By Ella Lloyd | Political Editor
British nationals currently in Ethiopia have been warned to leave the country immediately as the conflict with Tigray worsens.
The UK’s Africa Minister Vicky Ford said the conflict in Ethiopia is ‘deteriorating quickly’ and should the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) reach Addis Ababa, travel opportunities to leave the country could be ‘severely’ limited. She said she urged Britons to leave ‘whatever their circumstance’ while Addis Ababa Bole International Airport remains open. Interest free loans will be made available to allow Britons to return to the UK where they otherwise could not afford the journey.
Germany, France, and the USA have also advised their citizens to leave.
As the TPLF advance towards the capital of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has encouraged former soldiers to rejoin the army while he himself goes to the front line to fight the rebels.
Former US Assistant Secretary of State to Africa, Tibor Nagy, has warned that the battle for Addis Ababa could be ‘horrendously bloody’.
The TPLF has said that it’s actual intention in threatening the capital is to force the Prime Minister to lift a blockade on aid entering the Tigray region, although they also wish for Abiy to step down, saying he has lost the right to govern by imposing the blockade and waging brutal conflict in Tigray.
The ethnic diversity of Addis Ababa has added to the tensions, as there are accusations that police are targeting Tigrayan civilians, including the alleged arrest of two Tigrayan law professors. Officials deny this, saying those arrested were done so in line with the state of emergency and not on the basis of their ethnicity.
The African Union has attempted to negotiate an end to violence, however neither the TPLF or Ethiopian government have agreed to talks. US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman has said that both sides seem to believe they are on the cusp of military victory.
Ethiopia’s UN ambassador has responded to calls for a political solution, saying he respected calls for dialogue, but labelled the TPLF a ‘criminal group’.
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda has criticized peace initiatives via Twitter for being “about saving Abiy, not about addressing the most critical political challenges in the country”.
The current conflict has lasted a year already, and led to a humanitarian crisis, but it’s origins can be traced further back.
Ethiopia is the second most populous African country and is home to a number of different ethnic groups including the Tigrayans. The TPLF ruled the country from 1991, in a coalition which amounted to a one-party state. The TPLF leadership was accused of rigging elections, jailing opponents, and favouring the Tigrayan people (although poverty was still widespread in the Tigray region).
When the TPLF were forced to hand over power to Abiy Ahmed in 2018, Abiy spoke of peace and liberalizing. He removed corrupt TPLF officials from power and created a new coalition, which the TPLF declined to join. However soon he was facing the same accusations of corruption as those before him. When Abiy postponed elections because of COVID-19, the TPLF defied him by holding their own elections in Tigray, accusing Abiy of using the pandemic as an excuse. This led to the Ethiopian government mobilizing its military, claiming TPLF had attacked a military base and they were therefore obligated to respond, and so the current conflict began.
In the last year of conflict, as many as 16,000 to 50,000 people may have died, and over 60,000 Tigrayans have fled the fighting across the border to Sudan, with many more internally displaced. There have been reports from refugees of massacres of civilians and pervasive sexual violence. Journalist’s access to the region has been restricted and internet access has been cut off at times.
The Ethiopian government has been accused of cutting off aid to TPLF controlled regions, using starvation as a weapon of war, which they deny. The UN estimates that more than 400,000 Ethiopians are in famine.
The conflict in Ethiopia is important to western international objectives; the country is considered a key western ally in an unstable region. If Tigray were to become independent, it could lead to increased conflict as other regions break away as well. If more were to flee this heightened conflict, there are fears Ethiopia’s neighbouring countries, themselves experiencing conflict and one military coup, would not be able to cope. Ethiopia has a strong relationship with the US and was an ally to them during the ‘War on Terror’. Ethiopian troops are a part of the joint UN-African Union mission to fight Islamic extremist militants in Somalia – troops which could be withdrawn if they are needed in the conflict with Tigray.Ella Lloyd Politics twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.