One of the bloodiest conflicts of the 2000st century has been fought in Ethiopia since November 2020. A solution has seemed far away. But in early November came the surprising announcement that a ceasefire had been reached. Liisa Laakso, Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, explains how the friction between the Ethiopian state and the People's Liberation Front in Tigray led to war - and how they have managed to reach a ceasefire.
Abiy Ahmed was elected Prime Minister of Ethiopia in 2018. The following year he was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in resolving the long-running border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Among many Ethiopians spread hope about strengthened democracy, stable economy and peace. But just a year later, a devastating civil war erupted in the country's northern region of Tigray - a war between the Ethiopian state and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) political group that is estimated to have claimed as many as 600 000 life.
But the conflict did not come as suddenly as it might seem, according to Liisa Laakso, Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute.
Ethiopia is a federation of ethnic regions. For the previous three decades before the 2018 elections, the country was governed by a coalition of ethnically based parties in which the TPLF dominated. Abiy's Ahmed's new regime had visions of a liberalized political system, and his win changed the political landscape.
- In this new environment, the political elite in Tigray were not satisfied and they were afraid. In addition, Abiy's new regime was afraid of the former center of power in Tigray, Liisa Laakso describes.
The background to the war relates to the militaristic legacy of political power in Ethiopia. According to Liisa Laakso, the threshold for what could trigger armed conflict was therefore low. During the pandemic, Abiy Ahmed canceled planned elections, whereupon the TPLF accused the government of exploiting the pandemic to maintain power. They decided to, despite the government's decision, hold their regional elections, which became the catalyst for the war that broke out on November 4, 2020. The Ethiopian state accused actors loyal to the TPLF to shell military bases, but the TPLF denied this and instead claimed to be acting defensively.
"Kthe conflict is ripe for a solution"
For the civilian population of Tigray and the surrounding regions, the humanitarian consequences have been catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands has lost his life and millions people are on the run. According to the UN violations of human rights and the laws of war have probably been committed by both sides. This includes executions, torture and rape. The Ethiopian state allied itself with Eritrea, which historically has its own conflict with the TPLF over the border they share with Tigray.
- Eritrea's involvement has contributed to violence, looting and terrible violations of human rights. One tool that the state has used is the restriction of food and aid to the region, says Liisa Laakso.
On November 2, 2022, the parties surprised the world by sign an agreement about ceasefire. All fighting would cease immediately.
- It seems that bboth parties have realisedt that there is nothing they can gain by continuing the conflict. In this way, the conflict is ripe for a solution, says Liisa Laakso.
The Ethiopian state is worried about the country's stability, says Liisa Laakso. Should the TPLF declare Tigray's independence, independence movements that have grown in other regions may follow suit, which could have led to the total disintegration of the country.
Liisa Laakso is optimistic about Ethiopia's future, but points out that the peace process and reconstruction will be complicated. It will take skillful maneuvering of the federal system to balance regional self-determination with national belonging so that everyone is satisfied. In addition, Eritrea's provides absence in the peace discussions some concern as to whether they will try to obstruct the peace agreement that has been written.
For the civilian population of Ethiopia, healing will be required from the horrors of war. Many will continue to be dependent on humanitarian assistance for a long time to come. Liisa Laakso points out that the outside world must not neglect the millions of people in need of help in the reconstruction.
- This aid requires international participation and attention, she believes.