With world attention still on the US election, Ethiopia seems on the brink of war.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered an attack on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the state government in charge of Ethiopia’s northernmost region. Abiy accused the TPLF of attacking a federal military base on Tuesday night.
“The red line was finally crossed with this morning’s attacks and the Federal government was therefore forced to confront a military,” a statement issued by his office. In a statement on state TV, Abiy said that the initial attack by the Tigrayan forces resulted in “many fatalities, injuries and property damage.”
Telephone and Internet lines were interrupted at Tigray, so an independent assessment of damage or casualties cannot be made. Abiy’s government has also declared a six-month emergency in the Tigray area.
On a TV station run by the Tigrayan government, the TPLF repeated a recorded statement, announcing the closure of their airspace and promising adequate retaliation attacks against Ethiopian forces.
This is a huge escalation between state and federal governments in Ethiopia. The TPLF controls the most powerful regional force in the country. They are well armed and well-trained, and analysts worry that if this leads to a full-blown war between the TPLF and the Ethiopian federal government, it could not only destabilize the region. The Horn of Africa is inherently fragile but has also resulted in a humanitarian disaster in a country of over 100 million people.
“Ethiopia [is] an anchor state at Horn, “wrote analyst Rashid Abdi on Twitter.”[This] explosion [is] will inevitably have dire consequences in the entire sub-region. “
Abdi has warned that a war in Ethiopia could open flood gates for the Muslim group al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia. It could also further destabilize Sudan, whose transitional government is trying to hold the country together and South Sudan, which is trying to maintain a peace deal backed by Ethiopia.
However, Ethiopia’s internal conflict is far from occurring. The TPLF lost power when a popular uprising resulted in the demolition of the governing coalition that the TPLF had built up in Ethiopia. Abiy took power in April 2018 and has since accused the old regime of trying to destabilize the country, in part, by inducing racial divisions and violence.
The TPLF gave refuge to former government officials wanted by the new regime and in September they held regional elections declared unconstitutional by the federal government.
On Monday, Debretsion Gebremichael, president of the Tigray region, said the Ethiopian government was plotting to go to war with them in retaliation for holding elections.
This afternoon, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa called for “immediate de-escalation of the current situation in Tigray.”
“We strongly encourage all parties to give priority to safety and security for civilians,” the statement said.