How do you go from winning a Nobel Peace Prize to being accused of horrific war crimes in just two years? That’s the situation facing Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. For months, Ethiopia has been in the middle of a violent civil war with the Tigrayan people; an ethnic group that lives in the country’s north. As many as 50,000 people are said to have died, which, if true, is more than any conflict anywhere in the world in 2021.
Abby’s government is being accused of committing war crimes and putting millions of its own citizens at risk of dying from starvation and the United Nations has just announced that more than 400,000 Ethiopians are currently experiencing famine,
So, how did it go from a Nobel Peace Prize to this? To answer that question, we need to take a closer look at the rise of Abiy, as well as the four stages of Ethiopia’s recent leadership. Ethiopia is a diverse country with distinct regions and lots of different ethnic groups, like the Tigrayans. That’s because for centuries, right up until the 1970s, Ethiopia was actually an empire ruled by an emperor. After the fall of the empire and years of civil war and Communist dictatorship under Mengistu, Eritrea declared independence and the TPLF went on to rule Ethiopia with the EPRDF for almost 30 years .
The man the government chose to eventually replace the outgoing Prime Minister was Abiy Ahmed. Abiy was seen as a young and dynamic politician and often spoke of peace, reconciliation and unity.
Abiy’s most well-known act, however, was reaching out to Eritrea and ending the war that had been going on for decades. This is how he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Things seemed like that were going well for Ethiopia and that they were finally moving away from years and years of authoritarian rule. But inside the country, conflicts between ethnic groups were flaring up. Abiy responded to all of this by going back to some of the methods used by those before him.
Then came COVID.
Like many other nations, Ethiopia decided to postpone its elections. Opponents accused Abiy of using the pandemic as an excuse and said that he didn’t want to face an election. The Tigrayans went one step further and defied the government by holding their own elections the following month. What followed were reports of the Ethiopian government mobilising its military and in the early hours of November 4th, while the rest of the world was watching the US election, Abiy issued a statement that the Tigrayans had attacked a military base and that they’d be forced to respond with military action.
The two sides were now at war. Although Abiy and his government refused to refer to the situation as a war. In the early stages, it was referred to as a ‘law and order operation’ against politicians who had to defied the government and needed to be brought to justice. Abby also said it would be over in weeks and would be entirely bloodless. After a while it became clear that both of those statements weren’t true.
Details started to trickle out eventually, with more than 60,000 Tigrayans fleeing across the border into Sudan.
They came with stories of not just fighting between the military and militias, but of massacres of civilians and widespread sexual violence.
There have also been signs of widespread hunger across Tigray, a place that’s already vulnerable to food shortages.
The United Nations says that all sides of the conflict have been carrying out atrocities, but that the vast majority have been perpetrated by the Ethiopian military and its allies. That brings us to a key point. The Ethiopian military hasn’t been acting alone. Abiy allied with the Eritrean military to attack his own people, something that government denied at first. Eritrea is led by President Isaias Afwerki.
Internationally, there has been a huge amount of pressure on Abiy to stop the fighting and to send the Eritreans home. Now, it seems as if the Eritrean military are finally starting to pull out and the Ethiopian government did recently announce a ceasefire. However, it was rejected by the TPLF, who said that they won’t stop fighting until all enemy troops have left the region. Experts fear the fighting will continue to spread and millions more are at risk of dying from starvation if regions in Tigray continue to be cut off from food aid and essential services. The Ethiopian government continues to deny that this is happening even though there have been reports of trucks with aid being held up and bridges into towns being destroyed.
According to experts, the only way to get through this without further violence is getting all of the ethnic group leaders and political party leaders together to negotiate a path to pace and a new direction for Ethiopia.
For now, many Ethiopians of all ethnic groups and people right around the world are just hoping to see an end to the ongoing violence and for the enormous number of Ethiopians that are currently starving to be given the help that they desperately need.