The East African nation was thrust into civil conflict in early November, when federal troops moved to take control of the Tigray region after local authorities disobeyed a federal order to postpone elections due to coronavirus-related concerns. Tigray’s government dropped out of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s coalition in late 2019.
The European Union has delayed the delivery of 90 million euros (about $110 million) in aid funds to Ethiopia over the ongoing crisis in Tigray, Reuters reports, citing an internal EU document.
The aid, provide in the form of a budget support payment to Ethiopia’s government, is part of an estimated 214 million euros handed to the African nation by the EU every year.
The payment’s delay appears directly connected to the Tigray situation, with the document reportedly indicating that “postponing…three budget support disbursements aims at creating political space to assess the current situation and request a response with regard to the EU’s concerns,” including humanitarian access, media access ,and the total cessation of hostilities.
Ethiopia – one of Africa’s most populous, strategically significant, and economically promising nations – was rocked by civil unrest in the northern Tigray region on 4 November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military operation there after falling out with the regional government – which is led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Federal troops said that they had regained full control over Tigray’s capital Mekelle on 28 November. However, foreign observers have reported flash points of violence in the weeks since, with a United Nations security team recently getting shot at and detained while trying to access a refugee camp.
Last week, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the situation “exceedingly worrying and volatile,” and warned that things were “spiralling out of control, with appalling impact” on the civilian population.
The UN estimates that thousands of people have been killed, and that over 950,000 have been displaced as a result of the conflict. Up to 50,000 civilians are said to have fled into neighbouring Sudan. Both sides have accused each other of escalating the violence, and of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Addis Ababa recently signed an agreement with the UN on the delivery of relief supplies for displaced persons.
The federal government’s conflict with the TPLF escalated in 2019, when the party quit Prime Minister Abiy’s governing coalition. In September 2020, Tigray defied federal COVID-19 restrictions and held regional parliamentary elections. The federal government did not recognise the results and called local authorities a “junta” and “fugitives from justice” who must be “made accountable by law” after launching the military operation on 4 November.
Ethiopia is one of the most ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse countries in Africa, boasting over 80 different ethnic groups and religious denominations including Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Islam, Protestantism. The Tigray conflict has prompted some observers to express fears that the crisis could lead to a breakdown of the complex tapestry of interests that make up the country and spark a broader civil war.