Ethiopia: The Biden administration must put its foot down

Ethiopia: The Biden administration must put its foot down

Displaced people inside a building under construction at the Shire campus of Aksum University, which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 14, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

(Theafricareport)—When Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy came into power on a tide of popular protests, we shared the optimism of many in the international community that Ethiopia could successfully transition to democracy.  Sadly, those hopes have been dashed. 

The brutal war in Tigray, pitting the federal government, Eritrea, and other allies against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and affiliated militia, is the most vivid illustration of the tragedy now unfolding across the country.

Nearly seven months into the conflict, the human cost continues to grow. Thousands of civilians have been injured or killed and there are increasing reports of extra-judicial killings, massacres, sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement, and other human rights violations.

Children are falling prey to exploitation and detention. Health centres, schools, universities, and refugee camps have been looted or destroyed.  Food systems – historically fragile in this corner of Africa – have been so badly disrupted that famine looms large.

Less noticed by the international community has been the suffering in Ethiopia’s other regions. Violence against Amhara and Oromo civilians – the country’s two largest ethnic groups – is also widespread. Smaller ethnic groups around the country have similarly been victimised by long-standing inter-communal tensions. But the conduct of non-state armed groups and the government’s security apparatus – fractured and unaccountable – has directly contributed to the scale and ferocity of that suffering.

Ethiopia’s upcoming elections

Against this grim backdrop, few believe Ethiopia’s upcoming national elections stand a real chance of being free or fair. The logistical challenges that often come with widespread violence will prevent large swaths of the country from voting. Critics of the prime minister and their supporters remain imprisoned while the government routinely flouts their rights and due process.