By the Numbers: Ethiopia, 2 April 20181 Figures reflect violent events reported since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power on 2 April 2018.-30 July 20212ACLED’s real-time data updates are paused through the end of August 2021. Data for the period of 31 July to 3 September will be released on 6 September, at which point real-time data publication will resume. All ACLED data are available for download via the data export tool and curated data files.
- Total number of organized violence events: 1,735
- Total number of reported fatalities from organized violence: 9,294
- Total number of reported fatalities from civilian targeting: 4,944
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces continued to advance last week, clashing with the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), Amhara regional special forces, and local militias along fronts in North Wello, South Wello, Wag Hamra (Amhara region) and in Afar region. A key development last week was a series of territory changes that came as TPLF forces continued expanding southward into areas of the South Gondar zone and clashed with Amhara regional special forces and militia members in areas northwest of Nefas Mawecha. The road linking the major urban cities of Debre Tabor and Woldiya is a critical point of infrastructure that links the eastern and western portions of the Amhara region.
Woldiya town in North Wello, in particular, has been the site of prolonged fighting, with TPLF and government forces claiming to have inflicted heavy damage upon the other throughout the week. According to the Woldiya City Communication Affairs Office, TPLF forces shelled the town on 9 August (Woldia City Communication Affairs Office, 9 August 2021). TPLF forces had also advanced south of the city, briefly taking control of Mersa town before retreating north (DW Amharic, 8 August 2021). Fighting in the eastern parts of the Amhara region has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people (BBC Amharic, 14 August 2021).
Meanwhile, sporadic violence continues to occur in the Metekel zone in Benshangul/Gumuz region, where seven people were killed last week after their bus was attacked by unidentified militants. According to reports, the bus was traveling between Chagni — a border town in the Amhara region that once hosted an IDP camp for thousands of people who were displaced by fighting in Metekel last year — and Gilgel Beles, which is an administrative center in the Metekel zone. The Metekel zone remains one of the most violent locations in the country despite a federal military presence.
In the Oromia region, militants linked to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)-Shane faction continued to clash with Oromia regional special forces in western Oromia, claiming to take control of several small towns last week. In a first, the group has also claimed to take control of several main transport routes. Residents interviewed by BBC corroborated the rebel group’s claims of having briefly taken control of the Nejo-Gimbi-Dembi Dolo road, as well as the Dembi Dolo-Asosa road and the Nekemte-Bahir Dar road. A local official verified militant activity but insisted that security forces had resolved the situation (BBC Amharic, 14 August 2021). The OLF-Shane’s recent announcement of military collaboration with the TPLF will be discussed further below.
OLF-Shane forces were also reportedly active outside of the Oromia region last week. Gambella security forces reportedly arrested 93 people who were believed to have links with TPLF and OLF-Shane in the Wanta War and Lare woredas of Gambella town (Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, 13 August 2021).
Weekly Focus: New Strategic Developments in the Tigray Conflict
Last week, two strategic developments related to the Tigray conflict occurred. First, on 10 August 2021, the Ethiopian government announced that it would engage all forces of the country to stop the “destruction” caused by the TPLF (Office of the Prime Minister-Ethiopia, 10 August 2021). This appears to be a revocation of the ceasefire declared at the end of June.
Second, last week, government opposition fighters from both OLF-Shane and TPLF agreed to work together to “remove Abiy’s government” (AP, 11 August 2021; Reuters, 11 August 2021). Although they have been accused of working together for some time, this is the first instance where links between the two groups have been acknowledged publicly by the groups themselves. This section discusses the implication of these strategic developments both for the Tigray conflict and the country in general.
Government Shifts From Defence to Offence
Since the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the government at the end of June, government sources claim that the ENDF has only been engaging in defensive operations (Office of the Prime Minister-Ethiopia, 28 July 2021). A recent announcement by the federal government now indicates that the ceasefire may be called off and federal troops will once again engage in offensive operations.
In July 2021, TPLF forces released two lists of preconditions for mutual ceasefire negotiations (for details, see EPO Weekly: 3-9 July 2021; EPO Weekly: 24-30 July 2021). The group vowed to continue fighting until the federal government accepts the list of preconditions and lifts the blockade of the Tigray region. Accordingly, for the past month, TPLF forces continued to fight on five fronts: Western Tigray zone (Tigray), North Gondar zone (Amhara), South Tigray zone (Tigray), North Wello zone (Amhara), and Fanti Rasu- Zone 4 (Afar). The group managed to gain control of some areas like Alamata and Lalibela without any resistance from regional forces or the ENDF. Meanwhile, they fought heavy battles with Amhara forces (Amhara regional special forces and local militias) for other locations like Woldiya and Addi Arkay. By the beginning of last week, the group reached Gashena in the North Wello zone in Amhara, which is 338 km from the capital city of Tigray, Mekele. They also reached Gayint in the South Gondar zone in Amhara, 445 km from Mekele.
After the government gave the order to regional forces, militias, and the ENDF to take actions to “halt the destruction” of TPLF, armed clashes intensified across the various fronts of northern Ethiopia (Office of the Prime Minister-Ethiopia, 10 August 2021). According to the government, many TPLF forces were killed or dislodged from their positions due to a new offensive into the above-noted fronts (ESAT, 11 August 2021; FDRE Defense Force, 13 August 2021). The TPLF reported that the Afar and Amhara people are supporting TPLF operations to remove the federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Tigrai Media House, 11 August 2021).
