The magazine stated that the warnings of that war were still looming recently, specifically when a general in the Ethiopian Federal Army traveled to Tigray on October 29 to take over his new position as deputy commander of the forces there, but he was prevented from entering.
Rumors spread in Mekele – the capital of Tigray – that there were military movements in the neighboring Amhara region and in the state of Eritrea to the north. And on the second of November, the President of Tigray – the Debarsion of Cyprus – announced that his region was preparing for war.
The British magazine says that the war may have already broken out, as evidenced by the orders that Abiy Ahmed issued on Wednesday to his forces to respond to allegations of attacking the ruling party in Tigray, an Ethiopian army base there.
Abi Ahmed believes that “the red line has been crossed,” he said. Reports indicate that there is an exchange of artillery fire around the town of Mikkeli, and on the southern border of Tigray with the Amhara region.
Telephone and internet networks were cut off in Tigray, while the Ethiopian Prime Minister declared a state of emergency in the troubled region. It is not clear whether the conflict will be confined to limited skirmishes or turn into a full-scale war.
The latest escalation came after months of “bitter hostility” between Abiy Ahmed and the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigrayans, which was an armed group before it turned into a political party after it led the rebellion to topple the Marxist regime in Addis Ababa in 1991.
For three decades since then, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has had the supreme say in the federal government, before massive protests in 2018 forced it from the Oromo – which makes up almost a third of the Ethiopian people – to make room for Abiy Ahmed to lead the country.
However, according to the Economist, the Abiy Ahmed administration is considered by the TPLF as a “subversive” group working to undermine Ethiopias “fragile” transition to democracy.
For its part, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigraya regards Abiy Ahmed as a “usurper” of power and is determined to “tear apart the constitution” that guarantees autonomy for each of the country’s nine regions based on ethnic lines, and gives each of them the right to secede from Ethiopia.
Charged with conspiracy
And when the central government postponed holding elections across the country at the beginning of this year due to the outbreak of the new Corona virus “Covid-19”, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front accused Abiy Ahmed of plotting to extend his term.
The spat culminated in last September when Tigray challenged the central federal government and proceeded with its regional elections. Instead of quietly accepting the results, the central government deemed the elections illegal, and the Federal Parliament voted to dismiss the Tigrayans.
The Ministry of Finance in Addis Ababa stopped funding the regional government, and began sending money directly to the local authorities there. The ministry was also said to have impeded the payment of social benefits to poor farmers, and had attempted to prevent investors and even some tourists from traveling to Mekele, the capital of Tigray.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front said cutting federal funding amounted to a “declaration of war”, and called on Abiy Ahmed to step down and form a caretaker government in his place.
Although the prime minister has repeatedly ruled out military intervention in Tigray, Parliament finally authorized it. According to the British magazine, both sides showed their strength and flexed their muscles.
The Economist quoted Getachew Reda, a leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, as saying, “If Abiy Ahmed wants to end this conflict with war, we will return it to him.”
However, the attraction with Tigrayans is not the only conflict that the Ethiopian state suffers from, as Abiy Ahmed is also waging a war against armed separatists in the largest Oromia region in the country from which he himself hails.
Abiy Ahmed is struggling to quell popular protests against his rule there and elsewhere. In the past few weeks, several massacres were committed – according to the Economist’s description – most of them in the Amhara region. On the first of this month, gunmen killed dozens of women and children in a schoolyard in western Oromia, according to Amnesty International.
The federal government holds the Tigray People’s Liberation Front responsible for fueling these conflicts by arming and training opposition groups, without showing a single evidence for these allegations, according to The Economist.
On the second of November, the allies of Abiy Ahmed in the Amhara region demanded that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigrayans be finished “completely.” In turn, Parliament indicated that it would designate the Popular Front a “terrorist” organization.
A risky struggle
Abiy Ahmed may hope to reassert his control of Tigray with a “swift blow,” but The Economist believes that there are 3 factors that make the struggle with the Popular Front dangerous.
The first of these factors is that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is the best armed and most illuminated of all the Ethiopian opposition forces. Although the people of Tigrayans make up less than 10% of the population of Ethiopia, their paramilitary forces are led by veterans who fought many battles against the Marxist regime, and participated in the devastating war against Eritrea between 1998 and 2000.
Tigray officers who were dismissed from the Federal Army in a purge by Abiy Ahmed are said to have returned to their territory to train new recruits.
The most powerful units of the Ethiopian army
The second factor that makes the struggle against Tigray so dangerous is that the troubled region is the main base for the most powerful units of the Ethiopian army, where the number of soldiers exceeds half of the entire army.
That base – called Northern Command – bore the brunt of the war against Eritrea. The TPLF believes that many Northern Command officers and soldiers will either switch allegiances or rebel if Abiy Ahmed orders them to fight against Tigray.
The third factor is Eritrea. In 2018, Abiy Ahmed put an end to the cold war between the two countries by signing a peace agreement with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
However, Afwerki, who is holding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigrayans (PFLT) a decades-old hostility, did not show much desire for peace with it, but rather doubled his efforts to oust his old enemies by wooing Abiy Ahmed.
And the Eritrean government announced on October 31 that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigrayans was “close to death.” It is believed that the Eritrean forces are conducting “provocative” military maneuvers on its border with the Tigray region.
But a Tigrayan activist named Phitsum Burhani was quoted by The Economist as saying that they are ready to fight on two fronts.