Ethiopia: Will Addis Ababa fall to Tigray forces?

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Monday, 1 November 2021 17:53, updated on Tuesday, 2 November 2021 19:55

Irreechaa Festival, the Oromo People thanksgiving ceremony, marked in Addis Ababa
People attend Irreechaa Festival, the Oromo People thanksgiving ceremony at the Hora Finfinnee, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 2, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Nearly a year since the Tigray war begun, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and an allied rebel group announced they had seized control of three strategic towns in Amhara region, a development that could change the course of the conflict.

The TPLF said it is “firmly in control of Kombolcha,” its spokesperson Getachew Reda said on Twitter on Sunday. The group also claimed to have occupied the strategic town of Dessie, 13kms from Kombolcha, and 400kms north of the capital Addis Ababa, on the major road that connects the federal capital to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray Region.

The federal government denied the claims but its spokesperson accused the TPLF of executing more than 100 residents of Kombolcha.

Strategic military loss

The fall of the town of Dessie is a strategic military loss to the federal government, as it marks the furthest south the TPLF has ventured since it launched a counter-offensive into Amhara Region.

The former ruling party, now designated a rebel group by the government in Addis, claims that its presence outside Tigray is meant to “break the siege on the people of Tigray,” a reference to a siege on the northern region by Ethiopia’s military which has been accompanied by a total communications blackout. The siege has been condemned by the United Nations and aid agencies, who have faced mounting difficulties accessing hundreds of thousands of people affected by the year long conflict.

In response, the Amhara regional government suspended government functions to focus on what it calls a “survival campaign.” In a statement, it said it had also instituted an 8pm curfew and called on civilians to provide their private vehicles and weapons to the war effort.

Shortly after, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a statement in which he called on Ethiopians to join the fight and “prevent, reverse and bury the terrorist TPLF.”

OLA takes control of Kemise

Meanwhile, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) said that it had taken control of the town of Kemise, which is nearer to the capital and located on the same major highway as Dessie and Kombolcha.

The OLA split from the Oromo Liberation Front in 2018 after the latter made peace with the Ethiopian government. It continued carrying out attacks, and entered into a pact with the TPLF in August.

According to OLA spokesperson Odaa Tarbii, the rebel group freed political prisoners from jails in the towns of Kamise and Sanbate. He also quoted OLA leader Jaal Marroo as telling a crowd gathered at a stadium shortly after the group took control of the town of Gidami in Oromia that “All roads to Finfinne”, a reference to the Oromo name for Addis Ababa.

The TPLF’s military advances in Dessie and Kombolcha hold strategic significance, as they did in the fight against the Derg regime in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Possible advance on Addis Ababa?

In the current conflict, a likely advance on Addis Ababa now seems imminent, as both sides have largely ignored calls for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution. Instead, a year since the conflict begun both sides dug in, with the Ethiopian military forces bombing positions in Tigray since mid-October in a “final offensive”, and the TPLF expanding its occupation in neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.

The two rebel groups signed a military alliance in August, and their victories might signal a changing shift in the conflict.

Ethiopia’s military launched air raids on Tigray in mid-October, and said that its bombs had hit makeshift facilities used for arms construction and repair.

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