By Airi Price
The Tigray War has persisted since November of 2020, and has spread vastly through Ethiopia’s northern landscape. Violence originated from the Tigray region, which spans almost half of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. In 1975, rebels in the area became swiftly emboldened by the neighboring Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and other forms of insurgency occurring in East and North Africa.
As a result, northwestern men banded to establish the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Its leadership sought to decentralize the Ethiopian government and rule in adherence to Marx-Lenin philosophy.
"The UN now estimates that 90% of Tigrayans are food insecure and substantially reliant on external assistance"
Ethiopia’s last emperor had been assassinated soon thereafter, providing ample opportunity for TPLF to impose their rule upon the country. Its leadership was rather tactical in garnering public and military support - often citing the protection of local culture and political autonomy in their anti-government propaganda. So much so that the EPLF aided them in seizing control of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in May of 1991.
The start of the 21st Century was subsequently dominated by TPLF rule, with achievements in development and concurrent public oppression fueling divided opinions within the international community.
Conditions endured for roughly 30 years until 2018, when peaking ethnic tensions sowed public doubt of TPLF leadership. Abiy Ahmed, a member of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, consequently rose to power as prime minister. Given his mixed ethnicity, Ahmed became a representative figure of peace among the Ethiopian people - even implementing an overdue peace treaty with Eritrea.
Their resentment peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic when the government halted national elections for the sake of social distancing. In dismissing such guidelines, TPLF leadership held their own regional elections in Tigray. Though the move was upsetting to Ahmed, the final straw was reported to be a TPLF-led attack on federal army bases. According to The Guardian, the death of several officers and mass seizure of weapons prompted immediate retaliation by the Ethiopian government.
With the backing of Eritrean troops, Ahmed waged an indiscriminate attack on the whole of the Tigray region. Repeated shelling on civilians and public structures resulted in the displacement of over two million people, per the Human Rights Watch. Through the ensuing violence, the international community increasingly accused the Ethiopian government of blocking aid into Tigray through various efforts - from restricting the movement of essential fuel and supplies, to falsely accusing humanitarian workers as being TPLF supporters.
In addition, the capacity for aid provision was markedly strained following murder of three staff members, as reported by Doctors Without Borders in July of 2021.
The BBC notes that approximately 100 trucks transporting food, fuel, and other essential supplies are required daily to satisfy the humanitarian need in Tigray. Yet, the first three months of 2022 passed without a single land delivery. A small number of deliveries were completed by air; however, USAID explains that planes carry a fraction of supplies at 25-times the cost of land routes.
Considering the region’s predisposition to drought, such obstruction of aid delivery exacerbates the onslaught of famine. The UN now estimates that 90% of Tigrayans are food insecure and substantially reliant on external assistance. Of this population, 500,000 are children suffering from mild to severe malnutrition. As conditions grow more dire, the international community intensifies the pressure on Ahmed and his regime to take accountability.
Once hailed as a peacekeeping force, Ahmed has since employed common tactics of oppressive leaders - including the censorship of media, denial of public internet access, and detainment of protesters and critics. Aljazeera notes that said actions, coupled with instances of anti-Tigrayan rhetoric, have led Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch to accuse Ahmed’s allies of ethnic cleansing in Tigray.
In response to global scrutiny, the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral truce in the Tigray War on March 24th 2022, with intent to allow unrestricted aid into the region. Since April 1st, convoys of essential supplies have been delivered to Tigray and neighboring regions caught in the crossfire, such as Amhara and Afar. The US Department of State welcomed the move and has assumed the lead in facilitating further aid delivery throughout northern Ethiopia. TPLF forces reciprocated sentiments by April 25th, announcing their full retreat from the afflicted Afar region.
As a result, land routes through Afar have supported the transport of 15,500 metric tons of food thus far. UN OCHA reports that as of May of 2022, 571 trucks have arrived in Tigray, with recent convoys being the largest since June of 2021. Though conditions remain volatile, the Department of State, along with the UN and humanitarian groups, are hopeful of a continued ceasefire.
Through this, they aim to stabilize widespread food insecurity prior to the main crop season starting in June. Yet, aid workers find themselves racing against time, as 68,000 metric tons of seeds, crops, and tools are still required to satisfy the region’s agricultural and nutritional needs.