Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia's democratically elected prime minister, took office on April 2, 2018. He won the public vote in Ethiopia's parliament, becoming the first Oromo politician to hold a high-ranking government position. His election generated political turbulence the previous ruling coalition, including Tigrayans and Amharas ethnic groups, who did not approve of his election, resulting in a resurgence that fueled the civil war that erupted between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government in 2020. Abiy Ahmad is ethnically Oromo, Ethiopia's largest but most marginalized ethnic group, and had never held a top government position in the years of TPLF ruling. Abiy wanted to create ideal and equal representation in the government thus combining all parties, however, his objective to unite the country under one party was met counterresurgencies by the TPLF who rufused to be part of the Prosperity Party, the newly formed national party. Since Abiy became Ethiopia's prime minister, there has been both social and political friction caused by ethnic group divisions.Tensions between the TPLF and the central government escalated throughout 2019, building up to the outbreak of civil war in 2020, when the TPLF carried out an attack against the military camp in Mekelle, Tigray.
The Birth and power hegemony of the TPLF
Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was established in the Tigray region, North of Ethiopia, in 1975. They were one of the most powerful insurgent movements that fought with the Derg, a military government that ruled Ethiopia. Tigrayans hoped to take over the country as they felt deep resentment for how the Ethiopian monarchies had treated them since the 1800s. In 1974, the Derg overthrew the emperor Haile Selassie and came to power, led by Mengistu Hailemariam, a Marxist socialist who suppressed political oppositions. Mengistu was known for his implementation of the "Red Terror," in which the formal execution of dissidents was carried out in the mid-1970s. His government is marked by terror, violence, appraisals, killings of innocent people, and mass persecutions of officials. Mangistu was a powerful man who ruled the country; however, his authoritarian rule did not serve the civilians. The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), in which TPLF had joined, created a united coalition to topple the military government. The ruling of Mengistu came to an end in 1991 when the EPRDF took control of the country. Mangistu was put on trial for war crimes and human rights abuses by the Ethiopian government in 2006. The leader of the TPLF, Meles Zenawi, became Ethiopia's prime minister in 1991. He dissolved the military, created a new constitution, transformed the military of the former administration, built a new economic system, and socially reconstructed the country. The EPRDF government, leading Meles Zenawi, introduced the federal system based on a regional government in which each ethnic group had the autonomy to rule their territory and had one central government. Meles was an autocratic leader who ruled Ethiopia with an 'iron fist' from 1991 until he died in 2012. The TPLF had oppressed all other ethnic groups for nearly 30 years, including the largest, the Oromos, and the second-largest, the Amhara. The TPLF had economic domination since they held the highest seat in government; as a result, they received an influx of financial aid from foreign investment. They also publicized land ownership, generating millions of dollars in annual revenue. The TPLF had complete control over Ethiopia's political and economic activities, resulting in unequal economic advantages, which contributed significantly to Ethiopia's existing ethnic war and divisions.
Abiy's coming to Power and disbanding the TPLF
Abiy destroyed the TPLF's stronghold of Ethiopia when he first came to office. He continued to perpetuate reformation policies that aimed to democratize Ethiopia. He replaced the EPRDF, which included the TPLF, with the Prosperity Party. This coalition combines three parties representing Ethiopia's three most prominent groups. TPLF refused to join the Prosperity Party, claiming it was illegitimate, and Ethiopia's parliament unanimously ratified the Prosperity Party as the only National party. The TPLF hesitated to approve Abiy's administration because it contradicted its ideas of self-governance or authority over the central government. In violation of Abiy's decision to postpone the parliamentary election, the TPLF elected a new prime minister for the Ethiopian government. Escalations between the TPLF and the central government grew, and Abiy carried out nearly all of his objectives to make the government more reflective of the Ethiopian people. He restored the government's equitable representation of diverse ethnic groups, which meant that TPLF officials would have to step down. This caused the TPLF to lose significant power to Abiy's democratization policies. Not only did this action entailed losing political power but also economic dominance. Abiy's election marked the end of TPLF power hegemony and the start of relentless ethnic wars between regional government as well as the central government.
Genocide Claims in the Tigray Region
The TPLF attacked Militray camp on November 4, 2020 in Mekelle, Tigray. Abiy described the attack "as crime against Ethiopia by bitters of mother breast" which he meant that the TPLF committed a treason. (Nigatu, 2023). The TPLF's attack on the Ethiopian military forces was coincided with retaliation by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) who fough against the Tigray Defense Force (TDF). The Ethiopian government brough Eritrean forces in Mekelle to fight against the TDF. In mid 2021, the counterresurgency of the Ethiopian government is described as a brutal defense as the death toll of civilians mounted to ethnic cleansing. In a response to the UN concerns for the region and the people, the Ethiopian government denied any killings of civilians and also denied to presence of Eritrean forces. Lack of transparence and increased humanitarian crises had drawn concerning attention from the global community, however, the Ethiopian government completely shut down comminication outlets and also prevented any humanitarian assitance entering the region. The Ethiopian government actively opposed "independent investigators, journalists, and humanitarian workers" in the Tigray region, thus leaing to disengagement from the international community as well as lack of transparency. (Roth, 2022). Two million people was displaced internally during the conflict. Abiy was accused of committing war crimes against the civilians in Tigray region as multiple atrocities was carried out by the ENDF include denyng famine, using starvation as a tool for punishment, burning farms and killing innocent people in the Tigray region. The Ethiopian government failed to disapprove these allegations and UN's responsibility to protect human rights in the face of armed conflict had not been successful. One of the biggest UN failure in the conflict was not ensuring the rights of civilians in Tigray, which was fallig short of criticizing Ethiopian forces.
Abiy's reform efforts posed a significant challenge to the TPLF's dominance in Ethiopia and marked the start of a revolutionary government. Despite successfully resolving the conflict with Eritrea and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his administration encountered difficulties and political unrest. Currently, there are ongoing military conflicts with groups like the TPLF and FANO battling for control. It is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of Ethiopia's political history to grasp current events in the region and the consequences it poses for regional conflict. Furthermore, the Ethiopian government must be held accountable for alleged war crimes. The atrocities in Tigray, including the death of civilians, preventing humanitarian assistance, and blocking of information channels to deny such acts, violate international law. It's essential. The Ethiopian government must face consequences for its actions, ensuring justice and adherence to international law in the face of war crimes.
Steinhauser, G. (2019, October 11). Nobel peace prize awarded Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed. https://www.wsj.com/articles/nobel-peace-prize-awarded-ethiopian-prime-minister-abiy-ahmed-ali-11570784676
Council on Foreign Relations. (2023, December 19). Conflict in ethiopia | global conflict tracker. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/conflict-ethiopia
Nigatu, B. A. (2023). War on paper: A critical discourse analysis of war reporting in Ethiopia. Heliyon, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2023.e17857
Melesse, K. (2020, November 19). Tigray’s war against Ethiopia isn’t about autonomy. it’s about economic power.Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/19/tigray-tplf-war-against-ethiopia-abiy-ahmed-isnt-about-autonomy-its-about-economic-power/
Roth, K. (2022, June 16). Ethiopia’s invisible ethnic cleansing. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/06/16/ethiopias-invisible-ethnic-cleansing