Amnesty International confirmed that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of November 9th.
“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day laborers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.”
“The government must restore all communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region, as well as ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors. Amnesty International will regardless continue to use all means available to document and expose violations by all parties to the conflict.”Amnesty International
Earlier this month, a simmering political and ideological conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the northern region of Tigray escalated into a deadly civil war that is threatening to destabilise an already fragile and volatile region.
The war in Tigray is a continuation of the violent and widespread repression Abiy began in Oromia, Walaita and Sidama against those who resisted his vision of the future. After silencing dissent and opposition elsewhere in the country, Abiy and his camp are turning to Tigray, the last frontier in the battle over the character of the Ethiopian state.
Tigray presents a significant challenge to the prime minister’s grandiose vision of “Making Ethiopia Great Again” (MEGA). In addition to being an autonomous region with effective control over its territories, it is a battle-hardened region with highly trained troops and access to much of Ethiopia’s military arsenal.
Although Abiy’s government is scrambling to convince the world that this is a law enforcement operation with limited and achievable objectives, the fierce battles fought over the last few weeks involving fighter jets, tanks, and armoured personnel carriers make it evident that the country is in the midst of what is likely to be an intractable military deadlock that would result in a large number of casualties.
But what are the causes, drivers, and dynamics of this war?
The genesis of the conflict
At the heart of the current civil war and the political upheavals that rocked the country since Abiy’s rise to power are two radically contrasting and seemingly irreconcilable visions of the future. On the one hand is Abiy’s vision of a centralised and unitary state in which the centre determines the political, economic, and cultural policies of the periphery. On the other hand is a vision represented by the TPLF, the Oromo opposition camp and other nations and nationalities in the south of the country, of an Ethiopia in which political authority is constitutionally divided between the central government and autonomous regional governments responsible for determining policies central to their political, economic, and cultural futures.
It is these inherently ideological differences about the nature and character of the Ethiopian state that escalated into a full-blown military confrontation between the TPLF and the Abiy regime in Addis Ababa.
Abiy Ahmed Ali
Abiy fought against the Derg (Dergue) regime, which ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991, and later served in the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, where he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Abiy Ahmed Ali, took up the post of Prime Minister of Ethiopia in April 2018. His perspective was very optimistic and many were very excited about where he was going to take the country after centuries of violent division.
Notably, Abiy was the first Oromo to serve in that position, and it was hoped that his election as prime minister would help quell the remaining tensions between the Oromo people and the government.
and right after he came to power The country was ravaged by a protracted conflict with its neighbor, Eritrea, over a disputed border area. An international arbitration commission ruled in favour of Eritrea in 2002,
but the Ethiopian government refused to accept the ruling.
After 16 years of “no war, no peace” between the two countries, Abiy Ahmed broke the deadlock and accepted the decision. In September 2018, he and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a historic peace agreement.
Although Abiy started his political life as a member of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), his attitudes, views, actions and visions are currently at odds with mainstream Oromo views. Abiy’s main support base is now in the Amhara region, and mostly among the Amhara elite in Addis Ababa, who want to dismantle the federal system and bring back the unitary system in the name of national unity.
For Amharas and the Amhara elite, this war is about recapturing territories they claim were unlawfully taken by Tigray, such as Wolkait, and moving closer to their dream of reinstalling national unity by eliminating the TPLF. For many in the historically marginalised south, however, their ideas of national unity represent nothing but an attempt to reimpose the assimilationist system that excluded non-Amhara cultures, languages, and ways of being from Ethiopia’s national life.
Abiy went to an all-out war with Tigray because he could not subdue the region and the TPLF in the same way he annihilated opposition in Oromia and other places. The region is politically autonomous and retains effective control over its territory. It also has significant military capacity in terms of troops and weaponry.
November 4th 2020
Abiy used an alleged attack on a federal military base in Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray, by forces loyal to the TPLF as justification for his government’s military offensive against the region. However, federal forces were massed on the border between Tigray and Amhara days before the alleged attack on November 4, indicating that the central government was preparing for war long before the incident.
