September 27, 2021

Conflict in Tigray: a political and humanitarian impasse for the Ethiopian authorities

It had to be a formality. It is ultimately a quagmire for the Ethiopian military. Launched eight months ago, the military operation supposed to put down the rebellion in Tigray province has turned into a fiasco. For several weeks, the counter-offensive led by the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) has enabled them to regain control of a large part of the region, including the capital Mékélé.

A TDF spokesperson on Tuesday (July 13th) announced the capture of the key city of Alamata. Better organized and supported by the population, the guerrillas now control the south of the region and claim to want to ‘liberate every square inch of Tigray’.

In the camp opposite, security forces and loyalist militiamen are polishing their weapons. Three Ethiopian regions will thus deploy troops to support operations carried out by the federal army.

The regions concerned are Oromia, the largest region in Ethiopia, as well as Sidama and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR).

‘Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed saw that his army had fallen short. With the sending of these militiamen, the authorities are trying to block the Tigrayans in their region, ‘said Patrick Ferras, president of the African Strategies Association and connoisseur of Ethiopia. ‘For their part, the guerrillas, after having retaken the south-east, will embark on the reconquest of the south-west.’

Ethnic rivalries

In addition to these militiamen who came to lend a hand to the regular army, there are also men from Amhara, the neighboring region.

For this ethnic group, this conflict represents a unique opportunity to reclaim the fertile lands of western and southern Tigray, lost in the early 1990s. According to the Amhara, these territories were illegally annexed by the Front for the Liberation of the People of Tigré (TPLF) on the occasion of a redistribution of regions.

‘This is important because the Amhara share power with Abiy Ahmed who is Oromo, the majority ethnic group. In the event of defeat and the inability of the army to protect these territories, the regime would find itself even more weakened, ‘explains Patrick Ferras.

The Tigrayans are raising the stakes. They threaten to descend south to Addis Ababa, the heart of federal power, as their fathers did on May 28, 1991, to bring down the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

‘The Tigray is not asking for independence. He wants to stay in Ethiopia. In this sense, the TPLF is playing the game of the constitution ‘, explains Patrick Ferras. ‘They want their rights, as a region, to be respected. Abiy Ahmed would then have to restore access to a budget and allow Tigrayans to sit in parliament. ‘

The Ethiopian parliament had revoked the regional assembly and the executive of Tigray in November, after the announcement of the military intervention in the north of the country.

Region cut off from the world

However, for the moment, the Prime Minister is showing inflexibility. The authorities consider the TPLF to be a terrorist movement and the demands of each side make a real negotiating ground impossible.

‘Abiy Ahmed will never agree to bring the Tigrayans into the political game. But in the current situation, he will have to take the first step, ‘said Patrick Ferras.

A first step that could materialize by lifting the blockade imposed on Tigray, setting up an airlift for humanitarian aid or even restoring basic services: water, electricity, Internet, cut off by the federal power. .

The Western powers are still asking for wide access to the region in order to channel aid which is currently arriving very slowly. According to the UN, more than 400,000 people have ‘crossed the threshold of famine’ in Tigray.

A convoy of 50 World Food Program trucks carrying 900 tonnes of aid arrived in Mékélé on Monday. But that ‘represents only 1% of the food needed for the month,’ Samantha Power, director of the United States International Aid Agency (USAid), said on Twitter on Thursday, ‘the Ethiopians will starve if more convoys are not not allowed, and faster ‘.

The pressure is mounting on the regime of the Prime Minister, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2019, suspected of serious human rights violations in this war without image. A crackdown that has taken a new step since the rout of the federal army, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights organization on Friday accused Ethiopia of arbitrarily arresting hundreds of Tigrayans in recent weeks. Among these detainees are activists and journalists. These ethnic arrests are also of concern to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. This body, independent but attached to the government, had already been moved by a wave of similar arrests at the start of the conflict.