12 months of conflict in Ethiopia: everyday goods are priceless in Addis Ababa

12 months of conflict in Ethiopia
Everyday goods are priceless in Addis Ababa

Ethiopian rebels advance on the capital Addis Ababa. The country’s economy is in free fall and many families can no longer even afford basic groceries. Citizens are wondering how long the capital can hold up.

Addis Ababa holds its breath. The noise of circling military helicopters can be heard in parts of the city. Everyday life in Ethiopia’s capital is characterized by uncertainty and fear. People are fleeing the violence from the neighboring Amhara region. After a year, the war that began in the northern region of Tigray has arrived in the heart of the second largest country in Africa. Like many others, for example, a local employee of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) took in five family members who had fled to the capital from fierce fighting in the city of Dessie. People from the disputed regions of Tigray, Afar and Oromia also took refuge in Addis Ababa. But after 12 months of conflict in their own country, economically, people in the capital have their backs to the wall, says Michael Tröster, head of the FES in Ethiopia.

In view of the galloping inflation, everyday goods are hardly affordable for many people. According to the national statistics agency, the inflation rate in September was 34.8 percent, and for food it was even 42 percent. The supermarket shelves have been swept empty, and for many people even staple foods such as onions, tomatoes or bananas are too expensive. People fear for their existence. So did the 26-year-old civil servant and mother of two Selamawit. Together she and her husband earn around 16,200 birr (around 293 euros). Even before that, it wasn’t easy to get the family through with it. Now she is behind on her mortgage payments and is afraid of losing her home. Selamawit is still hoping for an army victory over the rebels of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

But the military is on the defensive, a rebel alliance made up of the TPLF and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is on the rise. In the north, the rebels are less than 400 kilometers from the five million capital, in the east they want to cut the city’s supply route to the important port in neighboring Djibouti. When will the capital fall, people wonder. Is it about days, weeks or months? And what’s next? And with whom? It is a spectacular collapse of a country that has long been an anchor of stability in East Africa. Since 2011, annual economic growth has averaged 9.4 percent. The rise of the current head of government, Abiy Ahmed, followed. The comparatively young Abiy wanted to promote democratic and economic change in the country with 110 million inhabitants. The son of a Christian and a Muslim from Oromo was supposed to ensure political balance between the ethnic groups in the country. Abiy was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize and generous international support for his reforms and peace with the former archenemy Eritrea. He failed to equalize in his own country.

Abiy breaks TPLF’s dominance

The conflict in Tigray began at the beginning of November 2020. The background to this were years of tensions between the government in Addis Ababa and the TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopia for a good 25 years until Abiy came to power in 2018. The TPLF conducted arbitrary elections in Tigray and shortly afterwards attacked a military base. The head of government started an offensive with the help of Eritrea. But many high-ranking army officers defected to the TPLF. The government brought out heavier and heavier artillery without success. Then Addis Ababa began a de facto blockade of Tigray. The conflict has led to a serious humanitarian crisis in the country, where millions of people are now dependent on aid.

The internationally acclaimed reformer Abiy has become an outsider and is heavily criticized for human rights violations. Western donors, especially the US, have stopped many payments. There is not much left of the positive energy and optimism of 2018 today, says a German architect who has been running an architecture office in Addis Ababa since 2016 and does not want to be named due to security concerns. You can tell that people in the ethnically mixed capital are now treating each other differently, she says. Many conversations are highly emotional and the people around them are emaciated. Since the authorities were called to arm themselves and defend the city, nobody really knows what to do next.

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