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TPLF – Ethiopia conflict: implications for the humanitarian crisis

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TPLF – Ethiopia conflict: implications for the humanitarian crisis

Fecha 20/12/2020 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

Since the start of the confrontation between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the international community has been worried about the consequences for the population that currenly lives in the Tigray regional state but also in the bordering areas. While millions of people face precarity, in the Tigray the situation could be even worse, as the conflict threatens to imply other ethiopian states and countries like Sudan and Eritrea.

(Militaries of the Ethiopian National Forces)

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | December 19th, 2020

At the end of 2018, Ethiopia had nearly 3,000,000 internal displaced people (IDP) and some months later the number increased up to a 3,080,000 record-high. Since then, thanks to Abiy Ahmed’s policy of return, an estimated number of 1,800,000 IDPs had returned to their original location in June 2019. Nevertheless, the situation once again worsened and, in fact, as reported by the Ethiopia Displacement Report 5 (June-July 2020), the number of IDPs changed from 1,606,086 in September-October 2019 to 1,820,811 in June-July 2020. In relation to this, it is necessary to point out that 1,233,557 of the IDPs registered in the mentioned report have been displaced due to conflicts in the place of origin. Droughts (351,062), seasonal floods (104,696) and flash floods (50,093) are the following main sources of displacement but way far from the first one. So, in the current context of war between the Ethiopian federal government and the TPLF, these numbers should be monitored with special attention.

In the regional state of Tigray, the report says that there are 100,266 internally displaced (+0,7% in relation to the previous report), with 48,084 displaced households. All of the 100,266 internally displaced escaped from conflict, concentrating in the Eastern and Southeastern zones of the Tigray. Concerning the newly arrived IDPs, they have been located in the Western and Southern zones.

Tigray has 1,504 non-functioning latrines on-site, being the second regional state with the highest number and only surpassed by Oromia (1,916). Also, there are five sites with no access to food and the whole region has 600,000 food beneficiaries. Finally, only 14% IDP households in Tigray owe livestock.

Concerning health issues, in 45% of the sites in Tigray pneumonia is the main concern, followed by diarrhea (20%). In relation to the Covid-19 pandemia, the Tigray region has registered 121 infections, converting it in the national leader. In order to have a better notion of the situation, Oromia and Amhara come in the second and third place, but only with six and five cases, respectively.

Lastly, it is worth checking the figures of refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia. Currently, Ethiopia is home to 796,437 refugees and asylum seekers, of which 12.4% live in the Tigray regional state. Of the total population of refugees and asylum seekers residing in Ethiopia, 178,315 (22%) are Eritrean citizens, with  96,223 of this latter ones living in the regional state of Tigray and mainly in four camps located in the western part of the Tigray. The other Eritreans live in the neighbouring region of Afar (54,000) and in Addis Abeba (28,000). Concerning the Sudanese, even if they only represent 5.5% of the country’s population of refugees and asylum seekers, it should not be forgotten that, with 43,789 people, they are the fourth most populous group in the country.

What about the other countries?

     In Sudan, there are 990,223 refugees and asylum seekers, while the number of internally displaced people is 1,885,782. Most of the refugees and asylum seekers come from South Sudan (729,530), Eritrea (121,337) and Siria (93,497). Ethiopians appear in the fifth place (13,112).

About the bordering states with Ethiopia, the Kassala state has 100,347 refugees and asylum seekers (10.1% of the country’s total),  being followed by Al Qadarif with 20,549 (2.1%), Sennar with 9,899 (1%) and Blue Nile with 3,726 (0.4%).

In Eritrea, there are only 199 refugees living in the Eritrean territory and there are no figures for internally displaced people. This, because the country has an autocratic government (without euphemisms, a dictatorship) and it has not signed the international refugee convention, nor the statelessness convention. Also, Eritrea does not have a national asylum legislation. Therefore, it is very difficult to really know how many IDPs, refugees and asylum seekers reside in the country (International ONGs are prohibited in Eritrea and just a few United Nations’ agencies, such as FAO, UNHCR and UNICEF, have received authorisation to work in the country).

