Africa’s second most populous country is in the midst of an increasingly rocky political transition that began in 2018, with the ascent of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. At first, the change seemed to hold great promise, but fissures have grown, partly between and among the country’s numerous ethnic groups. At stake is the state’s stability and the post-1991 ethno-federalist system, which many Ethiopians support as guaranteeing local autonomy, and many others oppose as sowing division and undermining effective central government. War between the federal and Tigray governments broke out in the northern region in late 2020 as these tensions came to the fore. Through its research and advocacy, Crisis Group works to end the fighting and ward off similar conflict elsewhere, with the long-term goal of encouraging comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue about the country’s political future.
Tigray’s leaders have withdrawn their forces from neighbouring regions and called for a cessation of hostilities followed by negotiations. Ethiopia’s federal government should grasp this opportunity to end the fighting, while international actors should step up to provide support for talks.
Federal govt halted its offensive against Tigray forces after latter announced retreat; moves could help usher in negotiations to end year-long war. Tigray forces 20 Dec announced complete withdrawal from neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions back into Tigray and called for ceasefire. Federal govt 24 Dec said National Defence Forces would pause at current positions, refraining from advancing further into Tigray. UN Sec-Gen Guterres same day urged parties to “grasp this opportunity” to cease hostilities and ensure provision of “much-needed humanitarian assistance”; U.S. State Dept late month said recent developments offered opportunity for parties to come to negotiating table. Earlier in month, federal govt made major territorial gains, reclaiming all of Amhara: federal govt 1 Dec claimed control of number of towns in North Shewa Zone of Amhara, including Shewa Robit, Molale, Mezezo and Raza; 6 Dec said it had recaptured strategic Amhara towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, as well as Bati, Gerba, Kersa and Degan; 18 Dec claimed full control of Amhara’s North Wollo Zone; and 23 Dec said its forces and Amhara regional forces had gained control of Tigray’s Alamata town and were marching northward to Korem town. NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International 16 Dec jointly accused pro-govt forces of “mass detentions, killings and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans”. UN Human Rights Council next day voted to establish independent investigation into alleged abuses by all parties to northern Ethiopia conflict since Nov 2020. Meanwhile, in Oromia region, unidentified assailants 1 Dec killed 14 people including traditional elder in Karrayyu district of East Shewa Zone; govt blamed Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) while OLA and some residents accused govt. OLA early Dec claimed to have captured several towns in East and West Shewa Zones, and repelled govt offensives in East and West Wollega Zones. Federal govt early Dec conducted drone and air attacks in East Wollega. Oromia regional forces 27 Dec said they had neutralised 18 suspected OLA rebels in recent security operation in Mieso locality, West Hararghe Zone.
The combatants in northern Ethiopia are digging in for a long fight, despite high fatalities and famine conditions for civilians. The war looks set to worsen. Outside powers should back the African Union’s new envoy in urging the parties to move instead toward a ceasefire.
In mid-December, Sudanese troops moved into al-Fashaga, an agricultural area on the frontier with Ethiopia, expelling Ethiopian farmers and building fortifications. Fighting threatens to escalate. With assistance from outside mediators, the two countries should convene talks about restoring the shared land-use agreement that prevailed beforehand.
Both federal and resistance forces are digging in for a lengthy battle in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Conditions for civilians are dire, with famine a growing danger. Outside powers should urge Addis Ababa to let more aid into the war zone, while maintaining pressure for talks.
War has devastated Ethiopia’s northernmost region. Pending comprehensive national dialogue, Addis Ababa should ease Tigray’s immediate predicament, engaging elements of the authorities it unseated to govern the area and ensure that aid reaches the millions in need.
A clash over budget transfers is the latest flashpoint in the bitter dispute between Ethiopian federal authorities and their rivals in Tigray. To avoid the standoff triggering a damaging conflict, both sides should back down and embrace comprehensive dialogue.
A disputed regional election plan has ratcheted up tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government and its rivals in Tigray. To avert a confrontation, Tigrayan officials should press pause on election preparations and both sides should embrace dialogue to address the dispute and underlying causes.
The fact that the Tigrayans [in Ethiopia] are making suggestions for a negotiated settlement involving forceful international action is ... positive, but these are ultimately unrealistic proposals.
If [Ethiopian President] Abiy survives the conflict in power, he will likely be thankful to Beijing and Moscow for protecting him at the UN during the war.
After a year of war, the Ethiopian conflict is at an incredibly dangerous point, with no side showing signs of backing down.
Given the current situation [in Ethiopia] and the likelihood of continued fighting, particularly in the Amhara region, I think we are likely to see the U.S. implement targeted sanctions soon.
The current violent blowback indicates that [President] Abiy and his allies cannot achieve peace and prosperity for all Ethiopians by imposing their vision and party on Ethiopia using the coercive power of the state.
The fact that the U.S. and its allies have secured [a UNSC] meeting is itself a signal that Ethiopia has lost some credibility […] and it opens up the possibility that the Council will take further action down the road.
Crisis Group’s Watch List identifies ten countries or regions at risk of deadly conflict or escalation thereof in 2022. In these places, early action, driven or supported by the EU and its member states, could enhance prospects for peace and stability.
This week on The Horn, Alan is joined by Ethiopia scholar Christopher Clapham, who helps place the stunning events in the country against the backdrop of a longstanding struggle to establish a viable model for the Ethiopian state.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Crisis Group expert William Davison discuss Ethiopia’s civil war, now entering its second year, and the advance by Tigrayan rebels toward the capital Addis Ababa.
The CrisisWatch Digest Ethiopia offers a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments.