The Horn of Africa at War: The Conflict in Ethiopia

Jacob Houston

The region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia makes up 6% of the country’s total population and is home to at least seven million ethnic Tigrayians.

Ethiopia has had a long history of ethnic and political disputes. With the end of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia after World War II, the country was broken into two distinctive regions: Eritrea and Ethiopia (Eritrea is formally under the direct control of Ethiopia, but constant ethnic and economic disputes have led to the Eritrean region becoming distinct). The population of Eritrea, during the 1950s, consisted of pro-Italian ethnic groups (these also include Italians living in Ethiopia), and the region vowed for independence from Ethiopia, sparking several civil wars that lasted until the year 1991 when the militarily controlled Ethiopian government was ousted from power and replaced by a four-party coalition. The coalition was spearheaded by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and under the coalition’s leadership, Ethiopia became economically prosperous.

However, corruption concerns sparked massive protest, and eventually, the coalition was reformed under Abiy Ahmed, who has been the Prime Minister of Ethiopia since 2018. Ahmed subsequently ended the Ethiopian decades-long dispute with Eritrea and ousted several powerful Tigraryian officials in the government that were accused of corruption. Consequently, the Tigraryian administrative region saw the move by Ahmed as a “declaration of war”, and subsequently attacked several Ethiopian-controlled military bases and outposts located in Tigray in November 2020.

The Tigraryian rebels (with support from Eritrea) pushed farther into Ethiopia, quickly taking over key cities in northern Ethiopia before arriving on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The warpath left behind by the Tigraryian rebels led to gruesome cases of rape, pillage, and over 90% of the Ethiopian populace restricted of humanitarian aid.

With the Tigraryian rebels creeping ever so closer to the capital, and with thousands of civilian casualties, the Ethiopian military counterattacked in early 2021, pushing the rebels back more than 90 miles, leaving the war in a stalemate. However, the war has left Ethiopia economically and politically in shambles and has left the Tigray region in chaos, with protests breaking out in mid-2021 in order to stop the conflict.

If the war can be resolved, and both sides can recognize their own differences, not only ethnically, but economically and politically, it would be beneficial for the East African region and the world.