Ethiopia: After Abiy’s election win, the war in Tigray resumes

By Samuel Getachew
Posted on Friday, 16 July 2021 13:36, updated on Saturday, 17 July 2021 10:34

abiy ahmed
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Jimma, Ethiopia, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Less than a week after declaring Abiy Ahmed the winner of the national election, against the backdrop of the unilateral ceasefire in Tigray, Ethiopia is set to take new military measures. This comes amidst pressure from long-term developmental partners for a negotiated ceasefire to stop the fighting in Tigray and contain famine that risks spilling over into neighbouring nations.

This week, Amhara’s regional government announced deployment of special forces to areas bordering Tigray and accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of invading towns that have been under its administration since November 2020. This seems to have intensified the bloody eight-month conflict.

On its part, the TPLF is pushing for withdrawal of Amhara and Ethiopian national troops from Southern and Western Tigray, areas it had a hold of before the start of the conflict.

Defensive to offensive

Joined by special forces from two other regions – Oromia and Sidama – the Ethiopia army has strengthened, thereby forcing the Tigrayan’s military operation to transition from taking defensive measures to offensive ones. In a recent statement, Abiy also hinted at fresh attacks.

Captured members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force are marched through the streets to prison under guard by Tigray Forces as hundreds of residents look on, in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia on Friday, July 2, 2021. (AP Photo)

International organisations, which Abiy accused of turning a deaf ear on TPLF’s alleged deployment of children to fight in the war, have already started voicing their concerns over escalation of an already destructive situation in Ethiopia.

The local insurgency had turned into a quagmire for Ethiopian troops, but they have withdrawn from Tigray confident that TPLF has no capacity to launch a military coup in Addis or an invasion of Eritrea.

“Reports of expansion of the war in Tigray are concerning, as continued fighting will only lead to needless suffering and death,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the UN, said on Twitter. She called for a negotiated ceasefire as a solution to the infighting.

Conditional ceasefire

In June, the TPLF surprisingly recaptured Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. Conditions that the leadership declared for entering a ceasefire include:

  • Removal of Amhara and Eritrean forces;
  • Establishment of a UN independent investigative body to probe into human rights abuses;
  • Restoration of telecommunications;
  • Recognition of their government and border demarcations;
  • Federal funds to be transferred to Mekelle.

But Abiy Ahmed’s government, which declared the TPLF a terrorist entity, has refused to negotiate since soldiers from the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) moved to other towns and claimed to have captured the towns of Alamata and Korem in Southern Tigray as well as the western town of Mai Tsebri.

“The local insurgency in Tigray had turned into a quagmire for Ethiopian troops, but they have withdrawn from Tigray confident that TPLF has no capacity to launch a military coup in Addis or an invasion of Eritrea. The withdrawal is intended to give Ethiopian troops breathing space to address other issues and stem the tide of TDF recruitment,” Bronwyn Bruton, a Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council tells The Africa Report.

Long-term impact of ceasefire

However, Bruton warns of long-term impacts of such a ceasefire. Addis Ababa insists it was under pressure to call a truce from international donors to establish humanitarian corridors and give farmers an opportunity to farm and stave off a looming famine. The increasingly dire situation in Tigray is being likened to the Ethiopian famine in 1984 that killed millions of people and made Ethiopia the charity basket case of the world.

Hatred against the people of Tigray is pouring out like a fire in the land.

“Over the longer term, Ethiopia is still faced with the challenge of dealing with a TPLF that retains its irredentist and authoritarian ambition,” Burton says.

So far, according to Abiy, the nation has spent more than 100 billion Birr (over $2bn) in dealing with the current Tigray conflict, in tandem with the growing challenges posed by Covid-19 and dwindling resources. There are also growing concerns from international investors that the country is witnessing break-out conflicts across the nation, such as in Oromia and Amhara.

Growing hatred against Tigrayans

“Ethiopia’s current affairs are fraught with political violence, conflict and the [most] devastating war in Tigray. The societal attachment of Tigray has been irreparably damaged. This is not just because of the war, but above all, because of total denial of the effects of the war,” Getachew G. Temare, a dissident and a human rights advocate, tells The Africa Report.

“Hatred against the people of Tigray is pouring out like a fire in the land,” he says. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government agency, has also highlighted the dire situation of rights abuses against Tigrayans such as harassment, abductions, killings and closure of businesses. It has called for immediate action and accountability from the federal government.

“It is precisely in such challenging and tense times that the government has to uphold an even higher threshold of duty to protect civilians and all vulnerable communities. Basic international and humanitarian law imposes maximum restraint on all parties to the conflict during such times, including on the conduct of hostilities, to ensure that civilian lives and infrastructure are not affected,” Daniel Bekele, the chief Commissioner of EHRC, said in a statement.

He also emphasised the difficulties of investigating widely acknowledged human rights abuses within the Tigray region as a result of recurring communication blackouts.

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