Keeping Up with the Ethiopians

In part 2 of her “Keeping Up” series, Siri Ural analyzes the rocky history, recent developments, and future prospects of Ethiopia following their recent peace deal.

Ask the average citizen what the deadliest conflict of 2022 was, and they’ll probably say the brewing war between Russia and Ukraine. For the past year, media coverage has led many of us to make that assumption – but it also happens to be wrong. Instead, with over six hundred thousand deaths in the span of 2 years, Ethiopia silently swiped that title.

Although peacekeeping efforts have quickly made progress in the region, there is much left to be desired in these missions. So in today’s topic analysis, all aspects of the issue will be covered – including history, current diplomacy, and prospective paths into the future. 


For more than two decades (1991-2019), the political balance in Ethiopia was dominated by a coalition of four major ethnic parties. Tigrayans, compromising 7% of the country’s population at the time, were at the head of this group. As concerns regarding oppression of political dissenters began to rise up, critics began to push for a more democratic future – and their prayers were answered by current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who called for a dissolution of the coalition in 2019. 

On September 9th of the following year, the region of Tigray called for its own election. Federal officials were quick to denounce this move by stating that it had “no legal basis” and was “null and void,” with Ahmed going as far as to call it a “shanty election.” 

Tigray’s justified this electoral change by claiming:

  1. The federal government had not been tested in a country-wide election since the appointment of Ahmed, making his rule undemocratic 
  2. Ahmed had an “unprincipled” friendship with the Eritrean President, who Tigrayans were at odds with due to a war in 1998.
  3. The central government’s inability to acknowledge the region as legitimate was offensive

All in all, these two opposing sides were not happy with each other. Fast forwarding to November of 2020, Ahmed made that fact incredibly clear when putting his 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on the back burner and launching a full scale invasive attack on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Although denying the presence of Eritrean forces, Ethiopia’s government was aided by these merciless soldiers who were soon linked to a plethora of human rights abuses. Ahmed then called for the recruitment of all eligible civilians to further supplement his army, just two months after instating a cease-fire. On the other side of the conflict, the TPLF – also a designated terrorist organization – was committing its own share of abuses.

It took another two years for peace to actually be brokered – a development that was not only monumental for those directly in the conflict, but also the areas surrounding Africa’s second most populous country as well. 


Life in the Tigray region has undergone immense developments since the November peace deal. Communications and transportation infrastructure have been restored, alongside the increased flow of humanitarian aid. As quantified by the State Department, more than $331 million has been sent over now that channels are opened. This funding has become increasingly necessary as more than 23 million in the region have lacked food security due to recent droughts, not to mention the numbers that carried over from famines during the war.

However, while everyday life in Ethiopia seems to be on the mend, calls for justice following the “mass killings, sexual violence and military targeting of civilians” have slowed down the progress. At the time, nations worldwide took action to deter all forces in the conflict from committing war crimes.

The United States sanctioned individuals who were prolonging the war, even going as far as suspending Ethiopia from the AGOA – a trade preference program that allows countries in sub-saharan Africa to export goods to the United States free of tariffs. These actions were paralleled by nations in the European Union, who withheld $107 million in budgetary assistance. 

While some of these restrictions have significantly lightened since the peace treaties, allegations from the UN’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) states that forces used “starvation as a method of warfare”, a move that forced 900,000 Ethiopians into a famine. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have rejected these allegations with anger, resulting in US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent visit to the nation. 


Denial may be a river in Egypt, but it can not be allowed to flow into the excuse-making Ethiopian government. If Ahmed and other parties in the conflict continue to undermine the atrocities committed in the conflict, tensions in diplomacy will persist. 

The foreign ties between the US/EU and Ethiopia over the past two years have relied on three standards:

  1.  Fighting must be brought to an end
  2. Aid to the region must be enabled
  3. The country must take accountability for the human rights abuses 

Considering the first two were successful, that leaves the final standard to be considered. Ethiopia persisted in charges against the ICHREE, only stopping when the investigation mandate wasn’t renewed, and they continue to block investigating parties from seeing regions of the country firsthand. While Ethiopia has taken recent measures to meet the accountability factors instated by Western nations (see papers on transitional justice), more results need to be recorded.

What the countries behind the sanctions need to see is an increase in transparency and a direct commitment to holding themselves responsible for the abuses. If that mission is executed, then the Horn of Africa may finally be reintegrated into trade agreements and the international community – something that would not only revitalize the country, but also neighboring ones as well. 

While the Russia/Ukraine conflict may be on the forefront of our minds in upcoming months, make sure to keep an eye out for updates on Ethiopia’s new era of peace!

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