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Conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray a crisis of large proportions

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Conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. Image credit: Flickr/UNICEF Ethiopia/Nahum Tesfaye

06 September 2021 – The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is a crisis of large proportions. Its impacts have been severe, and it has tainted the image of Ethiopia and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, once the darling of the western world, writes Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica. 

Not too long-ago Abiy was hailed as the world’s great peacemaker. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. The award was handed to him for his efforts to end Ethiopia’s long border war with its northern neighbour Eritrea.

However, Abiy’s image of the great African reformer was dented only a year after receiving the coveted award from the Norwegian Nobel Committee when he sent troops to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the north. Since then, the conflict has deteriorated and has now become a crisis.

A bridge too far for western interest 

In the process, Ethiopia’s hopes of becoming the new darling of foreign investors, have suffered a blow. The business opportunities in Ethiopia are legion. But the image of a country at war with itself, is maybe a bridge too far for western interests.

Not that it has distracted Turkish, Chinese, and Russian investment. Ethiopia’s relationship with the troika has historically been a thorn in the side of the less socialist leaning north.

While the Chinese government remains neutral and says that the conflict is an internal issue, Chinese companies have not left Addis Ababa in a rush. In fact, indications are that even more projects are coming online. China has historically been tone-deaf to any internal political crisis in Africa. This strategy has served it well, and the country continues developing infrastructure across the continent, even in war torn areas and fragile states.

Meanwhile, Russia has taken a similar stance. Ethiopian Ambassador to Moscow Alemayehu Tegenu Aargau said in an interview with TASS recently that the “Ethiopian government is satisfied with the position taken by the government of the Russian Federation.” He said that Russia understands very well that the conflict in Tigray is a domestic problem that should be resolved by the Ethiopian government without any external interference.

Abiy visited President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara in August to oversee the signing of several agreements, the details of which has not been made public. During his visit Erdogan said he backs a peaceful resolution to Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict.  He also said that Turkey is willing to mediate between Ethiopia and Sudan to resolve a separate border dispute.

“If the situation in Tigray deteriorates, all countries in the region will be affected,” Erdogan told a joint media appearance with Abiy.

Ankara and Addis Ababa have friendly relations and the two leaders pledged to boost economic cooperation and trade.

Abiy said the two countries’ relationship was built on “mutual respect and trust.”

Humanitarian situation in Tigray worsens 

While for many in the south of Ethiopia (and seemingly for Russian, Chinese and Turkish interest) it is business as usual, the humanitarian situation in Tigray and the surrounding Afar and Amhara regions has, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), worsened dramatically due to the limited quantity and depletion of humanitarian supplies, operational fuel, and cash.

The UN OCHA says in a recent report that to date, and since 12 July, only 335 trucks have entered the region, less than 10% of the 3500 cargo trucks required for that period to meet the needs of at least 5.2 million people.

“Humanitarian partners estimate that 100 trucks with food, non-food items, and fuel must enter Tigray daily to sustain an adequate response. This includes at least 90 trucks or 3,600 metric tons of food commodities, equivalent to a common food basket for around 210,000 people.

“Non-governmental food partners have run out of stocks for common food basket within Tigray, while no humanitarian food supplies entered the region since 20 August.

“Consequently, only 131,000 people were assisted with food between 19 and 25 August, under the second distribution cycle, down from more than 547,000 people a week earlier out of the 5.2 million people in need of food assistance.

“Anticipated poor agricultural yields are further deteriorating food security. According to the Agriculture Cluster partners and the Bureau of Agriculture, out of the 1.3 million hectares of farmland, only 320,000 hectares have been cultivated, as most farmers only had a narrow window during the planting season.

“The expected harvest is estimated to be between 2.4 to 2.8 million quintals (1 quintal equals 100 kg). In comparison, typically, the harvest is about 21 million quintals or a maximum of 13% of the agricultural yields in normal periods.

Additionally, desert locusts were reported in 19 Woredas with a high risk for hatching in Samre, Saharti (South Eastern Zone), Abergele Yechila, and Tanqua Melashe (Central Zone).  The response is limited due to lack of fuel, cash to purchase pesticides, and lack of information on hatching in neighbouring regions.”

Ethiopia has lost some of its shine as an investment destination over the last year and a half, although established companies have continued operating despite the conflict in the far north. The country’s minerals and agricultural potential is massive. When the war is over, however, it will be extremely difficult for new companies to re-enter the country and compete with Chinese, Russian and Turkish contractors who are now established in Ethiopia. Getting peace negotiations underway is critical for Prime Minister Abiy, Ethiopia and the entire Horn of Africa.

Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.        

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica will launch its first ever digital magazine in November. If you are interested in contributing or advertising, please contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za. To coincide with the first launch, we have a range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.       


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