After the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which concluded on 10 November, on 4 November 2020 it became known that an armed conflict had ensued in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. Following Ethiopian elections in 2018, the TPLF, the Tigray People´s Liberation Front, a militarily and politically significant autonomous movement, has repeatedly defied orders from the new government and commenced regional election processes in Tigray in September 2020, once again in defiance of the federal government. Barely two months later, these political tensions have resulted in an armed conflict that seems far from being resolved.
The conflict that has ensued in the region follows a pattern that is not new: a region that is already leaning towards autonomy, ethnic and political tensions resulting in unrest and armed uprisings, military retaliation from the government. But foremost, it is a conflict that is not supposed to exist, at least not in the eyes of the Ethiopian government, who are trying their best to distract, deny and silence any diffusion of news on the events in the north of the country. International press has nevertheless made an effort to report on the conflict, especially so since human rights groups have identified at least one large-scale massacre to have taken place according to the United Nations. The Ethiopian attempts of covering up the events in Tigray merely confirm that this conflict is marked by military brutality and severe violations of human rights.
Aside from the internal turmoil of the country, what do these events however mean for the wider region and the neighbouring nations? Ethiopia situates itself in a zone in the east of the African continent, which, until now, would not have been regarded as unstable as other parts such as Mali; however, the conflict in Tigray brings instability to a region that has South Sudan – since its split from Sudan still a zone of ongoing conflict and violence – and Somalia, a country shaken by famine, Islamist terrorism and pirate attacks on its coasts.
And then, there is also the problem of refugees: naturally, as in any unstable region, many choose to flee from the violence that is being unleashed during the clashes between independent forces and the military controlled by the government. It is estimated that about one million out of the six million inhabitants of the Tigray region have already become refugees. Aside from the disastrous effects these movements of migration will have in the time of a pandemic, the neighbouring countries, notably Eritrea, whence already refugees regularly try to reach Europe, have to take in those who flee from Tigray. From a humanitarian point of view, the situation is thus already catastrophic; lack of medical care, food, communication, and almost everything else will make this conflict far more costly in terms of civilian losses and regional destabilization than any political victories could justify.