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What’s Behind Ethiopia’s New Political Crisis?

There have been mounting political tensions in the country. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front dominated the country’s military and government before PM Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018. His subsequent formation of a new Prosperity Party saw members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front removed from critical positions. Despite comprising only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, Tigrayans have historically carried a significant proportion of federal power since leading the way to victory during the 1974 to 1991 Civil War. They have recently protested their marginalisation and alienation by Ahmed’s administration. Tensions reached a peak when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front criticised Ahmed’s decision to postpone the nationwide August 2020 elections indefinitely because of COVID-19. In an act of defiance Tigrayan leaders recalled their federal representatives from Addis Ababa and held their own elections. Rhetoric escalated, as Ahmed condemned the elections as “illegitimate” while Tigray media outlets have called the government a “personalistic dictatorship”. As historians of conflict and popular insurgency, including the Ethiopian Civil War, analysts argue that this is no trivial political dispute. Ethiopia is a transethnic federation, meaning it is a centralised state made up of a network of decentralised ethnic-based administrations. These are in regular competition for influence. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front wants to prevent Ahmed from replacing the federal arrangement with a unitary government, in which they would not play a critical part.