Somalilandsun: The outbreak of conflict in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray in early November last year and subsequent developments are straining relations between Washington and Addis Ababa. The proximate cause of the fighting was the attack by the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the central government’s northern command headquarters in Tigray’s regional capital of Mekele. The response by Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), aided by Eritrean troops and militia from the neighboring Amhara region, has resulted in numerous human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of the 6 million Tigrayans are now internally displaced and in desperate need of food while 65,000 have taken refuge in neighboring Sudan. Atrocities by the TPLF, ENDF, Eritrean forces, and Amhara militia have ravaged Tigray region. On March 10, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the violence as “ethnic cleansing” as he pressed during congressional testimony for a prompt investigation of human rights abuses, more aid for Tigray, and the exit of Eritrean troops.
The fighting in Tigray is playing out amid unrelated ethnic conflict in Ethiopia, a worsening border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia, and increasing pressure from Egypt and Sudan on Ethiopia to reach agreement on the release of water behind the new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the main source of water for the Nile. Egypt and Sudan are clearly taking advantage of Ethiopia’s internal problems to achieve their broader foreign policy objectives.
On March 18, the White House announced that Sen. Christopher Coons, Democrat of Delaware and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, will travel to Addis Ababa to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to convey President Joe Biden’s “grave concerns about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region and risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa.” He will also consult with the African Union. The visit by Sen. Coons may well determine the future of U.S.-Ethiopian relations over the coming months.
The author Amb David Shinn is An adjunct professor of international affairs at The George Washington University, he received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from GW, is a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and to Burkina Faso (1987-90).
Follow on Twitter: @AmbShinn