Tigray: A Tussle For Power

“Abiy controls the international narrative but not necessarily the country,” Getachew

The diplomatic escalation and fighting in Ethiopia have been widening the conflict by shattering the region and its people. Tigray was facing an autocratic regime for a long time now. The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) which is a central government force came into conflict in an alleged Tigrayan attacks on an Ethiopian base in Mekelle and the Fifth Battalion barracks in Dansha. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is one of powerful party in the Tigray region which tends to follow an authoritative rule. The party rejects the Federal government and considers the central power as a foreign rule.

The TPLF attacked the National Defence Force Base located in Tigray and attempted to rob military artilleries and equipment. Over the past months, there were provocations and incitement for violence by TPLF junta in the region. According to the Tigray Government, these had been nothing but false claims framed against the people of Tigray. There were a series of events that took place in November 2020. The Federal Government declared the creation of an interim government for the Tigray on the 7th of November as a measure against the ongoing clash. There was an airstrike in the north by the Ethiopian offensives accompanied to retake fallen towns and cities. Starting from November 14th, the Tigrayan forces launched rockets at the Eritrean capital of Asmara intending to involve foreign countries in the conflict. On the 18th of November, Abiy Ahmad claimed to capture the cities of Shire and Axum in the long battle of Mekelle. The Ethiopian forces further claimed to have taken south of the city as well. While on 26th, when the ultimatum ended, Abiy ordered federal military forces to launch an attack on Mekelle. On 28th, the Ethiopian government announced that it had taken control of the city, bringing “the last phase of its law enforcement operation” to an end. The TPLF refused to give up and declared to resume the fight. Meanwhile, Debretsion entrenched TPLF’s withdrawal from Mekelle. Many people were killed in the conflict and whereas around thousands fled to Sudan. South Sudan harboring Debretsion Gebremichael, led to the Ethiopian ambassador to South Sudan abruptly returning to Ethiopia. The South Sudanese diplomats in Ethiopia were given 72 hours to leave the country. And, on 2nd December, the United Nations were given humanitarian access to the federal held territory in the Tigray Region.

 The Massarce

Sam Dubberley, who is with Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Team, told DW: “We spent a good amount of time going through these videos, going through these photographs, making sure that they were they were taken recently, making sure that they weren’t from previous events from the region to really verify and to make sure we know what had happened in Tirgray.”

One of the horrifying incidents in the conflict includes the Mai Kadra Massacre. There were a series of ethnic cleansing and mass murders that took place in early November 2020 in Mai Kadra. The Massacre was reported to be led by Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Thousands of innocent people became the victim of the fault line war and most of the casualties were innocent migrant laborers and civilians. As a result, all the access to the region was blocked including phone lines, and the internet connection was shut down. The region has been boiling in difference of political opinion so far.

 According to Amnesty International, the number of death remains unclear. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) described the massacre as a “widespread and systematic attack directed against civilians” that took almost hundreds of lives. As the access to the region has been closed by the federal government the loss is difficult to measure. 

The Battle of Mekelle was successfully concluded by the Ethiopian National Defense Force, leading to the capture of the regional capital of Tigray region, and the defeat of the TPLF’s leadership in the region. Mekelle was considered to be the birthplace of armed struggles where Abiy Ahmad was seen as a hope to draw a line under the previous exploit.

 When the Prime Minister spoke that he had occupied Mekelle; the TPLF immediately launched the third missile attack towards Asmara and other Eritrean cities. Although the conventional war seems to be over there is a possibility that the defeated TPLF forces could wage a guerrilla war from the places where they pull out during the conflict. “There were no signs of gunshot wounds,” as stated by the Amnesty, citing witnesses as saying bodies were found on central streets and at “rental dormitories frequented by seasonal workers.” Inside Tigray, more than 2 million residents are dependent on humanitarian aid, estimates the UN. Some 11,000 Ethiopians have already sought refuge in neighboring Sudan. Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of TPLF, denied the involvement of TPLF in the Mai-Kadra killings.  

The Chronicles Of The Past

The TPLF was formed in 1975 with a cause to the people of Africa and the Middle East who were demanding liberation. The revolution was inspired by Marxist-Leninism for national identity demanding for the revival world for the country. There had been a long pique in Tigray regarding the faculty of the centralized Ethiopian state. Debretsion Gebremichael, who was then a wireless operator and propagandist for the insurgents, is now the leader of TPLF. Activities of the military Junta often disturb the country’s democratic balance and international image mostly amongst African union.

Later, the rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led to a coalition formed with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) from 1989 to 2018. With the help of its former ally, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), EPRDF overthrew the dictatorship of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE) and established a new government in 1991. The Federal-state relations deteriorated considerably after the region held local elections in September 2020. After the elections, the government proclaimed the election as illegitimate and illegal. The federal government declared the regional elections that took place was extra-constitutional and neither free nor fair but the regional government argued that the federal government did not uphold the constitution which stated that elections should occur every 5 years and the by rendering its authority null and void.

 “Taking law-enforcement measures based on ethnicity and identity is something that we… would condemn, this is not acceptable”Mamo Mihretu, Adviser to Ethiopia’s prime minister.

Abiy Ahmad who was elected as the federal democratic minister of Ethiopia in 2018 was fully committed to reuniting the ethnic fraction, undergoing several conflicts and violence to bring a democratic upsurge. The refugee crisis and attacks by TPLF on Etheria were destabilizing the country in a great manner.  In March, Abiy’s government postponed elections due to the pandemic but the TPLF held it anyway which escalated into further conflicts. The major fear was the involvement of neighboring countries and outside power which already made it a bloody war. The reason for attacking Eritrea was that the TPLF considers them pro-federal. Abiy Ahmad who is a noble peace prize winner was heavily accused of starting the war by many people in the region.


“We won’t rest till this junta is brought to justice”- Abiy Ahmad wrote on twitter.

The year 2020 has been destructive for the people worldwide. There has been a massive humanitarian crisis amid the pandemic with economic breakdown. With the increasing influx of refugees and shadow pandemic; the crime against humanity is gross. Tigray conflict is a result of an unresolved clash between the center-state where civilians became the victims. Inflicting neighboring countries has been the worst-case scenario. The faulty aggressions amongst the people misled to a mishap that might take years to recover. Lately, the world is seen losing faith in democracy and peace. Some say that the conflict could have been avoided by the federal government besides it’s difficult to put forward a statement without evidence. The failing federalism and gross human rights violation in the region have eventually disturbed the political, economic, and social environment in Ethiopia. The further involvement of the international community in domestic politics will make the scenario worst. The region has also seen famine in the past and it is approaching again. Ethiopia already falls under the category of least developed countries and low human rights index. The proposition to resolve must be defensive from both sides. A democratic strategy must be adopted to dissolve the military rule in Tigray for the growth and development of the country.

Parismita Goswami
Parismita Goswami
The author is a post-graduate scholar who completed her M.A in politics and International Relations from Pondicherry University, 2020. She has published articles on various topics related to the field of study and analysis in different platforms