Cutting through Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis

In November 2020, armed conflict broke out in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, where approximately 30,000 people sought and countless continue to seek refuge in neighbouring Sudan. UNICEF estimates that roughly 12,000 children, several without parents or relatives are among those sheltering in camps and registration centres, with young and old surviving in extremely harsh conditions. There is, therefore, a pressing necessity to provide much needed life-saving support, including health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene services. Despite this conflict escalating rapidly, many are uninformed of what is truly going on. To shed more light on the same, the ongoing Tigray conflict arose in November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, ordered a military attack against regional forces in Tigray. According to him, this was a response to an attack on a military base housing government troops in Tigray. The escalation came after months of feuding between Prime Minister Abiy's government and leaders of the Tigray Regional Government led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. For almost three decades, the TPLF were principally in power. These tables turned after Prime Minister Abiy took over office in 2018, post the wake of anti-government protests. This, in-turn, side-lined the entire Tigray Regional Government. He soon began making significant reforms on fronts of justice, economy, and foreign policy. Moreover, to distance the country's politics from ethnic federalism, he merged the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which governed Ethiopia for 30 years, into the new Prosperity Party. On November 4 2020, TPLF and soldiers of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) came into conflict during the TPLF attacks on the ENDF Northern Command headquarters in Mekelle, the Fifth Battalion barracks in Dansha, and other Northern Command bases. In retaliation, an Ethiopian attack was launched, accompanied by a declaration of a state emergency and a shutdown of government services in the region. Furthermore, restricted access and the ongoing communication blackout in the region has left an estimated 2.3 million children out of reach and in need of humanitarian assistance. Before this escalation, almost 54,000 children lived in refugee camps, 36,000 were internally displaced by natural disasters and armed violence, and over recent weeks, thousands more displaced. What demands to be done is a strict calling upon every party involved in the conflict to grant humanitarian organizations with urgent, unimpeded, and sustained access to all affected communities in order to provide those in need with life-saving assistance. arties in the conflict need to refrain from the use of explosives and weapons in populated areas and protect essential civilian infrastructures such as schools, healthcare facilities, water and sanitation installations. The coming weeks will be critical to determine Ethiopia’s trajectory and mitigate the worst harms. The international community must, therefore, consider the following steps: Call out the alleged targeting of ethnic Tigrayans by the government including those who are detained or harassed outside of Tigray. redible reports, highlighted by the United Nations’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide unveil that the government is rounding up individuals across the country and implementing “targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity or religion.” The more the perception of PM Abiy targeting ethnic Tigrayans, rather than conducting limited operations against the TPLF’s leadership, grows and thrives the harder it will become to convince Tigrayans that they have a viable future in the country. Press the Ethiopian government to end its communication blackout and restore humanitarian access to Tigray- One of the most troubling aspects of military operations in Tigray is the lack of information known about the scale of casualties and the scope of humanitarian need. Not only does this persisting shutdown make it impossible for organizations to ascertain where humanitarian aid is required or assess the damage accrued from the fighting, but it also prevents civilians from requesting urgent medical care. Additionally, the communication blackout enables violations of international humanitarian laws to continue (there are credible allegations of war crimes committed by both the TPLF units and government forces, with reduced prospects for future accountability). Push PM Abiy towards de-escalation. The longer Abiy drags out military operations, the likelier Tigray could metastasize into an even graver humanitarian crisis. While political survival is at the forefront of Abiy’s considerations, he has broadly staked his international reputation on being a reform-minded innovator who will usher in needed change to Ethiopia. A key issue is convincing Abiy to de-escalate the conflict —to bring military operations to a close and turn his attention to fostering reconciliation. The Ethiopian army’s convincing victory in Mekelle provides Abiy with a valuable off-ramp to pivot back to his reform agenda. If he does not take advantage of this moment, he risks undermining Ethiopia’s fledgeling economy, fostering a prolonged humanitarian crisis, getting stuck in a protracted armed conflict, and destroying his international reputation. Overall, the situation is extremely fluid and very concerning. This crisis started a month ago since which people have and continue to witness a shortage of food and a lack of access to bathing services amongst other scarcities. Mekelle has even been struggling with water supplies. These are THE MOST basic, basic of services. PM Abiy needs to be realistic about his end game. What can he realistically achieve? What are his underlying objectives and how can he achieve his aims without doing undue damage to his reputation, political stature, or the country’s economy?

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