Hostilities in Ethiopia’s Tigray carries significant threats of instability, raising overall political and security risks to local operations

Hostilities in Ethiopia’s Tigray carries significant threats of instability, raising overall political and security risks to local operations


  • Hostilities erupted on 4 November between armed groups and militias loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on one side and the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) on the other. While the federal government has characterised the fighting as ‘law enforcement operations’, the use of heavy artillery, and air strikes in the northern Tigray regional state, underscore the severity of the situation.
  • Communications have been suspended and overland transport severely impeded by the conflict. This includes roadblocks by the armed forces as well as border closures, which are hampering the ability of civilians to flee the conflict and access to humanitarian aid.
  • Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed on 27 November that the ENDF had retaken control of the Tigrayan capital Mekelle in a significant turning point for the conflict. However, since then there have been a series of reports of continuing, albeit more sporadic fighting in several parts of Tigray. The TPLF’s history of high military capabilities and battle-hardened fighters, as well as strong nationalist sentiment in Tigray, suggests the conflict could become protracted.
  • The TPLF has vowed to continue its resistance and possesses the ability to strike locations outside Tigray, highlighted by an alleged attack on the capital Asmara on 28 November a few hours after the PM announced the takeover of Mekelle. Some six rockets struck near residential areas within the city.
  • Furthermore, a series of conflicts in other regional states of Ethiopia underscores the country’s growing volatility ahead of planned general elections in 2021. Violent protests, inter-communal fighting, and militant attacks have also occurred in other parts of the country, including in Oromia, Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s regions over the past year, including in November.
  • The longer the latest conflict in Tigray goes on, the greater the risks of it entangling other regions of Ethiopia as well as neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea and Sudan.


  • The humanitarian impact of the Tigray conflict has already been devastating, with over 45,000 people fleeing across the Sudanese border and about 950,000 internally displaced persons. The situation is likely to worsen over the coming months should the conflict continue.
  • There are significant security and compliance risks associated with the continuation and probable escalation in hostilities. These affect Ethiopia more broadly but Tigray in particular, as the region has attracted significant foreign direct investment over the past decade.
  • Telecommunications and transport links have been severely restricted, while authorities have frozen 34 bank accounts belonging to the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), which was managed by the TPLF and has been a key partner in many investment projects.
  • A number of manufacturing companies, including in textile and , have suspended operations and evacuated their staff.
  • In addition, the federal government has reshuffled parts of the armed forces, reportedly dismissing many Tigrayans from their positions in South Sudan but also Somalia, where the ENDF is participating in the African Union Mission in Somalia.
  • Even if hostilities do not become as extensive as they were in November, the ENDF is likely to remain deployed across large parts of Tigray over the three-month outlook, at least. This may hamper logistics out of Mekelle Industrial Park – a key manufacturing hub.


  • With communications on the ground severely impeded, organisations with operations in Tigray should take active steps to locate the whereabouts of their staff and their well-being, as part of their duty of care.
  • Companies with operations in Tigray should anticipate a protracted conflict, which may expand to neighbouring regions ahead of general elections due in 2021. This should be factored into overall security threat assessment and planning.
  • Against this backdrop, companies should expect increased political risks, for instance through the suspension of bilateral and multilateral financing, which may delay the roll-out of investments. Relatedly, a reshuffling of government agency workers in Tigray over the past two months is also likely to complicate relations with local stakeholders over the next three to six months.
  • In light of the most recent developments, we have updated the Security and Stability risk scores for Ethiopia to High – the second-highest on a six-tier scale, while we have escalated the Corruption and Political risk scores to Elevated, the third-highest level. See these four Ethiopia Risk ratings below:

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