Ethiopia: War in Tigray - Background and state of play

Briefing 09-12-2022

Little has changed since the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) agreed on 2 November 2022 to cease hostilities and return to constitutional order. The 2-year civil war has killed thousands of people and seriously aggravated the country's already disastrous humanitarian situation. The conflict erupted in November 2020, after the Ethiopian army attacked Tigrayan troops, who had taken control of military headquarters in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, in northern Ethiopia. The troubles are however deep-rooted in a power struggle between Ethiopian communities, within an ethnic-based federal system. The TPLF was the main force in the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for three decades. Anti-government protests and the appointment of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in 2018 put an end to this domination and the TPLF refused to be part of the new ruling party created by Abiy while it was side-lined in the new administration. Abiy's cabinet ended a territorial dispute with Eritrea – which has long-standing border feuds with neighbouring Tigray. Abiy also undertook political reforms, considered by the TPLF as an attempt against Ethiopia's ethnic federalism. Tensions escalated to a civil war after the Tigrayan authorities organised a regional election in September 2020, despite the central government's decision to postpone all elections owing to the pandemic. Army forces and armed groups from Eritrea and Ethiopian provinces neighbouring Tigray joined the conflict. Fighters on all sides deliberately hindered humanitarian access and committed atrocities against civilians, including children. The EU has suspended most of its budget support to Ethiopia, a country long considered a cornerstone for EU relations with the Horn of Africa. The European Parliament has been following events closely, and has previously sent delegations to the region. During the conflict, several European Parliament resolutions condemned the human rights abuses and non-respect of international humanitarian law by all parties.