More than a year has passed since the first military campaign in the Tigray region was commanded by the Noble peace prize-winning Prime Minister, Abey Ahmed. But the Ethiopian crisis has grown to become the second most dire humanitarian crisis on the planet. Wracked by suffering, famine, and climate change, millions of Ethiopians are living in a true nightmare.

The Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Ethiopia

Tigray has halted all the life-saving food and medical aid from the United Nations in its region, pushing millions into famine-like conditions. According to Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s chief Tedros, doctors in the region are forced to use expired medicines.

The UN human rights dictate “Multiple, deeply disturbing reports” post the deadly drone attack. Since the beginning of 2022, over 108 people have died in Ethiopia, and over 59 have been killed in the camp strike, marking it the most lethal attack in the region to date.

As a result of countless displaced people, what had initially been a domestic political crisis eventually became a full-blown conflict in the country. Women and girls were also reported to have been subjected to physical and sexual violence during the war. According to a report by the Guardian, eyewitnesses reported that thousands of women and girls had been raped deliberately as a weapon of war.

Rescue Committee’s Emergency Watchlist has ranked Ethiopia as the second most at risk of the worsening humanitarian crisis in 2022, after Afghanistan. Furthermore, the deadly combination of humanitarian crisis and drought due to “La Niña” effects in Tigray and the neighboring region further worsens the dire situation.

Ethiopian Political Set-up

Understanding how the conflict has evolved in Ethiopia requires understanding the country’s political structure. The country is structured as a parliamentary and federal republic, with the prime minister as the head of government. It consists of ten different states governed by ethnic federalism.

A number of ethnic groups have the right to cede land under the constitution because of the embedded ethnicity. Therefore, for unity to be maintained at the federal level, the government needs to be heavy-handed in preserving the constitution and respecting diversity.

However, when PM Abiy began portraying the fight as a cessationist war, where a province was challenging both the federal government and the army, the situation grew more complicated.

What Started the Civil War?

An ongoing tension in the relationship between Ethiopia’s center and regional states is at the core of the current Ethiopian crisis. Tigray, for example, is vigorously defending its autonomy, as demonstrated by its decision to hold provincial elections in September 2020, despite the center’s orders to postpone elections during the COVID-19 crisis. Additionally, the Tigrayan army began to oppose the federal army.

In November 2020, the Tigray joined the TPLF and launched a preemptive attack against the federal army base to steal weapons, triggering a military confrontation with the federal government.

After the Tigray region defied the Abiy Ahmed regime, it launched a full-scale attack on Tigray. It committed atrocities against the people of the region, resulting in human rights violations. Instead of preserving the autonomy of the Tigray people, Abiy Ahmed has sought to govern Ethiopia with a strong centralized federal government that suppresses regional autonomy. The TPLF was declared a terrorist group under his regime.

Global Interests

Ethiopia’s political instability, exacerbated by its civil war, is bound to have a spillover effect on the Horn of Africa, which is why regional and international organizations, as well as major world powers, are taking Ethiopia’s developments seriously.

For example, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) supports the African Union’s (AU’s) peace initiatives in Ethiopia. Rosemary DiCarlo, UN Political Chief, has warned of the dangers and effects of compound civil war. UNSC has urged an end to the fighting. The AU Commission Chair and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, executive secretary of IGAD, have also called for an immediate ceasefire.

Western countries, including the US, Canada, and France, have evacuated their citizens as the civil war worsens, especially the embassy staff and their families. In addition, Anthony Blinken, US secretary of state, on a recent visit to Kenya, spoke about the civil war in Ethiopia and suspended duty-free access to Ethiopian exports.

According to the US, Ethiopia no longer meets the African Growth and Opportunities Act requirements due to gross violations of human rights. Ostensibly, international pressure appears to be building up to end the civil war. However, experts believe the civil war must be observed from the perspective of the many policy options available to Abiy Ahmed.

The Ethiopian Crisis Far from Over

The civil war in Ethiopia is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Prof. Ajay Kumar Dubey, Center for African Studies, JNU, believes that in light of the African continent and conflict that has erupted in Ethiopia’s neighboring countries, there is simply too much at stake here, not just for Ethiopian and foreign powers but also for the Horn of Africa region, in general, and the continent at large.