The war in Tigray has shown all the ugly faces of such hostilities. It hurled Ethiopia into a war economy where billions of birr are thrown into the fighting. Innumerable human cost of the war is also placing its indelible dark mark on the social fabric of the society. The after effects of such marks could last long.
While concerns regarding the humanitarian access to Tigray had been at the center of attention currently, the mobilization of forces from across the country to join the war as well as the call from the Amhara and Afar regions for people to join the fight has created a fresh fear that the conflict could escalate leading to an all-out civil war. Such a mishap in a country of more than 110 million people would be devastating both for regional security and beyond.
After eight months of fighting against forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the Tigray region, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces went out of the region and a humanitarian ceasefire was declared by the federal government to “allow farmers conduct their farming peacefully during this ceasefire so that they don’t miss the rainy season.”
Moreover, the government said it intends to allow organizations deliver unhindered humanitarian access in the region as these organizations were complaining about delays in various checkpoints. The government also said that organizations providing humanitarian assistance in the region were not positive about the protection they had been given by the Ethiopian military while they tried to enter areas controlled by the TPLF.
In a press conference following the announcement of the ceasefire and the military’s withdrawal from Tigray region, State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Redwan Hussein said that the military left the region in one part to allow unfettered humanitarian access to organizations that want to deliver life saving food and non-food items to Tigray. However, he condemned the international community for failing to acknowledge this and act accordingly. He even said that after the government withdrew from the region and allowed unfettered access for humanitarian organizations, many were still blaming the government for the blockade of humanitarian access to the region. The western world is also blamed for not recognizing the humanitarian actions by the government that provided more than 70 percent of food and non-food aid to the region.
This narrative coming from the Ethiopian government that the international community is short of recognizing efforts made by it to minimize atrocities as a result of the war as well as to provide humanitarian aid to the region has continued with recent statements.
In a press conference on July 28, 2021, Head of Foreign Languages and Digital Media at the Prime Minister’s Office Press Secretariat, Billene Seyoum said that the TPLF had remained belligerent in many aspects while the government is trying to meet the various demands made by the international community.
Stating that the TPLF initially attacked the state in November 2020, and rejected the unilateral humanitarian ceasefire declared by the government in June 2021, she implored “why, why, why” the international community did not condemn the atrocities committed by the TPLF, in addition to escalating the “conflict by encroaching into two other regions and openly declaring violence in June 2021.”
Reminding that the government left hundreds of thousands of quintals of wheat as well as thousands of liters of petroleum in the regional capital before it left, she accused the TPLF of exploiting these items to recruit young people for the war.
“Many that were echoing their concerns about the wellbeing of Tigrayans in the region are now mute when TPLF is blocking aid, killing Tigrayans it considers against it, recruiting child soldiers, and using civilians as human shields and bullet fodder,” she stated, adding that, “A clear double standard is at play in the silence towards TPLF’s harassment and overt belligerence.”
The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dina Mufti (Ambassador), had also been calling up on the international community to pressure the TPLF into abiding by the unilateral ceasefire which the government declared while leaving the region.
The unilateral ceasefire declared by the government was not also positively welcomed by the international community who classified the act as a siege, rather than an action done by good will of the government.
“This is not a ceasefire, it’s a siege and starvation is being used as a weapon of war,” EU crisis-management commissioner Janez Lenarčič said in the European Parliament on June 6, 2021 following the announcement of the ceasefire. He corroborated this with the exposure of more than 900,000 people to famine and more than a million heading towards that direction, which he said was a totally man-made situation. The commissioner also added that rape and extrajudicial killings were common in the Tigray region making things worse.
US officials as well as lawmakers were strong voices in attacking the government for the atrocities committed in Tigray region during the eight months of the war. For instance, following the announcement of the ceasefire, spokesperson of the State Department Ned Price stated, “That unilateral announcement needs to be followed up with concrete changes on the ground to end the conflict, to stop the atrocities and importantly to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance.”
In a phone call with PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD), Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called for an indefinite ceasefire in Tigray, but he did not say anything following the unilateral declaration of ceasefire by the federal government and the withdrawal of its forces from the region. This lack of welcome by the international community was hugely condemned by Ethiopian officials including parliamentarians.
The US had also threatened Ethiopia with more sanctions because of the Tigray war which is feared to have regional repercussions if it remains unabetted. The Ethiopian government previously protested the US congress resolution as a pretext for sanctions on Ethiopia.
But the government has developed resentment following lack of appreciation from the international community, especially from the West and “the media” for the “positive” actions which it says were taken for the sake of the interest of the people of Tigray.
Demonstrations condemning the meddling of the west, especially the US government, in Ethiopia’s internal affairs were staged both in the country and abroad calling for the West to put its “Hands off Ethiopia.” These protests were also staged at the UN Headquarters in New York while it discussed the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) for the first time.
The complaint from the Ethiopian side also concerns the silence of the international community on the alleged recruitment of child soldiers by the TPLF forces as well as its failure to acknowledge the unilateral ceasefire declared by the government and act accordingly.
Previously, the TPLF issued a statement listing conditions for a negotiated ceasefire which included the withdrawal of the Amhara and Eritrean forces from Tigray, an independent investigation of atrocities committed in Tigray and justice to be served to the victims, unimpeded humanitarian access, direct international air transportation from Tigray, as well as the nullification of any laws and decisions made by any government body since October 5, 2020. But later, the TPLF amended its conditions for “any talks to discuss a negotiated ceasefire.”
These new conditions, as announced on July 29, 2021, call for the restoration of all the discontinued services to Tigray, immediate release of budgets, release of all political prisoners, immediate cessation of mass detention of Tigrayans as well as publicized acceptance of these conditions by the government.
While the government in Addis Ababa said nothing about these or the previous conditions for a negotiated ceasefire, recruits are joining the armed forces from across the country to strengthen the military. In addition, Special Forces from all regions have joined the fighting in Tigray in various fronts. Because of continued offensives from Tigrayan forces, fighting is still going on in the Amhara and Afar regions, which make the ceasefire absent in effect. But the Military still says it is not engaging into the fights but defending its positions when attacked as the ceasefire declared by the government concerns federal forces.
In addition, discussions of the US sending military to Ethiopia to resolve the Tigray crises were also unwelcomed by various Ethiopians. After the US congresswoman Karen Bass said some members of the Ethiopian Diaspora asked why the US did not send its military to resolve the Tigray crises, various Ethiopian Diaspora members met with the congresswoman to discuss the matter and protest the statement she made about the possibility of sanctions on Ethiopia.
Given this context of the West pressuring only the federal government, various officials as well as members of the general public are voicing their concerns as well as objections against the US, EU and their allies.