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.
The Ethiopian PM received the 2019 Nobel Prize for his peace agreement with Eritrea, breaking nearly 20 years of stalemate. After the Tigray conflict erupted last November many observers asked: “He got the Nobel Peace Prize, but starts a war the next year: why”?