What's going on in Addis Ababa tonight

Fighting in Ethiopia: Bloomberg correspondent deported

The latest developments

In the war over the Tigray region in Ethiopia, reports of acts of violence are mounting. The Ethiopian government has for the first time confirmed rape by soldiers and police officers.

The latest developments

  • Ethiopia has deported the Irish Bloomberg reporter Simon Marks. The news agency reported on Saturday (May 22nd). Marks, who had also reported from the civil war region of Tigray, was therefore put on a plane to Brussels from the capital Addis Ababa on Thursday. Previously, he had been interviewed for eight hours. In March, the Ethiopian authorities had withdrawn Marks' license to practice in the country after he had returned from the Tigray region.
  • The Ethiopian government confirmed for the first time that police officers and soldiers were involved in rape in the northern region of Tigray in November. 116 people had testified in an investigation that they were victims of sexual violence during a military offensive to take the city of Axum, according to a statement by the Attorney General on Monday (May 10th). According to this, eyewitnesses are said to have also identified federal police officers and soldiers as perpetrators. According to the information, 93 people are said to have died during the fighting on November 27th. Investigations have shown, however, that most of the fatalities were combatants and not civilians, it said. Amnesty International had previously investigated the Axum incident. Amnesty recorded the names of more than 240 people killed and accused Ethiopian and Eritrean troops of having committed war crimes.
  • In western Ethiopia, an armed group is said to have taken control of an area of ​​around 25,000 people on the border with Sudan. The group has been in full control of the area in the Benishangul-Gumuz region since Monday, the Ethiopian Commission on Human Rights (EHRC) announced on Thursday (April 22nd) on Facebook. According to this, refugee civilians are said to have reported looting. Administrative staff and local security guards are said to have fled the group. The EHRC is also investigating reports that civilians have been killed and officials abducted. Security forces are said to be on the way to the crisis area to reinforce the local police. It is currently unclear who exactly is behind the attacks.
  • According to the Ethiopian government, Eritrea has started withdrawing its troops in the Tigray conflict. In a statement by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry that was circulated on Saturday evening (April 3), it says: "As announced last week, the Eritrean troops - which had crossed the borders after a provocation by the TPLF - have now started to withdraw." In the communication, the government in Addis Ababa reacts critically to a joint statement by the G7 foreign ministers and the EU, which on Friday (April 2nd) expressed concern about the human rights situation in Tigray. The aid from the international community is therefore far too little, although the Ethiopian government has kept its promises. There is now unhindered access for humanitarian aid workers and international media in Tigray, and the investigation into allegations of human rights violations will soon begin. The G-7 declaration therefore did not correctly take into account the steps taken by Ethiopia.
  • Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has rejected US calls for a unilateral ceasefire in the Tigray region. He also denied reports of ethnic cleansing in the affected region. He explained this to President Joe Biden's envoy, Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He praised Abiy Ahmed for the first time publicly admitted that troops from neighboring Eritrea were deployed in Tigray. The Prime Minister had assured him that soldiers who committed human rights violations would be punished.

What happened in Ethiopia

After months of tension between the Ethiopian government and the regional Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) party, the government launched a military operation against the rebel group and the ruling party of the Tigray region on November 4, 2020. The Ethiopian Air Force bombed various locations in the northern region. According to the company, this was a response to an attack by the TPLF on Ethiopian troops. The offensive has been declared over, but the fighting continues; Several actors are now involved, including troops and militias from neighboring Eritrea, with which Ethiopia was long enemies.

After the first attacks, the President of the Tigray region spoke of "enemies who are waging war against the Tigray region" and said that the attacks would "be repulsed and this war won". Aid organizations are warning of a humanitarian crisis as a result of the offensive. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have fled the Tigray region to Sudan.

Access to the conflict region is difficult for human rights organizations and journalists, and very little information is leaked to the outside world. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted for the first time at the end of March that Eritrean troops were present in the conflict region and spoke of possible war crimes in Tigray. He had denied that for months.

What is the background to the conflict?

The roots lie in the loss of power of the political elite in the northern region of Tigray, which had previously determined the fate of the country for almost three decades. In 1991, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) led the overthrow of the communist military regime as a guerrilla force. After that, the party alliance Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian Peoples (EPRDF), to which the regional revolutionary parties had come together, ruled. The TPLF had the leading role in this.

In 1995, the constitution made Ethiopia an “ethnic federal state”, in which the various ethnic groups were granted extensive rights of self-determination. Smaller minorities were not taken into account, however, and their aspirations for autonomy were suppressed. There were also tensions between the individual regions due to territorial claims and ethnic rivalries. To this day, the coexistence of ethnic groups and the balancing of their interests hold the potential for conflict.

The TPLF's increasing claim to omnipotence led to major protests from around 2015, in which hundreds were killed and thousands arrested. At the beginning of 2018, the then Prime Minister Hailemariam resigned. He was succeeded by Abiy Ahmed, the first Oromo to head government. The young politician, initially seen by many as a weak and loyal figure, soon turned out to be a reformer. He released tens of thousands of political prisoners, lifted a multi-party ban and initiated a peace agreement with Eritrea, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

What are the points of contention between regional rulers and the central government?

The head of state Abiy Ahmed put national unity over regional self-determination. He wanted to replace the existing ethnic federalism with a regional federalism. Abiy replaced the previously existing collecting party from former regional rebel groups (EPRDF) with his Prosperity Party. The Tigray then left the party and went into opposition with the TPLF. They are bothered by their loss of power and their reconciliation with the arch enemy Eritrea.

Why is the conflict escalating now?

The postponement of the elections due to the emergency that Abiy had declared because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the barrel overflowed: The TPLF believes Abiy's term of office expired last summer and that it is illegitimate to extend it. Despite the state of emergency, it recently held regional elections in Tigray, which representatives of the central government have described as unconstitutional. The parliamentary elections, postponed due to the corona pandemic, are now to be held on June 5, 2021.

What are the threats in the event of an escalation?

In the worst case scenario, the multi-ethnic state with over 100 million people could collapse into war. Because of Ethiopia's strategic importance, neighboring countries such as Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia are also affected, and they in turn are struggling with crises themselves.

Ethiopia is also of great economic importance for the Horn of Africa. The economy has grown very rapidly since the 1990s. The African Union has its headquarters in Ethiopia - for symbolic reasons, because the country has never been under colonial rule.