At last, Ethiopia will have its federal and regional council elections on June 21st. Amid an ongoing conflict in Tigray, heightened international pressure, worsening economic situation due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, boiling tensions with Egypt and Sudan, and increased ethnic divisions within the country, this election takes place at a critical juncture in Ethiopia’s contemporary history.
The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we turn the spotlight on the Nile, where the dispute between Ethiopia and downstream countries over Addis Ababa’s plan to further fill his "Renaissance" dam is increasingly pressuring Arab states to mediate among quarrelling stakeholders.
In November 2020, the Ethiopian federal government launched a military operation in the northern region of Tigray. Hostilities between the federal army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces continued in the following months. Furthermore, the involvement of ethnic-based militias as well as Eritrean armed forces have contributed to further escalate the conflict, causing a humanitarian crisis. What role did external actors play so far? How can the international community help solve the Tigray crisis? How will the conflict impact Ethiopia’s future prospects?
War always triggers a series of intended and unintended consequences. In the case of the current guerrilla war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the conflict has seemingly sparked tensions between Ethiopia and its formerly convivial neighbour, Sudan.
On the night of 14-15 November, the firing of rockets into Eritrean territory by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) forces gave a clear sign of the consequences that the conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF would have on regional balances. At that moment, a red line was crossed, and the scenario of a regional spillover of the crisis actually materialised. Eritrea found a reason to legitimise a possible intervention against the Tigrayan forces.
In early November 2020, the Ethiopian federal government launched a military operation against the TPLF-controlled authorities in the Tigray region. But the decision to turn political tensions into an open war has had profound regional implications too.
The conflict in the Tigray region underscored Etiopia's centrality in the unstable and volatile region of the Horn of Africa.
In early 2018, amidst incessant protests especially in Ethiopia’s Oromo and Amhara regions, Abiy Ahmed Ali became the new prime minister of Ethiopia. His ascent to power initiated an unprecedented series of reforms intending to democratize the country’s political system and liberalize its economy by embracing the capitalist mode of production.
Intra-state conflicts in the Horn of Africa have always had a devastating domino effect, making the region one of Africa's most highly unpredictable and conflictive zones.
After weeks of speculation about the fast-eroding ties between the federal government of Ethiopia and Tigray regional authorities, the nightmare scenario that many analysts and regional watchers had been warning about finally materialised when the Ethiopian Prime Minister - a Noble Peace laureate - declared war on the Tigray region on November 4.
The military conflict that exploded on 4 November in the Tigray region of Ethiopia was a culmination of serious tensions between the TPLF and the Federal government led by PM Abiy Ahmed. The Ethiopian government has labelled it “Operation Enforcing Law and Order”, while the TPLF called it an invasion. The conflict was sparked by an attack on the federal army division based in Tigray.
The operation conducted by the Ethiopian Federal Army in the northern Tigray region threatens to trigger a further wave of instability in one of the most vulnerable areas of the world. Ethiopia is the keystone of a very fragile arc of instability that has Afghanistan on one side, and Libya on the other. Accordingly, it would be narrow-minded to consider the impact of the current crisis on the Horn of Africa alone. By examining it from a regional angle, it is possible to identify a variety of issues that render the context highly volatile.