After a five-month truce, fighting in the Tigray region of Ethiopia resumed on August 24, but what do we know about it? It is still unclear which side withdrew first or who fired the first shot that reignited the conflict.
Until the week before August 24, hopes were high for a peace process; the committee set up by the FDRE had officially begun its work in July, and at meeting sessions held in the Seychelles and Djibouti, it seemed that an agreement had emerged. The FDRE would end the siege, Eritrea would withdraw its troops, and the actual dialogue to end the conflict would begin in Nairobi.
In the midst of the process, it appears that it was the Kenyan national elections – which ended with the victory of Kenyatta’s rival candidate – that generated the problem. The peace process in fact rested substantially on the former president’s personal involvement, while Abiy Ahmed immediately congratulated William Ruto, a move that may reveal the faint hopes the Ethiopian prime minister reserved for the peace process.
In Kobo, which lies between the Amhara and Tigray states, there appears to have been a heated clash, and early sources say that victory went to the TPLF, in a clash that had as many as 20 FDRE divisions engaged. In any case, it appears that the Ethiopian army and Fano militias had mobilized large forces in the area in the preceding weeks, while the TPLF army appears to have conscripted large numbers of Tigrayans and devoted its forces to massive rearmament, both through requisitions of enemy weaponry and shipments from abroad.
The likelihood of the conflict escalating, however, is extremely high since both sides have had enough time to recover from the first phase of the war. In western Tigray, fighting has already restarted, and here the Fano militia and Eritrean forces still occupy the territory while in the north, where other Eritrean troops are stationed, and in the east towards Afar, there are still no signs of renewed fighting.
Abiy has probably tried to exploit these months of lull to weaken the Tigrinya population more, in fact the siege the region is under has only been eased during this period but has never been lifted. Hunger meanwhile is decimating Tigrayans – the estimates are only provisional and there is a risk of seriously underestimating the extent of deaths in the country’s northern region – and according to local sources half a million people could die this year from events related to food shortages, while, as of today, 5.5 million (out of a population of 7 million) could be on the brink of famine. The WFP, in a report, said that “hunger has worsened, malnutrition rates have skyrocketed, and the situation is set to worsen until the start of this year’s harvest in October”.
However, the situation in the country, as the conflict renews, is likely to worsen. In addition to the north, OLA attacks in Oromia and even an Al-Shabaab attack are causing concern for the country’s stability. In addition, according to Alex de Waal, “in many rural areas government salaries are not paid and local government is absent. Behind the glossy facades of the capital Addis Ababa, this is what state failure looks like”.