Ethiopia Unraveling

Several nations are ordering their non-essential embassy staff members and dependents out of Ethiopia as the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) move closer to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The United States has joined Israel, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark in removing non-essential personnel from Ethiopia. The order was given on Friday and the US State Department is also urging all US nationals to leave the country too. A number of other rebel groups have joined the TPLF, forming an anti-government alliance that looks to unseat Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power one year after he launched the offensive in Tigray that has ultimately led to this point. In November 2020 there were very few people who could even entertain the notion that Addis Ababa would be under TPLF threat twelve months later.

The government has declared a state of emergency that will allow conscription of any military-aged civilian with weapons. Veterans are also being asked to reenlist in the military. In Addis Ababa, police are searching houses to uncover potential Tigrayans who are connected, or sympathetic to the TPLF. How much good these measures will do with the enemy fast approaching the city remains to be seen.

Beyond Ethiopia’s borders there have been a number of diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing the conflict to an end. The Biden administration’s press for negotiations to end the fighting fell upon deaf ears, and so have the selective sanctions placed on some Ethiopian officials by the US government. The reluctance of both sides to turn to diplomacy has derailed efforts by the African Union to mediate an end to the fighting and bring about a cease-fire. Predictably, United Nation Security Council calls for on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness” are being ignored. The Security Council is also concerned with how this conflict will affect the stability of the region. The Horn of Africa has long been a hotbed of volatility. The prospect of the fighting leading to a division of Ethiopia similar to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s is beginning to make diplomats around the world uneasy.

No Mediation In Sight For The Conflict In Northern Ethiopia

Ethiopia is resisting calls for international mediation as the conflict in its northern Tigray region. Fighting has been taking place there since 4 November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a ground offensive and air strikes on Tigray in response to local leaders there defying his authority. The fighting is bringing on a humanitarian crisis. Casualties are over 1,000 according to third-party NGO sources, and over 25,000 refugees are flooding into Sudan. To make matters even more dire, the conflict is spilling over into Eritrea. The bad blood between Eritrea and Ethiopia is well known and it’s safe to assume that if the fighting continues it will endanger Eritrea-Ethiopia relations, which have been improving in recent times.

Ethiopia’s move into Tigray was long-expected. The establishment of the Prosperity Party in December, 2019 as a replacement to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front was bitterly opposed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which viewed the merger as illegal and did not take part. In September, 2020 regional elections were held in Tigray against the wishes of the central government. Ahmed has regarded these elections as a step towards Tigray secession and was likely a prime reason for the military offensive.

There have been claims of victories, liberated towns, and casualties coming from all corners of the conflict. At present though, communications mainly down and the media is barred from the battle zone, making independent verification almost impossible. On Monday, Ethiopian warplanes attacked Mekelle, the capital city, of the Tigray region, according to Ethiopian government sources. There has been no word on what the intended targets were, or of casualties.