Humanitarian situation in Tigray (08 December 2021)

Dear reader,

Famine and starvation in Tigray are worse than ever, and the world looks away (section 1). Diplomacy tends also to turn a blind eye on the ethnic cleansing of 1.2M Tigrayans (section 2)! As scientists, we do our best to share our findings related to this war and its effects on the affected human populations (section 3). Yet, despite Abiy’s media blockade, we get some information about the resilience of the Tigray people (section 4). In Ethiopia, academics are heavily pressurised to join Abiy’s war on Tigray (section 5), and there is also extreme ethnic targeting on Tigrayans who live in Addis Ababa and other towns in Ethiopia (section 6). The regime supporters now have discovered “panafricanism”, while reversely progressive Americans call for arms embargo on Ethiopia (section 7). We conclude this Tigray digest, with links to some opinion pieces (section 8) and media articles (section 9).

FEWS NET classification is an IPC-compatible analysis following key IPC protocols.
  1. Famine

Famine Early Warning System Network predicts by early next year the whole of Tigray and northern Ethiopia will be in or close to famine.  The situation will be worse even than in Yemen.

From one of our friends: “The government of Tigray has estimated that there are 6.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the region. OF THESE, 1.6 MILLION ARE FACING ACUTE FAMINE. Watching the news live from TIGRAY, while not being able to contact family and friends is traumatic.”

Related media articles:

  1. Ethnic cleansing

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA) about 1.2 million people were displaced from the Western Zone to other parts of Tigray, while more than 70,000 people were displaced to Sudan since the start of the conflict in November last year.

Related media article:

3. Scientific publications related to the Tigray war

Media and opinion articles related to the documentation of casualties in the Tigray war:

  1. Resilience

Fragmentary news that reaches us from Tigray again confirms the resilience of the region. Internal telephone landlines linking Mekelle and Aksum, and the areas in between have been restored.

For the crop production, Tigrai TV presented a nice crop stand of sorghum in a village of Wajirat. The farmers had been forbidden to plough by the Ethiopian soldiers but they still did it. In absence of wider landscape views, we cannot assess whether this is local success or if the crop stand is good in the wider area (https://twitter.com/Efrem_Wediweyen/status/1463697864748670986). A friend whose father is a farmer in a village of Sa’isi’e district also mentions that those farmers who could sow timely expect a “really good  harvest” around there.

  1. Universities in Ethiopia

Universities in Ethiopia, and particularly those of Amhara region and Addis Ababa University are on the path of hate speech, ethnic discrimination and active prosecution of staff and students of Tigrayan origin, and whoever is in favour of ceasefire.

Gonder University revoked the Honorary Doctorate of Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin. (https://twitter.com/wedi_atse/status/1465740386748428289)

Addis Ababa University announced the retroactive removal of academic degrees conferred on ethnic Tigrayans for not supporting the government of Abiy Ahmed.

Earlier on, we mentioned the prosecutions at Bahir Dar University and the murder of professors of Tigrayan origin – one at Bahirdar University and two others at Wollo University.

Calls for investigation, sanctions and cancelling of cooperation programmes with certain Ethiopian universities are increasing.

As professor of peace/conflict studies, colleague Kjetil Tronvoll was invited to hold a lecture on the civil war in Ethiopia at the University of South Carolina (US). The lecture was cancelled by the university due to pressure from political activists supporting the Abiy Ahmed’s warfare. In a widely circulated letter (https://twitter.com/KjetilTronvoll/status/1466102267103297541), Kjetil concludes that the Ethiopian regime and its affiliates threaten academic freedom globally.

In the US, after Howard University, Yale University disinvited Ann Fitz-Gerald from a panel discussion on the civil war in Ethiopia. A major reason is that Fitz-Gerald is far too intimate with the ENDF (Ethiopian Army) – to say the least. In a project document,  dating from 2012 (http://iati.fcdo.gov.uk/iati_documents/3474735.odt), Fitz-Gerald (then at Cranfield University) obtained funding from the British government (HMG) for a security-related training programme in Ethiopia, because “Ann FitzGerald – is extremely well-connected to the security sector (…). The evidence is strong.” Back in October, Fitz-Gerald had already actively lobbied for the cancellation of a panel discussion on “Understanding the Implications of War on Children and Families in Tigray,” at her own Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada.

  1. The fate of Tigrayans and Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa and Nairobi

Some of our colleagues had the opportunity to visit the Eritrean refugees in Addis Ababa; with permission, this is a summary of their internal report.

Eritrean refugees are more afraid in Ethiopia since Eritrean president Issayas and Ethiopia’s PM Abiy have become “friends”, and fear kidnapping or killing by what everyone believes are Isayas’ spies, if they criticise Issayas. In this situation, they do not speak out against Abiy either, and blame the present situation on TPLF-TDF.

Tigrayans were already arrested during our stay in Addis but this intensified after the state of emergency. These arrests have an element of extortion to it. For instance, three kebelle (local) officials of Tigrayan origin were arrested, but then released again after a few days by paying 10,000 birr each. Of course, they don’t get a receipt for such payments. Two other Tigrayans, who both work in a private company, had to pay 60,000 birr each to be released (within 5 days). As has also been mentioned by others, people don’t get an official declaration of why they are imprisoned. Lately, women with babies are also locked up – and not everyone is able to pay their way out again. Many Tigrayans in Addis have gone into hiding. Those who can’t hide are being coerced into participating to demonstrations against TPLF (https://twitter.com/RAbdiAnalyst/status/1467375579221667846). Also the government-aligned Fana BC report does not do an effort to hide that participants are forced to participate in such staged events. They are mainly women (their husbands being in concentration camps), looking depressed and trying to hide their faces.

In areas with many Eritreans in Addis, it was normal to hear Tigrinya spoken in the streets before the state of emergency was introduced on 2 November 2021. In the present situation, Eritreans also risk being arrested and keep quiet in public. Both Tigrayans and Eritreans stay inside as much as possible.

In Addis Ababa, our colleagues also observed that of the hundreds of building projects all over the town, all except a few have stopped working. There have not been any loans available from banks since August this year.

A Tigrayan businessman, Samson Teklemichael, was kidnapped in Nairobi on 29 November and remains missing. A video footage shows the incident in broad daylight with police collaborating to his abduction. There is strong fear among the community in Kenya that the businessman might have been taken to Ethiopia. Axumite Media, a growing media established by a group of Tigrayan journalists, broadcasted from Nairobi via virtual, written and radio programmes also announced on 4 December to have quitted operation for security reasons (https://twitter.com/wldgrgs23/status/1467093925185921028).

Related media articles:

  1. The new panafricanism?

Following months of discrediting international media, a narrative has been launched in Ethiopia that the US would be pro-TPLF, and the war against Tigray all of a sudden claimed to be “anti-imperialist”.

Reversely, progressive US Rep. IIhan Omar calls for an arms embargo on Ethiopia (1 December 2021): https://twitter.com/Ilhan/status/1466139391038996483

Related media and opinion articles:

  1. Recent opinion pieces
  1. Other media articles

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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