Humanitarian situation in Tigray (23 July 2021)

Dear friends,

This 29th digest focuses on some news from Tigray despite the near-total blackout (section 1), the situation at Mekelle University (section 2), the dire conditions of Western Tigray (section 3). We use the German case, as an example to mention the diplomatic efforts (section 4), and further include links to some major press articles (section 5) and opinion pieces (section 6).

  1. Situation in Tigray

There is limited information coming out of Tigray. The general feeling is that, though we could rarely talk to our friends and relatives since 28 June, they are relatively safe now, with no more warfare in most of Tigray, and no more killing, looting and raping soldiers around. We managed to get limited information through a few satellite telephone communications, and the following would be the general situation.

  • Humanitarian aid: There is a very dire humanitarian situation due to the total blockade of Tigray. There is no humanitarian corridor yet and the federal government “is doing everything to worsen the case”. This is confirmed by the latest OCHA map that shows a good accessibility within Tigray, but all borders closed due to blocking by ENDF and Amhara militias. Only one convoy, carrying 1000 tonnes has arrived since 28 June. The dire situation is well summarised in OCHA’s Daily Noon Briefing Highlights – 21 July 2021.
  • Agriculture: many crops of the main rainy season (belgi) have been sown; farmers still have time to sow tef until the beginning of August
  • Internally displaced persons: internal refugees have started returning home, or at least some villagers return to assess the situation, except for those who came from Western Tigray, which is still occupied by Amhara militias. A package is being worked out to allow the IDPs to travel home with some assets. The Tigray Bureau of Agriculture is handling it. 
  • Banks: Despite being formally closed by the Ethiopian National Bank, bank agencies have opened, particularly in Mekelle and Shire, but only limited withdrawals (2000 ETB, about 40 €) are possible.
  • Telephone: There are no communications possible. Technicians try to restore the internal communication within Tigray.
  • Electricity: Electricity has come back in Mekelle and other towns. The power is generated by the Tekeze hydropower dam. Due to near-absence of power generation during the war, the reservoir of the Tekeze dam is however nearly full, though we are only in the first half of the rainy season. Emergency releases need to take place, and during these releases no power can be produced – for the technicalities see this paper by UGent and Mekelle University:  section 4.3 is specifically about the Tekeze dam operation.  
  • Education: the Tigray Bureau of Education aims at opening schools by September
  • Bridges:  after TDF has taken control of May Tsebri, the Imbamadre bridge across Tekeze River is under rehabilitation

Related press articles:

  1. Alarming situation at Mekelle University, Tigray, Ethiopia

Yesterday, I received a rare and short email from one of our alumni, now dean at Mekelle University (MU), sending greetings to all friends. There were also communications from Prof. Kindeya, previous president of Mekelle University.

In a press release, the MU President Office states the dire situation of the university, since Tigray has been sealed off from the outside world by the Ethiopian authorities on 28 June 2021. There is no banking, telecom, and government funds for the universities in Tigray are not transferred.

MU’s bank accounts have been blocked. They  couldn’t pay the salaries for their 7500 employees for the month of June. And anticipated also not in July. In Ethiopia, university students commonly take their meals in the students’ cafeteria, but MU ran out of stock to feed the 10,000 students who are present.

Though Mekelle University is peaceful now, many students from other regions wanted to return home as they could not communicate with their families through phone or email, or feared for hunger. MU worked with the UN and the Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education (MOSHE) to organise the travel home of these students. MU did its part and organised buses for the students, as the MOSHE representatives were absent at the Tigray border where the “transfer” was expected to take place, the students travelled back to Mekelle.

The Ethiopian federal government thus blocks the funding of Tigray’s universities, which are federal institutions, whilst other universities do not face this problem. This undermines the foundations of higher education in Ethiopia and may make international university partners reconsider the sustainability of cooperation.

Related press article:

  1. Massacres at Humera – situation in Western Tigray

We received information on Western Tigray through people who managed to escape to the Hamdayet refugee camp in Sudan and talked to their relatives. Not much additional information is available for the moment, people are afraid to talk. The Amhara authorities and fano militia which still control the zone force the people to hold “anti-woyane” demonstrations.

The remaining Tigrayans are mostly not allowed to use telephone. Triangulation is done with people in Humera using text messages.  The following is confirmed from these different sources:

  • People continue to flee to the refugee camps in Sudan.
  • Mass arrest of Tigrayans (mainly the men) continues, all police stations are full, and private trading and farming stores are used as concentration camps. “Warka Trading” and “Temesgen Zegeye” stores are among the biggest active concentration camps. Part of these detained civilians have been sent to Eritrea on two lorries.
  • It is  common that remaining women are gang-raped in their house.
  • A woman, Feven Berhe, had her eyes removed before she was killed. The reported reason for her killing was for having a Tigray flag in her house. Locals suspect however she might have refused to have sex with Amhara militiamen.
  • A man and his wife (names intentionally avoided) were beheaded, others had their stomach opened and were then thrown to the Tekeze River.
  • Downstream, across the border, in Sudan, dead bodies are observed floating on the Tekeze River

Articles on the situation in Humera and Western Tigray

  1. Sanctions & understanding diplomacy

The Ethiopian Minister of Peace visited Germany and the UK. Diplomatic statements were made, and sometimes it is difficult to see what is behind the jargon.

Ministry of Peace (Twitter: @MoP_Ethiopia): “During her official visit to Germany and the UK, HE Peace Minister Muferihat Kamil briefed State Secretary Miguel Berger of Germany and Minister for Africa James Duddridge of the UK on the current situation in Ethiopia. HE the Minister explained the rationale behind the declaration of a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire by the Ethiopian Government; the national dialogue being undertaken throughout the country and national development activities underway. HE Muferihat Kamil also called upon the international community to condemn TPLF’s orchestrated misinformation/disinformation campaign and multifaceted destruction.”

Colleague Patrick Heinisch contacted the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development about this recent meeting with Ethiopian government representatives. Spokesperson of the Ministry confirmed that: (1) Germany acts in line with EU and currently withholds €100m of “reform financing” to Ethiopia; (2) disbursement depends on steps taken by the Ethiopian government to resolve the Tigray crisis and investigations of infringements against human rights; (3) Germany demands immediate ceasefire and a political process to overcome the Tigray conflict; (4) humanitarian cooperation goes on.

Full text of the communication by the German Ministry [in German] can be found here:

The EU Special Envoy for the Horn, Annette Weber travelled to Addis Ababa in the last week. She was received by vice PM Mekonnen even though apparently she expected to meet PM Abiy. The same ‘disconnect’ was apparent in what was reported on the Ethiopian side and the EU side.

The situation in Tigray was discussed at the 47th meeting of the UN Council for Human Rights: “The Council requested the High Commissioner to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its forty-eighth session during an enhanced interactive dialogue. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 20 in favour, 14 against and 13 abstentions.” High commissioner Bachelet will have to say something about the joint investigation (EHRC-OHCRC) of the massacres in Tigray. It’s likely to remain on the Council’s agenda.

  1. Other press articles
  1. Opinion pieces

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

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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