A year of war in Tigray, but when will there be dialogue?

Is there enough will to force the pride of a few, to try and interrupt the drama that affects Ethiopia?

Jan Nyssen & André Crismer, La Libre Belgique, 2 November 2021: Un an de guerre au Tigré, mais à quand le dialogue ? [in French]

By André Crismer, general practitioner, member of the non-profit association Tesfay; and Jan Nyssen, Professor of Geography at the University of Ghent

Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia; and Esayas Afeworki, President of Eritrea

Nearly a year ago, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, proclaimed that in a fortnight he would have eliminated a clique of a dozen people and that there would be no civilian casualties. Since October 18, the capital of Tigray has been bombed and hundreds of people are starving every day.

Since November 3, 2020, an absurd and deadly war has developed in northern Ethiopia, between the Ethiopian army, the Amhara militias and the Eritrean army on the one hand and the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) on the other.

On 20 November 2020, La Libre Belgique  published our appeal: “There is still time to prevent a humanitarian tragedy in Tigray”. We knew that this conflict was going to get sogged down and we feared that the region, already hit by drought and destructive locust invasions, would suffer widespread famine, as in 1984-1985.

Since then, the population of Tigray has been the victim of destruction, repeated and almost systematic looting (houses, schools, hospitals, churches, businesses…), massacres against civilians, violence never that was never seen before in the region, especially against women. The farmers were stripped of their herds and in particular of their oxen, necessary for ploughing. Some paid with their lives for their attempt to work their land.

All this pushed many young Tigrayans to join the TDF who had retreated to the mountains.

In June 2021, there was a major turnaround on the ground. The TDF won several important battles, took many prisoners and seized weapons from enemies. They were able to retake the regional capital Makelle and most of Tigray with the notable exception of the western region, which borders Sudan. In front of his routed army, Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire, while delivering hate speech against the Tigrayans and imposing a mediaeval-style siege.

Since then, the larger part of the population of Tigray no longer lives in the permanent anguish of indiscriminate violence, but the region is isolated, without telephones, without electricity and with very uncertain and insufficient food supplies. The lack of bank services reinforces the difficulties of access to food, especially for urban dwellers.

Currently, the TDF is trying to advance southward, with the aim of clearing the access road between Djibouti and Tigray, and the war is raging more than ever. We have little news of what is happening in the west of Tigray or in the north on the border with Eritrea. In addition, other violence has erupted in the rest of Ethiopia between Oromo rebel movements and government and Amhara forces…

The future looks bleak

Heavy fighting has left thousands dead. Civilians have been massacred and tortured. In Tigray, more than two million people have had to leave their homes, and millions are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. At least 400,000 people live in starvation conditions and every day hundreds of people die of hunger. The results of thirty years of hard work and development have been destroyed. The future looks bleak… The Afar and Amhara populations are also suffering, and this war is hitting the economy of the whole country hard.

The only way out, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres repeats, is dialogue and negotiation. We do not yet see the beginnings…

At the international level, Russia and China are silent, the African Union is not very talkative, the European Union and the United States are barely scolding a little. Ethiopia receives weapons from Turkey, Iran and China.

Is there enough will to force the pride of a few and push them to negotiation, to try to interrupt this prolonged drama? In Tigray, a whole people is dying. Almost silently. Except for the sound of falling bombs.

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