From the July-August 2021 issue of News & Letters
Just ahead of parliamentary elections, Ethiopia’s President Abiy Ahmed proclaimed that he was aiming for a country “where every Ethiopian moves around relaxed, works and prospers.” How does he achieve this? By launching a brutal civil war against the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray that is in its ninth month. Massacres, sexual assault and ethnic cleansing have been the mode of operating. And now there is the threat of mass starvation. Abiy’s hands are indeed bloody.
He launched an offensive in the Tigray region against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) last November to supposedly “restore the rule of law.” What has been the result? A carefully researched report recently identified some 150 massacres carried out by soldiers, paramilitaries and insurgents. Ages of those killed ranged from infants to 90 years old. It is a war against not only the TPLF but the Tigrayian people.
The offensive against the TPLF earlier this year opened the door for other ethnic conflicts in all of Tigray. Thus, tens of thousands of Tigrayians are reported to have been driven from their homes by Amhara militia over a land dispute. It is estimated that more than two million people have been displaced within Ethiopia’s Tigray region since fighting erupted, with about half fleeing after their homes were burned down.
At present the UN and food agencies are reporting that some 350,000 Tigrayians are at risk of famine, the highest number in a single country over the past decade. Armed groups are blocking food distribution.
RAPE IS A WEAPON OF WAR
Sexual assaults are rampant. A senior UN official reported in March that more than 500 Ethiopian women had formally reported sexual violence in Tigray, although the actual toll is likely far higher, she added. In the Tigray capital city of Mekelle, health workers say new cases emerge every day.
Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a decades-long conflict with Eritrea. But in his war against Tigray, he has invited Eritrean forces to join the Ethiopian military in Tigray. Eritrean forces have done so eagerly, joining in the slaughter, carrying out their own massacres and rapes.
And the elections? Abiy is striving to consolidate his power. Tigray, with over six million people, will be excluded from the vote. In Oromia, his home region, Abiy launched a crackdown against any opposition with thousands of arrests and extrajudicial killings. As a result, two opposition parties withdrew from the elections. Some regions will not vote until September.
Abiy will certainly “win” these elections but only with much blood on his hands, and an extremely fragmented Ethiopia in place.