Ethiopian government forces have launched a military offensive on the local rulers of the north-west region Tigray for defying Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali’s authority.
On 4th November, Abiy accused Tigray authorities of attacking and looting a military camp. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have denied the attack, claiming Abiy has fabricated the story in order to justify the offensive. Thousands of refugees have crossed into neighbouring Sudan in order to flee the fighting.
Ignoring international pleas for a truce, Abiy posted to Facebook: “the three-day ultimatum given to Tigray Special Forces and the militia to surrender to the national defence… ended today”, opening the way for a “final and crucial” push on the capital Mekelle.
After claims emerged from TPLF surrounding Ethiopian forces using a neighbouring airport in Eritrea to attack, Tigrayan forced fired rockets across the border. They have also made accusations surrounding Eritrean forces backing the federal forces of Ethiopia, which was fiercely denied by Aby who said Ethiopia was “more than capable of attaining the objectives of the operation by itself”.
The TPLF arose from a long battle to overthrow the military junta known as the Derg, which came into power after the previous Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted in the 1974 revolution. After the “Red Terror”, throughout which tens of thousands of young people were murdered in a civil war, a coalition led by the TPLF defeated them in 1991.
A group called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) ruled for 27 years, putting an end to large-scale civil war and lowering child mortality rates from one in five to one in 20. However, Abiy describes their time in power as the “27 years of darkness”, arguing a domination of politics, economy, and the army made for the death of democracy.
After being elected as party leader, Abiy liberalised politics, setting up a new party named the Prosperity Party. Making peace with Eritrea and ending a two-year war in 2000 won Abiy a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, but the Nobel body has since passed comments on the recent events in Ethiopia: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee follows the developments in Ethiopia closely, and is deeply concerned”.
Sudan is currently in the midst of a democratic transition and it is believed they will support Abiy, but there are more dangerous implications suggesting the conflict could turn Ethiopia into a “Libya in east Africa”.