Feb 11, 2021 - World

Ethiopia seeks to ease fears of humanitarian disaster in Tigray

Child refugees who fled the conflict in Tigray. Photo: Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty

One hundred days into a military campaign in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is attempting to soothe international concerns about alleged war crimes and the grave humanitarian toll.

The state of play: Abiy’s offensive quickly succeeded in removing the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from power in the regional capital, Mekelle. Federal troops are now attempting to hunt down the leaders who fled and stave off an insurgency.

  • The TPLF had been the driving force in national politics before Abiy's rise to power in 2018, and it continued to challenge his authority from its regional power base. Abiy argues that the war was necessary to preserve national unity.
  • A telecommunications blackout and ban on journalists have largely kept the eyes of the world off the conflict, but it's clear the fighting has been brutal. Forces on both sides have been accused of horrific abuses, including mass rape.
  • More than 200,000 people have been internally displaced, and 60,000 have fled to neighboring Sudan.
  • The International Red Cross says 80% of Tigrayans — some 5 million people — are cut off from humanitarian aid, and there’s a growing risk of mass starvation.

What he’s saying: “I cannot deny that the removal of the TPLF has fueled unease in the international community,” Abiy writes. “Concerns about ethnic profiling in Tigray and obstacles to humanitarian relief abound.”

  • “Ending the suffering in Tigray and around the country is now my highest priority.”

What to watch: Abiy is now known as much for this war as for his Nobel Peace Prize. Elections later this year will be his first time on the ballot and the biggest test to date for the nascent democracy in a deeply divided country.

Go deeper