The armed clashes that broke out on Wednesday November 4 between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Federal Government forces in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia have spread and intensified. Ethiopia’s prime minister remains confident that the military operation (which he insists on calling a ‘law enforcement operation’) will be successfully concluded in short order and has rebuffed all suggestions for negotiations and offers of international mediation. However, the TPLF could prove to be a very formidable opponent on the battlefield, and there is the additional risk that the conflict could spread to other parts of the country and perhaps even draw in other countries in the region.
The background of the latest armed clashes in the north of Ethiopia is the multiple political and social crises that have plagued the ethnically-based federal system created in 1994, mostly generated by persistent ethnic rivalries and clashes and the incessant disputes between regionally-based elites (particularly from the Tigray, Amhara and Oromo regions) for control over the Federal Government, institutions and finances.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the Regional State of Tigray, has been in a bitter conflict with the central government for the last two years. The deepening of this dispute over the last few months is the immediate cause of the outbreak of civil war in the country, and the leadership of Tigray has declared that it is ready for a protracted military confrontation with the central government if necessary.
The outbreak of armed conflict between the TPLF and the Federal Government threatens to tear the country apart, and poses a grave threat to regional security – with the collapse of the constitutional arrangements that sought to resolve ethnic and political rivalries and disputes pacifically, Ethiopia has been experiencing the politicization of ethnicity with increasingly deadly consequences, fuelling the growth of mass protests, armed insurgency, massacres, ‘ethnic cleansing’, acts of terrorism and separatist sentiments.
Among these, in the Regional State of Oromo, 167 people died in July of this year during the suppression of mass protests and riots and over 4 thousand people were arrested, including prominent opposition politician and media mogul Javar Mohammed. There is the additional risk that Eritrea may become involved in the civil war that has broken out in the north of Ethiopia, and the conflict also greatly increases the ever-present potential for explosive conflict in the south between the Federal Government and the Somali clans of the Regional State of Somali and adjacent areas, which in a worst case scenario could provoke or incite a new round of confrontation with neighbouring Somalia.CIVIL WAR IN ETHIOPIA: CONFLICT DEVELOPMENTS AND BACKGROUND