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Sigrid Gutierrez

Why is Ethiopia on the verge of a civil war?

- The causes of the internal conflict in the second most populous country in Africa.

Why is Ethiopia on the verge of a civil war?

A year ago, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize for his role as a peacemaker in the historic conflict with his border neighbor, Eritrea, and others in the region. However, currently, this country located in the Horn of Africa is in the midst of its own conflict between the resistance of one of the internal factions of the dominant coalition in Ethiopian politics until 2019 and the federal government.

Administrative regions of Ethiopia. Source: Quartz Africa.

The Federal Republic of Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic country that claims to recognize and protect cultural and religious diversity. It has more than 85 ethnic communities and a religious majority of Christianity and Islam. For the same reason, “ethnic federalism” is enshrined in the current Constitution of 1995. [1]. It is divided into two autonomous administrations, Dire and Addis Ababa (the capital), and nine ethnolinguistic regional states [2]:

  • Afar -Amhara
  • Benishangul-Gumaz
  • gambela
  • Harari
  • Oromia Region
  • Somali -Tigray
  • Region of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of the South

Graphic that exemplifies the ethnic composition of Ethiopia. Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.

Another important aspect is that Ethiopia experienced an "economic miracle" in recent years; public investment in infrastructure, foreign investment, tourism and trade (especially with China) increased. It had even come to be considered one of the four "African lions", along with Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa. However, the reality is that food insecurity continues to be one of the main problems of this State. [3]

Political context

The 2015 elections gave victory to the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), whose origins date back to a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organization formed in 1990 as an opposition coalition to the Hailé Mariam Mengistu regime during the Ethiopian Civil War (1974). -1991). This coalition remained the majority political party until its dissolution on November 1, 2019. [4]

In its place, the Prosperity Party (PP) was founded with the intention of ethnically fusing the EPRDF. This initiative of the current Ethiopian prime minister was approved by the Oromo Democratic Party, the Amhara National Democratic Movement and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement, but was rejected by the dominant party within the coalition, the Tigray People's Liberation Front ( TPLF). [5]

Abiy Ahmed's goal was to establish a central government that would promote Ethiopian nationalism, however this initiative was seen by the Tigray people as an aggressive imposition, as it threatened his dominant position within this new party. For the same reason, the TPLF ignored the PP and began to disobey the orders of the federal government. [6]

What is happening?

The TPLF was accused last Wednesday, November 4, of attacking a military base to steal equipment, which led the federal government, which had already been disavowed by the illegal elections held in September by this coalition in Tigray, to declare a confrontation military. Abiy Ahmed has even affirmed that the TPLF has created armed militias with uniforms similar to those of the Eritrean Army, a country close to the Tigray region and where the majority of the population belongs to this ethnic group. [7]

Subsequently, on Tuesday, November 10, the seizure of the Humera airport in the Tigray region by Ethiopian troops was announced on state television during an offensive against local leaders who challenged the authority of the prime minister. Faced with hundreds of declines in military clashes, the president of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has urged a cessation of hostilities. [8]

In the preceding days, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed replaced members of the security leadership with officials he trusted, such as Demelash Michael, who was head of the Intelligence Agency and was appointed head of the Federal Police, and Demeke Mekonnen. , the current deputy prime minister who will also serve as foreign minister. [9]

On the other hand, the United Nations (UN) has issued a call to stop the violence in the region through dialogue. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has expressed her concern about the restrictions imposed in Tigray, due to the fact that since Tuesday, November 3, the internet connection and telephone lines have been interrupted. [10]

The first phase of the offensive declared on November 4 by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed consisted of mobilizing the defense forces. The second, to surround the city of Mekele, located in the Tigray region, to reduce the military capacity of the TPLF. The start of the third was announced this Sunday, November 22, and will consist of taking Mekele directly, for which reason the TPLF has been given a 72-hour ultimatum and the population has been warned of the imminent operation. [eleven]

Previous tension incidents

The violation of digital rights is a recurring problem in Ethiopia; the internet connection is interrupted every time it is necessary to quell riots or reduce internal tension. Another example of this dates back to last July, when Internet access was blocked amid the chaos caused by protests by the Oromo community after the murder of the singer Hachalu Hundessa, who was an active participant in the fight for civil rights, Therefore, this fact was considered a sign of "unfavorable historical treatment." [12]

Despite the fact that the current prime minister is the first ethnic Oromo to come to power, this community has been underrepresented since the rise of the TPLF within the ruling coalition (the EPRDF). As an example of the above, in 2014 the Addis Ababa Master Plan was launched, a project that sought the territorial and administrative expansion of the country's capital at the expense of some cities belonging to the Oromia Region. [13]

This situation provoked a series of protests against the marginalization of this community in the economic and urban development plan of Ethiopia. Although the Master Plan was abandoned in 2016, due to transparency problems, the dissent of the Oromo people continued and the Amhara and Afar communities joined it. [14]

Therefore, just ten months after the abandonment of the Master Plan, the Ethiopian government was forced to declare a state of emergency for six months [15]. Ethnic conflicts have been recurring within the country and, since the creation of the Prosperity Party (PP), the political preeminence of the TPLF has been threatened, so the current subversive response is part of the set of actions that this party has been in place since the 1990s.

A direct precedent of the visible loss of power of the TPLF dates back to mid-2019, when it began to make accusations against the Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) about the lack of measures in the face of the murders of members of the latter party, for which requested an investigation and the taking of a clear position by the federal government in the 2020 elections [16]. The TPLF had gone from being the dominant party within the ruling coalition to maintaining a vigilant position on its status quo.

