Eritrea's Long Bitter Feud with Ethiopia's Tigray
The contemporary rivalry between Eritrea and Tigray goes back several decades. After an almost-17-year-long civil war starting in the mid-1970s, the Eritrean EPLF and Tigrayan TPLF jointly defeated Ethiopia’s Derg regime in 1991, resulting in Eritrea’s independence and the TPLF taking power in Ethiopia. Despite their joint achievement, their already-complicated relations soon started to sour. A growing power struggle, as well as unresolved territorial disputes between the two sides, led to a deadly border war lasting from 1998 to 2000. Meanwhile, an increasingly repressive Eritrean regime found itself regionally and globally isolated. A new administration in Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed signed a peace agreement with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in 2018, formally ending the border war. However, this rapprochement between Addis Ababa and Asmara also appeared to pave the way for Ethiopia’s civil war, with Eritrea allying with Ethiopia’s federal government in the war against Tigrayan forces in northern Ethiopia that started in 2020.
In this episode of The Horn, Alan is joined by Michael Woldemariam, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, to take a deep dive into the long and tumultuous relationship between Eritrea and Tigray to understand Eritrea’s motives and objectives in the Ethiopian conflict. They talk about the origins of the relations between the EPLF and the TPLF and their shared struggle against Ethiopia’s Derg regime from the 1970s to 1991. They unpack how relations between the two sides soured in a struggle for power and authority, culminating in the deadly border clashes starting in 1998. They also discuss how Eritrean President Afwerki’s motivations in the conflict in northern Ethiopia have shifted over time. Finally, they talk about how to navigate Eritrea’s role while trying to end the conflict in Tigray.
Please note that this episode was recorded before the 2 November truce agreement between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigray’s leaders.
For more in-depth analysis on Ethiopia and Eritrea, make sure to check out our Horn of Africa regional page.
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