Understanding Ethiopia’s Tigray War
An unsparing account of the ongoing conflict and famine in the Horn of Africa, which could lead to the fragmentation of Ethiopia’s multi-ethnic state.
The ongoing war and consequent famine in the Ethiopian province of Tigray are increasingly critical. International journalists are not being allowed to travel to the region, which is almost completely sealed off from the outside world. This is a deliberate strategy by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments prosecuting the war: their aim is to crush the Tigrayans at almost any cost.
This differentiates the current crisis from the famine of 1984-5, when 400,000 died of starvation primarily as the result of a prolonged drought, exacerbated by war and government inaction. Today’s famine is a direct result of supplies to the region being cut off. Hatred of Tigrayans has been stoked by senior advisers to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed: they have called Tigrayans ‘weeds’ who must be uprooted, their place in history extinguished. This language is reminiscent of the statements that preceded the genocide in Rwanda.
The present situation has been orchestrated since 2018 by Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, who wields considerable influence over Ethiopian affairs. His troops are deep inside Ethiopia, his security agents in its towns and cities. For both the Eritrean President and the Ethiopian Prime Minister, this appears to be a fight to the finish.
Martin Plaut, the BBC World Service's former Africa Editor, has published extensively on African affairs. An adviser to the Foreign Office and the US State Department, he is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
Sarah Vaughan PhD has worked in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa since the late 1980s, and has taught African politics and social theory in Scotland and Ethiopia.