One year of war in Tigray: blockade, famine and counter-offensive

English translation of an article published on INFO (French):

Daniel Fontaine | 2/11/2021

A year after the outbreak of war in Tigray, fear seems to have changed sides. Tigrayan fighters have regained control of most of their region and are now advancing to the south, and to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

On November 4, 2020, the Ethiopian army launched an assault on the Tigray region. The aim was to arrest the leaders of the TPLF, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who rejected the authority of the federal government. The operation was carried out with the support of Eritrea, at the cost of massacres and abuses.

But since then, the TPLF has reorganized militarily and launched a counter-offensive. In June, Tigrayan fighters regained control of Mekele, the regional capital. In recent days, they have continued their advance out of Tigray.

The war followed from Liège

These events are closely followed from Liège by Dr. André Crismer. He worked in Ethiopia 30 years ago for Médecins Sans Frontières and fell in love with the region. With his NGO Tesfay, he extends his action on behalf of Tigray. He is in constant contact with a network of Tigrayans, both locally and abroad.

“There is much more motivation on the Tigrayan side than on the government side. They are fighting for their freedom, their autonomy, their survival.”

His interlocutors say they are relieved by the “liberation”  of Tigray in June. “From December to June, we only talked about daily massacres, rapes,” explains André Crismer. They feared for their family members. Young people I know have joined the Tigrayan forces: they prefer to go and fight to change the situation rather than wait.”

This fighting mobilization among the population would have made the difference: “There is much more motivation on the Tigrayan side than on the government side. They are fighting for their freedom, their autonomy, their survival,” notes the Belgian doctor.

Yet the situation remains alarming. With the exception of one or another front line, fighting has ceased inside Tigray. But the region is under a severe blockade.

Communications cut off

Even information is difficult to obtain, as communications are cut off. “We have some contacts with people who are hiding in Addis Ababa and others who have gone abroad,” explains André Crismer. From far and wide, we have a brief contact with people who are in Tigray. It is not possible to call from Mekele. Some young people travel 50 kilometers to the south, climb a mountain, and there they pick up the network to communicate or send a message.”

“Tigray is under total blockade,” the doctor continues. “The price of food has been multiplied by 10, while people have no income: teachers, nurses, civil servants are no longer paid.”

500 to 1500 starvation deaths per day

In their contacts with the outside, the inhabitants keep a certain modesty about their daily difficulties: “People say that food is lacking, but that they manage to cope. It is in Ethiopian culture not to announce bad news over the phone. Some estimates suggest 500 to 1500 starvation deaths per day in Tigray! It would take 100 trucks of humanitarian aid a day, but there are only 100 a month.”

The blockade and famine are of course the result of a year of war. “The Ethiopian and Eritrean armies hit the population to demoralize the Tigrayan fighting forces. Farmers were prevented from working. Their herds have been looted, whereas traditionally oxen are used to plough. Many peasants could not prepare the land.” This shortfall adds to an agricultural situation already critical from the beginning of the war due to a year of drought and an invasion of locusts.

No peace process

Only negotiations would make it possible to put an end to the blockade and the ongoing fighting on the borders of Tigray. But no peace process is emerging. “The Prime Minister has lost all credibility,” notes André Crismer. “My Tigrayan contacts tell me that it is impossible to discuss with Abiy Ahmed: he is not reliable, he has said everything and its opposite for a year. Yet, sooner or later, we will get there. Even if the Tigrayans win a military victory, they will have to negotiate. The alternative is a war that will drag on.”

 © AFP

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