What Ethiopia needs is less, not more, ethno-nationalism

The TPLF, not the Abiy government and its allies, is responsible for the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia.

On November 29 of last year, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, announced the end of his administration’s military

offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the country’s northern Tigray region.

 This announcement has since proved premature.

 Tigray’s conflict, and the consequent humanitarian crisis, continues to this day.

The TPLF, an ethno-nationalist front that dominated Ethiopia’s coalition politics for almost three decades before Abiy’s rise to power, was responsible for the onset of the conflict that is devastating the region.

The conflict started in early November, when the TPLF launched sudden,

coordinated attacks on the northern command centres of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) across Tigray.

In response, the federal government immediately declared a national emergency and launched an extensive counteroffensive.

With the help of militia and police forces from the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, the ENDF swiftly pushed the TPLF forces back and gained control of Tigray and its capital city Mekelle in a matter of weeks.

The TPLF, however, refused to accept defeat and vowed to continue fighting. Fighters loyal to the group are still engaged in guerrilla warfare against the federal government.

The ongoing conflict has had a heavy human cost. Forces loyal to the TPLF,

as well as the ENDF and its regional allies, have been accused of causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Civilians have been killed and many forced to flee their homes and seek shelter in neighbouring regions and countries.

Hundreds of cases of sexual violence have also been recorded and citizens in Tigray

are still struggling to access clean food and water, according to the United Nations.

 The TPLF’s guerrilla fighters have also attacked aid convoys and road infrastructures, which worsened the humanitarian situation in the region.

While the conflict has had a devastating impact on all Ethiopians,

 many believe the military counteroffensives conducted by the federal government with the help of forces from neighbouring regions were justified.

Indeed, had the government not responded to the TPLF attacks with force, the consequences would have been a lot worse for the country.

 A TPLF victory against the federal army in Tigray could have triggered an endless, bloody civil war across Ethiopia and marked the beginning of the country’s disintegration.

The federal government and neighbouring regional states had no option other than to do everything,

 they can to stop the TPLF’s aggression in Tigray before it spilled over to other parts of the country.

Despite this, some accused the Amhara and Afar states of supporting the federal effort

to contain the TPLF solely due to their “ethnic animosity” against the group.

As the conflict started with aggression by the TPLF against the Ethiopian national army,

 which is tasked with protecting all Ethiopians and not any specific ethnic group,

these accusations are baseless. Nevertheless, it is also impossible to deny that Amharas and Afars had suffered immense discrimination and abuse under the rule of the TPLF for decades

 and have every reason to be fearful of the group and its attempts to regain control of the country.

To understand how Ethiopia ended up where it is today, and why the administrations of Tigray’s neighbouring states did not hesitate to help Abiy’s government defeat the TPLF,

we need to look at the country’s recent past.

Launched as a fledgeling fighting group in the 1970s,

 the TPLF led a movement that came to power in 1991 after overthrowing the Communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

It established a multi-ethnic governing coalition that was dominated by ethnic Tigrayans.

The ethnic federal arrangement that the TPLF established and led for nearly three decades,

 resulted in unprecedented levels of instability, ethnic violence, displacements and countless massacres across the country.

To leave this devastating conflict behind and get back on the path of progress and reform,

Ethiopia undoubtedly needs to embark on a national reconciliation project. 

Hopefully, the upcoming national election in June concludes peacefully and gives birth to such a much-needed framework.

Recent atrocities that targeted civilians should also be documented and those responsible brought to justice. But even before that,

what the country really needs is a strong federal government that proactively works to ensure all Ethiopians,

from all ethnic groups, feel safe and secure in their own country.

The Amharas, like others who suffered immensely under the TPLF’s

ethno-nationalist regime, also want a federal government that not only condemns the many atrocities they have suffered over the years but also takes action to prevent their repetition.

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