Follow-up (3 March 2021) regarding the appeal on humanitarian disaster in north Ethiopia

Follow up communication compiled by Prof. Dr. Jan Nyssen.

Dear friend,

Worldwide awareness of Tigray’s plight is growing. Yet, the situation still gets worse… not least because of the consequences of farmers having to eat what otherwise should have been the seeds for the next cropping season. On 28 February, UN OCHA stated diplomatically: “Despite large amounts of food aid reportedly dispatched across Tigray, better monitoring is needed to ensure that aid is reaching those most in need.”

This circular wants to update you on the following

  • 24 hours for Tigray on 9 and 10 March
  • Reminder: the Tigray petition on Avaaz
  • Amnesty and media reports on the massacres in Tigray
  • Ethiopian mood in relation to the reality of the Tigray war
  • Media
  • Opinion pieces


A global coalition of Tigrayan organisations and individuals hosts a 24 hour lobby to highlight the growing humanitarian crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia.


Sharing with your personal network is very important for an effective result. You can do so through Facebook or Twitter after signing.



Over the last week there has been reporting by Amnesty international and different media channels about massacres in Tigray.


Maryam Dengelat

Gijet and Samre

Adi Mendi and Debre Harmaz in Central Tigray

Potential for new massacres in roadside villages

Two sources informed that both ENDF and Eritrean soldiers establish camps in villages along the main roads. People are then forced to leave part of the homesteads and must stay in other houses in the village. The soldiers steal from all houses. But, especially, they prevent the people from leaving their village, they want to use them as human shields in case TDF would attack. In Adigrat, one source explained that Eritrean soldiers now come to people’s houses dropping their military attire and taking clothes from the household, telling people that they will have to say that they are from the family or they live with them.

As part of an upcoming Atlas of the Humanitarian situation in Tigray, we have published a Map of civilian victims in the Tigray war – text is also translated in Italian language


Many ENDF soldiers are very young, as seen from images of prisoners of war (PoW) taken by the Tigray forces ( ). More graphic videos after battles have emerged also, with dozens of similarly young soldiers killed. These young soldiers get mobilised and rapidly sent to the front, seemingly believing the government’s story that all is peaceful, and that they just have “some patrolling to do”.

The amazing story of this group of PoW goes on. After some time, they were released by the Tigray forces, yet had to walk back to Mekelle. Unarmed, the boys reached the outskirts of Mekelle on foot. In a video, we see Mekelle residents advising them to hide in their houses and put civilian clothes; within seconds, confidence gets installed and the PoW happily accept the advice, in the same time deserting from the ENDF.

Also, in Raya Azebo, a deserter of ENDF shared this story with one of our witnesses on the ground: “I have been captured and released twice by woyane. The first time we went fighting in the war front with 2000 soldiers, about 10 of us were captured and the rest was killed. We were released after a few days of education; after release, ENDF forced me to join another battalion; then I was again captured by the local militia with another soldier, the rest of the battalion was killed or some escaped. They released us again. Now I am hiding in a small town and hope to get civilian clothing so that I can move to my place of origin.”

In view of the above situation, we thought that after they heard about Somalian mothers protesting, mothers in Ethiopia must also have started asking about their children. We have telephoned left and right in order to sense the Ethiopian mood in relation to the reality of the Tigray war. It has been a difficult task, but here are some statements, deemed representative.

a. Reactions within universities

Mekelle University (MU) has started working, mainly graduating students who were near to conclusion. Students have travelled from farther areas, approximately unaware of the real situation in Mekelle and surroundings. Mid February, six students of Mekelle University have also been killed after their bus ran in an ambush on the way to Addis Ababa.

Many staff at MU seem to be unhappy to contact their former friends, students and colleagues at other universities. The water is too deep.  

MU student, from Dire Dawa: “I will be in Mekelle in the coming days, I am late only because my mom was sick. I guess more than half of the students I know have not gone to MU. I called the friends who are there already, they doubt if it would be possible to finish the academic year.”

