End the Battlefield Slaughter in Tigray

The number one priority for the people of Tigray is a cessation of hostilities. It’s a precondition for everything else.

We are learning the likely extent of the humanitarian crisis, which is more severe than any in the country for more than 30 years. No significant humanitarian operation is possible without a cessation of hostilities.

We are hearing more and more stories of atrocities, with every reporter saying that what they know is only the tip of the iceberg. Stopping atrocities requires a cessation of hostilities.

We haven’t even begun to hear about the casualties among the soldiers and militiamen. But every indication is that thousands are dying on all sides in large battles. This slaughter needs to be ended.

Many diplomats and some journalists seem to be unaccountably reluctant to recognize this war for what it is. It’s not continuing insecurity or occasional fighting. It’s not sporadic violence or remnants of resistance. It’s war and it’s on a large scale.

The last week witnessed the most severe fighting since November, with eight Eritrean divisions and several battalions of. the Ethiopian federal forces in action against the Tigrayan Defense Forces in southern Tigray. It seems likely that the Ethio-Eritrean coalition wanted to create a military fait accompli before international pressure for Eritrean withdrawal became too strong to resist. If so, this plan did not succeed. In three days of battles in two locations, five Eritrean divisions were destroyed. Eritrean army divisions are usually small (in other militaries they would count as brigades) but the ferocity of the fighting points to terrible battlefield losses.

Military leaders in Asmara and Addis Ababa will promise that one more offensive will deliver a decisive victory. We should not be deluded.

There is no military solution to the war. There is no meaningful ‘victory’ by any side. The final outcome will be a political agreement. Every day of continued fighting brings only more death, injury, starvation, rape and bitterness.

This is a major war. It has to stop.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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