Why Ethiopia is throwing itself into violence again

The ceasefire in Ethiopia between the government and the rebels in the Tigray region has been broken. The region, already affected by severe drought, is again sinking into war. How could this happen?

Addis Ababa. Hardly anyone expected the conflict between the central government in Addis Ababa and the rebels in the Tigray region to be resolved soon. And yet the people of Ethiopia hoped they would be spared horror stories and images of brutal attacks. Things went differently: the ceasefire that had been in place since March broke a few days ago. According to unconfirmed reports, two children were killed in an attack on a kindergarten on Friday. In the northern part of the country, on the Horn of Africa, fighting rages again.

Local media accuse the central government in Addis Ababa of being responsible for last Friday’s kindergarten attack. The government denies this – but at the same time confirms that the Luftwaffe flies attacks on military installations.

As so often in this conflict, it remains unclear who is actually responsible for ending the ceasefire – both sides blame each other. There have been repeated provocations in recent months. The Ethiopian military, for example, had announced that it wanted to upgrade its air force. “Both sides have not even formally managed to start peace talks,” explains William Davison, an Ethiopia expert at the Brussels think tank International Crisis Group. It is currently unclear what military objectives the opposing parties are pursuing.

The conflict in Tigray began in early November 2020. The relationship between the government in Addis Adeba and the People’s Liberation Front of Tigray (TPLF) has been marked by tension for years, with the TPLF dominating Ethiopia for a good 25 years. Abiy Ahmed then came to power in 2018, and in 2019 he received the Nobel Peace Prize, primarily for Ethiopia’s reconciliation with Eritrea.

Worst drought in 40 years

The TPLF subsequently held elections in Tigray on its own and soon after attacked a military base. Prime Minister Abiy launched an offensive with the help of Eritrea – but many senior army officers defected to the TPLF. The government deployed heavier and heavier artillery, but it did not succeed. Then Addis Ababa began a de facto blockade of the Tigray region.

The conflict threatens to further worsen the already devastating situation for the inhabitants of the Tigray region. According to the World Food Program (WFP), Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. The drought has now lasted for more than two years and has hit the country’s food production and drinking water supply hard. More than five million people in Tigray are dependent on relief supplies. In total, about 70 percent of the population in the region is affected by hunger, some of which is severe.

It was only the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia that forced the warring parties to sign a ceasefire in the spring. This should enable urgently needed aid deliveries to the region. At that time, the TPLF rebel group agreed to the so-called “humanitarian ceasefire”. In the end it didn’t last very long

The whole conflict is the provisional end point of the country’s positive development, which in recent years has been seen as a beacon of hope and an anchor for stability in the Horn of Africa. Since 2011, Ethiopia’s annual economic growth has been more than nine percent. Reformer Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 after settling decades of border disputes with neighboring Eritrea. Meanwhile, however, Abiy has been heavily criticized.

The Tigray rebels also have little to gain in the conflict. If the region became independent from Ethiopia, Tigray might not survive economically. However, reintegrating the region also seems impossible. Human rights organizations complain that serious war crimes and ethnic cleansing have taken place on both sides. In response, the US, EU and other Western donors are cutting their payments to Ethiopia.

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220829-99-551466/2

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