Ethnic strife is once again threatening to tear apart Ethiopia, an African nation with a vast and multi-ethnic population, after fresh war erupted between the federal government and the powerful regional government of Tigray.
Cause of the Crisis
- Ethiopia has multiple regional federations. Minority Tigray, governed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), had a disproportionate say in the workings of the federal government based in the Addis Ababa capital.
- The Tigray government, which also has multiple militia forces and a powerful army, was often condemned as "repressive and regressive".
- Ethiopia's federal government and the Tigray regional forces regard each other as illegal after a falling-out when Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018, sidelining the once-dominant Tigray leaders amid sweeping political reforms.
- Abiy broke apart the powerful ruling coalition led by the TPLF, and brought in a new Prosperity Party, which the Tigray region saw as a power grab and a ploy to weaken the federation.
- He introduced a wave of political reforms in the long-repressive country and announced a shocking peace deal with neighbour and fierce rival Eritrea.
- Tensions between Abiy and leaders from the TPLF went on increasing. Citing the coronavirus, Abiy postponed this year’s elections, which Tigray opposed and held nevertheless. The prime minister refused to recognise the results and threatened to pull federal funding. This resulted in renewed hostilities and the fighting started after Abiy alleged that the Tigrayans attacked a national military base.
- According to the UN Refugee Agency, the conflict has resulted in more than 25,300 refugees fleeing the Tigray region into Sudan, as fighting spilled beyond Ethiopia's borders and threatened to inflame the Horn of Africa region.
Impact on the Horn of Africa region
- With Ethiopian civilians escaping in large numbers to Sudan, the country may find itself inadvertently drawn into the war.
- Earlier this year, in the midst of Ethiopia’s long-standing conflict with Egypt over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam over the Blue Nile, Sudan had already found itself forcefully involved in the spat.
The Horn of Africa
v It is situated in an excellent strategic location south-west of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It refers to four countries — Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti — but, in its wider political and economic context, the term also includes Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.
v The strategic importance of this East African region comes from it being the source of the Nile and a gate to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
v Its location on one side of some of the world’s major trade sea lanes and land routes gives it vital importance. Its importance increases because of its proximity to the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula.
v The area has always been a magnet for international powers because of the sea traffic going by, major ports in the area, tremendous nearby riches, weapons trading, crossing points for people and merchandise and the dangers of piracy.
v The strategic importance of the Horn of Africa contrasts sharply with its tragic economic conditions. During the past two decades, the region has seen horrible human tragedies because of famines and wars.
- If the conflict were to spill outside Ethiopia’s borders, it may potentially destabilise the Horn of Africa region.
- The US and China have several strategic military bases in that region, the closest being Djibouti. Russian President Vladimir Putin had approved the creation of a Russian naval facility in Sudan earlier this week that would be “capable of mooring nuclear-powered surface vessels, clearing the way for Moscow’s first substantial military foothold in Africa since the Soviet fall.”
- If these military bases and facilities were to be impacted in any way, it may cause foreign powers to get militarily involved in the region’s conflict.