MU student, from Mertule-Mariam (Amhara Region): “Its been three weeks since I am here in Mekelle. The number of students in campus is more than I expected. At first we thought only few students would come. We freely move in town until curfew time, and all the time in campus. Since we came here there was one occasion we heard some gunfire. That is still not a big deal though.”

MU student, Tigrayan: “We have started class. There is no communication between the Tigrayan and other Ethiopian students. If we talk for a minute, we almost fight. They say to have enjoyed what is happening, and its their pleasure to see ENDF soldiers (unlike us). They seem to show pleasure hearing loud gun fire.” She did not want to connect us with those students: “We no longer talk to our friends and classmates from other parts of Ethiopia”.

An academic staff at Gondar University (Amhara Region): “I can classify our university staff into three groups, with regard to Tigray: (1) Animosity still animates a large part of the staff; (2) Those who lack information. Most people only listen to the state media. I now see that many are understanding the ground situation after one or two months. This takes time because of misinformation and a tendency not to listen or internalize the pain; and (3) staff of Tigrayan origin and a few others who are sympathetic to Tigray.

b. Reactions from Addis Ababa

An international academic, with much research experience in Ethiopia: “I am very concerned about how things will develop the coming years in Ethiopia. When I zoom with people in Addis it´s like nothing is going on up in the north. They will deny or say that it is well deserved”.

A women researcher, in her late 30s, mixed Oromo and Amhara origin. Inflation and the price of things is on her mind. But she spontaneously says that what the government tells about Tigray is not true and it cannot be believed. She talks frequently with her Tigrayan colleague who has seen the situation in Tigray. Hence, she may know more than many people. In our office there are others who don’t think that it’s OK, what happens there. Oromia is very unsettled, and divided between those supporting Jawar Mohammed and his friends in jail and those supporting Abiy Ahmed. She said people are shifting sides all the times as well…

A long-term foreign resident in Addis Ababa: “I noticed that every group is talking almost exclusively about “their own issue” for the moment, with very few people commenting on the overall situation in the country. Oromo talk about the hunger strike by Jawar and others; Amhara on the Sudanese army in Al-Fashaqa; Southern Nations about the planned division of their region. People talk only about the issue which concerns their group, while being rather reluctant to talk with foreigners about the situation in Tigray.”

The Amnesty International report has been noticed even by people who have tended to ‘shield themselves’ from the news – and this, before the government reaction. Some people who until then preferred not to talk about the war in Tigray stated that this was terrible, and Ethiopia was “returning to days of savagery”. 

A foreign observer in Addis Ababa states: “Many Addis Ababa residents don’t believe government propaganda but keep silent because of the high level of general suspicion. Monitoring of neighbours by neighbours, that people long blamed on the TPLF, is still in place. Politics is not talked about, except behind closed doors or in conventional and agreed terms. There is, however, a strong feeling of defiance towards Abiy Ahmed. For Oromo nationalists, he failed to achieve true autonomy and is responsible for Jawar’s and Bekele’s jailing. For Amhara nationalists, he’s only a temporary ally, before the issue of the annexation of parts of Tigray brings Amhara nationalists and the federal government at war against each other.”


The government has ‘granted access’ to seven international media houses (Reuters, AFP, New York Times, BBC, al-Jazeera, France 24 and the Financial Times). However, threatening statements, harassing and arrests of journalists’ ‘fixers’ and translators, and the arrest of the BBC’s reporter in Tigray suggest that this move goes hand in hand with repression (as stated by Martin Plaut).

Jan Nyssen is full professor of geography at Ghent University (Belgium). Besides numerous scientific publications mostly related to Ethiopia, he published two books: “ካብ ሓረስቶት ደጉዓ ተምቤን እንታይ ንስምዕ”? “What do we hear from the farmers in Dogu’a Tembien”? [in Tigrinya] (2016), and “Geo Trekking in Ethiopia’s Tropical Mountains, the Dogu’a Tembien District”. Springer GeoGuide (2019).

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