The Tigray War: Ethiopia's Civil War
Writer: Harry Zhao
Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat
Graphic Designer: Hannah Bugeja
Tigrayans are an ethnic group living in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia and Eritrea where around 90% of their 7 million population are Christian. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) had formerly ruled and dominated Ethiopia under a repressive one-party system for 27 years before being removed from power due to anti-government protests. They refused to join Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed's new Prosperity Party, declaring that Abiy was an illegitimate ruler because of the postponed general elections due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the Tigray government proceeded with its regional elections in spite of the Ethiopian federal government, which was claimed to be illegal. Soon, the political tension gave way to civil war.
As military presence built up on Tigrayan borders, conflict erupted between the Tigray and the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces with the attacks on the 4th of November of 2020 on Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) bases and headquarters by the TPLF, as well as the counterattacks soon after. The Tigray Defense Force (TDF) was formed, incorporating the TPLF and other forces. This led to the capture of the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, which was recaptured by the TDF on the 28th of June 2021 after continuous resistance from the Tigray government against "invaders". During the long period of conflict between the two sides, several peace proposals were put forth whilst numerous war atrocities were committed by both sides, developing into an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Since the start of the conflict in 2021, thousands of people have been killed, and many more have been displaced. People are still living through desperate conditions of famine, poverty, and facing the horrors of mass killings and rape, with over 10 thousand dead and 22 thousand survivors of rape requiring assistance. 45 thousand civilians had been forcefully displaced from the western Tigray region due to the control of Amhara authorities and the widespread extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and disappearances. The UN reports that a total of over a million people are displaced, with 50 thousand refugees fleeing to Sudan. The organisation also warns of the perilous situation faced by 100 thousand Eritrean refugees in Tigrayan refugee camps, as well as 2.3 million children who are blocked from receiving vital humanitarian aid and resources as communication and travel are impeded by the ongoing conflict.
Reports show that 2 million people in Tigray are living through a famine, although this will probably be denied by the Ethiopian federal government. Large areas of agricultural land are left uncultivated due to lack of access to resources or occupation by Amhar forces, and many farmers have been threatened by soldiers to not harvest. Food aid sent by humanitarian organisations have been ineffective at reaching people in need due to factors such as the blockades from armed forces, the remote location of certain villages, murder of humanitarian workers, and soldiers stealing aid away from villages after humanitarian workers have left. It is estimated that only 13% out of the 5.2 million people in need are actually receiving appropriate aid. With the depletion of resources such as food, cash and fuel, the UN predicts that the humanitarian crisis will continue to worsen.
How to Help
Until now, the media coverage of the Tigray War's humanitarian crisis is fairly limited, with the Ethiopian federal government trying to dominate the narrative about the war by positing itself as the only reliable source of information. Thus, it is important to spread awareness about the hardships faced by those caught in the conflict, and to donate to organisations that work in life-threatening situations to provide aid to those in need, such as the UNHCR (https://donate.unhcr.org/int/en/ethiopia-emergency), IRC (https://help.rescue.org/donate/ethiopia), IsraAid (https://www.israaid.org/donate/) and others. We cannot let their suffering go unnoticed.