The transition to an ethnically Oromo leader marked a break from 27 years of rule by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). And in a country historically dominated by Orthodox and Muslim believers, Abiy became the first openly evangelical head of government Ethiopia ever had.
But since a bitter and violent conflict broke out between Abiy’s government and the formerly ruling TPLF in the northern Tigray region in November 2020, evangelicals—who make up just over 18 percent of the population—have been divided over how to respond.
The majority, according to Christian Ethiopians and ministry workers in Ethiopia that I interviewed, support the military operation. Their support has held strong even as reports of civilian deaths, ethnic cleansing, horrific human rights abuses, and widespread hunger inflicted on the Tigrayan population rise in scale and urgency.
Earlier this month, the UN announced that more than 350,000 people in the Tigray region are already living in famine conditions, with another 1.7 million approaching famine. While the national government this week unilaterally declared a ceasefire after Tigrayans recaptured their regional capital, the TPLF is vowing to continue the fight.
Mazaa (a pseudonym), a 44-year-old who runs a K–8 school with her husband outside of Addis Ababa, has tried to share her concerns about the grave suffering of Tigrayans with fellow evangelicals. She asked not to be named out of fear of retribution against her students’ families.
Her school near the capital city serves a number of Tigrayan families; she has seen firsthand how the fathers of her students have been “disappeared,” and then how the surviving widows and children are isolated socially and economically. Her friends’ response? “These people brought it on themselves. It’s not without cause.”
“I don’t care what the cause is,” Mazaa told me. “Jesus says we have to love one another. Love doesn’t take any conditions. The love we offer and give has to be without any condition.”
She also believes the war is unnecessary. The dispute between Abiy and the TPLF “should have been resolved another way. Fighting could have been avoided, if there was dialogue or reconciliation or willingness on their part to go through a lot of steps.”