December 5, 2020

Understanding The Tigray Conflict In Ethopia From A Historical Perspective

As tension in the Tigray region of Ehtiopia escalates, the death toll too escalates. Apparently, the conflict has become intractable with both factions showing no signs of bowing down.


Located in the northern part of the country, Tigray is the homeland of the Tigrayan, Irob and Kunama peoples numbering above 5 million people. The current population of Ethiopia is approximately 109 million. Ethiopia is one of the only two African countries that has never been colonized. Since the defeat of the Italian forces in 1896 at the battle of Adowa, Menelik, the then leader of Ethiopia became a respected world leader. Western countries began sending Ambassadors to Ethiopia, the only African country then considered as a major world power. That reality, infact, motivated African leaders lead by His Imperial Majesty Halie Salasie, to establish the headquarters of the OUA in Ethiopia. The current conflict in Tigray must be understood from both historical and contemporary perspectives.

Historically, Ethiopia is a country of fragmented regions that were conquered and brought together by Emperors through war. It is a restive country that has never enjoyed lasting peace. The term Zamana Masafint or the Era of judges refers to Ethiopia as a country that was governed by different kings independent of each other. It was until the coming of Emperor Theodore to power in 1855 that he succeeded in conquering all the autonomous regions of Ethiopia and brought them under one federal regime. Up to now, those regions see themselves as historically autonomous and has the right to perhaps secede some day. The regional government in Tigray is viewing itself in this context.

The contemporary issues at hand revolves around lack of decentralized infrastructural development, high unemployment, poverty, ethnicity, regionalism and so on. Successive federal governments have never achieved acceptable levels of development in these areas making a case for revolt by regional governments.

Yes, Ethiopia has a big name and it is home for the much respected continental body, the OAU, now AU, but that does not make it responsive to the wishes and aspirations of its people. AU being located in Ethiopia does not make that country great unless it discharges its mandate towards its people.

Unless these contemporary issues are addressed properly, even if the Tigray region is defeated and made to surrender, the conflict might sooner erupt again. Now that Eritrea is drawn into the conflict, the conflict at hand can spiral out of control and become a regional conflict.

The UN, AU and all other regional bodies must act fast to curb the Tigray conflict. It must not be taken on its face value but rather approached from a deeper perspective looking into structural-contemporary challenges facing the regions in their relationship with the federal government.

Author: Ibrahim Ceesay

A Gambian Historian

Leave a Reply