Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 331, 18 February 2021

Ethiopia: Instability persists with continuing violence, jailed opposition leaders
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 14 February, Nation reported that at least 28 people were killed and dozens injured in the conflict-hit Tigray region during the anti-government protests which started on 8 February; Ethiopian forces allegedly used live bullets against the protesters.
On 13 February, Aljazeera reported that the condition of jailed Oromo opposition leaders who have been on a hunger strike since 27 January deteriorated; four leaders were taken to the hospital after they collapsed.
On 11 February, the Director-General of Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs announced the closure of two Eritrean refugee camps citing the impact of the Tigray conflict on the two. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the two camps had been destroyed and the refugees displaced.
Issues at large
First, the uncertainties surrounding the Tigray conflict. Hundred days after the Ethiopian government launched an offensive into Tigray on 4 November 2020, the uncertainties regarding the political developments in the region persist. After Ethiopia declared an end to the conflict on 28 November, many leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have gone into hiding but have also vowed to continue resistance. Further, since Ethiopia had also imposed an emergency on Tigray prior to the conflict, information from the region has been difficult to verify.
Second, the multiple crises in Ethiopia. Even before the Tigray crisis began in November 2020, Ethiopia started to witness political and ethnic unrest. For example, the above-mentioned opposition leaders were jailed on grounds of inciting riots following the assassination of popular singer-activist Hachalu Hundessa in June 2020. Similarly, other instances ethnic conflicts - like the massacre of over 200 in the Benishangul-Gumuz region in western Ethiopia - have taken place over the last few months.
Third, the creeping authoritarianism. Ahmed came to power in 2018 on the promise of reformist and inclusive politics, after the Oromo ethnic group protested against the TPLF-led federal government for sidelining other ethnic groups. However, over time, Ahmed has reflected an authoritarian approach by jailing opposition leaders, journalists critical of the government, and imposing frequent internet shutdowns.
Fourth, the worsening humanitarian conditions. Since the conflict in Tigray escalated, humanitarian agencies including the UN, have been calling on the government to provide unhindered access to the region, especially to the two Eritrean camps, as relief supplies were scarce.
In perspective
First, the multiple political and ethnic crises do little to help Ahmed gain the support of Ethiopians. Ahmed’s reluctance to hold any dialogue with opposition figures leads to increased resentment among the population. In the current atmosphere, it is unlikely that Ahmed will succeed in establishing the inclusive governance he once promised. However, the previous regime too has shaped the current state of affairs as it did not leave much space for Ahmed to reverse the authoritarian past of Ethiopia.
Second, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the Tigray region, the scale of which remains unknown as the government is controlling information from the region and also dismissing independent reports or claims made by journalists or aid organisations.

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