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Written by Piero Messina.
The future of Ethiopia hangs in a precarious balance. It seems to never end the endless tug-of-war between the armed forces of the central government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, against the Tigray fighting formations, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The Tigrinya movement, while representing a minority in the country, until 2018, the year of the advent of Abiy, was a fundamental element for the political balance of the country. Since the fall of the Mengistu regime, Tigrinya have been the politically dominant ethnic group in the country, despite being only 6% of the total population of Ethiopia.
A dramatic civil war in Ethiopia has been going on for more than a year now and is a continuous succession of twists and turns. In the background, a devastating food famine, with the already scarce agricultural production stopped by the conflict. Millions of Ethiopians fleeing war zones face death from hunger and thirst.
All began in November 2020, when Addis Ababa troops, with the support of Eritrean forces and Ahmara militias, attacked the Tigray region, where unauthorized elections had been held that had seen the Tplf win (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), the political and military group representing the Tigrinya community of Ethiopia. Until the outbreak of the civil war, Ethiopia was considered one of the most stable countries in the area: in 2019 Abiy had received the Nobel Peace Prize for the pacification work carried out with neighboring Eritrea, with which Ethiopia was formally at war since the late nineties. Abiy had received international praise, including for the long-awaited democratic reforms initiated in the country.
The conflict is a continuous swing of success between the two contending forces. Neither side seems able to take over, neither side is willing to give up. After an initial success by the government forces, the Tigrinya partisans went on the counter-offensive, recaptured the city of Macallé and extended the conflict to other provinces of the former Italian colony, so much so that they managed to take control of two other nerve centers, Dessie and Kombolchoa. With the fighting a few hundred kilometers from the capital Addis Ababa, the risk of a further catastrophe is extremely real. since the late nineties. Abiy had received international praise, including for the long-awaited democratic reforms initiated in the country.
At the end of November 2021, the TPLF militiamen had even threatened the capital Addis Ababa. Now, however, the regular troops – it was announced – have regained control of the cities of Dessié and Kombolcha, in the Amhara region, bordering the Tigray to the southwest, conquered by the rebels in October. The Ethiopian units, personally commanded by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, would also enter other strategic locations due to their proximity to Addis Ababa. The premier himself was forced to take the field personally to prevent the conflict from taking a path of no return for the Ethiopian army.
The partial reconquest of two strategic centers such as Dessié and Kombolcha has guaranteed a safety margin to the capital Addis Ababa. But the game is still to be played. For the Tigrinya formation, the government army would have won nothing. Sources of the TPLF, in fact, speak of a “strategic retreat”. Since last November, other minor ethnic and political groups have been co-operating around the Tigrinya formation, including the Omoro Liberation Front.
For the Ethiopian population exhausted by famine and terrified by a war being fought house by house, the current situation seems to be a replay of what happened exactly thirty years ago. In 1991 the regime of Menghistu Haile Mariam was definitively defeated by a guerrilla front of which, even then, the TPLF Tigrinya front constituted the backbone.
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