Since the announcement of the release of political prisoners in Ethiopia and the creation of a commission for national dialogue, hopes for a peaceful and political solution to the conflict in Tigray have been steadily rising in the international community. And it seems that the first contacts between the TPLF and government forces began this week.
In fact, Debretsion Gebremichael, president of the TPLF, announced in a rare interview with the BBC that “indirect contacts” with the federal government have begun and that there are some signs of improvement. On the government’s side, Abiy Ahmed has decided to remove the state of emergency in the country. Two moves that give hope to the Ethiopian and international community on the possibility of a sincere, lasting and fruitful dialogue.
Unfortunately, however, the good news is already over. The situation on the ground in Tigray, according to the latest report released by the World Food Programme (WFP) last Friday has highlighted the need to act effectively, quickly and without further delay. If on the one hand, thanks to the information released by the Tigrayan Ministry of Health, we know that 5,000 people have died of malnutrition since the beginning of the conflict, to date the WFP forecasts say that the famine is also expanding in the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara. There are in fact 9 million people in need of humanitarian aid, although it is not clear how these numbers are divided between Amhara and Afar the estimate includes all six million Tigrayans. More specifically, in Tigray, 40% of these six million people are suffering from “extreme food shortages,” while ¾ of the population are resorting to extreme survival strategies and 83% are food deprived, meaning they have only one daily meal.
Milkessa Gemechu, academic and former member of the OPDO (Abiy Ahmed’s party before the foundation of the Prosperity Party) has expressed serious doubts about the goodwill of the negotiations in progress: in the National Dialogue called by Abiy in fact the two main opponents of the regime, the TPLF and the OLA, have been excluded but above all according to his sources, inside the Prosperity Party, in the last two months tens of thousands of young people have been conscripted and are undergoing military training.
From this point of view, Abiy’s moves would only be a way to regain legitimacy with the Ethiopian population (especially Oromo and Amharas) and the international diplomatic community, in order to gain time to win this conflict on the field. Another input in this sense comes from the TPLF, on January 25th in fact a press statement was released and spread through twitter. If on the one hand this week has been one of jubilation in Tigray for the renewed humanitarian aid (now granted by the federal government) the conflict seems to turn in another direction. The other contenders, in addition to the TPLF and Abiy, namely Eritrea and the neighboring states of Amhara and Afar do not seem to want to stop military operations: the TPLF says that Afar special forces and an organization called Red Sea Afar Force (which is apparently composed and supplied by the Eritrean government) have tried to prevent the arrival of humanitarian aid in Tigray and conducted some raids in Tigrayan territory, thus forcing the TPLF to fight and try to drive them out.