Consequences of the current conflict

     Before the military confrontation started, nearly 2.3 million children needed humanitarian assistance in the Tigray regional state, a figure that was reafirmed by Unicef on November 19. In total, about 8.4 million people need humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia

Concering the refugees, according to the UNHCR, 51.068 people arrived to Sudan from Ethiopia. The figure takes into account the period between November 7 and December 17. Since November 10, there is an average of 1.340 people per day (the number started to decrease but during November and December it passed the 2.000 barrier), while since November 21 can be seen a decrease in the daily number of refugees entering Sudan. About this latter, Kassala state hosts 35.762 refugees (70%), while Gedaref and Blue Nile states shelter 14.604 (29%) and 702 (1%), respectively.

According to FAO, Eastern Africa had 133.1 million people undernourished in 2018. It is a very worrying situation, as the number has been consistently increasing since 2005. Even more, Eastern Africa leads the continent and the world in the prevalence item, with 30.8% of its population being undernourished in 2018. What is even worse is that the same report establishes that 62.7% of Eastern Africa’s population suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity.  In the particular case of Ethiopia, the economic growth of the country since 2007 has had a positive effect in the food security issue. Even if it is still a humanitarian crisis, the population facing hunger has dropped from 61% (2007) to 31% (2017), while prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 47.1% during the 2000-2002 period to 19.7% in 2017-2019 interval . In relation with the current year, the World Food Programme assisted 5.5 million people between January-September 2020 and 11.8 million people fase acute food insecurity. In addition, 38% of the children between six and 59 months suffer of chronic malnutrition. Still more, the same source claims that 3.9 million women and children are nutritionaly vulnerable. Finally, it is important to see how Ethiopia’s situation in this issue has been seen by international rankings. According to the Food Security Index, Ethiopia is in the ‘moderate performance’ group (91th of 113 countries in the list), whereas the Global Hunger Index rates the country in the ‘serious’ category. Nevertheless, it has to be said that Ethiopia has been experiencing a constant improvement, as in 2000 was ranked as ‘extremely alarming’ but then, in 2006 and 2012,  it was placed in the ‘alarming’ category. Lastly, in 2020, the country has entered the ‘serious’ category and not so far from the ‘moderate’ one, which would be an impressive improvement since 2000.

The problem is that conflicts and droughts are the main factors that explain this situation. Therefore, what has been hapenning between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF is a big threat to the population that already face a humanitarian crisis but also to those who are on the edge of it. Even worse, roads were blocked for a long time (during the conflict), while electricity, internet and phone are shut down. Thus, the humanitarian organizations have not been able to give aid and, in fact, between November 4 and December 3, only three humanitarian organisations obtained a partial access to the region. According to UNICEF, on December 15, 2.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray were out ot reach due to the military conflict, something that could worsen the already complicated situation in that regional state.

In this context, it is important to highlight that besides the eventual consequences of the confrontation between the Ethiopia federal government and the TPLF, Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea have been facing other menaces, like the COVID-19 pandemia, desert locusts’ invasion, economic crisis and huge and historical floods. All these events have already deepened the humanitarian crisis in the region (in Sudan, 9.3 million people need humanitarian assistance, while in Ethiopia the number is 15 million, with nearly 2 million of them living in the regional state of Tigray) and, therefore, it has to be understood that the military conflict has worsened the already worrying and dramatic context. In fact, even the current pandemia of Covid-19 seems to be less important, something that obviously worries local and international authorities. On the same hand, the fate of the Eritrean refugees living in the Tigray regional state is a source of concern, as the UNHCR has declared. For example, on November 26, the Islamic Relief said that the Tigray refugee families could run out of food, something that may be even worse as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) projected, for the February – June 2020 period, an increase of the acute food insecurity in the Tigray regional state (the projection for June 2020 establishes that 17.1% of Tigray regional state’s population would be in ‘crisis’ (16.6%) or ‘emergency’ (0.5%)). In addition, IPC also established that 8.6 million should face high levels of acute food insecurity during the October – December 2020 period.

Furthermore, the last report of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has demonstrated the dramatic situation in the region. Among other issues, there is shortage of vital (food, water, fuel and cash) and medical supplies, while food prices have doubled or tripled. Even more, people must walk even 25 kilometers in order to get water. The worst of all is that La Niña phenomena could generate rainfalls bellow the normal numbers. This could drive millions of people into hunger, as the Oxford Committee for Relief (Oxfam) declared on December 11.

Lastly, there have been incidents of violence against civilians, something that even if it is not a new issue, still has dramatic consequences. As an example, a massacre of at least 600 people has been confirmed in May Kadra, a village in the Tigray region.

* Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy is a journalist and bachelor in Social Communication. He also has a Master in International Studies.

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Key elements to understand the Ethiopia – TPLF tension

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Key elements to understand the Ethiopia – TPLF tension

Fecha 6/11/2020 por Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

On November 3, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked an army base of Ethiopia’s federal government. Immediately after, Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, announced that they would respond with a military offensive. The following hours were too tense as telecommunications were shut down and the air space in the northern region of the country was closed. Furthermore, the Federal Council of Ministers declared a six-month state of emergency.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy | November 4, 2020

(Financial Times)

In this context, it is very useful to give a brief summary of the main issues that are involved in this political and, now, military conflict in Ethiopia. Therefore, in this article will be exposed some of the key elements that make it easier to understand what is going on in this country located in the Horn of Africa.

Historical context

In 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) -a coallition that fostered ethnic federalism and formed by different ethnic-regional political parties- ousted Mengistu Haile Mariam and, hence, put an end to the marxist dictatorship that held power between 1987 and 1991. After that, in 1994, the EPRDF established a new Constitution based in ethnic and linguistic federalism. This allows to ethnic groups the possibility of self-administration but also the right to secession.

During the era of EPRDF’s dominance, the TPLF was the most important party, having governed between 1991 and 2012 (Meles Zenawi’s period). In 2018, Abiy Ahmed -a member of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP)- became the first Oromo chairman of the EPRDF and he quickly demonstrated that he did not want to continue with the ethnic federalism that was imposed during 1991 and 2018. So, in 2019, he formed the Prosperity Party (PP), which is a merge of various political parties, including three of the four former members of the EPRDF. Only the TPLF decided to stay away from this national party.

In this scenario, the TPLF feared losing power (and influence) but also was worried about the economic paradigma of the PP, which is more liberal and gives more space to the private sector.

Political system in Ethiopia

1994’s Constitution established a parliamentary federalism in Ethiopia, which, moreover, is an ethnical federalism. The  Prime Minister is the Head of Government and the President is the Head of State. While the first one comes from the political party that wins the legislative elections and is chosen by the Parliament, the second one is appointed indirectly by the Parliament. This latter one is composed by the House of Federation and the House of People’s Representatives, which have 112 and 547 members, respectively. It is important to highlight that the House of Federation has a very particular distribution, as each of the ten regional states has a proportional number of representatives according to the number of nationality groups that reside in the state and the population of each one of them. Literally, article 61 of Ethiopia’s Constitution says the following:

Each Nation, Nationality and People shall be represented in the House of the Federation by at least one member. Each Nation or Nationality shall be represented by one additional representative for each one million of its population”.

There are ten regional states plus two cities with a special status (Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa). Each of the ten states have a wide range of self-administration and they even have the right to establish their own Constitution. Nevertheless, this latter one has to be subordinated to the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Ethnics in Ethiopia

According to the 2007 census, there are 85 different ethnic groups and 87  mother tongues in the country. The Oromo (34.49%) and the Amhara (26.89%) are the biggest ones, followed by the Somali (6.21%) and the Tigray (6.07%). These four ethnicities sum up 82.66% of the Ethiopian population.  While the Amhara and the Tigray are mostly christians (orthodoxs, catholics and protestants), the Somali are muslims (sunna). The Oromo are mixed with two main majorities, which are the christians and muslims.

In terms of political power, the Tigray were dominant between 1991 and 2012, while the Amhara people were powerful under the monarchy era, which ended in 1974. The Oromo have been excluded from power in the modern history of Ethiopia. Concerning the Somalis, they are well known for their separatists movements.

Who is Abiy Ahmed?

He was born, in August 1976, in Beshasha, in the Oromia regional state. He was part of the forces that fought against Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship and also served in the Ethiopian military forces. He studied Computer Engineering and holds two Masters degrees, one in Leadership and another in Business Administration. In 2017, he obtained the degree of PhD in Philosophy, at Addis Abeba University, thanks to a final work about Peace and Conflict Research.

During a long period he was a political activist and in 2010 got a seat in the Ethiopian Parliament. After that, in 2015, he worked as Minister of Science and Technology.  Finally, in 2018, he was chosen as Prime Minister of the country, becoming the first Oromo to be appointed as Chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).  He has been a member of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and in 2019 he founded the Prosperity Party (PP).