Abiy Ahmed's democratic reforms have been a source both of recognition by foreign states and international organizations, and of rebellion by internal factions. In this context in which the TPLF criticized the ADP, a coup attempt was triggered in which the Amhara security forces rose up against the government of their region on June 22, 2019 that resulted in the assassination of the chief of staff of the Ethiopian Army, the president of the Amhara region and his senior adviser.

Added to all of the above, as a decisive incident in the conflict is the continued postponement of the Ethiopian elections, originally scheduled for August 2020. This situation, which was initially attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, disturbed to the TPLF, who went so far as to accuse the prime minister of trying to extend the time of his constitutional mandate, which would have ended in September of this year. [17]

What can we expect?

Since the start of the fighting, at least 10,000 people have fled to neighboring Sudan, and the UN estimates that the number will rise to 200,000 [18]. Likewise, as the violence increases, so does the tension in the Horn of Africa. The two main concerns of international organizations are the lack of access to telecommunications in Ethiopia and the possibility that this conflict in the second most populous country in Africa will destabilize the region.

Abiy Ahmed has already denied the possibility of negotiations with the TPLF and insists that the only way to restore order is military force. [19] The situation could escalate in the coming days and, despite the fact that Eritrea has remained silent, the country's support for the TPLF keeps the Ethiopian prime minister on his toes.

International organizations have confirmed massacres of civilians in the preceding days and the accusations made by both sides only contribute to the escalation of the conflict. Even Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has been pointed out by the head of the Ethiopian Army, who affirms that Tedros has helped the TPLF with weapons, however, he has refrained from commenting. about the accusation. [twenty]

The roots of the current conflict date back at least three decades; the unequal distribution of power has been a constant feature in the history of this highly socioculturally diverse state. To avoid the centralization of power, the creation of parties that represent the different ethnic regions that make up the Ethiopian people is required.

In this case, a coalition with a dominant party within it has exercised its influence without respecting the rest of the ethnic groups that make up the territorial organization of the country, despite the fact that they are in the majority compared to the Tigray people. And now, faced with the possibility of a reform that threatens the interests of the TPLF, the civilian population is suffering the worst consequences and being deprived of their right to information and free expression.

The following days will be decisive for the development of a conflict in which the most vulnerable face not only an imminent civil war in their territory, but also a pandemic scenario and food shortages. Consequently, international support will be of vital importance for the security of a people at the mercy of a power struggle.


    [1] Taddele Maru Mehari, 2007, “La Constitución etíope protege la diversidad”. Federaciones, Octubre-Noviembre.

    [2] Idem.

    [3] Caballero Chema, “Las mentiras del milagro económico de Etiopía”, El País, 9 de noviembre de 2016,, (consultado el 3 de noviembre de 2020).

    [4] The Guardian, “Ethiopia’s ruling party wins by landslide in general election”, 22 de junio de 2015,, (consultado el 3 de noviembre de 2020).

    [5] K Allo Awol, “Why Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party could be bad news for Ethiopia”, Aljazeera, 5 de diciembre de 2019,, (consultado el 3 de noviembre de 2020).

    [6] González Pedro, “Estalla el nacionalismo étnico en Etiopía”, Atalayar, 6 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 7 de noviembre de 2020).

    [7] Idem.

    [8] Aljazeera, “Ethiopian military seizes airport as fighting rages in Tigray”, 10 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 11 de noviembre de 2020).

    [9] Mutambo Aggrey, “Abiy replaces top security officials amid conflict with Tigray ´criminals´”, Nation Africa, 8 de noviembre de 2020,–3015468?view=htmlamp, (consultado el 11 de noviembre de 2020).

    [10] Noticias ONU, “Etiopía: Bachelet llama a detener la violencia en la región de Tigray”, 6 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 11 de noviembre de 2020).

    [11] La Nación, «Ultimátum. El gobierno de Etiopía les da 72 horas para rendirse a los rebeldes de Tigray», 22 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 22 de noviembre de 2020).

    [12] Guajardo Gonzalo, “Etiopía apaga Internet”, 8 de septiembre de 2020,, (consultado el 11 de noviembre de 2020).

    [13] González Aimé Elsa, “Protestas y estado de emergencia en Etiopía”, 8 de noviembre de 2016,, (consultado el 12 de noviembre de 2020).

    [14] Idem.

    [15] Idem.

    [16] Mumbere Daniel, “Ethiopia’s TPLF demands clarity on 2020 elections, blasts ADP over ´coup´”, Africanews, 11 de julio de 2019,, (consultado el 12 de noviembre de 2020).

    [17] Davis Kurt, «Ethiopia delays elections: is COVID a valid excuse?», The Africa Report, 18 de agosto de 2020,, (consultado el 14 de noviembre de 2020).

    [18] The Guardian, “Thousands more refugees cross into Sudan to flee fighting in Ethiopia”, 12 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 13 de noviembre de 2020).

    [19] BBC News, «Tigray crisis: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rejects peace talks», 11 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 13 de noviembre de 2020).

    [20] Africanews, «Ethiopia army chief accuses WHO boss of helping Tigray», 19 de noviembre de 2020,, (consultado el 19 de noviembre de 2020).

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Gutierrez, Sigrid. “¿Por qué Etiopía se encuentra al borde de una guerra civil?.” CEMERI, 12 sept. 2022,