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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. 

Our latest CrisisWatch Digest can be found here.

CrisisWatch Ethiopia

Unchanged Situation

Amid spreading conflict across Ethiopia’s north, Tigrayan forces and federal govt intensified war rhetoric and took steps to mobilise reinforcements; clashes in centre left hundreds dead. Tigrayan forces continued to launch offensives into Amhara and Afar regions, seizing several towns and prompting thousands to flee. Federal govt 6 Aug threatened to “deploy the entire defensive capability of the state” if offensives continued, 10 Aug urged “all capable” citizens to join military effort. Tigrayan forces next day formed alliance with insurgent group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) with stated aim of toppling federal govt. Rights abuses reported on all sides. Notably, Afar authorities accused Tigrayan forces of launching attack on displaced civilians, reportedly killing over 200, in Galicoma area 5 Aug; NGO Amnesty International 11 Aug accused Ethiopian, Eritrean troops and allied militias of using sexual violence “to terrorise, degrade, and humiliate” ethnic Tigrayans. NGO Human Rights Watch 18 Aug also reported authorities conducted arbitrary detentions and forcibly disappeared at least 23 ethnic Tigrayans, mostly on apparent basis of ethnicity, in capital Addis Ababa in June-July. U.S. development agency (USAID) 19 Aug said govt’s obstruction of humanitarian aid and personnel creates looming food aid shortages in Tigray region; govt next day denied accusations. USAID 31 Aug accused Tigrayan forces of looting its warehouses in Amhara region in previous weeks. U.S. 23 Aug warned “large numbers” of Eritrean troops had re-entered Tigray after reportedly withdrawing in June (see Eritrea). Federal govt 5 Aug rejected Sudan’s offer to mediate Tigray conflict, prompting Khartoum to recall its ambassador 8 Aug (see Sudan). In west, Benishangul-Gumuz regional govt 14 Aug said its forces had killed 170 armed “anti-peace elements” allied to Tigrayan forces who had reportedly entered from Sudan, mid-Aug also arrested 32 suspected Tigrayan forces “operatives” after they reportedly crossed from Sudan in alleged attempt to destabilise region. Meanwhile, in Oromia regional state in centre, govt-appointed Human Rights Commission 26 Aug said OLA insurgents had killed some 150 ethnic Amhara in Gida Kiremu district 18 Aug, prompting retaliatory attacks which left 60 dead next day; OLA immediately denied it had targeted civilians, said Amhara militias initiated clashes.
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Reports & Briefings

In The News

11 Jul 2021
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. Al Jazeera

William Davison

Senior Analyst, Ethiopia
2 Jul 2021
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. CBS News

Richard Gowan

UN Director
2 Sep 2020
Ethiopia will not be deterred from finishing GERD by U.S. aid cuts and nor will it change its negotiating stance. Bloomberg

William Davison

Senior Analyst, Ethiopia
18 Aug 2020
Ethiopian political leaders should consider appealing to a third party to mediate, should they have exhausted all other opportunities. Deutsche Welle

William Davison

Senior Analyst, Ethiopia
30 Apr 2020
[En Ethiopie] le parti au pouvoir fait face à d’énormes défis électoraux et il semble répondre à ceux-ci avec les mêmes tactiques que l’ancien parti, c’est-à-dire les arrestations et la violence. L'Apostrophe

William Davison

Senior Analyst, Ethiopia
8 Apr 2020
While [declaring a state of emergency in Ethiopia] is understandable given the situation, it is critical that there is transparency over the government's extra powers. AFP/Yahoo News

William Davison

Senior Analyst, Ethiopia

Latest Updates

Podcast / Africa

A Dramatic Turn in Ethiopia’s Tigray War

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to William Davison, Crisis Group’s Ethiopia expert, about the stunning turn in the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, as rebels seized regional capital Mekelle and the government announced a unilateral ceasefire.

Q&A / Africa

Ethiopia Votes, But Balloting Will Not Ease the Country’s Deep Crisis

Elections delayed from 2020 due to COVID-19 are set to take place on 21 June amid mounting crises across Ethiopia, including a grinding, brutal war in Tigray. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert William Davison outlines what to expect.

Podcast / Africa

Ethiopia’s Rocky Transitional Election

This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell talks to Crisis Group expert William Davison about how June elections may play out amid rising insecurity across Ethiopia, and what a victory for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s party could mean for the turbulent transition and broader region.

Briefing / Africa

Ethiopia’s Tigray War: A Deadly, Dangerous Stalemate

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. 

Podcast / Africa

Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis and Horn of Africa Politics

This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest host Comfort Ero talk with Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa director, Murithi Mutiga, about the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and mounting tension between Ethiopia and its neighbours Eritrea and Sudan.

Our People

William Davison

Senior Analyst, Ethiopia