One Big Thing: Is Ethiopia’s democracy in crisis?
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The Ethiopian government declared an immediate, unilateral ceasefire in the eight-month-long conflict between state forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) on June 28. Government troops withdrew to the sound of fireworks and street celebrations after Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital, Mekelle.
Fighting in Tigray broke out in November 2020 when government forces, backed by Eritrean troops and the local Amhara militia, launched an offensive to oust the TPLF from power after the TPLF allegedly rejected government reforms and attacked army bases. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation,” quickly declared the Tigray conflict over by late November, though the fighting continued.
The government announced that the ceasefire decision was “made for humanitarian cause.” The fighting has already claimed thousands of lives, displaced over two million, and subjected over 350,000 people to famine conditions according to UN analysis—the world’s worst food crisis in a decade. Abiy justified the troop withdrawal by saying that Tigray was no longer the “centre of gravity for conflicts.”
But a TPLF spokesman called Abiy’s words a “lie” as the Government of the National State of Tigray congratulated the Tigrayan fighters on their “stunning victory.” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for the Tigrayan forces, denounced the ceasefire as a “sick joke” and vowed to “stop at nothing to liberate every square inch” of Tigray.
The violence in Tigray has also caused disruptions for the country’s first general election since 2015, a crucial test of the strength of Abiy’s government and his promises of democracy. Originally scheduled for August 2020, the election was rescheduled to June 21 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling Prosperity Party is widely expected to defeat the opposition.
Abiy, elected into premiership by Parliament and not the populace, called the general election "the nation's first attempt at free and fair elections." However, the election board noted that in four out of ten regions, including Tigray, authorities were unable to conduct polls. Some opposition groups boycotted the election and reported irregularities.
On the night of the election, Abiy said, "Democracy is not built in a day. We are laying it brick by brick." The next day, he tweeted: "All sections of society have gone out to cast their vote in our nation's first free and fair election."
Read more on the formation of the Prosperity Party HERE
Read Freedom House’s 2021 report on Ethiopia HERE
Authored by Paulina Song
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