In Focus

Ethiopia’s civil war: from ‘African success story’ to brutal conflict

The conflict in Tigray has left thousands dead and some two million displaced, with refugees pouring into neighbouring Sudan

Until a few years ago, Ethiopia was considered “an African success story”, said Andrea Böhm in Die Zeit (Hamburg). Having freed itself from a “murderous socialist dictatorship” and a “vicious circle of droughts and famines” in the 1980s, the country was on the up: the economy was booming; its 20-year war with neighbouring Eritrea had come to an end. How different things look today.

For the past seven months, a bitter civil war has been raging between government forces and regional leaders from Tigray, in the country’s north. The conflict has left thousands dead and some two million displaced. Refugees have poured into neighbouring Sudan. Even more troublingly, an estimated four million people are now at risk of famine. Crops have been decimated by drought, fire and locusts; and government troops have reportedly blocked aid from reaching civilians, suggesting they’re ready to “use hunger as a weapon”. It’s a “horrific” situation–and one that’s all too familiar to those who endured Ethiopia’s past miseries.

Human rights groups have been sounding the alarm over this appalling conflict for months, said La Repubblica (Rome). They point to evidence of the “systematic” rape of thousands of women and girls in Tigray – which is home to seven million of Ethiopia’s 115 million people – and have warned that sexual violence is being used as a “weapon of war” by Ethiopian government soldiers and the Eritrean troops fighting alongside them. Yet the international community has “ignored” their warnings.

Refugees in Sudan

Refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia board buses travelling to a humanitarian camp in Sudan

Byron Smith/Getty Images

Now, that’s starting to change, said Medihane Ekubamichael in The Addis Standard (Addis Ababa). In late May, US president Joe Biden imposed visa restrictions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, and announced curbs on American economic and security assistance to the country, a key US ally in Africa. Warning of the risk of “widespread famine”, he called on Ethiopian and Eritrean forces to “allow immediate, unimpeded humanitarian access to the region”, and demanded an end to the “large-scale human rights abuses” happening there.

Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning PM, Abiy Ahmed, likes to present this conflict as a “law enforcement operation”, said Alex de Waal on Al Jazeera (Doha). He has railed against “foreign meddling” while seeking to deflect blame to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region and has led the fighting against government forces. Yet the atrocities committed by his troops appear to be galvanising his opponents, said Africanews.com (Lyon). Support for the TPLF, which the government has labelled a terrorist organisation, is growing; and fighting has spread to the region’s “rugged highlands”. With neither side showing any sign of giving in, the chances of this brutal conflict ending soon look tragically slim.

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