First, let’s cover the geographic and historical basics for Ethiopia:
- It is Africa’s oldest independent country.
- It is the second-largest in population.
- Apart from a five-year occupation by Mussolini’s Italy, it has never been colonized.
- It borders Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, and South Sudan.
- It is predominantly Christian (62%).
- There are over 80 ethnic groups, but the top four are Oromo (34.5%), Amhara (26.9%), Somali (6.2%), and Tigrayan (6.1%).
Next, let’s get the political context:
- The current Prime Minister, Aiby Ahmed, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in November 2019 for “resolving the 20-year border conflict with Eritrea.”
- Before Prime Minister Aiby was elected in 2018, Ethiopia was ruled by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) “as part of a coalition after overthrowing the former dictatorship in 1991.”
- Since he was elected, Prime Minister Aiby claims that his government has actively included all ethnic groups in governance. However, the TPLF denies that they’ve been included in the central government.
- Furthermore, the Tigray region has openly resisted Prime Minister Aiby’s ruling coalition, as have other regions and ethnic groups.
- Prime Minister Aiby canceled elections due to COVID-19, and the TPLF conducted their own regional elections in September.
- The Prime Minister refused to acknowledge the result of the regional elections, going as far as prohibiting foreign journalists from traveling to the region to document the election.
- In October, the central government in Addis Abba (the capital of Ethiopia) voted to cut funds to the TPLF, which further enraged the regional leaders.
So, what’s happening right now?
- The northern region of Tigray borders Eritrea and Sudan and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) is fighting in an escalating conflict with the Ethiopian military forces.
- On November 4th, Prime Minister Aiby sent troops to a military base in Tigray and accused the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacking a military base and then military forces bombed the base in retaliation.
- A few days later, “Amnesty International reported hundreds of people may have been killed in an attack with knives and machetes in the Tigrayan town of Mai Kadra.” The TPLF was blamed but denied responsibility.
- It is believed that ethnic Amharas were killed by Tigrayans in these attacks, sparking fears of ethnic cleansing. Hundreds and possibly thousands, including innocent civilians, have been killed since the conflict began on November 4th.
- The Tigray region has a paramilitary force and local militia of about 250,000.
- Since early November, approx 31,000 civilians have fled the Tigray region into Sudan. The United Nations (UN) claims that 6,000 refugees are entering Sudan daily, and predicts that within 6 months 200,000 civilians will be displaced.
- Sudan reopened the Um Raquba camp which closed 20 years ago after it hosted thousands of Ethiopians during the 1983–1985 famine.
- Will Carter, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Sudan claimed that refugees are arriving at the camp “with nothing” and that “there are about 700 pregnant women in the camp, diabetics with no insulin, people living with HIV/AIDS with no medical care, and children without parents. It’s a deeply traumatic and depressing time for many.”
- NGOs and aid groups have been prevented from helping in Tigray, and are petitioning the central government to secure access to provide supplies to civilians that are stranded by the fighting.
- On November 20, the UN called for an immediate ceasefire so that humanitarian corridors could be established to allow civilians to flee safely.
- On November 22, “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave Tigrayan regional forces 72 hours to surrender before the military begins an offensive on the regional capital of Mekelle” where there are approx 500,000 civilians.
- The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is refusing to surrender its rule of the northern region, said its forces were digging trenches and standing firm, and the leader of the Tigray region said, “his people are ‘ready to die’ defending their homeland.”
- Prime Minister Aiby claims that “all the necessary precautionary measures have been taken to ensure that civilians are not harmed.”
What impact does this have globally?
- Ethiopia is a close military ally to the US and has been essential in maintaining peace in the precarious Horn of Africa.
- Civil war would destabilize the region and could cause mass displacement of the second-most populous country (110 million people).
- The war could easily spill into Eritrea; there are already 96,000 Eritrean refugees living in Tigray.
- If Ethiopians continue to flee to Sudan, which already has 1.1 million refugees, this could destabilize the fragile transition that the nation is currently going through, including an ongoing economic crisis.
- Ethiopia also runs a vital peacekeeping mission in Somalia that would be under threat because of inner turmoil.
There’s something you can do right now to help innocent civilians:
While the conflict continues, thousands of Ethiopian people are continuing to flee to Sudan. The refugee camp is in dire need of food and supplies. Something you can right now to help — donate to the Norweigan Refugee Council, the organization that is currently managing the on-the-ground efforts at Um Rakuba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan.