The roots of the Tigray war can be traced to Ethiopia’s system of government. Since 1994, Ethiopia has had a federal system in which different ethnic groups control the affairs of 10 regions. The once powerful Tigray People’s Liberation Front set up a four-party coalition that governed Ethiopia from 1991.
Under the coalition, Ethiopia became more prosperous and stable, but concerns were raised about human rights and the level of democracy. Eventually, discontent morphed into protest, leading to a government reshuffle that saw Abiy Ahmed appointed prime minister.
Abiy set up a new party and removed key Tigrayan government leaders accused of corruption and repression. He also ended a long-standing territorial dispute with neighbouring Eritrea, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. Despite these measures which won Abiy popular acclaim, it caused unease among leaders in Tigray.
Tigray’s opposing leaders saw Abiy’s reforms as an attempt to centralise power and destroy Ethiopia’s federal system. In September 2020, Tigray defied Abiy to hold its own regional election deemed illegal by the central government. The rift grew when the central government suspended funding for Tigray and cut ties with it in October 2020.
As Tensions increased, Tigrayan forces were accused of attacking army bases to steal weapons. The Ethiopian government says that it was forced into a military confrontation as Tigray had crossed a “red line”. More than two million have fled their homes, with at least 10,000 reported deaths and 230 massacres since the conflict started.