Last week, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, offered up what could only be seen as a colossal military disaster in the form of a unilateral ceasefire declaration. This was preceded by the stunning capture of the Tigrayan region capital, Mekelle, by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who routed Ethiopian forces and captured nearly 6000 prisoners.
In between the military clashes, thousands of civilians have been killed, with nearly 350,000-400,000 on the brink of becoming victims to famine according to UN reports. Despite the so called “humanitarian cease-fire” announced by the Government in Addis Ababa, The rebels have ignored such calls and have declared that they will push out all “invading enemies” from Tigrayan lands.
This all follows the offensive launched by Ethiopian government that was confidently supposed to end the conflict, with the government even going so far as to announce last November that the conflict was over. This is in spite of fighting continuing throughout the region in the form of guerrilla warfare between both sides. As the long column of Ethiopian POWs marched through the streets of Mekelle, locals in their thousands paraded the streets waving flags, and celebrating the rebel victory.
Beneath the surface, there is an even uglier picture developing. Both sides in the conflict have been accused of committing war crimes and genocide on ethnic minorities living around the disputed regions. The UK, US and Ireland have called a UN Security Council Emergency meeting to discuss the atrocities taking place in the region. The allies of the Ethiopian army, the Eritrean Militia Forces have been seen moving north back to original borders, yet nothing is for certain if they will play a further military role due to their unclear status throughout the conflict.
The UN has repeatedly called a state of famine in the northern region within Ethiopia and has called for urgent action to alleviate the problem. Abiy’s Government has denied such claims. After the recent (and questionably fair) elections due to boycotts from opposition parties and some regions not even taking part in the electoral process, he along with his administration will most likely remain in power, despite recent military defeats.
Despite the UN’s initial claim of 350,000 being at risk of famine, this number was surpassed by the claim by the US Agency for International Development that 900,000 civilians were facing famine. Either way, many civilians of all ethnic backgrounds caught in the crossfire need urgent help from the international community, as both sides seem to be ignorant of the real humanitarian issue.
In closing, the only hope for an actual ceasefire, is for the Tigrayan rebels to be comfortable enough to come to the peace-making table. That of course is a lot more easily said than done. The Biden Administration has welcomed the news of the ceasefire but offered no teeth yet if fighting continues on a smaller scale, only a statement that it would not stand by while atrocities continue.
The shock defeat of one of Africa’s most powerful nations is certainly a surprise, but minority interest rebels and various terrorist militias across the continent have become increasingly active due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Both problems add to each other’s damage. The international community watches side eyed, and hopes all sides will lay down arms in favour of diplomacy.