Tigary Crisis

Tigray crisis, started in November 4 between the federal government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state, led to deaths of hundreds and displaced around 44000 to neighbouring Sudan. Weeks of conflicts have almost come to an end at this moment with the Ethiopian government’s announcement of its taking control of Mekelle on 28 November and the confirmation of the leader of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, on its withdrawal from the capital city of Tigray. But the TPLF later declares that fighting against the federal forces will continue raising a crucial question on whether the Tigray conflict has in the mean time ended or will lead to further conflicts.

Obviously, the recent conflict, which started with an attack of the TPLF on a federal military base of the Northern Command, is not a sudden event. It dates back to 2018, when public protests led to changes in the government and Abiy Ahmed appeared as the new the Prime Minister who later distanced the Ethiopia’s politics from ethnic federalism through merging the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that had governed Ethiopia for thirty years into Prosperity Party. This made the TPLF, a dominant party in the EPRDF, powerless. Later events created tensions between the federal government and the Tigray regional government. But Abiy Ahmed’s cancellation of the national Presidential election supposed to be held in September (2020) dissatisfied the Tigray regional government that unilaterally held regional elections.

Thus far, only optimistic side of the Tigray-conflict is that the federal military’s take-over of Mekelle restored peace in Tigray at least for now. But any unilateral decision of the Ethiopian federal government – led by Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner – without heeding to reasonable discontents of the TPLF is less likely to result in any peaceful settlement in Tigray as well as Ethiopia, a country marked by ethnic rivalries. In my opinion, the possibility of further escalations increase at least to a certain extent because the TPLF, which is highly disgruntled by the loss of the power and influence it had enjoyed under the EPRDF’s power-sharing system for decades, has not digested the military defeat.

It is relevant to note that the TPLF has a history of resistance and fighting Addis Ababa. As is appears, Tigrayans fought in the 1940s against Emperor Haile Selassie in the Woyane rebellion, led a successful guerrilla war against the Marxist Derg regime for decades and, after marching into the capital, came to power in 1991 under the banner of EPRDF. It is, thus, not unlikely that escalations may continue between the federal forces and the dissatisfied TPLF in the days ahead – probably in different forms – putting a significant threat to unity and stability of Ethiopia and reducing the chance of peace soon, even if the federal government has stronger military force. Some analysts say that the TPLF could now be preparing to launch a guerrilla war from the mountain against the federal government.

Not less important is that fact that further clashes in Ethiopia can enhance the possibility of trans-boundary escalations especially with the involvement of neighbouring Eritrea, even if not the entire Horn of Africa that consists of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Many experts in international affairs also warn that Eritrea, which has fought with Ethiopia for years across the Tigrayan border, can take part in the conflict. In actual fact, the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki who has good relations with Abiy Ahmed but who dislikes the TPLF – which is believed to have fired several rockets at Eritrea in November, 2020 – is considered to have fuelled the weeks-long Ethiopian conflicts and, as is claimed by the Tigrayan force, has backed the Ethiopian Federal government force.

Under such circumstances, the Ethiopian government needs to realize that military option alone will not mitigate the extant crisis, which is caused by political and some other factors. In fact, there are a number of causes that deserve to be given serious attention; most important concerns are the integration of parties and cancellation of national elections. Unilateral integration of parties, which dissatisfied the TPLF, empowered other ethnic groups including Amhara and Oromo – the ethnic group of the current Prime minister. Besides, the cancellation of national elections is rendered by the TPLF as a means of the Prime minister’s staying in power and tightening his grip in the federal government.

There are some other concerns, including widespread ethnic rivalries, disputes between regional states, security concern and fragile institutions, which need to be well addressed too for sustainable and peaceful resolution of the current crisis. it is undeniable that ethnic conflicts for power and economic resources at federal and regional level have already turned to be a matter of serious concern in Ethiopia. As it further appears, inter-ethnic violence resulted in nearly three million internally displaced people – rendered as the highest of any country in 2018. It is more important to note that ethnic rivalry, which exists not only between Amhara and Tigray groups but also among other groups, can continuously put significant threats to undivided Ethiopia in the days ahead too.

Unsurprisingly, the future course of Ethiopia, which is the second most important state in the entire African continent, largely depends on how the Prime Minster mitigates discontents of the TPLF and others and handles subsequent events. It is obviously not that political reform steps are not taken by governments in other countries, but success of reform initiatives – or type of reactions from oppositions – depends on how political tactic is employed. In my opinion, the Prime Minister, who got the Nobel Peace Prize mainly for the contribution to ending years of border conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea, needs to use political maneuver instead military force and reduce the possibility of military conflicts in Ethiopia, where peace and stability have been very fragile for many years.

While the government needs to address reasonable concerns with steps including holding of national elections and national dialogue among parties, all ethnic groups including the Tigray have some undeniable roles to play to reduce tensions and bring peace. In my opinion, all ethnic groups should realize that conflicts will only reduce the chance of establishing peace in their own country, should build confidence among them and need to be earnest in their efforts to the mitigation of the crisis. Of course, international efforts can be imperative for the resolution of the crisis but, in the mediation process, regional forum especially the Africa Union can be engaged and, if needed, the UN may also play some roles.

Amir Mohammad Sayem is a researcher and commentator on issues in diverse areas including social, political, environmental, public health and international relations,Dhaka, Bangladesh Email:sayemphps@yahoo.com


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