Apprehension in Ethiopia as PM deploys military into defiant Tigray region
London, Nov. 4, 2020 (AltAfrica)-Ethiopia’s prime minister on Wednesday ordered the military to confront the country’s Tigray regional government after he accused it of carrying out a deadly attack on a military base, declaring “the last red line has been crossed” after months of alleged incitement.
The statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office, and the reported overnight attack by the well-armed Tigray People’s Liberation Front, immediately raised concerns that one of Africa’s most populous and powerful countries could plunge back into war.
That would send a shock wave through one of the world’s most turbulent regions, the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia’s neighbors include Somalia and Sudan, and the prospect of spreading instability sent a chill down the spines of observers.
Signaling the gravity of the threat, the United States in the midst of its election drama at home quickly issued a statement urging “an immediate de-escalation of the current situation in Tigray and a measured response by both sides.”
Addressing the nation on TV, Abiy announced “several martyrs” in the attack in Mekele, the northern Tigray region’s capital, and Dansha town. The prime minister said “the end is near” for the regional force, which is based in Ethiopia’s most sensitive region, neighboring Eritrea. The two countries made peace in 2018 after a long border war.
The TPLF had been the dominant part of Ethiopia’s governing coalition before Abiy took office in 2018 and announced sweeping political reforms that won him the Nobel last year. Those reforms, however, have opened space for old ethnic and other grievances. The TPLF, feeling marginalized, left the coalition last year. It remains a strong military force, observers say.
Ethiopia on Wednesday declared a six-month state of emergency in the Tigray region, saying that “illegal and violent activities within the National Regional State of Tigray are endangering the constitution and constitutional order, public peace and security, specially threatening the country’s sovereignty.”
There was no immediate word from the TPLF, and all internet and phone lines were cut in the Tigray region following the announcement, provoking distress among people who could not reach loved ones. Tigray TV reported that airspace has been closed over the region, and it asserted that the northern command of Ethiopia’s military had defected to the Tigray government. The prime minister’s office told The Associated Press the defection report was “not true.”
Ethiopia was already stressed by a dispute with Egypt over a massive Ethiopian dam project that has drawn rare attention by President Donald Trump to Africa, and by a multi-layer crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, deadly ethnic violence and a locust outbreak.
Now the greatest test of Abiy’s rule has has come.
Tigray officials have objected to the postponement of Ethiopia’s national election, once set for August, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the extension of Abiy’s time in office.
On Sunday, a senior TPLF official, Getachew Reda, told the AP his side will not accept a negotiation with the federal government.