Greater Tigray and the Mysterious Magnetism of Ethiopia


This is an analytical history of the role Tigrinya-speakers have played and are still playing in the history of Ethiopia and Eritrea, from Tigray’s very ancient incipience to the origins of today’s tragically fratricidal war. 

Drawing from his huge corpus of publications on the Horn of Africa, Haggai Erlich sheds new light on major turning-points, as well as patterns of continuity. His history revolves around one key question: what was ‘the mysterious magnetism’ that held (and still holds) Ethiopia together? Erlich argues that there is an ‘Amhara thesis’ competing with a ‘Tigrayan thesis’ on what Ethiopia’s political and administrative system should be, and that the region’s history has often rotated around the axis of struggle between these two visions. The Tigrayans, though a minority, have had their periods of domination, the last ending in 2018. In between these eras, Tigrayans have been marginalised and weakened, including as the victims of their own internal rivalries, which culminated in the deep and bitter split between ‘core’ Tigrayans and Tigrayan Eritreans. 

In the context of today’s war, Erlich’s insightful book offers an extremely timely introduction to Tigrayan history, and an indispensable key to understanding the roots of Ethiopia’s present crisis.   


Haggai Erlich is Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University, and former head of Middle Eastern History studies at the Open University of Israel. He was the 2010 Landau Prize recipient in African Studies, and has written dozens of books and articles on the history of the Horn of Africa.

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