Two million internally displaced refugees and thousands dead: this is just the provisional toll of a civil war that’s been raging in Ethiopia since November 2020, when government troops from Addis Ababa entered Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, to occupy the region dominated by the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) separatist movement.
At the end of June 2021, after eight months of combat that saw the involvement of troops from neighbouring Eritrea fighting alongside the Ethiopian federal army, the TPLF militias succeeded in retaking a significant proportion of Tigray as well as the city of Mekelle itself, where the Ethiopian army was forced to retreat and thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner.
It’s only been a partial victory, however: Mekelle remains under siege, there’s no electricity or communications infrastructure, the main access routes are closed and humanitarian convoys are unable to bring the necessary aid to the thousands of Tigreans at risk of starvation.
There are also several reports of female civilians – among them children – having been raped, sometimes for several days in a row, by Ethiopian or Eritrean army soldiers. In many cases, the rape was carried out by HIV-positive soldiers in order to deliberately infect the victims.
Meanwhile, the international reputation of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending the long war with neighbouring Eritrea, is at stake, as is his political future following the numerous atrocities committed by Eritrean and Ethiopian troops against the civilian population during the conflict.
And the war, which in the coming months seems destined to escalate, spreading to other Ethiopian regions and involving neighbouring countries such as Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan, risks destabilizing the entire Horn of Africa.