by Jean Damascène Hakuzimana

Avowed enemies for decades, Eritrea may be assisting Ethiopia in its fight against the Tigray region, dispatching thousands of troops across the border to fight alongside Ethiopia’s own forces in an effort to suppress Tigrayan leadership. Tigray is a northern region of Ethiopia that has defied the federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Eritrea’s involvement would complicate an already tangled conflict, and may force the US, once an ally in the region, to take a different stand on Ethiopia. Both nations have consistently denied the collaboration. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for an end to hostilities among the belligerents back in November, but that call has gone unheeded.

Eritrea was once part of Ethiopia. In the 1970s, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) fought alongside TPLF to topple Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopia’s then-dictator, which finally happened in 1991. In 1990, Eritrea declared independence and became a sovereign nation. The TPLF became the dominant power in Ethiopia, and this continued for almost 20 years. During its tenure, other ethnic groups were sidelined until the revolt of 2018 paved the way for Abiy, from the majority Oromo tribe, to ascend to power. Soon after the inauguration, Tigray started feuding with the new prime minister and his political agenda, which has escalated into civil war.

Near the beginning of this armed conflict, the TPLF, under attack by the federal government, fired rockets on Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara. On December 1, Abiy announced that the federal government had taken control of the Tigray region, promising to rebuild its damaged infrastructure. Experts are worried about a guerilla war in the making, which could have a destabilizing impact in the region.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees have fled the fighting and crossed into Sudan. Humanitarian organizations and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres have asked both sides of the conflict to allow humanitarian access to needy populations. Guterres also expressed concerns over possible human rights abuses and urged a rapid restoration of the rule of law