Following Ethiopian leader Abiy Ahmed’s catastrophic and failed assault on the northern province of Tigray, rebels have not only pushed back government forces from their homeland, but are now threatening the capital city of Addis Ababa. This has prompted the Prime Minister to impose a nationwide state of emergency as well as calls for a ceasefire by African and western leaders.
Abiy Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, invaded the dissident region of Tigray in November 2020 following rising tensions over the Prime Minister’s peace agreement with neighbouring Eritrea, a country which has long had a fraught relationship with Tigray. After the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (or TPLF), the strongest political party in the region and a powerful actor on the Ethiopian national stage, withdrew from Ahmed’s ruling coalition over its diminished role in government since the 1990s, tensions reached a boiling point, eventually resulting in Ahmed’s invasion of the northern province.
A year later, and at the cost of thousands of lives, this attack has failed, and Ethiopian government forces have withdrawn from the region. Further, rebels have advanced south beyond their homeland and are now threatening Addis Ababa. In addition to calls for ceasefires from actors across the globe, some countries including the United States have withdrawn staff from their embassies.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has commented on the unfolding crisis in Ethiopia, saying that he has spoken to the Prime Minister on Wednesday and has offered to assist in creating the conditions needed for negotiations between the government and the Tigrayan rebels.
Despite the calls for ceasefire, neither side has appeared to show much willingness to lay down their arms. Earlier this week after declaring a state of emergency, Ahmed gave a defiant speech, promising that “We will bury this enemy with our blood and bones and make the glory of Ethiopia high again”.
Meanwhile, rebels continue to advance in the Amhara region south of Tigray and have promised to take the capital while minimising civilian casualties, with spokesperson for the TPLF Getachew Reda commenting that “We don't intend to shoot at civilians and we don't want bloodshed. If possible we would like the process [of taking Addis Ababa] to be peaceful.”
Aside from the military and strategic failure to dislodge Tigrayan rebels, Abiy Ahmed has faced a slew of criticism over not just his decision to invade the northern province, but also over numerous reports of atrocities committed by government forces and their allies. According to a UN report on the conflict, such atrocities include “extra-judicial executions, torture and sexual violence” among others. In addition, up to 9,000 have been killed and, according to early reports, up to one million have been displaced as a result of the conflict.
In Africa’s second most populous country, the stage looks set for further fighting in the weeks and months to come. Nevertheless, diplomats around Africa and across the world are working feverishly behind the scenes to convince the warring parties to reach a ceasefire and to set the stage for peace negotiations.