For the first time since the conflict began eight months ago, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has entered another region in Ethiopia. Fighting began on July 17th, and forces were still fighting on Monday. The spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, Getachew Reda, has stated that the TPLF is more interested in degrading the enemy’s ability to fight, rather than capturing territory. This move comes a few days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that other regions would be sending in troops to support the army already fighting the rebels.
The conflict initially began in November, when Abiy sent troops into the Tigray region because of attacks on army caps by the TPLF. Victory was declared in November, yet the TPLF retook the Tigray capital Mekelle in June. While Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire, the Tigray forces have pushed forward into new offensives. This last offensive on the Afar region is particularly important since the region links Addis Ababa to the seaport of Djibouti. So far, two million people have been displaced, five million are relying on emergency food aid, and tens of thousands have died.
Although Abiy has claimed that the situation is all but settled several times, these events throw doubt on that claim more than ever. Having received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, Abiy has overseen a conflict characterized by rampant sexual violence and bloody massacres. Abiy’s end-game seems questionable. Whether it is for optics or Abiy genuinely underestimating the determination and strength of the TPLF, the government consistently portrays itself as more confident than the situation should allow. Relations on the international stage have been harmed now, and domestic legitimacy has been lost. To prevent further suffering, the answer to what must be done is obvious: both sides must come together with the sole aim of protecting Ethiopians from further harm. Yet, it seems Abiy is pursuing the route of the Machiavellian strong-man while the TPLF are fighting for, what in their eyes, is a liberation struggle as evidenced by their rebranding into the Tigray Defence Forces.
The longer this conflict stretches, the greater the humanitarian crisis will become, and the more difficult it will be to find peace. It is difficult to imagine the aisle being crossed by either party when both are fighting for what they believe is a “just” cause. With the atrocities already committed, bad blood is bound to extend over generations, and yet the conflict seems far from over. Abiy will not find a strong Ethiopia if he continues down the path of attempting to subjugate the Tigray region. Conversely, the TPLF will find themselves the liberators of a decimated land. At the moment, both are the enemy of those caught in the crossfire.
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