The conflict in Ethiopia is escalating: what’s going on?

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Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have fled the country due to a growing conflict between the national government on the one hand and the local administration of the northern Ethiopian province of Tigray on the other. The country is teetering on the brink of civil war and the United Nations, among others, is raising the alarm about the safety of its citizens. What is going on?

TPLF no longer recognized Ahmed’s government after illegal elections

Ethiopia is a federation divided into ten different regions, based on ethnicity, and two administratively independent regions (including the capital Addis Abeba).

The conflict in Ethiopia is played out between two sides: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s current national government in Addis Ababa on the one hand, and the local government of the Tigray region, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in direct opposition.

After the civil war in 1991, the latter took power in the country. During the TPLF’s decades-long national administration, it waged, among other things, a border war with Eritrea, which left tens of thousands dead.

TPLF’s policies sparked popular discontent and after years of protests, Ahmed took power in 2018. He described the TPLF regnal years as “a dark period” and immediately replaced the senior officials of the TPLF. He also tried to re-establish ties with Eritrea, one of the reasons he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

The Tigray region is located in the north of the country. (Infographic: ANP)

While Ahmed held sway from Addis Ababa, the TPLF retreated to its own territory in the north of the country. There, tensions between the local government of Tigray and the national government grew ever further.

Ahmed’s policy is aimed at creating more unity in the country by merging the various administrations into a national administration. But under that policy, tensions between the various ethnic groups in the country increased, and ethnically motivated violence flared up again, among others, Amnesty International and the Atlantic Council. Different ethnic groups carried out targeted attacks on each other.

Tensions peaked when Ahmed temporarily postponed elections in the country due to the corona virus. In protest, the TPLF itself organized elections in Tigray in September. The party won with an overwhelming majority: 98 percent of the vote, a result that critics question.

The Ahmed government did not accept the election results. However, the damage had already been done: TPLF immediately declared after the election that the national government no longer has any legitimate power in Tigray and said it no longer recognizes the Ahmed government.

Ahmed was then forced to send troops to Tigray on November 4. The local administrators had not only revolted, but also attacked an army base, the prime minister said.

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