As the news feed arrives instantly, a grave humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Ethiopia. Once again, it needs the world’s attention. According to the Crisis Group, Africa’s second-most populous country is at risk of collapsing again. After a year-long clash between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and government forces, CNN reports thousands dead, more than 2 million displaced, fueled famine, and a wave of atrocities.
At the root of the conflict is a disagreement between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmedr, advocating for a more Unitarian state, and the TPLF struggling for a federal order. Accordingly, in a sweeping reform, the prime minister sidelined TPLF while freeing up politics and made peace with long-time enemy Eritrea, causing an intense rift with the Tigray.
The war began in early November last year, when the TPLF attacked a federal army base in Tigray, leading Prime Minister Ahmed to order a military offensive against the rebels, which left thousands dead. In a grave uncertainty, the United Nations (UN) calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities. They also stress the urgent need to negotiate a lasting ceasefire and create conditions for an inclusive dialogue. To that end, the Africa Union envoy to the region, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, engaged both sides, but has yet to find a window of opportunity for dialogue toward a political solution. Similarly, the United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, urged the government of Ethiopia, TPLF, and the other belligerents to give peace a chance, choose a different path, and engage in dialogue without preconditions.
Unfortunately, both parties, the government and TPLF, have vowed to fight on and ignored the warning calls of disastrous consequences that continued fighting will do to the people of Ethiopia and its land. The concerns of humanitarian organizations are getting thunderous as the conflict has entered a dangerous phase, and attacks targeting ethnic groups are spilling into other areas of the country. As stated by CNN, Amnesty International warned that Ethiopia was “teetering on the brink of a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe,” with evidence of alleged war crimes by both parties.
On November 2nd, the government declared a nation-wide state of emergency after suffering heavy losses on the front lines. In despair, Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, stepped into a staggering phase to call on ordinary citizens to join the war effort against the Tigrayan Rebels. According to Reuters, the Ethiopian government has procured more weapons from China and Iran, and negotiated military drones from Turkey, to better arm and equip the new recruits. On November 16th, Time magazine reported that the appeal to the citizens to take up arms and the purchase of more military hardware reflect the rapid escalation of a war that threatens to tear apart Ethiopia.
Similarly, the Tigray forces have joined forces with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a rebel group fighting for the rights of people from Oromia, the country’s most populous region, advancing and threatening to march on the capital, Addis Ababa. Together with nine other groups opposing the government, they created a broader coalition of armed groups and political actors representing different regional and ethnic interests. Strategically, they are expanding and controlling more territories, which puts the government under pressure, leading to more resistance and unprecedented violence in a multi-ethnic country.
As if there is no lesson learned from Ethiopia’s recent past, the images of starving Ethiopians galvanized the world’s attention, prompting a global response to bring food assistance and save lives. Three decades ago, the world was united under the themes of the song “We are the world” that helped raise money for the famine in Africa, specifically Ethiopia, where 1.2 million lives were lost. Thousands of people were dying every week; the impact of drought, compounded with politics and conflict, was a large part of the problem that made Ethiopia a difficult place to live as an ordinary citizen. Today, the fault line of Ethiopian politics and the multi-ethnic nature of the conflict has resulted in mass starvation, massive displacement of populations, and widespread atrocities against civilians. Undoubtedly, the country is tearing apart and returning to these hell-ish conditions.
According to most analysts, the government cannot win this war, and the Tigray forces will not call it a victory. To illustrate, Aljazeera stated that the country’s army is relatively weakened and losing territories, where local news relates that the Tigray forces are unpopular and will not regain power. Nonetheless, the problem is that Ethiopians from all ethnic groups are rising to defend and fight for their rights, causing unlawful killings, destruction of properties, and economic collapse. Soon, the country will be among the failing states of the continent. On the contrary, as the military outcome remains uncertain, parties in conflict and the 110 million Ethiopians must see peace talks as the only avenue to salvage their country.
To return to the subject of why the world should worry, the premier minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been accused of deliberately preventing aid from reaching Tigray. This week, the data and maps from OCHA (U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs) revealed that at least 400,000 people face famine-like conditions in the Tigray region. Moreover, 80% of the essential medication is not available, and more than two million people have been forced from their homes. For OCHA, the UN hesitates to call it a famine because there is a lack of nutrition and mortality surveys of the standard type in such emergencies. The BBC reported that the few international aid workers permitted to travel to Tigray could not take secure communications equipment or even USB drives. Sadly, the authorities have to search their smartphones for pictures on their return.
Besides the battlefront, the Ethiopian Government is entering into another conflict with the international community. This week, UN chief Antonio Guterres criticized the Premier minister for expelling seven humanitarian staff that violating the UN terms of agreement with Ethiopia’s. Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the U.S. envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, also criticized the Ethiopian government, stating that its policies have resulted in mass starvation. Accordingly, the policy of blockading the Tigray region is much of concern and the root of the problem.
Eventually, there are concerns from the humanitarian agency that the continuing fighting could trigger broader violence in a multi-ethnic nation that could even lead to balkanization. The prime minister’s call on citizens for auto defense is disorderly; to put everything in perspective, the Ethiopian forces’ ability to lead a war has diminished, while militias operating under the command of regional states have strengthened. Amhara, Oromia, Afar, and other regions’ militias have carried much of the recent fighting against the Tigrayan and Oromo rebels. The move is risky because the country may end up with a multitude of forces that can lead to secessions, in reference the Eritrean secession.