By Alan Heil
Who would have thought two years ago that this East African country of 128 million residents would be the scene of a deadly civil war in 2021?
Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. His country had ended a decades-long war with its neighbor to the north and east, Somalia.
The move at the time appeared to stabilize the so-called Horn of Africa, the eastern part of that continent on the Indian Ocean.
Ethiopia’s longstanding internal struggle re-emerges as a regional threat.
In late 2020, a civil war suddenly re-ignited in Ethiopia’s western Tigray Province, next to Sudan. It erupted shortly after the announcement of the peace prize to President Ahmed. The promise of Ethiopian peace and stability was shattered as the president dispatched central government troops to counter the 27-year-old Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the leading armed internal opposition.
This all coincided with the worldwide threat of the COVID-19 virus. (In Africa, only two percent of the population had been inoculated against the virus). Reported arrival of vaccines in Somalia began last March.
There have been extrajudicial killings in the northern Tigray region by both sides of the civil war since November 4 of last year. The Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa unilaterally declared a ceasefire on June 30 this year, but the violence continues.
On scene reports of a terrible conflict
New York Times correspondents Simon Marks and Declan Walsh reported from neighboring Sudan August 3 to Ethiopia’s west that “at least 40 bodies have washed on a riverbank” there facing Ethiopia. “Some were mutated or bound in ones and twos,” according to the Times. “A surgeon who fled from Ethiopia to Sudan in July,” Tewardos Tefera, said that the corpses came from an Ethiopian town upstream, and tattoos on them made it clear that they were from Ethiopia.
Then, on Aug 7, Reuters reported that Sudan recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia, stating that it was “frustrated by” officials whom it said were refusing Sudan’s offer to media the ongoing civil war in Tigray. “Ethiopia will improve its position by considering how Sudan might help, instead of completely rejecting all its efforts,” the Sudanese foreign ministry said.
What had been an internal crisis in Tigray now appears to threaten much of East Africa. Since late last year, more than 53,000 refugees are reported by Reuters to have fled from the war-torn province to Sudan.
That certainly is a concern, as well, to Somalia and Kenya, Ethiopia’s East African coastal neighbors on the Indian Ocean to the east. Time for additional U.N.-led mediation to resolve the threat?
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More