Media reports from famine-stricken Ethiopia in the run-up to Christmas 1984 were the catalyst for Band Aid and then Live Aid – global events that raised awareness of the country’s devastating civil war. The war, between the government of Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam and Ethio-Eritrean rebels, raged for almost two decades between 1974 and 1991. Eritrea became independent in 1993.

In recent weeks, the fragile security of the region has been rocked once again – this time by conflict between the central government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which led the movement that ousted Mengistu in 1991 and went on to dominate Ethiopian politics for almost three decades. The Conversation has commissioned academic experts to explain the situation destabilizing the region.

Current prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been trying to reorganise Ethiopian politics and governance. Asafa Jalata argues that Abiy’s reform agenda has been designed to destroy Tigrayan power, while Yonatan T. Fessha asserts that conflict could have been avoided if the Tigray state government had been prepared to engage in intergovernmental dialogue.

For Yohannes Gedamu, Abiy has been mending Ethiopia’s fabric, including the creation of an inclusive political environment, but his efforts have been stymied by inter-ethnic clashes and internal displacement of citizens.

There are also fears that hostilities could spill over into Eritrea. Tigray and central Eritrea occupy the central massif of the Horn of Africa. The Tigrinya-speakers are the predominant ethnic group in both Tigray and the adjacent Eritrean highlands. Their histories are inextricably intertwined. As Richard Reid explains, conflict in Tigray is unavoidably a matter of intense interest to the Eritrean leadership.

Moina Spooner

Commissioning Editor: East and Francophone Africa

Ethiopian soldiers in 2005 on a hilltop outpost overlooking the northern town of Badme, in the Tigray region. Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

What lies behind the war in Tigray?

Asafa Jalata, University of Tennessee

The Ethiopian premier is manipulating ethnic rivalries to shift the agenda from democratic reform to authoritarianism.

Members of the Amhara militia ride in the back of a pick up truck, in Mai Kadra, Ethiopia, on November 21, 2020. Amharas and Tigrayans were uneasy neighbours before the current fighting. Photo by Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

Drums of war were beating for almost two years. Why Ethiopia’s conflict was avoidable

Yonatan T. Fessha, University of the Western Cape

Had the national government and Tigray state government attempted to engage in intergovernmental dialogue, things might have turned out differently.

Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed (centre) pictured outside his office awaiting dignitaries in February 2020. EPA-EFE/STR

Residual anger driven by the politics of power has boiled over into conflict in Ethiopia

Yohannes Gedamu, Georgia Gwinnett College

The tensions that had been simmering between the Tigray People's Liberation Front and the Abiy administration eventually boiled over.

An Ethiopan soldier mans a position near Zala Anbesa in the northern Tigray region of the country, about 1,6 kilometres from the Eritrean border. Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

Conflict between Tigray and Eritrea – the long standing faultline in Ethiopian politics

Richard Reid, University of Oxford

Conflict between Eritrea and Tigray has long represented a destabilizing fault line for Ethiopia as well as for the wider region.

Thousands of Ethiopian refugees have fled the violence, crossing into neighbouring Sudan. EPA-EFE/Leni Kinzli

Ethnic violence in Tigray has echoes of Ethiopia’s tragic past

Laura Hammond, SOAS, University of London

As ever, civilians are caught in the middle of warring ethnic groups in this strife-torn region of Ethiopia.