On November 9th 2021, as usual, protests could be seen and heard in front of the White House. This protest in particular condemned the US’s support of the Tigray People’s Liberation (TPFL). Meanwhile, the details of this conflict remain vague to many DC residents and US citizens as a whole, much less the details of the US’s involvement. Considering that the US is a major world power and often has a hand in international affairs, it is important for Americans to understand current international conflicts as well as the role that the US plays in them.
Tigray is a region in northern Ethiopia. Tigrayans form their own ethnic group, constituting about 6% of the Ethiopian population. The region is currently governed by the TPFL, a party originally founded in the 1970s with the aim of making Tigray its own country. Later, the TPLF joined the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of several ethnic political parties that had a major influence on Ethiopian politics. Thus, Tigray has had a large influence on Ethiopian national affairs.
In November 2020, the Tigray regional government launched a militaristic attack on Sero, an Ethiopian military base in response to actions by Ethiopia's prime minister, beginning a fierce, bloody conflict within Ethiopia that has only intensified this year.
In 2018, Abiy Ahmed rose to power in the EPRDF as Ethiopia’s prime minister. He moved the country away from the ethnic divisions and corruption that prevailed in Ethiopia under the EPRDF by dissolving the EPRDF and forming a new group called the Prosperity Party. Ahmed also made peace with the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki after decades of Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict, winning him the Nobel Peace Prize. It was evident from the beginning that TPLF and Ahmed were not allies, as TPLF declined to join the Prosperity Party and Ahmed’s government accused TPLF of causing ethnic violence.
After decades of electoral manipulation and marginalization of minor political parties by the EPRDF, Ethiopia intended to have its first truly democratic elections in the summer of 2020. However, Ahmed delayed the elections due to COVID-19. In defiance, the TPLF held its own regional elections, which they won, however Ahmed declared these elections to be invalid, causing the TPLF to launch its attack on the Ethiopian military base Sero.
In retaliation, Ahmed ordered a federal attack on the region, calling the attack by the TPLF a “treason that will never be forgotten.” Troops from the neighboring Amhara region have been sent in to fight the Tigray soldiers, and although both sides deny it, there is evidence suggesting that Eritrean troops are also aiding the Ethiopian government in Tigray. By January 2021, 56,000 people had fled the fighting to neighboring Sudan. Thousands of people have died, and the UN suggests that there have been numerous war crimes, acts of sexual violence, and human rights abuses in the attacks on Tigray.
Joe Biden and his administration have been harsh towards Ahmed and the Ethiopian government, accusing them of large human rights violations and threatening to remove Ethiopia from a US trade pact. On one hand, Biden does not seek to disrupt decades of a close US-Ethiopia relationship, on the other hand, Biden wants to support human rights around the world. Due to his actions, anti-US sentiment has been growing in Ethiopia. On November 5, 2021, there was a large rally in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The rally was organized by the government to consolidate support for Ahmed and fight against the TPLF. At the rally, citizens demanded that the US stop interfering in their affairs.
Many Ethiopians are well aware of their government's corruption. Almaz Haile, an Ethiopian woman, details how “they steal everything and move it to the Tigray region. I think 30 billion dollars they stole and put in every bank outside Ethiopia.” Indeed, TPLF leaders stole 30 billion dollars donated to Ethiopia as humanitarian aid.
Given that the US is a major haven for asylum seekers, we may soon see an influx in Ethiopian refugees given the scale of the conflict. Although there isn’t much discussion around this conflict set thousands of miles away, the US continues to be a major presence in African affairs. Protests continue downtown, including one last week on December 10th, 2021.