Rare press briefing in English by #TPLF spokesperson @reda_getachew alleging #Ethiopian & #Eritrean forces targeting densely populated civilian areas & looting and destruction of private properties pic.twitter.com/34uiAIWZd9— BASHIR HASHI YUSUF 🇸🇴 (@BashirHashiysf) November 21, 2020
After three weeks of fighting, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the army to move into the Tigray region’s capital of Mekelle for its “final phase,” sending off alarm bells for human rights groups.
The move comes shortly after Abiy offered a 72-hour surrender deadline to forces in the area. The prime minister warned civilians in the capital that there will be “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves” and leave the area.
Final Phase of the Rule of Law Operations Commences pic.twitter.com/TAAyZxSe0U— Abiy Ahmed Ali 🇪🇹 (@AbiyAhmedAli) November 26, 2020
Abiy is trying to frame the continuing war as a rule of law operation aimed at defending the constitution, but his declaration of war against a regional state itself lacks a constitutional basis. Abiy declared war against Tigray only because the region refused to bow to his unitarian vision. Ethiopia’s constitution does not grant prime ministers the authority to go to war with regional states that do not support their ideology or policies.
TPLF once ruled Ethiopia’s government, but it has now been upended by Abiy’s rule. Both governments view one another as illegal.
According to the United Nations, people are fleeing Mekelle, but several communications and transport links remain cut off to Tigray, so it is unclear how many people received the warnings to exit the territory.
“What is happening is beyond words, and it is heartbreaking to see a great country is collapsing,”
said a message sent from a Mekelle resident on Wednesday seen by the Associated Press.
The resident expressed they were not able to connect with loved ones elsewhere in the region.
The international community has urged for an immediate de-escalation of the conflict.
“The hostilities in Ethiopia are of major concern for the EU. Next to the casualties, the danger of a major humanitarian crisis is imminent. An immediate de-escalation is needed by all parties,”European Union commissioner for crisis management Janez Lenarcic tweeted Thursday.
The Misinformation Campaign
The November 9th massacre is denied on both sides. The Federal Government has produced a humanitarian report that blames the killings on a ‘Samri group’ who aledgedly slaughtered 600 civilians as they were retreating from battle.
Your report should show clearly show who is behind the massacre at the higher level, not only mentioning the informal group and local administration only.— Iyoba 🇪🇹 💚💛♥️ 🇪🇹 (@iyoba4u) November 24, 2020
The war against Tigray is coordinated from three centres – Addis Ababa, Mekelle, and Eritrea. The Eritrean government, which fought a bloody war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 when the TPLF was in power in Addis Ababa, emerged as an ally of Prime Minister Abiy.
Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki see TPLF as a significant obstacle to their respective agendas. Abiy sees TPLF as the only remaining obstacle to his MEGA vision, and the war against Tigray as the last frontier in the realisation of his vision. Isaias, meanwhile, wants to see the end of TPLF as a political movement. He sees this as an opportunity for a more favourable settlement in the Ethiopia-Eritrea rapprochement and as payback time for the defeat TPLF leaders inflicted on him in the battlefield and diplomatically.
The war is also likely to draw in other regional actors. Sudan, itself a highly volatile and unstable state, has already moved soldiers to the border and more than 40,000 refugees have entered its territory since the fighting began. The country is expecting to receive at least 200,000 refugees because of this conflict. It is highly likely that the various actors in Sudan will intervene on one side or another as the war inevitably gets protracted and bloody.
The Nobel peace prize winner Abiy Ahmed displaced thousands of tigray innocent civilians into Sudan, Some of they are telling horrific stories in stigma of seeing lots of bodies alongside roads in tigray region #Ethiopia #Eritrea #Tigray #Somalia @mary_harper @martinplaut @addiss pic.twitter.com/asMw3JEtSK— BASHIR HASHI YUSUF 🇸🇴 (@BashirHashiysf) November 27, 2020
This story is developing; we will continue to follow as this is a major humanitarian crisis & the media is playing cover for the Ethiopian government.