Why Ethiopian regime is at war with Tigray

Ethiopia is one of two countries in Africa that were not colonised by European powers. The other is Liberia. Ethiopia is also the birthplace and headquarters of the African Union (AU) and has the second largest population in Africa after Nigeria.

Ethiopia has a complex mix of cultural and linguistic populations, while being the centre of the source of one of the main tributaries to the great Nile River. With all this, why is Ethiopia at war with Tigray?

The answer is misguided politics. The administration of President Ahmed Abiy has opted to go against the fragile ethnic federalism that held the diverse country together since the expulsion of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Abiy has tried to centralise an already decentralised political system by reducing the powers of regional governments. In this particular case, reducing powers of the Tigrayan regional government, and increasing those of the Ethiopian central government.

Centralising power will not work in a nation as diverse as Ethiopia with a population of close to 100 million, 100 languages and with a history of abuse of centralised power by the national government.

While the conflict with Tigray has escalated, the central government has weaponised food aid to starve the rebellious Tigray region into submission. This has led to a humanitarian disaster. According to the state-run Tigray Emergency Coordination Centre (ECC), 4.5 million people need food aid in Tigray.

Rather than weaken the Tigrayan people, weaponisation of food aid only radicalises the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and makes a diplomatic path to peace more difficult.

The TPLF, like its sister rebel movement the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), is skilled in guerilla warfare. Which is why, contrary to Addis’ belief, there is no military solution to the crisis.

According to Amnesty International, the Eritrean troops in Tigray have allegedly used the rape of Tigrayan women and denial of food aid as a tool of revenge against previous Tigray majority governments in Addis. In pursuing this war against Tigray, Abiy has chosen to apply the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In this regard, the Amhara dominated government in Addis sees a useful ally in Eritrea to eliminate a common enemy in TPLF. This makes a diplomatic solution harder.

If the Abiy administration presses on with its military solution to the conflict with Tigray, it will only lead to a long, brutal guerilla war in which millions will die and a years-long stalemate.

Prof Monda teaches at the City University of New York. [email protected]