The armed conflict in the north is coming to a head and threatens to get “out of control”.
“Peace is an affair of the heart,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed when he received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. He had released political prisoners, promoted freedom of the press and, above all, brought about reconciliation with the archenemy Eritrea. But not much has remained of the model democratic image. Today the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is in war mode – with heavy military equipment on the ground and in the air in the province of Tigray.
Fierce fighting has been going on for days between government troops and units of the regional rulers. Little is known about the true extent, because Abiy cut Internet and telephone connections in this part of Ethiopia. But there are said to have been several hundred deaths, and thousands of civilians are said to be on the run – especially in neighboring Sudan. Access is denied to aid organizations.
Starting point of the conflict: ethnic rivalries and claims to power. The Tigray people make up only six percent of the more than 110 million Ethiopians, but they were at the controls of power for decades. It was instrumental in the overthrow of the communist dictatorship under Mengistu Haile Mariam (1991) and then, with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, was the authoritarian ruler until his death (2012).
When Abiy came to power in 2018 (son of an Oromo mother and an Amhara father), that was over, he dismissed the Tigray elite from all key positions. That hit the proud people hard, and above all the cadres of the People’s Liberation Front Tigray (TPLF), who felt “humiliated”, as Africa expert Annette Weber from the Berlin “Science and Politics Foundation” said in an interview with KURIER.
She views the current military escalation with great concern. “Because with 250,000 men and women, the TPLF has more and above all more battle-tested troops than the government, which has 200,000 soldiers.” And although Abiy has sole control of the air with fighter jets and drones, Annette Weber is convinced that “the war of neither side can be won ”. If things get really tight for the Tigrayers, they would retreat to the mountains, as they did in the 1980s, and use guerrilla tactics.
Missiles on airport in Eritrea
The militias are currently still very self-confident and have even attacked the airport of the Eritrean capital Asmara with rockets. Reason: This is used by the Ethiopian Air Force. “Now at the latest, the internal front position has acquired a regional dimension. Because Eritrea will not put up with it ”, analyzes Weber. The conflict could spill over into Sudan, too – there are ethnic rivalries and controversial land issues. The whole thing threatens to get “out of control”, warned the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
The German Africa expert believes that there is also a danger to the territorial integrity of Ethiopia with its around 80 peoples: “A disintegration (along ethnic lines) cannot be ruled out.” The whole country is “seething”, even more “in recent months there were some pogroms, especially between Omoros and Amharen ”.
The former in particular are deeply disappointed. They – long suppressed during the Tigray domination – brought Abiy to power, but their expectations were in no way fulfilled. “There were mass protests, especially after the murder of the well-known singer Hachalu Hundessa”, Annette Weber describes the explosive situation.
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Prime Minister is now trying to “present the war as a national project in order to unite all Ethiopians behind them. What I hear from the country, however, will make it very difficult for him to succeed “, the scientist is extremely skeptical,” we are dealing with a very dangerous situation. “