A Civil War Looms in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is on the brink of a potentially devastating civil war. On November 4th, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched military operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the TPLF, which is the group that controls the Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia.  Now, the country is on the brink of widespread conflict which could engulf the region.

The TPLF was the dominant political party in the coalition that ruled Ethiopia for decades. It was through this coalition, known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front,  that the TPLF leader Meles Zenewi ruled Ethiopia for 27 years, until his death in 2012.

Tensions have been simmering for some time between the Federal government, which Abiy controls, and the TPLF. After Abiy came to power in 2018, he dissolved the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front ruling coalition, and eventually the TPLF lost the influence they once held. Meanwhile, Abiy enacted a series of meaningful democratic reforms at home and also entered into a peace agreement with Ethiopia’s longtime foe, Eritrea. It was for this that Abiy was conferred a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

Now, one year later, Abiy has launched a military campaign against a powerful military force that could very well spark a widespread civil war.

On the line with me to discuss recent events in Ethiopia and offer some analysis of why the country is on the brink of civil war is Mastewal Terefe. She is an Ethiopian policy analyst and lawyer, based in New York, who formerly served as a fellow at the Ethiopian Attorney General’s office, supporting the legal and justice reform efforts.

We kick off discussing the events of November 4 before having a broader conversation about the causes of escalating tensions between Abiy and the TPLF. As you will see in this conversation, there is a great risk right now that this conflict between the federal government and TPLF spreads to other armed groups that are organized along ethnic lines.

To put this into context: Ethiopia has about five times the population of Syria. A sectarian civil war would be a calamitous humanitarian crisis for the people of Ethiopia and an immense threat to international peace and security.

This episode serves as both a good explanation of what is happening and also a warning that unless the sides de-escalate, the crisis could spiral out of control.

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