There are several things that are incorrect about the news and discussions on the war on Tigray. One is about who the warring parties are. It is very easy and lazy to present it as one between a rogue rebel group and a legitimate and benign central government. It is a common framing and it sells well. But in the case of the war on Tigray, that framing is downright wrong. So who are the warring parties?
The war is between Tigray represented by an elected party, TPLF, and an illegitimate group led by @AbiyAhmedAli that has usurped power in Addis Abeba.
It is important to remember that Ethiopia follows a parliamentary system—people vote for political parties not a prime minister or a president. @AbiyAhmedAli was therefore never elected by the Ethiopian people. He was selected by the PERDF party which he accused of committing terrorism on Ethiopians. The party was discredited, but whatever little legitimacy he had came from it. But even that legitimacy has expired long time ago.
He was supposed to organize a free and fair election in May 20202. But Abiy Ahmed was not interested in an election. He was interested in being the “seventh King” which he says his mother saw in a vision and told him when he was seven years old. He was in search of ways to avoid election and consolidate power or to find a time when he could organize a sham election he can easily rig and win. He first extended the election to August, the middle of the rainy season, a very difficult, if not impossible, time for organizing election in a country with poor infrastructure. Then came Covid-19, and Abiy Ahmed wasted no time to grab the opportunity and unilaterally postpone the election indefinitely.
So Abiy Ahmed has no constitutional mandate whatsoever to rule Ethiopia. Constitutionally and legally, he is a private citizen. But he is in power unconstitutionally.
The Tigray government, run by TPLF, and many other political parties objected to the indefinite postponement of the election and called for a dialogue on how to run the government and decide an election date. Abiy Ahmed rejected that call. The Tigray government went ahead and organized an election for its Tigray parliament. The TPLF won and a new government has been formed. Abiy Ahmed saw it as a threat to his power ambition. He first imprisoned all of the other political parties that called for dialogue and fixing an election date. Lidetu Ayalew, Jawar Mohammed, Bekelle Gerba, Eskinder Nega are a few of them. Finally, he waged war on Tigray.
This war is therefore not between a rebel group and a central government, or between the TPLF and a central government. It is a war between Tigray with a constitutional and legitimate government and a group that has unconstitutionally seized power in Addis Abeba. And it is the unconstitutional group that has declared war on Tigray and its constitutional government to being “law and order”. An orony of irony, isn’t it? This war has many dimensions, but for Abiy Ahmed, the main one is power centralization and acquiring legitimacy through war.