Foreign governments have been warning their citizens to leave Ethiopia as a civil war is threatening to boil over in the northeastern African nation.
The conflict, involving the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against the central government, has just intensified as eight other rebel forces joined TPLF on Friday and are threatening to march on Addis Ababa and topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Tigray rebels have been fighting the Ethiopian army on their own for the last year in a conflict that has largely been blacked out to the media. The U.S. Agency for International Development characterized the situation as “perhaps the most egregious humanitarian obstruction in the world.”
Last week, rebels captured two towns north of the capital prompting Ethiopia to declare a state of emergency. Government troops rounded up ethnic Tigrayans whom they accused of sympathizing with the rebels. In addition, the Ethiopian prime minister apparently published posts on Facebook and Twitter, which the social media giants deleted, claiming they represented an incitement to violence.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Ethiopians rallied in Addis Ababa on Sunday in a protest organized by the government.
This conflict was sparked last year when Abiy decided to postpone elections scheduled for June and extend his term, which Tigray viewed an unconstitutional.
The U.S. has called for calm and for the Tigrayans to back down.
“Let me be clear: We oppose any TPLF move to Addis or any TPLF move to besiege Addis,” Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. special envoy for the Horn of Africa, said last week. “This is a message we’ve also underscored in our engagement with TPLF leaders.”
He urged TPLF and Abiy to sit down for talks. Abiy rejected the U.S. proposal, prompting Washington to call for Americans to leave Ethiopia in light of the deteriorating situation.
On Nov. 5, the United Nations Security Council also called for an end to the escalation and the need to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Tigray region.
The Ethiopian government has accused “external parties” of stirring up the conflict; a veiled reference to Egypt and Sudan who are embroiled in a dispute with Ethiopia over the crucial Renaissance Dam, located in the Tigray region.
This summer Ethiopia began a unilateral second fill of the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile bringing the region to the brink of war.
Should the region further sink into violence, Eritrea – which lies next to Tigray on Ehtiopia’s northern border – will likely support Abiy’s campaign since Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is an ally and opposes the TPLF.
In 2019, Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the 20-year dispute with Eritrea.