A fragile truce in war-torn Tigray, that had lasted five months, was shattered last week with a fatal air strike, that left four dead, including two children.

Government forces under Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) renewed fighting, with each accusing the other of responsibility. Violence has left thousands dead, 2 million people displaced, and millions in severe need of food since the conflict began nearly two  years ago.

But what is behind the latest clashes and is there hope for peace for the embattled region, which faces a growing humanitarian crisis?

Namhla Matshanda, a senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape in International Relations and African Politics, said a lack of trust in government and political fragmentation have contributed to the most recent resurgence.

“The country is more divided than it has been in the past 30 years. Ethiopians are retreating to narrow political identities where smaller groups are jostling for their own survival,” she said.

“The two sides have opposing preferences for mediation. This reflects badly on the African regional organisations and African states in general, but also the international community.”

A collapsed or collapsing Ethiopia will have regional consequences.

The TPLF emerged from a rebel liberation movement that dominated Ethiopian politics since the centuries-long Ethiopian Empire collapsed in 1974.

When Mr Aiby came to power in April 2018, he launched liberal reforms that disempowered the previously presiding TPLF faction and campaigned for an end to the decades-long territorial conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which earned him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Violence broke out when Tigray held its own election in September 2020 after Mr Aiby suspended the year’s parliamentary election due to COVID-19 and security concerns.

In response to an alleged pre-emptive strike by the TPLF on a government military base in Tigray, Mr Abiy launched the so-called military operation in Tigray.

The humanitarian truce, agreed in March this year, enabled much needed supplies to reach the severely affected northern region of Tigray, though Ms Matshanda said the ceasefire presented an opportunity for government forces to remobilise.

Waddington photo

Tigray is a mountainous region but one of the most densely populated states of Ethiopia. Photo: Rod Waddington/Flickr

“There is reason to believe that the government saw an opening, having had time to regroup and rearm over the past few months. Feeling more empowered, they perceived the TPLF to be in a weak position, mainly due to the ongoing siege, to resume fighting and hopefully secure a decisive victory,” Ms Matshanda told Central News.

“Many things were wrong when Prime Minister Abiy took power, however, a war was never going to be a solution to those problems.

“A collapsed or collapsing Ethiopia will have regional consequences, especially when we consider the ongoing vulnerability of neighbouring states such as Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia.”

The Ethiopian National Defence Force released a statement last week denying allegations that they had attacked Tigray, accusing the TPLF of staging civilian deaths.

“It is an open secret that the TPLF are running a campaign of blaming our defence forces on untenable excuses,” the statement read.

The short-term implications include hunger and famine conditions, the long-term ones include a whole generation of children who will suffer from malnutrition.

“Our army will resist any attack with determination and caution… This action cannot have any positive effect on the performance of our army.”

The renewed violence has triggered fresh fears that another generation of Tigrayan people are set to suffer severely, with communication networks cut off and African Union-backed humanitarian efforts dramatically restricted by the Ethiopian government.

“The short-term implications include hunger and famine conditions, the long-term ones include a whole generation of children who will suffer from malnutrition and the health implications because of this, as well as a lack of education,” Ms Matshanda said.

“All of these will make it that much harder for the country to recover in a post-conflict scenario.”

Main image ragout from the Ethiopian Herald and supplied photo of Namhla Matshanda.