Statement on the war in Tigray

The war in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray is almost certainly the bloodiest conflict currently under way in the world. It erupted on the night of the 3rd and 4th of November 2020, making this the second anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict. In excess of 500,000 people are estimated to have been killed and many millions displaced.[1]

The war involves all Ethiopians, who have been drawn into the fighting, but this is no ordinary domestic dispute. From the start Eritrean forces and thousands of Somali troops have been involved. Sudan has threatened and so has Kenya. A powerful statement was delivered by former senior American diplomats, a day after the conflict began.[2] Three former US Assistant Secretaries of State (Jonnie Carson, Chester Crocker, Jeffrey Feltman) joined former ambassadors warning of the possible consequences: 

[T]he fragmentation of Ethiopia would be the largest state collapse in modern history. Ethiopia is five times the size of pre-war Syria by population, and its breakdown would lead to mass interethnic and interreligious conflict; a dangerous vulnerability to exploitation by extremists; an acceleration of illicit trafficking, including of arms; and a humanitarian and security crisis at the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East on a scale that would overshadow any existing conflict in the region, including Yemen. 

Their warning is as apposite today as it was two years ago. The United Nations and African Union have attempted to halt the war, as have the United States and the European Union. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was actively engaged in attempting to end the war within days of its commencement. Talks finally opened in South Africa in October 2022, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta and South Africa’s ex-vice president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.  

The engagement of such senior politicians in attempts to bring this tragic war to an end highlights the role of Commonwealth leaders in security and peacebuilding. I commend their efforts and call on the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to give them every encouragement and assistance in this complex and challenging assignment.

Dr Sue Onslow

Director, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study


[2] Statement on Ethiopia by the Senior Study Group on Peace and Security in the Red Sea Arena, US Institute of Peace, 5 November 2020, Accessed 11 April 2022