On January 11, 2023, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) announced that they had begun the process of handing over their heavy weapons, as part of a peace agreement reached with the Ethiopian government in November 2022. This agreement was reached after both parties participated in several peace talks which were all led by the African Union (AU) in South Africa. The agreement also stipulates that communication to the Tigray region should be re-established, after being cut off since mid-2021.
It is important to note that since the peace deal in November, hostilities have ceased, and the rebel forces have reported that they have withdrawn 65% of their fighters from the front lines. However, Tigrayans have reported and condemned alleged atrocities committed by the Eritrean and Amhara regional armies, which have supported the federal army in the conflict. This disarmament is seen as a key step towards stabilizing the region, which has been plagued by violence and conflict since the start of the civil war in November 2020.
What happened in Ethiopia?
First of all, before diving into the events that led to the conflict, it is vital to explain that the Tigray region is an area which is located in the North of Ethiopia and is home to around seven million ethnic Tigrayans. This represents almost 6% of the total Ethiopian population. Moreover, it is a region that borders the country Eritrea. This proximity has led the Eritrean forces to also get involved in the conflict.
Now that this has been established, this article seeks to elaborate upon the events leading up to the current conflict.
The conflict started with allegations from the federal government that the TPLF, a regional group in Ethiopia, was attempting to create instability in the country through ethnic violence. Abiy’s government had planned to hold democratic elections but delayed them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The TPLF, in response, deemed the postponement unconstitutional and held their own regional elections, which the federal government considered invalid. The tension between the two sides escalated, resulting in the TPLF launching an attack on a federal army base. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed immediately reacted to this attack by saying that the TPLF’s siege could be considered as an act of “treason that will never be forgotten.” This prompted the government to deploy the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and soldiers from the Amhara region to respond.
Soon after the beginning of the conflict, members of the TPLF attacked and killed non-Tigrayans in the small town of Mai Kadra. Survivors of the attack explained that these troops came to the town already armed with machetes and knives, demanding that all non-Tigrayans citizens of the city be brought to them. An investigation carried out by the Ethiopian government has declared that the massacre resulted in the death of 600 victims.
Moreover, since the beginning of the conflict, it has been estimated that over 2 million people have been displaced. Additionally, the number of Ethiopians living in the Northern regions that depend on humanitarian aid to survive is now 13.6 million. The United Nations has said that the war has also led to near-famine conditions for hundreds of thousands of people. The conflict resulted in tens of thousands of refugees fleeing into Sudan, with the UN warning of possible war crimes in Tigray.
What role did the Eritrean play in this conflict?
Eritrean forces have been supporting the Ethiopian government during the ongoing conflict in Tigray. In January 2021, the United States called for Eritrea to withdraw its troops from the region, but the request was denied by the Ethiopian government. Non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, have accused Eritrean forces of committing atrocities against civilians in Tigray, including killings. In September 2022 (only two months before the signing of the agreement), Amnesty International published a report detailing that Eritrean forces killed at least 40 people in the town of Sheraro in the North Western Zone of the Tigray region.
Today, even though the agreement has been signed, some people are still worried about the role that Eritrean forces could play. Indeed, the agreement does not address the presence of Eritrean soldiers, and the Eritrean leader, Isaias Afwerki, has not shown a willingness to negotiate in the past. Furthermore, Eritrea has recently begun a mass conscription drive, which raises concerns that the Ethiopian government may not have control over Eritrean troops. The African Union, which brokered the agreement, lacks the military capability to enforce its decisions and relies on the support of member countries.
What does this agreement mean?
Overall this agreement has a lot of significance for Ethiopians. First of all, the Tigrayan rebel group has viewed the agreement as a significant move on their part. Their spokesman, Getachew Reda, tweeted on January 11, expressing hope that the agreement would “expedite the full implementation” of the peace deal. For the civilians, it is also a step in the right direction, and it gives them hope that this agreement could lead to real changes and peace.
Secondly, this agreement has the ability to have a real impact on the number of deaths caused by the conflict. In an interview with the Financial Times, former Nigerian President and African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo stated that “the number of people killed was about 600,000.” He also mentioned that on November 2, the day the peace agreement was signed, Ethiopian officials claimed to have “stopped 1,000 deaths every day.”
Featured image by: Reuters