No Winner, Only Victims
What do you call a Nobel Peace prize winner, an international community favourite and all-around country darling who starves his people and sanctions mass murders? This sparkling introduction belongs to Mr Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, a 45-year-old computer science and economics major, lauded for his peace efforts and political activism.
In 2010, Abiy Ahmed joined the Ethiopian Parliament. In 2017, he portrayed himself as a symbol of hope: an Oromo Muslim (a marginalised ethnic community of Ethiopia that faced oppression and has a history of land loss) who rose to power despite the obstacles in his path. In 2018, Mr Ahmed won a landslide election amid large-scale anti-government protests to become the Prime Minister. In 2019, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his initiative in resolving the conflict with the bordering country of Eritrea. In 2020, the civil war began in Tigray.
Ethiopian troops launched air and ground strikes in Tigray on October 9, 2021. Human Rights Watch reports looting, rape and murder of innocent Tigrayans in this conflict between Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s ruling party. To win this civil war, the Ethiopian government is currently starving its citizens in Tigray. International aid organisations send food and medicine, but the military intercepts them before they reach Tigray. Tigray has a population of over seven million. Over two million Tigrayans who have fled their homeland are seeking refuge in Sudan and other neighbouring countries. Newspapers reported patients gunned down in hospitals and young men and boys gunned down in the church.
However, the victims of this civil war are not limited to Tigrayan and Ethiopian citizens. In September 2021, an international human rights watchdog reported that the Tigrayan military and the Eritrean soldiers raped, murdered and looted Eritrean refugees in the UN camp. Tigray houses thousands of Eritrean refugees in the UN camps established in the region. After the peace resolution between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Eritrean government sent its military to aid the Ethiopian government in Tigray. Tigrayans responded to this aid by brutalising the Eritrean refugees. The Eritrean military joined in because they considered the refugees as traitors. Both sides of the civil war denied these allegations, and the Eritrean government refused to acknowledge their military’s participation in the destruction.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed started this civil war in November 2020 when he sent troops to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). He justified his decisions by claiming that he was protecting the country from rebels after the TPLF attacked federal army camps. The actions of TPLF, an anti-government organisation, are a consequence of the Ethiopian government’s marginalisation of Tigray.
The history of this conflict is relevant to what is happening in Ethiopia today. The reason behind the civil war of 2020 is rooted in the conflict of 1991. Derg, a military junta, ruled Ethiopia from 1974-1991. They were responsible for the Red Terror, a violent political campaign to repress dissent and opposition. It was systematic, state-sanctioned mass murder. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the Derg in 1991. EPRDF was a coalition of TPLF, the Amhara Democratic Party, the Oromo Democratic Party and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). Each party represented a different ethnicity; the TPLF belonged to the Tigrayan people, The Oromo Democratic for the Oromo people and the Amhara Democratic for the Amhara ethnicity. However, the TPLF dominated the coalition.
During the coalition’s rule, the TPLF-dominated EPRDF party was responsible for brutal repressions and human rights violations. They also ostracised the Oromo and Amhara people and were finally kicked out of the coalition by the joint strength of the Oromo Democratic and the Amhara Democratic party in 2018. Abiy Ahmed was consequently voted in as the Prime Minister. He combined all parties of EPRDF and the opposition to form the current ruling party, the Prosperity Party. When the TPLF refused to join and accept his ascent, Mr Ahmed retaliated with military enforcement in Tigray to squash dissent, sparking the civil war in Ethiopia.
After a year of violent clashes, murder, rape and human rights violations, the Ethiopian government has stooped lower to creating a famine in Tigray. Tigrayans have not received enough food, medicine and fuel in months. Over 50 thousand Tigrayans have died of starvation. The world leaders are dismayed by Mr Amed’s behaviour. The United States of America has threatened Ethiopia with sanctions if they continue to starve their people.
The Ethiopian economy depends upon duty-free export to America under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Ethiopia cannot dismiss the threat. However, China and Russia’s involvement and support of the Ethiopian government reduces the magnitude of prospective loss to the Ethiopian economy. The African country depended upon its European allies (France, Germany and America) to supply Ethiopia with arms. But they are now turning to Turkey and Iran. China and Russia are preventing the UN Security Council from putting a stop to the arms trade. The international aid has significantly reduced after Mr Ahmed’s callous disregard of its Western allies, and he has requested an external debt bail-out from the International Monetary Fund. The US and France should consider this debt as a deterrent and capitalise upon it to keep the conflict in Ethiopia from spiralling further out of control.
The Eritrean people are angry at their government for sending young men to fight a war in Ethiopia, the country they had until recently called their enemy. Tigrayan people are enraged over the systematic marginalisation and heavy military control in their region. However, neither side can claim innocence after brutalising the refugees. The Ethiopian government is starving its people. The Tigray rebels and Eritrean soldiers are raping and murdering innocent refugees.
Violent conflicts mar Ethiopian history. The EPRDF gave hope to Ethiopia only to snatch it away once it gained power. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s rebellion is no longer a fight for a marginalised Tigray but a war for political clout and revenge for being kicked out of the coalition it once led. Mr Ahmed stopped the war with Eritrea only to start one in his homeland. Ethiopia’s story comprises broken promises and selfish governments, and regardless of how it will end, the civil war will not have a winner, only victims.
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