He is the son of a muslim farmer and a christian orthodox woman, both of them from the Oromo ethnical group. Abiy Ahmed was free to chose his own beliefs and he is a well known protestant. His wife is an Amhara woman and they have four chilidren.

Once in power, on April 2 2020, he gained admiration as he and Isaias Afwerki ended the war that opposed Ethiopia and Eritrea and agreed to start a new era in their bilateral relation. Eritrea also restaured its ties with Somalia and, some months later, these two countries signed with Ethiopia an agreement of cooperation and peace in the region. Then, Djibouti and Eritrea normalized their ties after ten years of “freezing”.

Abiy Ahmed has an important participation in South Sudan’s peace process and in the transitional period in Sudan. He has been seen as a peacemaker and that is why he won, in October 2019, the Nobel Peace Prize.

Recent context

After coming to power, Abiy Ahmed has confronted the Tigray people as he is an oppositor to the ethnic and linguistic federalism of the country. Since then, his relation with the TPLF has not been good and that was remarked in December 2019, when Ahmed decided to end the ethnical-based EPRDF and founded the Prosperity Party. While all of the main former members of that coalition followed the steps of the Primer Minister, the TPLF chose not to be part of this new political party.

Then, in March 2020, Abiy Ahmed announced that the legislative elections, scheduled for August, were going to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemia. The Tigray did not accept his statement and said that Ahmed’s decision violated the Constitution. Therefore, the Tigray regional state organized and held their own regional elections on September 9. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister declared that the electoral process was illegal and did not recognize the results (the TPLF won 189 of the 190 seats).

In October, the Ethiopian Parliament decided to severe ties with the Tigray regional state. With this, Tigray’s regional budget was cut and the federal government of Ethiopia announced that they would continue the relations but only with local institutions.

In this context, during the last weeks the tension between Abiy Ahmed and the TPLF increased and on November 3, the TPLF said to the Tigray population that they should prepare for war. One day later, the military attack made by the TPLF was a reality and so was the response of the Ethiopian National Forces.

Implications of this political dispute

In Ethiopia, it could incite historical ethnical rivalries, such as the one between the Tigray and the Amhara, which, in fact, already have a territorial dispute. Also, it could spread the nationalist stances to another regional states. It should be said that this breakout between the Tigray regional state and the federal government could weaken the already unstable democratic institutionality of the country, something that, if it happens, could destabilize the Horn of Africa and, particularly, Eritrea. In relation to this latter one, Isaias Afwerki, current President (or dictador if we do not want to use euphemisms) has been a rival of the TPLF during the last years. He does not like the ethnical federalism and he has been constructing very good relations with Abiy Ahmed, so it is very obvious that he would stay beside the Ethiopian Prime Minister.

 If the conflict increases, it could also be very dangerous for the region, as during the last years -since Abiy Ahmed was appointed as Primer Minister- there have been efforts to resolve diplomatic and/or border disputes. Even more, the presence of international powers has been complicating the relations between Horn of Africa’s countries, as their own tensions -such as the one that Turkey and Qatar have with United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia- hinder or slow down the pace of the solution of conflicts in the region. So, in a conflict scenario, in which Ethiopia, Eritrea and even Sudan could be implicated, the external powers could also play their role in the dispute.

Concerning the ties between the Horn of Africa’s countries, it is necessary to remember that Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have established an emerging alliance. They even suggested the creation of a new integration bloc (Horn of Africa Cooperation) and have exchanged official visits. This has been seen with some distance by other states of the region, like Djibouti and Kenya. This latter one, having a maritime delimitation conflict with Somalia. Furthermore, Sudan has been facing a transition period and regional confrontation or even only a crush between Ethiopia, Eritrea and the TPLF could be a menace or at least a problem to the Sudanese authorities. The articulation of the ties (among countries) in the Horn of Africa have a triple dimension (intra-Horn of Africa, between external powers and a merge of the first two ones) and, thus, the region has a very fragile balance.  

Finally, it should not be forgotten that there is a potential risk that the Qimant ethnic group -a minority within the Amhara regional state that demands autonomy- could make an Alliance with the TPLF, generating a clash between the Amhara, Tigray and Qimant. This issue has been deeply studied and analyzed by International Crisis Group.

Raimundo Gregoire Delaunoy

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