On Sunday, July 4th, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) issued a series of demands as prerequisites for a ceasefire in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. Among the conditions are the full withdrawal of both Ethiopian and Eritrean troops from the region. The TPLF wants a guarantee that neither country will send forces to the region in the near future. Furthermore, the TPLF called for a U.N. investigation of alleged war crimes perpetrated by both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments over the course of the conflict. According to Al-Jazeera, these demands would essentially “[legitimize] the TPLF as a government of Tigray, [and] the [central] government will be admitting defeat,” if they agree to the conditions.
The primacy of nationalism in Ethiopian politics proves to be a major difficulty in solving the Tigray conflict. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s ideology is rooted in a staunch ethnic nationalism. Such an attitude, coupled with a federalist system of governance, leaves the TPLF committed to maintaining both its decades-long political influence in Ethiopia and the ethno-cultural autonomy of the Tigray Region. On the other hand, the current Ethiopian government, which claims to promote civic nationalism, as opposed to the cultural hegemony of the TPLF, stands accused of perpetrating grave war crimes against civilian populations in Tigray.
The conflict in Tigray began in 2018, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed merged regional factions of the ethno-federalist Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front – a political coalition led by the TPLF which had dominated Ethiopian politics from 1989 to 2018 – into the Prosperity Party. Ahmed’s aim was at promoting civic nationalism and unity amongst the nation’s ethnic groups. The TPLF refused to join the new coalition, and after Ahmed’s postponement of the August, 2020 elections to 2021 due to safety concerns over COVID, the TPLF branded Ahmed an illegitimate ruler. In protest to the government, the TPLF organized its own elections. These developments resulted in a chain of events that spurred Ethiopia and Eritrea to action. Both nations mobilized troops against the TPLF, leading to war.
The difficulty in resolving this conflict lies in the complexity of Ethiopian social relations. Nationalism has a formidable grip on Ethiopian politics. It leads to division, disagreement, and, ultimately, conflict. The poignantly divisive nature of ethnic nationalism fragments the nation and hinders the developments of a unifying national vision. Regardless of the complexities at the source of this conflict, the TPLF’s accusations that war crimes have been committed by the Ethiopian government should not be ignored and warrant further investigation.