Ethiopia is sliding into a man-made disaster. The tension between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a group that had misruled Ethiopia for three decades and the federal government has been mounting for months.
It exploded into a full scale conflict on November 4 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military retaliation after the TPLF staged an attack against Ethiopian Defence Forces bases in the Tigray region, massacring the members of the army.
The human toll of the conflict can be measured by the death toll of hundreds or perhaps thousands of people, and the displacement of thousands of civilians fleeing into Sudan.
There are reports that civilians have been hacked to death because of their ethnicity, and Ethiopian soldiers deployed along Tigray region’s border with Sudan were preventing people fleeing violence from leaving the country.
Abiy has so far refused offers of mediation from regional leaders, including the African Union. His objective of the Ethiopian offence is to subjugate Tigray region under the control of the central government and to dismantle TPLF military power.
He is telling the world that conflict will end in a matter of weeks, as government troops take Mekelle, Tigrayan’s mountainous capital.
Rather than submitting to a belligerent government’s demands, the TPLF regional leader, Debreetsoion Gebremichael, said his fighters were “ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region”.
Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afwerki, a long-time foe of the TPLF, is helping Abiy’s war efforts against the Tigray region. Abby had made peace overtures to Afwerki, who committed “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations”, a move that won him a Nobel Peace prize.
The TPLF draws its support from the six million Tigrayans out of 110 million of the rest of Ethiopia, yet the faction had dominated the country’s political spectrum for almost three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
To consolidate the power of the central government, Abiy disbanded the TPLF-dominated Ethiopia’s Revolutionary People’s Party, a coalition of four ethnic-based parties, which was responsible for serious human rights violations.
The TPLF went ahead, holding regional elections in September despite the postponement of the polls due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Moreover, Abiy’s reforms brought into open the discord and division among Ethiopia’s ethnic groups sowed by the TPLF, which led into communal violence.
To tame the violence, Abiy’s government has committed gross human rights abuses: It arbitrarily arrested 9,000 people, mainly Oromo, who opposed him politically, 178 were killed during peaceful demonstrations, since the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo singer who gave a voice the uprising that brought Abiy into power.
Many Oromos felt that Abiy had abandoned their cause for justice, human rights, and the rule of law. Instead, they believe Abiy is serving the special interest of big global banks that are eager to take over Ethiopia’s economy under the guise of introducing free market economy.
Human rights activists have known how Ethiopia’s stability was like a smouldering ember waiting to ignite into flames at any moment because of the repressive, authoritarian and predatory nature of its rapacious rulers.
A fragmented nation with a history of oppression, it has diverse ethnic and religious groups whose first loyalty is the self-interest of their people rather than the idea of One Ethiopia as a nation state like Yugoslavia was in the 1990s.
And the United States is complicit for the tragedy because it aided and abetted the TPLF to focus on narrow counter-terrorism efforts in Somalia.
The TPLF and their henchmen conned the US out of billions of dollars of foreign aid, and some of that money went straight to government coffers to stifle freedom and to incite interethnic resentments that is now tearing down Ethiopia.
To save Ethiopia from plunging into a full-blown civil war, America, EU, and Africa should use their diplomatic muscles to negotiate a ceasefire in the Tigray conflict.
We should demand from Abiy to release all political prisoners and journalists. The US Congress should suspend all non-humanitarian aid to Ethiopia until the State Department reassesses the prevailing human rights conditions.
Finally, keeping a blind eye on the human suffering of the Tigray conflict would only foment combustible ethnic or religious driven violence, shattering Ethiopia’s peace and stability, and sending waves of refugees into a region already plagued by wars.