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.
A truce in Ethiopia has generated cautious optimism. As the belligerents take tentative steps toward peace, the first order of business is to surge humanitarian aid into Tigray and restore vital services. The country’s external partners should find ways to nudge all parties toward compromise.
While fragile truce between federal govt and Tigray forces held, humanitarian aid to embattled region remained grossly insufficient; elsewhere, religious tensions flared and other violence continued. No clashes reported in April in northern Tigray region after federal and Tigray authorities late March agreed to humanitarian truce. For first time since Dec 2021, aid convoys 1, 2 April entered Tigray by land; another convoy of 50 trucks 15 April arrived in regional capital Mekelle after Tigray forces 12 April withdrew from Erebti district in Afar region. World Health Organization 18 April said only 4% of required aid had reached Tigray since truce. More truck convoys later mid- to late-April reached Mekelle, but deliveries by month’s end remained far from sufficient to meet needs. Tigray forces 25 April said they were completely withdrawing from Afar in hope aid could finally pour into Tigray; federal govt 28 April rebutted claims as “big lies”. In joint report, NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch 6 April alleged Amhara regional authorities and security forces, with possible participation of federal soldiers, carried out “ethnic cleansing” campaign in Western Tigray from Nov 2020, systematically expelling several hundred thousand Tigrayans. Meanwhile, religious tensions spiked. Armed assailants 26 April attacked Muslim worshippers in Gondar city, Amhara; attack and subsequent unrest left 21 dead. Retaliatory attacks against Orthodox and Protestant Christians reported 28 April in Werabe town, Southern Nations region; casualties unknown. Also in Amhara, clashes in border area between Jille Dhumuga district in Oromia Zone and Efrata Gidim district in North Shewa Zone around 18-19 April reportedly left 20 dead, over 5,000 displaced; Amhara region officials accused Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel group of initiating violence, while ethnic Oromo residents blamed Amhara militias known as Fano, and regional special forces. In Oromia region, federal govt forces along with Oromia regional forces early April launched renewed offensive against OLA: intense fighting reported 2-3 April along highway connecting Hawassa city to Ethiopia-Kenya border town of Moyale; violence throughout month persisted in Oromia’s North, West and South West Shewa zones, also Horo Guduru Wollega, West and East Guji zones, with all conflict actors reportedly targeting civilians.
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.
This week on The Horn, guest host Nicolas Delaunay is joined by Nazanine Moshiri, Crisis Group’s climate & security expert, to discuss the complex, often dangerous relationship between climate stresses and conflict in the Horn and on the continent more broadly.
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.
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.
In this statement, Crisis Group corrects the record regarding William Davison, Senior Analyst for Ethiopia.
This week on The Horn, Alan talks to Crisis Group’s Ethiopia expert William Davison about the latest dramatic developments in the country’s civil war, after a major withdrawal by the Tigray forces.