Heavy fighting between the TPLF forces and ENDF, Amhara regional special forces, and Amhara militias was also recorded in the Amhara region in Wag Hamra, North Gondar, South Gondar, and North Wello zones. TPLF forces clashed with the Amhara regional special forces and Amhara militias in Sekota town in Wag Hamra zone in Amhara region for five days starting from 7 August 2021. On 9 August 2021, TPLF forces shelled Woldiya city, killing two civilians and damaging property, including the city stadium. During three days of fighting on 10-12 August 2021, ENDF carried out airstrikes on TPLF forces.
The government claimed last week to have captured a number of TPLF-affiliated militants who entered the country from neighboring countries. On 9 and 10 August 2021, the TPLF affiliated Samri group clashed with the ENDF, the Amhara regional special forces, and the Amhara militias in the Bahire-Selam area in Humera in the Western Tigray zone. The group was attempting to enter the Tigray region along the country’s eastern border with Sudan. More than 1,500 members of the group were reportedly captured by the ENDF (ESAT, 11 August 2021a; ESAT, 11 August 2021b). Samri group is believed to have been actively involved in the November 2020 massacre in Maikadra in western Tigray, where hundreds of people were killed (Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, 24 November 2021). It is believed that members of this group fled to Sudan when government forces captured the town in November of 2020.
Similarly, the Benshangul/Gumuz government stated that more than 170 members of an unidentified armed group, including 12 members of TPLF, were killed by security forces in Guba woreda in the Metekel zone. Reportedly, the armed group entered Guba woreda through the Sudan border to create unrest in Guba woreda, where the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is being built (Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, 14 August 2021). As well, as noted in the situation summary, the Gambella government reported that the region’s security forces arrested 93 people who are believed to have links with TPLF and OLF-Shane in the Wanta War and Lare woredas of Gambella city (Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, 13 August 2021). Thus, despite a clear uptick in clashes related to the recent offensive operations of the ENDF, TPLF forces continue to gain additional territory and influence conflict trends in various regions.
Understanding the OLF- Shane and TPLF Military Alliance
Another key development last week was the announcement of a military alliance between OLF-Shane and TPLF forces (AP, 11 August 2021; Reuters, 11 August 2021). The TPLF also indicated that similar alliances with other insurgencies are being discussed. Reports of these alliances emerged one day after the government ordered all forces of the country to take necessary action to halt TPLF.
Since the designation of both groups as “terrorist” groups by the government in May 2021, ACLED records 14 armed clashes between the Oromia regional forces and OLF-Shane (see map below). As discussed in the situation summary, the group has been increasingly active across locations in southern and western Oromia, and for the first time is claiming to hold small towns and cities across the region. Along with an uptick in clashes with security forces, the group has likewise been consistently accused of attacking civilians, especially ethnic Amhara minorities, in areas under their influence.
The government declared this announcement of the alliance “not surprising” (Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia, 12 August 2021). The government sees the announcement as justifying their decision to designate the two groups as “terrorist” groups and as supporting the government’s claim that TPLF supports different insurgencies to destabilize the country. As noted above, last week, the government claimed to either capture or kill members of an unidentified armed group, including members of TPLF, in both the Benshangul/Gumuz and Gambella regions (Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, 14 August 2021).
It is not clear how this new alliance will affect OLF-Shane. Since the 1990s, politically active Oromo advocating for greater self-autonomy were incarcerated, tortured, and killed by the TPLF led government after being accused of having links with OLF. The anti-government youth groups (Qeerroo) in Oromia which led the 2014-2018 mass mobilization that eventually toppled the TPLF-led regime and brought Abiy to power are now divided. Some have joined the OLF-Shane while others are involved with government forces as part of the Oromia regional special forces. The OLF-Shane’s decision to partner with the TPLF will complicate their efforts to gain support from across the region.
Election Dispute Update
Last week, the federal supreme court of Ethiopia rendered a decision on two post-election-related disputes. On 30 July 2021, Balderas for True Democracy Party announced its submission of a post-election related dispute claim to the federal supreme court, requesting an election rerun in 21 of the 23 election constituencies located within Addis Ababa (see EPO Weekly: 24-30 July 2021). The federal supreme court decided that since the claim was submitted outside the appeal period, it would not accept the claim (NEBE, 13 August 2021). According to the electoral rules, any complaints related to voting, counting, or election results must be submitted to the supreme court within 10 days of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) publishing of a decision made on former claims(The Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation No. 1162/2019, Article 155). Mostly, election-related claims are first submitted to NEBE with a possibility to appeal the decision of NEBE to the federal supreme court. Balderas for True Democracy Party submitted its claim 17 days after NEBE’s final decision on its post-election disputes (NEBE, 13 August 2021).
Similarly, the court rejected the National Movement of Amhara (NaMA) Party’s post-election dispute as the claim was submitted after the appeal period elapsed (NEBE, 16 August 2021). NaMa submitted election-related claims concerning Debre Markos, Gonj, and Finote Selam election constituencies in the Amhara region.
In total, 74 election-related claims have been submitted to the court. Thirteen of these 74 claims were submitted during the post-election period, while 57 claims were submitted during the pre-election period and four claims were submitted on election day (Reporter, 15 August 2021).