Forgotten Conflicts: Ethiopia and Eritrea (Tigray/TPLF)

March 17th, 2022

Map showing conflict parties in the Ethiopia conflict

When peace turns into war

First peace, then war. In 2019, the acting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to settle the border conflict with Eritrea.[1] One year later, in September 2020, the region of Tigray held elections against the government’s will, which created a political powder keg. Consequently, a violent conflict over national power between the Ethiopian government – backed by Eritrean troops and Ethiopian militias from Amhara – and the election winner, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), erupted. Its driving force:  Prime Minister Ahmed, who wanted to avert a loss of power and thus forfeited his international reputation as a peacemaker.

Violent escalation and massive human rights violations

In early November 2020, the situation escalated after Tigrayan security forces allegedly attacked military positions in Tigray leading Ahmed to react by issuing the order for a military offensive in the region.[2] The result: A new intrastate war that attracted worldwide attention and lost it just as quickly – except for a few high-profile events.

Since then, the Ethiopian military has been bombarding civilian infrastructure and homes in addition to suspected TPLF positions. Since July 2021, there have been battles and attacks on civilians in Tigray, Afar and Amhara as well in addition to Tigray. Human rights violations, which are committed by all conflict actors involved, include arbitrary mass execution, torture, detentions, abductions and rape, as reports regularly published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch verify.[3] Since October 2021, the situation has deteriorated once again. First, a new offensive of the Ethiopian military resulted in complete isolation of Tigray.[4] Subsequently, in November, Prime Minister Ahmed declared a national state of emergency lasting until February 2022. In doing so, he succeeded in further expanding his power and allowing the military to act even more arbitrarily against suspected opponents, in particular ethnic Tigrayans, without fearing judicial consequences.[5]

Peace negotiations coming soon?

After 13 months of war, the TPLF announced to withdraw from Afar and Amhara in December 2021, while government officials promised to suspend military activities in Tigray with the aim of further territorial gains for the time being.[6] A sign of mutual willingness for peace negotiations? International observers are expressing hope, in particular after the national government announced the release of high-ranking TPLF members in early January.[7] Further signs of advances were seen in February this year, when Prime Minister Ahmed signaled his willingness to negotiate and ordered the formation of the National Dialogue Commission which is tasked to draft some proposals. The TPLF, on the other hand, has already set demands for its participation in negotiations, including the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, “an international mediator and [Tigray’s] unrestricted access to humanitarian aid”.[8]

Since orders, promises and demands are not sufficient indicators for the assessment of political risk, we at MBI CONIAS also consider the violence used by both conflict parties. In January 2022, for example, there were no signs of a decrease in combat activities, as our indicators for the provinces of Afar and Tigray were still at war. At the same time, the fighting in the province of Benishangul-Gumuz, which borders on Sudan and South Sudan, lasted since September 2021. An exception was Amhara, where military activities led the situation to deescalate into a violent crisis. Contrary, in February, our data for the first time supported the internationally expressed hope for a political rapprochement. We observed lower levels of combat activities across all affected provinces, and, most significantly: For the first time since the war began, no armed clashes between Ethiopian government forces and the TPLF were reported for the province of Tigray.

Currently, a territorial expansion of the conflict is considered unlikely. However, the potential for conflict in Ethiopia depends on how seriously both conflict parties pursue their efforts to negotiate and on how the extent of military violence will develop in the coming months. Also related to this is the question if Ethiopia can return to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in the foreseeable future after being excluded by the US in January 2022 and consequently putting millions of Ethiopians at risk of falling below the poverty line.[9]

The case of Ethiopia shows that every violent conflict develops its own dynamics, especially when it comes to a surprising escalation of war – after all, in Ethiopia a Nobel Peace Prize winner was at the head of one of the conflicting parties.  Because of this, we at MBI CONIAS are observing conflicts monthly and on a regional level. This methodology enables us to identify and assess development trends in order to inform our customers about the emergence of potential risks at an early stage. For more information, please feel free to reach out to our Sales team.

About the author:
Sarah Pauly
CONIAS Risk Intelligence
Michael Bauer International GmbH

[1] [13.12.2021]
[2] [13.12.2021]
[3]; [13.03.2022]
[4] [17.12.2021]
[5] [13.03.2022]
[6],decided%20to%20withdraw%20from%20these%20areas%20to%20Tigray; [21.01.2022]
[7],being%20pardoned%20and%20released%20%5BFile%3A%20M; [13.03.2022]
[8]; [13.03.2022]
[9]; [15.12.2021]