Photo: Streets demonstrations in Santiago for quality education. Credit: José Gabriel Feres | Pressenza. - Photo: 2021

An Overview of the Situation in Tigray as 2021 Begins


BRUSSELS (IDN) – More than two million children in Tigray do not have access to food, water and safety and may have been displaced. While there is a severe humanitarian situation regarding 100.000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray; full humanitarian access has not been given.

Besides, there is a serious concern that war crimes are being committed against civilians in Tigray.

Military situation threatens to evolve into a protracted guerrilla war.

There is not only destabilisation of peace in the Horn of Africa region, but also in Ethiopia with increased ethnic fighting ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2021.

Also, facts on the ground in Tigray remain unclear due to a two-month communication lock-down.

These are the highlights of the EEPA report on the situation in the Horn of Africa. EEPA, Europe External Programme with Africa, is a Belgium-based Centre of Expertise with in-depth knowledge, publications, and networks, specialised in issues of peacebuilding, refugee protection and resilience in the Horn of Africa. EEPA has published extensively on issues related to movement and/or human trafficking of refugees in the Horn of Africa and on the Central Mediterranean Route.

It cooperates with a wide network of Universities, research organisations, civil society and experts from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda and across Africa. Key in-depth publications can be accessed on the website.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claims that the regional government of Tigray state is undermining the central authority of Addis Ababa, by carrying out elections in September 2020, which were not recognised by Addis Ababa. National elections had been postponed due to the COVID-situation.

Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) won a new mandate, it claims, through the elections it held. It asserts that PM Abiy was in cahoots with the Eritrean President Isayas Afwerki to undermine Tigray.

PM Abiy ordered a reorganisation of the Northern command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF). This constitutes an important part of the ENDF, stationed in the Tigray region due to the earlier conflict with Eritrea. This conflict ended with an agreement between Abiy and Afwerki in July 2018. Abiy ordered the split of the Northern command.

After PM Abiy sent a general to carry out the division of the Northern command, the TPLF sent him back to Addis Ababa. In a next move, PM Abiy sent troops in a cargo plane on November 3 to the Tigray capital Mekelle. The TPLF ordered the arrest of the troops. Details on what happened with them are missing and contradictory.

Shooting from the main camp of the Northern Command in Qwiha/Mekelle was reported to have started about 10 pm. Different sources claim that some members of the ENDF had sided with the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) while other parts of the ENDF resisted, which led to bloodshed. Similar events are reported from other military posts in Tigray around the same time. Sources from inside the TPLF, claimed that it was a pre-emptive strike due to preparations for an immediate attack by the federal government. PM Abiy called it a law-and-order operation with the aim to restore his authority over the region.

PM Abiy installed a temporary provisional government in Tigray to replace the elected TPLF regional government. He declared a six-month state of emergency in Tigray.

Operations to get control over the Tigray capital Mekelle started November 28. The TPLF withdrew from the capital and the ENDF took control of the capital.

Eritrean participates in the war, by providing support to Ethiopian troops within Eritrea and by sending troops into Tigray. The latter is denied by both PM Abiy and Eritrean President Afewerki. However, the evidence from Tigray and Ethiopia is overwhelming. The US State Department declared Eritrea was engaged in the war after studying evidence.

The Tigray region has been in complete shut down since the start of the military hostilities, with no phone, internet and bank access. In Mekelle, phone contact was restored in December. More than two million people do not have access to food, water and safety and are displaced.

The Current Military Situation

ENDF have stated that they control the situation in the Tigray regional state.

This is contradicted by the TPLF and TDF who say that they are involved in large parts of Tigray and have claimed victory in several battles in which they would have been able to capture soldiers, weapons, ammunition and vehicles.

TPLF had 250.000 troops at the start of the war and claimed it had gained control over parts of the Northern command of the ENDF. This has weakened ENDF and increased its dependency on Eritrea. Amharic militia, including the youth militia Fano, are fighting alongside ENDF forces.

Eritrean troops have been fighting alongside ENDF forces; although it is difficult to give exact numbers, there is reason to believe that an extensive number of divisions and mechanised divisions of Eritrea are involved.

The UAE has been alleged of engaging in the war initially by giving air-support with drones flown in from the Eritrea port of Assab, where the UAE has a military base.

