Dessie is strategically placed on three major transportation routes - the B21 (leading west towards Sudan), the A2 (leading SW towards Addis) and the B11 (leading east towards Djibouti and its port). If the TDF are able to secure this town and Kombulcha (also on the A2) then they will be able to control one of the main transportation intersections in the country, slowing down the movement of goods within Ethiopia (though goods will still be able to use the A1 to Addis), and also continuing the goal of securing a supply route to the Sudanese border.
This is what Abiye is sending to the front lines against the battle hardened Tigray Defence Forces.
They are toasted.
Located more than 600 kilometres (360 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa, Tigray is the northernmost of Ethiopia’s 10 regions, which are administered under a system of “ethnic federalism” broadly dividing the country according to ethnicity and language.
Tigray is bordered by the regions of Afar and Amhara, where fighting has spread as the war has escalated.
The Tigrayan people account for less than six percent of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million.
To the north lies Eritrea, which fought a border war with Ethiopia two decades ago.
The regional capital Mekele had a population of around 500,000 before the current fighting broke out in November 2020.
- Cultural and religious heritage -
Tigray is a major player in Ethiopia’s cultural and religious history, with heritage sites that draw tourists.
The ancient city of Axum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the centre of a powerful kingdom from the first to the ninth centuries. It was Christianised by the Egyptian Church in the fourth century.
The city houses a famous obelisk standing 24 metres (80 feet) high that predates the Christian era and is possibly as old as the fifth century BC.
Axum is also a sacred place for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Emperor Menelik I, considered to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is believed to have brought the Ark of the Covenant there from Jerusalem, containing the Ten Commandments.
It is believed the Ark remains in Axum today, hidden from sight in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, the most sacred site in the Ethiopian Orthodox religion.
In late November Eritrean soldiers massacred hundreds of civilians in Axum, including Orthodox Christians gathering for a festival at the church, according to Human Rights Watch.
Mountainous Tigray is also home to dozens of other spectacular rock churches, some carved out of perilous clifftops.
- Economic engine -
Tigray is a largely agricultural region producing several important crops, including sesame for export.
The war has interrupted critical planting and harvest seasons, compounding a desperate food shortage in a region where hundreds of thousands face famine-like conditions.
It is also home to vital industries, though key sites including Ethiopia’s largest textile factory are reported to have been looted in the conflict by Eritrean troops.
- Political power, military might -
Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), dominated Ethiopia’s political and security structures from 1991-2018, a reign that ended with the arrival in power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
For much of that period Ethiopia was run by Tigrayan leader Meles Zenawi.
However, when Abiy – who is from the Oromo ethnic group – took over, he began to strip power and influence from the TPLF.
In response, the TPLF’s leaders withdrew to their northern stronghold and began to defy his rule including the holding of unauthorised elections in September 2020.
The party controlled key military assets and was believed to command up to 200,000 troops at the start of the war. The conflict began in early November 2020 when Abiy ordered a military response to attacks on federal army camps in Tigray.
So it is official now.
OCTOBER 30, 2021 12:28
Rebellious Tigrayan forces said on Saturday they had seized the strategic town of Dessie in Ethiopia’s Amhara region where tens of thousands of ethnic Amharas have sought refuge from an escalation in fighting.
The fighters pushed Ethiopian government forces from Dessie and were headed towards the town of Kombolcha, Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
He said Tigrayan forces had captured numerous Ethiopian soldiers.
Legesse Tulu, the Ethiopian government spokesperson, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters could not independently verify the TPLF’s account of developments.
The capture of Dessie would be a strategic gain for the Tigrayan fighters against the central government forces who are trying to dislodge them from the Amhara region.
The large town is some 385 km (240 miles) from the capital of Addis Ababa and is the furthest south in Amhara that the TPLF has reached since pushing into the region in July.
War broke nearly a year ago between federal troops and the TPLF, which had ruled Ethiopia for three decades but is now the ruling party of just the region. Thousands of people have been killed more than 2 million people have been forced to flee.
Tigrayan forces were initially beaten back, but recaptured most of the region in July and pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, displacing hundreds of thousands more.
In mid-October, the Tigrayan forces said the military had launched a ground offensive to push them out of Amhara. The military acknowledged on Thursday there was heavy fighting there but accused the Tigrayan forces of starting it.
Watching this rings SNM flash backs. When you have nothing but the AK47 and your courage to live.
The United States is gravely concerned by the expansion of combat in northern Ethiopia. We reiterate our call for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions, including halting its advances in and around the cities of Dessie and Kombolcha. We urge the TPLF not to use artillery against cities and recall our strong objections to the ENDF airstrikes in Mekelle and other areas of Tigray which have cost countless lives. There is no military solution to this conflict, and all parties must begin ceasefire negotiations without preconditions.
The United States remains committed to saving lives and alleviating suffering through the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need – whether in the Tigray, Amhara, or Afar region. We continue to be alarmed by reports of the deliberate denial of humanitarian assistance in northern Ethiopia. Up to 900,000 people are living in famine-like conditions in Tigray while the government restricts urgently needed humanitarian supplies, including medicine, fuel, and cash for relief organizations. We repeat our call on all parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate unhindered humanitarian access.
