|Volume 50 Number 43, December 5, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
It is now estimated that around 1 million people in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, have been displaced by the current military conflict and the UN has announced that the government of Ethiopia has only this week agreed to "unimpeded" access for humanitarian purposes. The Ethiopian government at first demanded that it must control any humanitarian corridor. There have already been widescale reports of a lack of food and medical supplies and the war has been launched at exactly the time when farmers harvest their crops. The Ethiopian government last week announced that its troops had occupied Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray, but the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the governing party in Tigray, said that the war was still being waged throughout the regional state and that its troops had made significant advances.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, had repeatedly made attempts to intervene in the growing crisis in Ethiopia, citing grave concerns about the fate of tens of thousands of refugees. At the end of November, he launched an official appeal for $147 million to aid up to 100,000 refugees fleeing fighting in Tigray. Over 43,000 of these refugees have already crossed the border into Sudan but it is reported that Ethiopian government troops are now patrolling the border to prevent a further exodus. The World Food Programme also issued an appeal for $209 million to support over 6 million beneficiaries in Ethiopia. At the same time, the UNHCR has belatedly raised concerns about more than 100,000 Eritrean refugees who have been living in four refugee camps in Tigray for many years and who are running short of food. Most are political refugees fleeing persecution in Eritrea. There have also been unconfirmed reports that the Ethiopian government has allowed the Eritrean army to forcibly repatriate some of these refugees back to Eritrea.
The fate of Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees and other civilians is just one of the consequences of a war that is being waged in Ethiopia by the government of Ethiopia and its allies against its own citizens. These allies, it is reported, include the army of Eritrea. The Ethiopian government cannot be said to have mandate to govern much less to wage war, since it consists of a political party and Prime Minister who have never been elected. Nevertheless, by violent means there is an evident attempt to centralise political power, and even to change the constitution which the government claims it is upholding. Fighting against these attempts are the TPLF-led government of the regional state of Tigray, which won popular support in a recently-held election and which led the struggles in the last decades of the twentieth century which created the conditions for the adoption of the Ethiopian constitution. This constitution, finally adopted in 1995 following country-wide consultations, ensh rines the rights of the people of Ethiopia to elect and be elected and the rights of nations to self-determination, including secession. The negation of these rights, in many other countries in the region as well as in earlier periods of Ethiopia's history, has invariably resulted in political oppression and is at the heart of the current conflict.
The political crisis in Ethiopia is now a war with, it is feared, many casualties, as well as tens of thousands of refugees. The true scale of the humanitarian disaster is unknown because the Ethiopian government has cut phone and power links to Tigray and has, so far, refused the UNHCR and other agencies any access even for humanitarian purposes. In addition, there are reports that Tigrayans throughout Ethiopia, as well as those who support them, are being victimised and imprisoned. The involvement of the Eritrean government is apparently a consequence of its political antagonism to the TPLF. It shares with the Ethiopian government the view that even now the TPLF remains the most resolute opponent of its political aims in the region. Militarily linked to the Eritrean government is the UAE, which has a drone base in Eritrea, which it uses to pursue its war in Yemen. It is reported that drones from this base have also been used to attack Tigray.
The war has from its outset therefore assumed an international dimension. The Ethiopian government has also enjoyed the support of the current US administration for its military attack on Tigray. As a consequence, it has ignored pleas from the African Union, as well as from other countries that have called for an end to military action and stressed that political differences should be resolved by peaceful means. The humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia which is a consequence of the war has created the condition for all the major powers to more actively intervene in the conflict, whether through the auspices of the UN, which appears to be the means currently preferred by the British government, as well as by other means. The EU has already declared that the conflict is not an internal affair and is of "international significance", and has threatened the removal of financial support to Ethiopia. It has now been announced that the World Refugee and Migration Council (WRMC), chaired by the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as well as other former US government officials, have written to all members of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General to call an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council. In its letter the WRMC states that the crisis in Ethiopia "poses a humanitarian challenge and risks becoming a serious threat to international peace and security with the prospect that Ethiopia's neighbours may be drawn into the conflict".
Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in general remain an area of great contention between the major powers such as China and the US, as well as between the regional powers. The current conflict therefore holds great dangers not only for the people of Tigray but all Ethiopians, as well as those throughout the region.
Progressive forces in Britain who have for many decades organised in support of the advances made by the Ethiopian people, standing shoulder to shoulder with them, share the growing concerns over the conflict and its outcome. In these circumstances, they also share the conviction that the peoples of Ethiopia will empower themselves and take their destiny in their own hands.