Ethiopia: Conflict in the Tigray Region Explained
Ethiopia is a tropical country situated in the Horn of Africa. With its capital, Addis Ababa located almost centrally, it is also the most populated country in the region. Eritrea, a former Ethiopian province, seceded in 1993, making Ethiopia a landlocked country.
The country is bordered by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan. Ethiopia is ethnically diverse, especially linguistically, with over 100 languages spoken in the country.
What Is Happening In Ethiopia?
A constantly escalating conflict between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the regional Tigray government has affected the county’s northern-most region. The clashes began on 4th November 2020, yet, tensions were on the rise months prior.
On the 4th of November, TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) attacked a federal military base in Tigray in what it called “preemptive self-defence.”
The Ethiopian government took the opportunity to launch a “law enforcement operation” in response, attempting to justify their full-scale invasion of the area.
The Ethiopian military took control of the capital of the Tigray region by force, leading to unrest from the Tigarayan minority. This drastic step has led to a multi-faceted humanitarian crisis.
President Abiy stated that the conflict would be resolved quickly through this measure. However, 10 months on, the people continue to suffer.
The worse news so far is that senior UN officials are asked to evacuate as the situation is nearing to become a famine in the Tigray region.
How Have People Been Affected?
According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 2 million have been displaced, with 2 million more being dependent on food aid out of the nearly 6 million in the affected region. Tigrayans are being killed in masses as a form of “ethnic cleansing.”
The Ethiopian government has allied with forces from neighboring Eritrea as well as received support from several majority communities in the country, including the Amhara people from the neighboring region, who are willing to “exterminate” and “cleanse” all the Tigrayans in the area, going to the extent of even going door-to-door to kill anyone who is an ethnic Tigrayan.
The government has enforced a total communications blackout in the northern regions to curb the reach of the Tigrayan forces and to cut them off from the rest of the world. Apart from this, there are multiple human rights violations taking place throughout the country.
Rape As A Weapon
Over 500 women have self-reported being raped, which, according to the UN, is a low-range estimate given the stigma surrounding sexual assault and lack of access to basic healthcare services. One even reported that the man who raped her said that he was “cleansing bloodlines.”
Apart from rampant sexual assault, women are also being exploited in exchange for food, which is getting scarcer by the day. Both hunger and rape have been weaponized, leaving women, and in turn their children, the worst affected by the conflict.
Locust Outbreak Worsens Situation
Apart from a deadly pandemic, Ethiopia is also still recovering from the 2020 locust outbreak, the country’s worst outbreak in decades, which is only making the food shortages worse. Constant threats of being in the line of fire have hampered aid efforts in the region, even after the federal government attempted to call for a unilateral cease-fire.
According to the UN, the breeding has reduced from last year but can still affect crops and food supply.
Violence Runs Rampant - Essentially Ethnic Cleansing
According to an article by Vox, the violence in Ethiopia has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, with only one ethnic group being targeted and at the receiving end of violence fuelled by hatred.
Ethnic Tigrayans are being killed, maimed, and mutilated, their houses are being pillaged and looted, and the items they own are being burnt down.
Women are being raped and exploited, and their children are left to starve. Death estimates range from 550, as stated by the government in early November, to nearly 52,000 civilians according to Tigray forces. Bodies are left lying around while those close to the dead aren’t allowed to retrieve them in certain war-torn regions.
Two teen boys say they were tied to a tree and forced to spend a night around corpses after they witnessed the murder of several ethnic Tigrayans.
Overall, the country is heading towards a full-blown civil war that is bound to nearly wipe out all ethnic Tigrayans, who make up only 6% of the country’s total population.
Despite several calls for a peaceful resolution, both sides keep trying to assert their dominance, dragging the conflict out and affecting all civilians.
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Sources And Further Reading
Surabhi Paraki is a Journalism and Communications student at Jain University. She is also an activist and a content writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Sovena Ngeth.