civilians in Ethiopia are eager for goodwill and unity, and Ahmed’s peaceful view of the future gave them hope for a nonviolent prospect. Ahmed’s decision to use military force against the T.P.L.F. is a contradiction – he believes in peaceful resolution, but has acted to cause harm.

In addition to the families who have fled to Sudan, the conflict has generated a vast humanitarian crisis.  According to the New York Times, the conflict has put 4.5 million civilians, more than half of Tigray’s population, in critical need of humanitarian assistance. The battle has more consequences for Ethiopians than displacement and death. There have also been allegations of human rights abuses, namely sexual assaults and attacks on refugee camps. According to a report by the U.N. News, from December to January, more than 136 cases of rape were recorded. Many more have likely gone unreported. The New York Times elaborated on the brutality, describing how militants are targeting Tigrayan women to prevent the birth of more Tigrayan people. One story involved a young Ethiopian girl who refused rape, resulting in seven gunshot wounds.

Ethiopia’s human rights and security are being stripped away. Along with the constant violence and death, the rising rates of abuse, looting, and murder of innocent civilians will only continue to grow if the conflict does not conclude. This battle must come to a peaceful conclusion.

Ahmed should have addressed the conflict with a peaceful mindset from the start. However, it is not too late to follow international pressure and create peace with Tigray.

The T.P.L.F. originally decided not to join Ahmed’s prosperity plan because they believed it would decrease their autonomy and take control away from the regions. An agreement to ensure that they continue to hold some power in Ethiopia may de-escalate the crisis. Compromise between the T.P.L.F. and the Ethiopian government would solve the root cause of the conflict, thereby resolving the humanitarian consequences. If a peaceful political solution is not reached, the battle for power between Tigray and the Ethiopian government will only continue to intensify.

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