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Will Ethiopia’s elections resolve its ongoing crisis?

Ethiopia is undergoing civil war as its elections draw to a close. Could a change in power help to alleviate the crisis that is damaging its northern regions?

On Monday, 21st June, Ethiopian voters headed to the polls to choose their national and regional representatives, with nationally-elected Members of Parliaments then selecting the Prime Minister.

The elections were meant to be held last year in August but were delayed due to the pandemic.

This year’s are being regarded by experts as a test for Ethiopia’s democracy, and are the first multi-party election in 16 years.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Abiy said that he expected peaceful, free, and fair elections. However, in the Northern region of Tigray, elections did not take place and were never scheduled due to high war tensions.

Meanwhile, in regions like Amhara and Oromia, time to vote is being extended until 6th September 2021 over ‘irregularities’.

Abiy – who came to power in 2018 – won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Ethiopia/ Eritrea border war which caused havoc over the years for both countries. In 2019, Abiy also merged several political parties to form his own ‘Prosperity Party’. It intends to end ethnic and region-based political parties in the country.

How did the Tigray War begin?

Tigray is the Northern region in Ethiopia with a population of over 7 million.

It has been a battlefield between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government forces for almost seven months.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for 27 years and it was seen as a one-party state. The party dismissed Abiy’s idea to merge the parties and accused the Prime Minister of using the pandemic as a means to postpone the elections.

The TPLF decided to hold their regional elections which the federal government deemed illegal. This led to an ongoing war which started in November, 2020.

According to reports, millions of inhabitants to the North of the country have been affected by the war economically, politically, and socially.

What has been the humanitarian cost of the Tigray War?

Conditions on the ground are said to be dire.

The UN’s humanitarian agency estimated that 4.5 million people in Tigray needed emergency food supplies. This same number also had no access to electricity, communication and other important services for months.

Last year the federal government blocked aid agencies and the media from accessing Tigray. This led to a food shortage causing hunger to millions of people in the region.

Even before the war, food shortage had been aggravated by the desert locust invasion, and unfortunately the war broke out around harvesting time.

During the war, telecommunications, closure of banks, destruction of health facilities, and widespread looting of public and private property increased this hardship further.

International pressure has pushed the federal government to supply some aid, however. Other agencies like the UN have offered food and other essential supplies to some regions starting this year.

Girls and women have also fallen victim to sexual violence, with a number of rape cases being reported throughout this year.

It is unclear who is behind these sexual offences, though its believed to be either the TPLF or federal government forces. Most girls and women fear for their lives as the ongoing war ravages many rural areas in the north.

To add to its woes, Ethiopia is going through its worst economic shock in decades due to the combined impact of Covid-19 and the conflict in Tigray.

Though the country expected an increase in their GDP, this is now seen as unachievable. Ethiopia’s Ministry of Trade and Industry estimates that recent closures of factories and mining sites is costing the Ethiopian economy around $20 million per month.

Jobs have been lost mostly in the north and thousands are fleeing to safer grounds.

How have schools and educational buildings been affected?

A number of schools have been damaged as a result of the conflict. Each side loots and occupies these educational facilities, often using them as their operational bases.

Some school children have been recruited to join the militia group and trained to participate in the ongoing war.

Education Ministry estimates that thousands of teachers are in dire need of mental health support as the war has ravaged educational opportunities for many young kids in the country.

This has impacted thousands of school children who have not receiving basic education for some months.

Is there a way forward after the elections?

Ethiopian voters went to the polls on Monday. Will there be a new incoming government or will the existing powers retain their position?

It is unclear where Tigray currently stands. The region has over 7 million people who did not participate in the elections.

This number questions the credibility and democracy of the country as millions of people have not casted their votes in a major general election.

Heavy fighting was reported during the counting of votes across the country. Several areas in Northern region of Tigray had clashes between rebels and federal troops.

This report was confirmed by Army Spokesman Colonel Getnet who denied soldiers or any town had been captured.

The war in Tigray calls for a worldwide solidarity to end. This is just but the beginning of a long-term crisis that might affect the second most populous country in Africa. Most crucially, the war is eroding the educational opportunities for the youngest Ethiopian citizens and damaging its democratic credibility.

We’ll have to see what happens over the course of this year as the election draws to a close.