For the past six months, a humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. What began as a dispute between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—the region’s ruling party—and the Ethiopian government has turned into a devastating campaign of ethnic cleansing that has left thousands of Tigrayans dead, as many as a million displaced from their homes, and 3 million on the brink of starvation.
The TPLF and the central Ethiopian government had been in a constitutional standoff for months before the conflict began. In 2019, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed disbanded the four-party government of which the TPLF had been a part, and replaced it with a non-ethnic Prosperity Party, which the TPLF refused to join. When Abiy delayed national and regional elections because of the pandemic, the TPLF went ahead with theirs. The result is that both sides see the other’s leadership as illegitimate.
The conflict came to a head on November 4, when Tigray forces loyal to the TPLF preemptively attacked a military base in the region’s capital, Mekelle. Abiy ordered a military operation to regain control of the region, arrest TPLF leaders, and shut down electricity, telephone, and internet connections. With very little information coming out of Tigray and only a handful of journalists allowed in, it has been hard to ascertain exactly which side is responsible for which acts of violence.
A report by Belgian researchers found that at least 1,900 Ethiopians have died in the conflict. Only 3 percent lost their lives in battle; the vast majority died in one of about 150 massacres, often of unarmed civilians. Amnesty International reported early about the Mai Kadra massacre, in which a militia loyal to the TPLF is said to have slain members of the Amhara ethnic group, which is dominant in the Ethiopian government. But later reporting by the Financial Times and other news outlets suggests that it was Tigray civilians who were the victims of violence. The full truth may not be known until the media blackout is lifted.