Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 25, and has been updated on Nov. 4.
Nov. 4 2021 marks one year since civil war began in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, an ongoing conflict that has impacted millions of lives and has been defined as a “full scale humanitarian crisis” by the United Nations.
The war has been ongoing between the Northern regional government — Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — and the national government of Ethiopia over who should rightfully lead the region. Most recently, Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency from Nov. 2 as a result of the escalating unrest. Just days before the declaration, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed encouraged citizens to arm themselves in preparation for a potential defence against the TPLF.
The war began after the region’s current leading party the TPLF held elections last year to define regional leadership, this despite Prime Minister Abiy, and the national government, prohibiting all election activity in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the controversial election took place against national government protocol, Prime Minister Abiy deemed the Tigray elections, and thus the TPLF’s win, illegitimate. This went on to raise the question of who really is the leader in Tigray and sparked incidents of violence within the region.
This violence escalated, leading to an alleged attack by the Tigray regional militants on the Ethiopian national army base. In response, Prime Minister Abiy sent national troops to the area, resulting in a civil dispute between the TPLF and the national government.
The unrest quickly spread to neighbouring regions, Afar and Amhara, and is continuing to spread at a rapid rate across the country, affecting the lives of innocent people, with citizens being forced to flee the region, alongside the looming threat of the world's worst famine in a decade, horrific violence against the region's women and children, and reports of widespread violations of human rights.
As the civil war in Tigray continues, these are some of the core things to know about the ongoing crisis.
4 Key Things to Know About the Ongoing Violence in Tigray:
- It is a dispute over who should take leadership of the region, the Ethiopian government, or the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
- Roughly 2.2 million people have been displaced as a result of the civil war.
- Famine has been officially declared in the region.
- The violence has spread beyond the borders of Tigray into neighbouring regions.
Who Is the Most Affected?
The civil unrest has impacted all citizens living in the Tigray region, and the violence has escalated to also affect those in the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
Millions of people have been internally displaced in Tigray and tens of thousands have crossed the border into neighbouring countries. There is no official count of how many people have been internally displaced, however according to the local government, as of May 2021, an estimated 2.2 million people had left their homes in the wake of the conflict.
Unicef has also reported that around 60,000 Tigray citizens have crossed the border to seek refuge in Sudan, and more than 18,000 of the refugees are children. At the beginning of the civil war in November last year, the UN Refugee Agency reported that around 4,000 people were crossing the border daily.
What Impact Is it Having on People’s Lives?
The civil violence is not only an incredible threat to the safety and well-being of citizens, it has also brought their lives to a standstill, and access to basic amenities, medical and humanitarian aid, and freedom of movement is a persistent concern.
Access to Aid Has Been Blocked
The military has reportedly created barriers to necessary aid with aid agencies accusing the perpetrators of deliberately blocking access to aid and resources for those caught in the crossfire in Tigray.
According to the BBC, there have been reports from aid workers stating that the necessary supplies for those in need, if not blocked by the military, are stolen and do not reach their intended destination. Meanwhile millions of displaced civilians are in urgent need of food, medical assistance, and other resources.
Attacks on Health Facilities Has Reversed Decades of Progress
A recent analysis published by the Conversation reveals that Tigray’s health care system has been significantly attacked, destroying decades worth of gains in health care in the region and setting the region's health systems back to the early 1990s. Doctors Without Borders has reported that health care facilities in the region were initially looted and then either destroyed or turned into military camp sites.
The UN confirmed that an estimated 70% of hospitals and health care centres have been partially or completely damaged in the war, leaving over 2.5 million people without access to crucial health services.
The Region Is Experiencing Cases of Extreme Hunger
Food has also been severely scarce, resulting in extreme hunger conditions and leading the UN to officially declare famine in the region in June 2021. "There is famine now in Tigray," UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock reported after an analysis of food insecurity in the region was released. “The number of people in famine conditions ... is higher than anywhere in the world at any moment since a quarter million Somalis lost their lives in 2011.” He went on to warn that the situation is expected to worsen.
Human Rights Violations and Abuse Against Women
The UN has just confirmed that human rights abuses have been committed by all parties in the war. A joint report conducted by the UN and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, published on Wednesday Nov. 3, reveals that all sides in the war had perpertrated torture, sexual violence, ethnic discrimination, and had killed civilians.
"All parties to the Tigray conflict have committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law. Some of these may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity," said Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The investigation began after Bachelet confirmed that abuse was ongoing and perpetrated by all parties responsible for conflict in Tigray. The report comes a month after seven UN officials were deported from Ethiopia after being accused of “meddling” in internal affairs, one of whom is an investigator from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
According to Bachelet, over the majority of the war period, the abuses were committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, however as time has gone on, they had found evidence to support that Tigrayan forces had increasingly become perpetrators of abuse.
Women and girls have also been significantly impacted with cases of sexual violence and other abuse by soldiers being reported in the region. In April 2021 women in Tigray began to come forward with reports of sexual violence and abuse by Ethiopian military and Eritrean troops who were dispelled to the region to manage the conflict. Medics on the ground have confirmed that they have been seeing cases of women and girls who have experienced sexual abuse and forms of torture.
Education Has Been Disrupted
Children in Tigray have been out of school since March 2020 as a result of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing civil violence in the country. According to Ethiopia’s minister of education, 7,000 schools have been damaged in the midst of the war, and the United Nations reports that 1.4 million children have been impacted by school closures in the northern war-affected regions.
How Does the Unrest Contribute to Extreme Poverty?
The serious conflict conditions in Tigray have presented a barrier in accessing health care, food and water, quality education, and safety for all citizens. War significantly hinders any progress towards achieving almost all of the United Nations’ Global Goals — including Goal 2 for zero hunger, Goal 3 for health and well-being, Goal 4 for education, Goal 5 for gender equality, and Goal 17 for peace, justice, and strong institutions.
If these barriers remain in place, it will continue to be practically impossible for the country to tackle some of its most pressing issues that contribute to extreme poverty; including gender inequality, lack of health care, and severe hunger, to name a few.
What Action Can We All Take to Help?
We can all take action to support efforts to curb the Ethiopian conflict by keeping the conversation alive and sharing the stories of citizens in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar who are still experiencing the humanitarian crisis. You can also follow OkayAfrica’s Crossroads series, supported by Global Citizen, which is highlighting the impacts of the conflict and amplifying the movement calling for peace and the protection of all people’s rights.
You can also take action with us here to help make sure that children in conflict and crisis areas have the opportunity to continue learning.
This article is a part of OkayAfrica's Crossroads, a special series supported by Global Citizen examining Global Africa at critical moments. For the first part of the Crossroads series, Global Citizen is joining OkayAfrica in four weeks of coverage examining Ethiopia through a deep dive into music, politics, and culture.