Regional Stability in the Horn

Sudan: A border conflict broke out between Sudan and Ethiopia concerning fertile land originally from Sudan but in use by Ethiopian farmers. Both sides mobilised troops and clashed after Sudanese troops claimed to have been ambushed and soldiers were killed. The army Chief of Staff al-Barun of Sudan personally oversaw the operation.

South Sudan: Ethiopia is the major contributor of UNMISS and UNISFA-Abyei. Ethiopia is the head of the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMM) and contributes forces to CTSAMM. The crisis in Ethiopia is affecting its ability to engage with South Sudan.

Somalia: Ethnic Tigray troops were removed from AMISOM and replaced by Eritrean troops. AMISOM’s mandate includes overseeing the threats posed by Al Shabaab and other terrorist groups. In the past Al Shabaab was supported and trained by Eritrea as reported by the UN Monitoring Group.

The refugee situation

Shire, Tigray: four large camps hosting 100.000 refugees from Eritrea under international protection were among the places targeted in the military operations. It is estimated that thousands of refugees were abducted by Eritrean troops and forcefully returned to Eritrea. Refugees were forced to engage in the fighting against the local population. Refugees were killed and many fled from the camps. Two camps, Adi Harush and May Aini received the first food aid from World Food Programme on December 27. The other camps, Shemelba and Hitsats have not received any food for three months. Five humanitarian workers in the camps have been killed.

Eastern Sudan: Over 60.000 refugees from Tigray have arrived in Eastern Sudan. They report massacres and cruel killings and many dead. Many lost their relatives. Ethiopian troops and militia from Amhara regional state have been reported to block refugees from reaching Sudan.

Addis Ababa: Eritrean refugees who fled from Shire, Tigray to Addis Ababa have been arrested and forcefully transported back to the refugee camps in Tigray, despite the lack of safety, food and water in those camps and the threat of forced refoulement to Eritrea.

Ethnic profiling, civilian targeting, looting

Reports of massacres from all across Tigray, especially in Humera and Adigrat, with cruelties and mass executions reported.

Widespread profiling of ethnic Tigrayans has been reported in Tigray. In Ethiopia ethnic profiling has affected ethnic Tigrayans, who have been suspended from work, travel and have been subject to harsh security measures.

Heavy looting of properties, allegedly by Amhara militia and Eritrean troops, involving universities and laboratories, industries and commercial places, churches and religious sites and citizens. It is reported that truckloads were transported to Eritrea (military base Asholgol).

The situation in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia further conflict broke out in the Benishangul-Gumuz region and some officials of the region have been arrested.

Leaders of the Oromo Liberation Front have been arrested.

Journalists have been harassed, surveilled and arrested, raising concern of the freedom of the press.

National elections have been called by the Ethiopian National Election Board for June 5.

The International Response

The African Union (AU) has appointed three special envoys: Mr Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique; Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, former President of South Africa. The envoys have met with PM Abiy.

The US has repeatedly expressed concern over the developing situation. The US has sent the USS Makin Island ship to the Red Sea to relocate the US “forces in Somalia to other East Africa operating locations while maintaining pressure on violent extremists and supporting partner forces”.

The European Union (EU) has suspended budget support to Ethiopia due to the violation of Human Rights. The EU has called for a ceasefire and full humanitarian access to the Tigray region.

The United Nations has asked for full humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray and investigations into the allegations related to what may constitute war crimes.

The eight-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has met on December 20, 2020 in Djibouti to discuss the regional situation.

Sudan and Egypt have increased cooperation on military exercises. On Sunday, January 3, negotiations are planned on the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which may further increase the regional tension. [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 January 2021]

Photo: Millions of children in Ethiopia’s Tigray out of reach. Credit: Anadolu Agency.

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

Useful Links

Disclaimer: All information in this situation report is presented as a fluid update report, as to the best knowledge and understanding of the authors at the moment of publication. EEPA does not claim that the information is correct but verifies to the best of ability within the circumstances. Publication is weighed on the basis of interest to understand potential impacts of events (or perceptions of these) on the situation. Check all information against updates and other media. EEPA does not take responsibility for the use of the information or impact thereof. All information reported originates from third parties and the content of all reported and linked information remains the sole responsibility of these third parties. Report to any additional information and corrections.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top