On Saturday, May 1st, the government of Ethiopia approved a resolution to add the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to their list of terrorist organizations. This move is the newest development in a devastating months-long conflict between Tigray and Ethiopia and does little to quell concerns about continued violence in the region. Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers endorsed the resolution with solid support from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Still, it must be accepted by Ethiopian lawmakers before it can come into effect, though this process is mostly a formality. The resolution not only affects the TPLF but applies to any individuals or organization that, according to Al Jazeera, “collaborate, have links with or relate to the ideas” of the designated group.
The decision suggests that the Ethiopian government’s conflict with the TPLF is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Violence has been ongoing and widespread since the start of the conflict nearly six months ago, with neither side appearing to be willing to concede to the other. Moreover, the effects of Covid-19 have only worsened the turmoil in the region, with Prime Minister Ahmed suspending all regional elections. This decision was ignored by Tigray, who held their election in which the TPLF won all contested seats, but this election has been decried as a “shanty election” by Ahmed. Given these factors, this week’s terrorist designation of the TPLF has only served to lessen the chances that a resolution will be reached anytime soon.
In November, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the TPLF of attacking an Ethiopian military camp and killing several soldiers. He responded by sending Ethiopian forces to the Tigray capital of Mekelle to arrest several TPLF leaders. Despite declaring victory at the end of November, the conflict has persisted, and the enmity between the two groups shows minor signs of stopping. Complicating the matter is the involvement of Eritrea, who have been accused of sending their own military to aid the Ethiopian government in their campaign against the TPLF. Eritrea’s involvement has long been denied by both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments. However, recently both governments have admitted to Eritrean participation, and despite promises to withdraw troops, the U.N. has reported there has been “no proof” of this occurring.
Another critical issue has been the numerous accusations of violent physical and sexual abuse carried out by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces toward Tigray civilians. Prime Minister Ahmed has denied the accuracy of these allegations, but investigations by Amnesty International, the U.N., and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission have corroborated many of these claims. Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, recently described the events in Tigray as an “ethnic cleansing” and deployed a disaster response team to the region. Concerns have also arisen about famine in the area, primarily driven by the violence which has destroyed crops and interrupted last fall’s harvest. The U.N. estimates approximately 100,000 Tigray citizens have been displaced due to the violence. While deaths have been complicated to track, estimates of civilian casualties have ranged from thousands to tens of thousands.
Peace is needed in Ethiopia, not only for the well-being of Tigrayan civilians but for the general stability of the country. It is also worth noting that the Tigray conflict is not the only source of instability the region faces; as Ahmed recently told The Financial Times, Ethiopia’s federal army is currently fighting guerilla warfare “on at least eight separate fronts.” The hopeful future that PM Ahmed referred to in his following his negotiations to end Ethiopia’s 20-year war with Eritrea, for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, has long since withered, and the path forward looks increasingly difficult.
The African Union (A.U.), a body made up of 55 African member states, previously attempted to intervene in the conflict. However, their involvement was opposed by PM Ahmed, stating that there would be no peace talks “until our efforts to ascertain the rule of law are achieved.” Amnesty International has recently condemned the A.U. and the U.N.’s response as being “woefully insufficient” in the face of crimes against humanity.
Some experts believe the end goal of Tigray is secession from the Ethiopian state, but it is unclear if this would have any real impact on the current conflict. It is likely to be heavily opposed by the current Ethiopian government. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has recently been sent as a special envoy to the Horn of Africa. He will visit Eritrea and Ethiopia as a part of a four-country tour of the region. The meetings will also include the A.U. and the U.N., so there is potential for progress to be made, but the entrenched stances of the TPLF and the Ethiopian government will add significant complexity to any peace discussions. For now, the next step in the process is opening up the region to humanitarian aid groups, who still have been blocked from full access to the Tigray region. Feltman echoed this in an interview with Foreign Policy, saying, “the basic issues are revolving around the international humanitarian law and the need for access.” For now, these talks represent an essential next step in the process and will hopefully lead to the lessening of tensions and conflict in the region.
Whether the solution to the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict lies in negotiation, secession, or international intervention, it is clear that something needs to be done urgently. Innocent Ethiopians have borne the brunt of the conflict since its beginning, and the international community can no longer ignore the humanitarian crisis that’s developed. Regardless of the path to peace, pressure needs to be mounted on both sides to reach an agreement and stop the needless suffering of the Ethiopian people.
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