We reiterate our call for all parties to protect civilians and end human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Those responsible for such abuses and violations must be held accountable.
The Amhara are cowards. I remember back in the day before we migrated to Australia, I used to live in Addis Abeba. These people are total cowards.
Abiye is done! The elites in Addis are scrambling to book flights and get their families out of the country.
Damn it took the TDF just one year…
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was once the toast of the international community. He was young, spoke the language of democracy, and was willing to reverse longtime policy to end the border conflict with Eritrea. In 2019, he took home the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Today, he is a Nobel embarrassment.
On July 18, 2021, his office issued a statement with the type of ethnic incitement that would make Rwanda’s Hutu génocidaires blush: He referred to Ethiopia’s Tigrayans as “the cancer of Ethiopia” and called on all Ethiopians “to remove the invasive weed.” Human rights organizations and journalists say he is systematically seeking to starve the Tigray province, and he has begun closing or seizing businesses owned by the Tigray. In effect, this replicates what late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin once did with his country’s ethnic Indian population. Both the war and the internal economic disruption have undercut Ethiopia’s already tenuous economy.
Rashid Abdi, one of the East Africa’s most insightful and perceptive analysts, now reports via twitter, “Embassies in Addis [Ababa] making contingency plans to move to Nairobi in case situation deteriorates in coming weeks. Economic and financial collapse feared.” He cited one analyst as suggesting the prospects of an internal coup are very high.
Such a scenario is not farfetched. In last month’s elections, Abiy’s party reportedly won 410 out of 436 seats. The State Department, however, called the election “flawed” and international elections monitors pointedly refused to call the polls free and fair. Most opposition remains in prison. The Tigray Defense Force’s recapture of the Tigray provincial capital Mekelle after Abiy claimed victory is an embarrassment Abiy cannot hide. Nor, even with the tight control Abiy’s regime holds over the media, can he hide the images of thousands of Ethiopian troops paraded through the capital as prisoners.
This creates a perfect storm for Abiy. The government wants a scapegoat for their failure, and top generals could target Abiy if only to preempt the prime minister targeting them. Nor is Tigray the only insurgency Ethiopia now faces. At the same time, the implosion of Ethiopia’s economy means that Abiy is hemorrhaging the support of ordinary Ethiopians in the capital and across the country. While the Ethiopian Birr is officially 44 to the US dollar, it is trading in the Ethiopian-Somaliland border town of Wajaale at 61 to the dollar, a 38 percent drop.
Abiy’s arrogance toward fellow African leaders and the African Union means that, while none care for the precedent of a violent overthrow, neither would any intercede if members of Abiy’s own entourage pushed Abiy aside. Regime change in Ethiopia will be internal and may likely come in a matter of weeks rather than years. Let us hope the White House and State Department are not asleep at the switch, and that the Pentagon is already considering how to achieve a noncombatant evacuation operation for the tens of thousands of American citizens who call Ethiopia home.
BBC News, Addis Ababa
Gen Tsadkan, a former high-ranking officer in the Ethiopian army, is a key figure in the rebellion against the governmentImage caption: Gen Tsadkan, a former high-ranking officer in the Ethiopian army, is a key figure in the rebellion against the government
The top general of Tigrayan fighters, Tsadkan Gebretensae, has ruled out negotiations with the Ethiopian government, saying the war is nearing its end.
Gen Tsadkan was quoted by Tigray TV as saying that “there’s nothing that can be resolved through negotiations”.
The government’s communication office has, meanwhile, accused Tigrayan forces of killing dozens of civilians in Kombolcha town.
There is no independent confirmation of the claim, and the rebels have repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
Article share tools
Ethiopia is not in compliance with the eligibility requirements of the African Growth and Opportunity Act because of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, a senior U.S. official told reporters on a conference call. The determination can be reversed if the government addresses human rights, humanitarian and political crises by Jan. 1, the official said.
The suspension of duty-free access is a fresh blow to Ethiopia’s economy, which is already under strain from the growing cost of the conflict in the country’s northern regions and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Horn of Africa nation exported goods worth $245 million to the U.S. last year under AGOA, accounting for almost half its shipments to America.
Tuesday’s announcement follows an executive order by the Biden administration authorizing sanctions against individuals and entities deemed to be prolonging the conflict in Ethiopia. The U.S. on Monday reiterated its threat to impose sanctions.
The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said on Oct. 28 that in order to retain AGOA access, the Ethiopian government should allow the UN Human Rights Investigation Office to probe rights violations, the provision of humanitarian aid to conflict areas and the restoration of power and telecommunications services.
The UN and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission are expected to release a report on Wednesday following their investigation into alleged violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law in the Tigray conflict.
The USTR completed its annual review of 49 sub-Saharan African nations last week. In addition to Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea didn’t meet the requirements to benefit from the preferential-trade agreement following coups in the two countries earlier this year.