Ethiopia-Tigre Conflict: The Narrative

Ethiopia is divided into 11 regions including 9 Regions and 2 Chartered Cities. These 9 regions are Afar Region, Amhara Region, Benishangul-Gumuz Region, Gambela Region, Harari Region, Oromia Region, Somalia Region, Southern Nations, Nationalities, Peoples’ Region and Tigray Region.

The 2 Chartered Cities are Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. Addis Ababa is also the capital of the country.

The problem with these regions is that they are ethnically-based in a Federal system of government. They also have some form of locally-based military movements.

In 1950, Eritrea was incorporated as a province of the Ethiopian empire. On 1st September 1961, the province of Eritrea started a secession war which ended on 24th May, 1993; a period of 30years.

Ethiopian Jews

It was at the epic of that war 1991 that the State of Israel, within a period of just 48hours, airlifted 14, 000 Ethiopian Jews, also known as Falashas, into Israel to save them from harm in air operation codenamed “Operation Solomon”.

The Falashas are direct descendants of the child Queen Sheba gave birth to, when she returned with a pregnancy after embarking on a voyage from Ethiopia, into the warm embrace of King Solomon, the then King of Israel.

Coalition Government

When then dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown in 1991, a government consisting of coalition of regional ethnic-based political movements was formed.

This coalition government, overwhelmingly, tilted towards the Tigre ethnic group, albeit they consist of only 6% of the population of Ethiopia. The army, public and civil service were predominantly of Tigre ethnic minority.

Abiy Ahmed Model

So, when there was change of government following months of civil agitations, Abiy Ahmed, of the Oromo ethnic group which forms the majority of the Ethiopian population, became the Prime Minister in 2018.

He made peace with Eritrea over decades of tensions along their common border. He formed a coalition government of ethnic based groups with equal stakes in all aspects of the governing structure. That earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Tigre Influence

But this move didn’t go down well with the Tigre ethnic group who considered the move as diminishing their long-standing influence.

They started agitations which manifested in skirmishes between the Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which is the armed wing of Tigre movement, and the Federal government of Ethiopia.

The skirmishes degenerated into a full-blown armed conflict when the Federal forces launched an air raid on Makele, the capital of the Tigre province.


As the conflict continued, the Federal government formed alliances with once bitter enemy Eritrea, and local allies from Afar and Amhara provinces.

The Tigre fighters also joined forces with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the ethnic group which is the biggest in Ethiopia and to which, paradoxically, the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed belongs.


With latest reports of the Tigre forces making rapid territorial gains and actually threatening to march into the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and foreigners embarking on frantic efforts to leave the country, the prognosis doesn’t look good.

I made a transit in Addis on my recent study visit to Kenya, and actually spent a night there on my way back home. And on the surface, there was no semblance of a nation at war because the conflict is far from the capital.

Possible End-Game

However, the report currently coming in is not very good, and I believe this must have, visibly, set residents of Addis in particular, and Ethiopians, generally, very much on edge.

The secession of Tigre, and a possible birth of a new nation in Africa, now looks very much on the horizon. We only pray for cool heads to prevail.

Newton-Offei Justice Abeeku
International Relations Analyst