While Ethiopia’s national elections took place on June 21 2021, the conflict in the country’s Tigray region only worsened.
Just 34% of citizens in Africa’s second-most populous country were registered to vote, with polls located in six of the country’s 10 regions. Authorities were unable to hold elections in the other four regions, including conflict-ridden Tigray.
The United Nations’ has called the situation in Tigray a “humanitarian crisis,” with millions of people being displaced and access to aid for people in the area running thin.
The election itself has been delayed a number of times as it should have taken place in August 2020, and then again at the beginning of June 2021. However because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty officials faced in getting citizens to register to vote, the election was moved to June 21.
While Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party, is the frontrunner and could hold most of its 547 seats in parliament, the final results of the election are not expected for a few weeks.
The Ethiopian government has been juggling a number of issues this election season, including ethnic violence ensuing in some parts of the country, election boycotts and intimidation taking place in others, and civil unrest that is only escalating in Tigray.
Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray has seen ongoing violence since November 2020. The conflict is a result of disputes over leadership in the area, as the region’s current leading party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) went on to hold elections last year despite the national government's postponement.
As the controversial election took place against national government protocol, Prime Minister Abiy deemed the Tigray elections, and thus the TPLF’s win, illegitimate, which led to violence as regional militants clashed with the army.
The war is approaching the eight month mark with the most recent Tigray news coming from Ethiopia’s election week, where citizens fell victim to an air strike deployed on the region just two days after national polls closed.
The strike killed 43 civilians and only added to the thousands that have lost their lives in the civil unrest. Medics in the region have reported that they have had little access to those injured as soldiers have blocked ambulance entry to the area.
As violence in Tigray continues, these are some of the key things to know about the ongoing crisis in the area.
Millions of people have been internally displaced and tens of thousands have crossed the border
There is no official count of exactly how many people have been internally displaced in Tigray, however according to the local government, an estimated 2.2 million people have left their homes in the wake of the conflict.
United Nations agency Unicef has reported that of an estimated 60,000 Tigray citizens who have crossed the border to seek refuge in Sudan, more than 18,000 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.
The UN officially reported famine in the region
Fears of extreme hunger conditions in Tigray as a result of the civil dispute officially became a reality at the beginning of 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.
The United Nations’ is investigating cases of sexual violence and other abuse by soldiers
In April 2021 women in Tigray began to come forward with reports of sexual violence and abuse brought upon them 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 other forms of torture.
UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, confirmed that abuse was ongoing and perpetrated by all parties responsible for conflict in Tigray. She went on to announce that an investigation into human rights abuse had begun, the results of which are expected in August.
Military have been accused of blocking aid access
Aid agencies have accused Ethiopian military 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.
The wealthiest seven countries in the world, the G7, called for a ceasefire in the region to allow aid workers access to vulnerable citizens. This came after hundreds of people protested against Ethiopia's civil dispute at the most recent G7 summit in the United Kingdom.