This November will mark the first anniversary of the Tigray and Ethiopian conflict, a conflict that questions the power of leaders, the value of stability, and the role of the international community in such affairs.
First, let us look at the setting of Ethiopia in 1991. The popular ethnic majority in Tigray helped oust the military regime. The four-part coalition that ousted the military created a federal government where different ethnic groups are ruling the ten regions. This system brought stability and prosperity within the region; however, concerns arose about the harms to democracy and human rights. These concerns from citizens led to protests which shook up the government. The protests led to Ethiopians electing Mr. Abiy, who liberalized the government and created a new political party—The Prosperity Party. While in office, Mr. Abiy removed several leaders accused of corruption. Most of them happened to be from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Finally, he helped solve the long-term territory dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. His efforts with this dispute earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and several critics for citizens in the Tigray region.
Then, one year ago, the time for Mr. Abiy to be up for reelection arose—amid the COVID pandemic. Prime Minister Abiy declared the delay of national elections. The region of Tigray—full of citizens who were critics of Mr. Abiy from the beginning—saw this as an abuse of power and an insult to the Federal system of governance. In protest, they held their elections. My Abiy declared these elections illegal because they went against the national government. There was then an attack on government forces. On November 4, Mr. Abiy launched an attack on the Tigray region in response to his accusation of the Tigray region attacking the Ethiopian military the previous week. The Tigray region told Al Jazeera, “It (Tigray region) was the target of a coordinated attack against it by the federal government and its longtime foe, Eritrea.” In the meantime, the government stated, “government troops are fighting to protect all citizens from TPLF acts of terrorism.” These two groups stand by their actions against each other, which has caused continual escalation since last year.
Since the attack on November 4, the Tigray region has been a center of humanitarian focus. Many of the citizens within this region are suffering. About 5.2 million Tigrayans (or 90% of the regional population) require food or other assistance. If not changed, the needs will only get worse this November and December. This change will have to come from deflation, not solely outside aid. Change must be internal because the national government has stopped several buses with foreign aid headed to the Tigray region through blockades. As a result of these blockades, and the conflict, aid officials estimate that tens of thousands have died.
Additionally, there have been reports of massacres, rape, and other abuses. The Eritrea forces stationed in Tigray are said to be the perpetrator. In February 2021, Amnesty International said that Eritrean soldiers killed hundreds of civilians in Axum. Many other civilians accused Eritrean forces of carrying out massacres and systematic rape. As a result, the international community took a larger stand. The international community described the violence in western Tigray as “ethnic violence.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Urged Eritrea to withdraw from the region. However, Abiy continued to deny the involvement of Eritrean forces until March 23. He also suggested that they may have ties to atrocities against civilians. The intervention of Eritrea brings in more harsh feelings with the people of Tigray because of a history of distrust among these two sets of people. The next day, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission declared that Eritrean soldiers massacred more than 100 civilians in November. These findings caused an investigation by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
This conflict is also taking a toll on the Ethiopian economy. Inflation rates are spiraling into double digits. Interruptions to trade routes have decreased national trading, which in turn has caused a drop in revenue. The national debt is estimated to hit $30 billion in the wake of this issue. Additionally, the individual expenses for citizens are increasing. A Tigist explains that, due to the war and pandemic, her expenditures have doubled in price. What used to cost her 1,000 birrs (about $22) now costs 2,000 birrs. In addition, the dollar exchange is getting worse. Last year you could get 35 birrs for one dollar, and now you can get 45. As the conflict continues, so does the worsening economic situation. These consequences will last much longer than the current conflict.
As the conflict continues, Ethiopian international relationships continue to increase in difficulty. Other countries continue to raise concerns about human rights violations in Tigray. People of this region are suffering from a lack of aid. International communities, including the United States, have criticized Prime Minister Abiy for these harms. Ned Price threatened to impose economic sanctions to respond to this escalating issue. Cameron Husdon, a former CIA official, states that as the Ethiopian government increases its offense, it will continue to lose support internationally. Despite this, Abiy declares that the region must worsen until it gets better and has been vigilant with his attack against the Tigray region. This last month the Ethiopian government renewed its attack on this region.
As time continues, much of the world is awaiting to see the decrease of human rights violations in this region. This conflict has shown us the importance of stability in a country. As it continues, we will observe what power the Prime Minister continues to hold and what power he gives up (if he does). Additionally, the impact of international pressure has provided little influence over the Prime Minister. However, there is a possibility that increased pressure will change this—especially as more nations join in sanctions against Ethiopia.