The African War No One is Talking About

By Emily Thompson

The war in Ethiopia, between the federal government and Eritrea on one side  and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the other side, has gone virtually unnoticed by the international community, which is distracted by the media’s heavy focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine. Why is the media ignoring this war in Africa and why does it seem Ethiopia is at war with itself?

Ethiopian’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said in a statement Monday that it was “committed to the peaceful resolution of the conflict” but there does not appear to be any end in sight. While the African Union (AU) has led official talks, progress has been minimal or non-existent. Western officials have taken the opportunity to try and solve the issue and United States representatives held three secret meetings with the warring leaders to try and resolve their dispute – but to no avail as of yet.

According to Human Rights Watch, statements from the United Nations, United States, European Union, and African Union have done little to deter war crimes and abuses as the two sides have faced few consequences. With AU-led peace talks floundering, key actors need to change tact.

With the country being torn apart by war, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an immediate end to the fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Diplomats are warning of a civilian bloodbath in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray if rebels are pushed out of towns by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. On Monday, Ethiopia’s government vowed to seize control of airports and other important sites in Tigray.

Fighting erupted in the northern Tigray region in November 2020. A ceasefire went into effect on March 24, 2022 but ended five months later on August 24. The two-year war has resulted in thousands dead, mass destruction and a hunger crisis as the TPLF battles Ethiopia’s national army.

For years, the TFLP was the dominant political party, but when Ahmed pursued political reforms and sidelined the PFLP, the crisis erupted into all-out war. Ahmed may have ended a long-standing territorial dispute with Eritrea, but Tigray, which lies on the northern end of Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea, saw Ahmed’s reforms as nothing less than an effort to weaken its political power. After it tried to hold regional elections, opposing the federal elections which gave Ahmed his power, the federal government ordered its army into a confrontation with the TFLP.

The problem now is that still two years later Ethiopians are bitterly divided and the country’s citizens are suffering. Since the war began, witnesses claim to have seen numerous human rights violations, massacres, ethnic cleansing and sexual violence. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International researchers have themselves documented an ethnic cleansing campaign taking place in Ethiopia’s north and have called for a complete cessation to hostilities.

But this of course is not enough.

With 90 percent of Tigray’s population – approximately 7 million people – in dire need of humanitarian assistance as food and medical supplies remain low to non-existent, the two sides will need to arrive a a peaceful resolution soon if these civilians caught in the crossfire have any hope for survival.

The European Parliament is now calling for “the adoption of sanctions by the EU, under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Mechanism” and is also calling for “sanctions by the European Commission against members of the Government of Ethiopia, the Government of Eritrea and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front… if the humanitarian situation does not significantly improve in a short period of time.”

Tens of thousands have been killed or injured on both sides, and with babies dying at four times the prewar rate, it is imperative that this war end.

And it is time for the world to sit up and take notice.

Image: Pixabay

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