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HomeGeopolitical CompassNile Valley & N.AfricaEthiopia at risk of another long-term war

Ethiopia at risk of another long-term war

Author: Kjetil Tronvoll

Affiliation: Bjørknes University College, Director of Oslo Analytica

Organization/Publisher: The Africa Report, Jeune Afrique Media Group (JAMG); Ethiopia Insight

Date/Place: February 3, 2021/Paris, France

Type of Literature: Report

Word Count: 4308


Keywords:  War Crimes, Conflict Internationalization, Humanitarian Crisis.




Addis Ababa’s Tigrayan campaign was a moment of no return in Ethiopia’s political scene, with root causes going back to the erosion and abolition of the government coalition of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) by Abiy Ahmed in favour of his Prosperity Party. This alienated the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who consider the abolition of the EPRDF— dominated by Tigrayans—as unconstitutional. The fear of an increase in Addis Ababa’s centralized authority has fueled the Tigrayan vision of a de facto state, and the postponement of the 2020 general elections due to the pandemic was the tipping point. Tigray proceeded solo with elections, drawing outrage from Addis Ababa. The conflict started on November 3 and was internationalized immediately with Eritrea’s entry; Abiy declared the operation over on November 28 when Ethiopian forces entered Mekelle, Tigray’s capital. However, the conflict is far from over as the Tigrayan forces are preparing for a long fight, with thousands of casualties and a region void of services. Refugee eyewitnesses have reported widespread killing, torture and rape, with “particularly gruesome atrocities” being committed by Eritrean forces and the Amhara militia; additionally, a possible famine could kill hundreds of thousands under a shell of an interim government. Further internationalization of the conflict via Sudanese and Egyptian intervention will prolong the war, all the while Abiy refuses mediation. Diplomatic denial by most actors doesn’t help with Addis Ababa blocking relief efforts, with most turning a blind eye to a humanitarian disaster. But the Biden Administration may be a change in this trend. Nonetheless, the damage is done, as Abiy’s Tigray interim government is seen as a tool of the central government. This is a war of annihilation for Tigrayans, who are increasing their resolve for self-determination. Negotiations for a loose federal system may save Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, but it must happen before the 1979 scenario is repeated.


By: Omar Fili, CIGA Research Associate



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