Tigray Conflict
Part of the conflicts in the Horn of Africa
Tigray in Ethiopia.svg
Location of Tigray Region in Ethiopia
(For a more detailed map, see here.)
Date4 November 2020 – ongoing
(1 month)
Location
Status

Ongoing

  • ENDF claimed to have captured Mekelle,[1] Ethiopian government claims victory and declares main phase over.[2]
  • The TPLF vows to continue fighting and claims to have recaptured Aksum.[3]
Belligerents
 Ethiopia

Alleged:

 Eritrea

Tigray People's Liberation Front

Commanders and leaders

Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed
(Prime Minister of Ethiopia)
Ethiopia Birhanu Jula
(ENDF Chief of Staff)
Ethiopia Kenea Yadeta
(Minister of Defense)
Tiruneh Temesgen
(Chief Administrator of Amhara Region, early November 2020)
Agegnehu Teshager
(Chief Administrator of Amhara Region, as of late November 2020)
Mulu Nega
(Federally appointed Chief Administrator of the Tigray Region)
Awel Arba
(Chief Administrator of Afar Region)

Alleged: Eritrea Isayas Afeworki
(President of Eritrea)
Eritrea
(Chief of the Defence Staff)
Eritrea Filipos Woldeyohannes
Eritrea Sebhat Ephrem
(General of Eritrean Defense Forces)

 United Arab Emirates(Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum)
Debretsion Gebremichael
  • President of Tigray Region
  • Chairman of TPLF

Units involved
Ethiopia Ethiopian National Defense Force

Ethiopia Ethiopian Federal Police

  • Amhara Region Special Force

Amhara Region Police Force

  • Afar Region Special Forces

Afar Region Police Force

Alleged or on Standby:

Eritrea Eritrean Defence Forces
  • Tigray Region Special Force
  • Tigray Region Police Force
  • Tigray Region Militias
  • TPLF Militias
[5][6][7][8]
Casualties and losses
1 MiG-23 aircraft lost[9] 550 killed (government claim)[10]
At least 611 civilians killed; possibly thousands dead[11][12][13][14][1]

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict that began in November 2020 in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, between Tigray Region special forces led by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in alliance with Amhara Region special forces.[15]

The conflict stemmed from the attempt of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to distance the country's politics from ethnic federalism, a power-sharing system giving regional influence to individual ethnic groups, by merging the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had governed Ethiopia for 30 years, into a nationwide Prosperity Party.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front, a military and politically powerful entity inside Ethiopia representing 6%[citation needed] of the total population ethnically, refused to join the new party, and alleged that Abiy Ahmed became an illegitimate ruler by rescheduling the general elections set for 29 August 2020 to an undetermined date in 2021 due to COVID-19.

The TPLF, led by Chairman Debretsion Gebremichael, went ahead with regional elections in Tigray in September 2020 in defiance of the federal government, which declared the Tigray election illegal.[16]

The situation escalated to violence on 4 November with an alleged attack by the Tigray People's Liberation Front on the Northern Command Headquarters of the Ethiopian National Defense Force. Rocket attacks have spilled over into the neighbouring Amhara Region and country of Eritrea.

The federal forces claimed to have captured the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle on 28 November, following which Prime Minister Abiy declared the Tigray operation 'over'.[1][2] The TPLF has said they will continue fighting.[17] After the win for Prime Minister Abiy in Mekelle, the TPLF leaders fled to the mountains hiding from the Ethiopian army. [18]

Background

Historical/political

Following the end of the Ethiopian Civil War in 1991, Ethiopia became a dominant-party state under the rule of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnicity-based parties whose founding, and most influential, member was the TPLF, whose chairperson was Meles Zenawi, FDRE Prime Minister until his death in 2012. Hailemariam Dessalegn, an ethnic Wolayta from the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM), became premier.[19][20]

