September 13, 2021

What Tigray Portends: the Future of Peace and Security in Africa

By Sam Wilkins

Two years ago, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stood on the stage in Stockholm to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, he oversees a brutal civil war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Abiy recently called the conflict a case where “the weed is being removed from our country.” This genocidal language follows a ten-month campaign characterized by acts of ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, and man-made famine. Thus far, the conflict has killed an estimated 50,000 civilians and displaced approximately 2 million people, while at least 350,000 face famine conditions.

This is a domestic Ethiopian crisis first and foremost. The war began in November 2020 when forces from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked an Ethiopian military base in the region following a longstanding dispute over the distribution of power and the nature of ethnic federalism in the country.

The deadly convergence of these two systematic trends — the ineptitude of the African Union and the increasing centrality of Chinese power — points towards a dangerous new era on the continent.

While the internal political and ethnic drivers of the conflict remain paramount, the duration of the conflict cannot be fully understood without also analyzing underexamined structural factors in the international system itself. Tigray illustrates two emerging systemic trends: the failure of the African Union to manage problems emanating from Africa’s largest states and the rise of Chinese interests on the continent, which renders collective action at the United Nations impossible.

Neither the African Union (the headquarters of which sit in Ethiopia’s capital) nor leading international powers at the United Nations prevented Ethiopia’s tragic descent into civil war and the war crimes that followed. This collapse of collective action portends a dismal future trajectory for peace and security on the continent. While Abiy’s Ethiopia was once elevated as a symbol of Africa’s hopeful future, it is now an ominous prophet of a bleak decade to come.

Read the full article from War on the Rocks.