The short, medium and long story

Thousands of people have died since November in the Tigray War

A conflict between the Ethiopian government and forces in its northern Tigray region has plunged the country into turmoil.

Fighting has continued since November 2020, destabilizing the populated Horn of Africa country, killing thousands with 350,000 others live in famine conditions.

Eritrean soldiers are also fighting in Tigray for the Ethiopian government. All parties have been accused of atrocities.

A power struggle, an election and a push for political reform are among several factors that have led to the crisis.

In simple 100, 300 and 500 word chunks, we explain how and why the war started.

The story in 100 words

The story in 100 words

The conflict began on November 4, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray.

He said he did so in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops there.

The escalation came after months of feuds between Mr. Abiy’s government and the leaders of the dominant political party of Tigray.

For nearly three decades, the party was at the center of power, before being ousted by Mr. Abiy, who took office in 2018 after anti-government protests.

Mr. Abiy continued with the reforms, but when Tigray resisted, the political crisis escalated into war.

The story in 300 words

The story in 300 words

The roots of this crisis go back to the Ethiopian system of government.

Since 1994 Ethiopia has had a federal system in which different ethnic groups control the affairs of 10 regions.

Do you remember this powerful party of Tigray? Well, this party – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF) – was influential in setting up this system.

He was the leader of a quadripartite coalition that ruled Ethiopia from 1991, when a military regime was ousted from power.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends his final campaign event ahead of Ethiopia's legislative and regional elections in Jimma, Ethiopia on June 16, 2021

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has made sweeping political reforms

Under the coalition, Ethiopia became more prosperous and more stable, but concerns were regularly raised about human rights and the level of democracy.

Eventually, discontent turned into protest, leading to a government reshuffle that saw Mr. Abiy appointed prime minister.

Mr. Abiy liberalized politics, created a new party (the Prosperity Party) and ousted the main leaders of the Tigrayan government accused of corruption and repression.

Meanwhile, Mr Abiy put an end to a long-standing territorial dispute with neighboring Eritrea, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

These measures earned Mr. Abiy the praise of the population, but caused unease among critics of Tigray.

The Tigray rulers viewed Mr. Abiy’s reforms as an attempt to centralize power and destroy Ethiopia’s federal system.

The feud came to a head in September, when Tigray challenged the central government to hold its own regional elections. The central government, which had postponed national elections because of the coronavirus, said it was illegal.



The rift widened when the central government suspended funding for Tigray and cut ties with him in October. At the time, the administration of Tigray declared that this amounted to a “declaration of war”.

Tensions increased and the eventual catalyst was when Tigrayan forces were accused of attacking military bases to steal weapons.

Mr Abiy said Tigray crossed a “red line”.

“The federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation,” he said.

The story in 500 words

The story in 500 words

Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest independent country, has undergone profound changes since Mr. Abiy’s coming to power.

A member of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, Abiy called for political reform, unity and reconciliation during his first speech as prime minister.

His program was spurred by demands from protesters who believed Ethiopia’s political elite had hindered a transition to democracy.

Anti-government protesters in Oromia, Ethiopia - 2016

Several years of protests led to the resignation of Mr. Abiy’s predecessor

For more than two decades, the political scene has been dominated by a coalition of four ethnic parties – with the Tigrayans, who make up around 7% of the population, reigning.

In the 1970s and 1980s, their party, the TPLF, waged a war to gain control of the government from a military junta. The party was successful, which is how it became the main member of the coalition government that took power in 1991.

The coalition gave autonomy to the Ethiopian regions, but retained a tight grip on the central government, with critics accusing it of suppressing political opposition.

Mr. Aby therefore dissolved the coalition in 2019, but the TPLF refused to join his new Prosperity Party.

This snub was followed by further escalations.

Tigray’s decision to hold its own elections last September, for example, was an unprecedented act of defiance against the central government.

The two parties then designated themselves as “illegitimate”.

Tigray argued at the time that the central government had not been tested in a national election since Mr Abiy was appointed prime minister. Since then, polls have just been taken in certain regions of the country.

The TPLF also called on the prime minister for his “unprincipled” friendship with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who has since sent troops to support Abiy in Tigray.

There has long been animosity between Tigray and the Eritrean government.

A dispute over territory along their shared border was the cause of a war between Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1998 to 2000.

You may remember that dispute that made headlines in 2018.

That year, Mr. Abiy signed a peace treaty with Eritrea, ending the land dispute.

A year later, Mr. Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, war and famine are drawing attention to Ethiopia.

Learn more about the Tigray crisis:

More than two million of Tigray’s six million people have fled their homes since November 4, when Mr. Abiy ordered an invasion after TPLF fighters captured federal military bases.

Tens of thousands of them have found refuge in neighboring Sudan.

The TPLF has been designated a terrorist organization. Resistance fighters formed the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), incorporating both TPLF and non-TPLF members.

With communications largely cut off in Tigray, the exact number of casualties is unclear and aid workers have not been able to access the areas.

According to researchers from the Belgian University of Ghent, there have been at least 10,000 deaths and 230 massacres reported.

As the second most populous country in Africa, Ethiopia is essential for stability in the Horn of Africa.

There are also fears that the conflict will further exacerbate ethnic tensions and lead to the break-up of the country.

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