Last weekend saw a dramatic turn in the war between the Federal government and the forces of the Northern Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). On Saturday, the Ethiopian Parliament approved the establishment of a transitional Tigrayan government, in an attempt to free the way for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration to take political control of the North. Abiy also replaced three key players: his army chief, his intelligence chief and his minister of foreign affairs.
With more than 80 nationalities and ethnic groups, Ethiopia’s political landscape is dominated by tribal allegiances. Since Abiy came to power in April 2018 and ushered in reforms, the opening loosening of state controls have reignited long-simmering ethnic conflicts. The launch of the military operation against the TPLF last week came three days after groups of the Oromo Liberation Army were accused of killing at least 54 people in the southern Oromia region. The victims were reported to be from the Amhara ethnic group. These deadly events are only some striking examples of the violent incidents reported countrywide for the past months. Many clashes evolved around ethnicity. Some are extremely political. But most of them were spurred by the combination of these two elements.
The conflict ongoing in Tigray is no exception. The region now enters its seventh day of fighting between federal troops and regional Tigrayan forces, after months of friction between Abiy Ahmed, who comes from the largest Oromo ethnic group, and the TPLF regional government. Both sides contest the legitimacy of the other and there is deep animosity between the Tigrayans and Abiy. On Friday evening, the prime minister addressed Tigrayans on television in their mother tongue. He urged them to stay inside to protect themselves from airstrikes on military assets. He also stated on Twitter that the operation had "clear” and "limited” objectives. But many are accusing him of waging war against his own people.
The federal government and TPLF are not the only ones involved. On the western Tigray border, several clashes were reported between Tigrayan forces and Amhara special forces, who are supporting the federal government. With Amhara militias possibly operating alongside the regional forces, this highlights long-lasting strife between Amhara and Tigray about disputed border territories. This border dispute has been an ongoing cause of ethnic conflicts and proxy violence.
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