Is Ethiopia on the brink of an all-out civil war?


Civil war could break out in Ethiopia. 

Months of violence in the Northwest Tigray region of Ethiopia are pushing the country to the brink of an all out conflict.

The war has highlighted the delicate ethnic divide that holds the 115 million plus people nation together. As it drags on, new and strange alliances seem to be forming up, complicating the situation for the Nobel prize winning Ethiopian Prime Minister.

On August 10, he made a call to arms to all capable citizens,urging them to join the country's military and help stop the resurgent forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. 

In a surprise move, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) responded by announcing an odd alliance with another rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The latter is the military wing of the Oromo Liberation Front Political Party.

Reuters reports that both factions plan to fight the government, an indication of the conflict no longer contained within a single region,sparking fears of an all out civil war.

A response by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Spokesperson Billene Seyoum rubbished the purported alliance, instead of describing it as “an alliance of two terrorist organizations.” Nevertheless, the development is significant as this is the first time an opposition force has shown a willingness to ally with the TPLF.

The Oromo who are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group have suffered a history of oppression. The 2015 plan to expand Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa into Oromo farmlands triggered protests and violence lasting three years and resulting in the resignation of the former Prime Minister.

It is worth noting that the major Oromo opposition parties such as the Oromo Liberation Congress did not participate in the elections. It is unclear whether the OLA has a similar military capability to the TPLF. 

TPLF rose as a by-product of the marginalization of the Tigray minority residing in the country’s Northern region. They have dominated Ethiopia’s national politics for the last thirty years and the current violence is attributed to a power struggle between the Tigray and the Federal government. 

In November, PM Abbiy Ahmed announced the capture of Mekelle, the regional capital. However, the city was taken back in June after government withdrawal and the announcement of a ceasefire. The rebels are now reported to have moved into Afar in the East and Amhara in the South. Reports indicate that they took the city of Lalibela, home to the 12th-century rock-hewn churches now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

As the casualties from the Afar region significantly rise, the TPLF say they have no intention of taking territory, instead, they are facilitating access to aid and preventing government forces from regrouping. In a sign of waning patience, the government says it has a much bigger coalition to fight the rebels off.

The conflict which has now dragged on for nine months has displaced over 2 million people from their homes. UN agencies confirm that over 350,000 people in the Tigray region are living in famine-like conditions. The African Union has launched investigations into incidents of rights abuses in Tigray.

The political transition in Ethiopia that aimed at fostering national unity seems to have gone badly with the allure of an open and inclusive political space in the country now in jeopardy. 

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