The TPLF used to be part of the Ethiopian governing coalition until its 2019 refusal to merge into the Prosperity Party.[21] Tensions between the government and the TPLF escalated in the months before the Tigray military intervention.[21] Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is of Oromo-Amhara descent, accused the TPLF Party Members in the Tigray Regional Government of undermining his authority.[21] By contrast, the Tigray authorities saw the refusal to recognise the September 2020 election for the Tigray parliament (which, along with all elections in Ethiopia, had been delayed by the federal government and elections board until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia) as the reason for the outbreak of the conflict.[21] Abiy Ahmed's government considered the September Tigray election to be illegal.[22] The warming of relations between Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who is poorly regarded in Tigray, was also considered to have fuelled the tension.[21]

The day prior to the TPLF's alleged attack on a military camp, the federal parliament of Ethiopia had suggested designating the TPLF as a terrorist organization.[21] As tension continued to grow, a general appointed by Ahmed was prevented by the Tigrayan government from taking on his military post.[citation needed]

Constitutional context

The 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia states in Article 39, 1, "Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession."[23]

Article 62, 9 grants HoF the right to "order Federal [government] intervention if any State [government], in violation of [the] Constitution, endangers the constitutional order."[23]

In late September 2020, the TPLF stated that the constitutional term limit of the HoF, the House of Peoples' Representatives (HoPR), the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers was 5 October 2020, and that for this reason, it would consider "the incumbent" constitutionally illegitimate after 5 October. TPLF proposed replacing the government by a technocratic caretaker government as detailed in a plan posted on Facebook by the Coalition of Ethiopian Federalist Forces.[24]

Course of the conflict

On 4 November 2020, Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) soldiers came into conflict during alleged Tigrayan attacks on an Ethiopian base in Mekelle and the Fifth Battalion barracks in Dansha.[25][26] In retaliation, an Ethiopian offensive was launched which was accompanied by a declaration of a state of emergency and a shutdown of government services in the region.[27][28] During the subsequent days, skirmishes continued and the Ethiopian parliament declared the creation of an interim government for Tigray.[29] Ethiopian offensives in the north were accompanied with airstrikes and several towns and cities were retaken.[30] On the night from 9 to 10 November, 600 civilians, mostly Amharans and Welkait, were killed in a massacre in the town of Mai Kadra using machetes and knives by local militias and police loyal to the TPLF, according to preliminary investigations by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.[31][32] On 14 November 2020, Tigrayan forces launched rockets at the Eritrean capital of Asmara with the intent to drag other countries into the conflict, but the missiles missed.[33] By 18 November, the prime minister of Ethiopia claimed that they had captured the cities of Shire and Axum with battles going on around Mekelle; Ethiopian forces further claimed to have taken some land south of the city.[34][35][36] On 23 November, the government issued an ultimatum giving the rebels 72 hours to surrender.[37] On 26 November, when the ultimatum ended, Abiy ordered federal military forces to launch an attack on Mekelle.[38][39] On 28 November, the Ethiopian government announced that it had taken control of the city, bringing the "the last phase of its law enforcement operation" to an end. The TPLF has said they will continue fighting.[2][40] Debretsion confirmed TPLF was withdrawing from Mekelle. Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the conflict and around 44,000 have fled to Sudan.[1] On 29 November claims that South Sudan was harboring the chairman of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, led to the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan abruptly returning to Ethiopia, and South Sudanese diplomats in Ethiopia allegedly being given 72 hours to leave the country.[41] On 2 December the United Nations were given humanitarian access to the federal-held territory in the Tigray Region.[42]

Role of online social networks

Claire Wilmot, writing in The Washington Post, speculated that Internet restrictions imposed by the Abiy government during the Tigray conflict might be motivated by the wish to deescalate the conflict. She argued that much of the Twitter activity that she analysed was authentic English-language communication by Ethiopian diaspora, with the hashtag #StopTheWarOnTigray, and aiming to complement the "one-sided and highly dangerous image" that dominated views on the conflict.[43] Wilmot saw the Tigray conflict related Ethiopian online activity as mostly distinct from Ethiopian online hate speech, which in 2019 was mostly in Amharic on Facebook, but also suggested that the lines between authentic online political activity and deliberate misinformation[44] were becoming blurred. Wilmot suggested that the "information vacuum" in the conflict reduced the "ability to verify information".[43]

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