Humanitarian situation in Tigray (12 February 2022)

Dear colleague,

With the ongoing blockade, famine and starvation in Tigray (section 1), it is urgent to show our concerns to the world’s public opinion and decision makers. There will be a public demonstration in Brussels on Thursday 17 February (afternoon) on the occasion of the European Union – African Union summit. Ethiopia’s PM Abiy is attending the summit, in spite of the continued blockade on Tigray (see below). This is in contrast with the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, who have not been invited as the AU has suspended these countries’ membership because of military coups.

See all details of the appeal for the demonstration, to urge the EU, the AU and the international community to act nowhttps://mobile.twitter.com/emnet_negash/status/1491919237161566208

  1. Famine and starvation

Tigray continues to be blockaded. Crops have been harvested now, but according to field observations done by Mekelle University geographers, and in line with FEWSNET estimates, harvest would be only 25-50% of the normal harvest. This food will be consumed soon.

The food shortages are the base for an extreme human health crisis.

In these conditions, ICRC gets through with now daily flights with medical aid, and now also WHO, but food aid continues to be almost totally blockaded.

A short review of the status along the main access routes to Tigray (in clockwise order, starting from north):

  • Massawa – Addi Kuala – Adwa: closed by Eritrea
  • Massawa – Tsorona – Enicho: closed by Eritrea
  • Massawa – Senafe – Adigrat: closed by Eritrea
  • Assab – Semera – Kuneba/Ab’ala/Weldiya – Mekelle: closed at times by Afar authorities, multiple check points by the Ethiopian government, and since two weeks, mainly by major warfare
  • Djibouti – Semera – Ab’ala – Mekelle: closed by Ethiopia and frequent warfare
  • Djibouti/Addis – Weldiya – Alamata – Mekelle: closed by Amhara region
  • Dessie – Lalibela – Sekota – Korem/Samre/Yechila – Mekelle: closed by Amhara Region
  • Bahir Dar – Debark – May Tsebri – Shire: closed by Amhara Region
  • Bahir Dar – Gondar – Dansha – Addi Remets – Shire: only accessible up to Addi Remets; further on closed by ENDF and Amhara militias
  • Bahir Dar – Gondar – May Kadra – Humera – Shire: closed by ENDF, EDF and Amhara
  • Port Sudan – May Kadra – Humera – Shire: closed by Ethiopia
  • Port Sudan – Tesseney – Shire: closed by Eritrea

This is why we say that Tigray is under a mediaeval siege, with the aim of starving the population.

However, Article 54 of the 1977 Protocol of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

“prohibits attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless [of] objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food, provisions, agricultural areas for production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, supplies and drinking water installations and irrigation works”

Yet, this is exactly what we have seen in the Tigray war. Everything mentioned in that protocol has been applied by the Eritrean and Ethiopian troops in Tigray.

Additional sources

  1. Scientific articles about the humanitarian situation in Tigray
  1. Fate of Tigrayans in Ethiopia

Many Tigrayan prisoners have been released in Addis Ababa. We are happy to learn that several of our friends are free now.

Yet, to understand the context, move forward in this video (https://youtu.be/dV_GFx3YJg0) to 54:00; you will hear Abiy Ahmed explaining the releases of prisoners (in Amharic) in the context of upcoming AU and EU summits. The West seems to be easily charmed by his attempts to look “nice”… In our understanding, the release of Tigrayan prisoners is a superficial strategy in order to turn critical Western voices.

Many Tigrayans are still in prison yet; here some testimonies by people who have been released over the last weeks.

“I was released yesterday. I am fine and glad to be out. I was held in a cement warehouse and very difficult conditions for 800 people. About half released yesterday. But I feel uncertain that I could be picked up again. While in there, I had no news at all. I felt our lives were at threat also.” (man, 38 years old)

“I have a problem now. I have been imprisoned for 2 months. I am very sick. I’m being called to the hospital because of the beating. The police have no problem beating. I have not paid my six-month rent. If my landlord rented me out, I would be out on the street. I want to travel to the Middle East to work as a house maid, that is better than Addis.” (woman, 22 years old)

“I am a staff member of Addis Ababa University and I have been released from arbitrary jailing. It has been a great relief. It looks like the government is now releasing the unlawfully imprisoned people in mass as they arrested them in mass in the first place. This is a real time “dystopian” scenario. I do not know who arrested me (I mean the institution) and I do not know who released me. I had not been to court and charged with anything. No one told me what the reasons for my arrest were. They arbitrarily jailed us and they arbitrarily released us.”

“This is just to let you know, I have been released from prison. I was very sick in prison from pneumonia, but now I am better.” (man, 35 years)

Mistir Sew: Diary of an arbitrary detention in Ethiopia (Ethiopia Insight)

  1. Opinion pieces
  1. For those who understand French

Mehdi Labzaé, Marianne Saddier, « Sur les réseaux sociaux, jeu de dupes autour de la guerre du Tigray », Afrique XXI, 15 décembre 2021. [in French] – in summary: On Ethiopian government’s self-discovered “anti-imperialism” – in Tigray, it are Africans who die from starvation and bombing. And: Ethiopia’s history is also one of internal imperialism of a state that has violently colonised its peripheries.

Médiapart, 23 January 2021 : Éthiopie, de la guerre civile au nettoyage ethnique   Le sociologue Mehdi Labzaé et l’historien Paulos Asfaha dissèquent les mécaniques du conflit qui déchire le nord de l’Éthiopie depuis novembre 2020. (https://twitter.com/Mediapart/status/1484489959130247175)

Paulos Asfaha, is a historian at the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva (Switzerland), with research focus on the history of economic and social development in Ethiopia post-WW2. Among others, he published this opinion piece: Un Prix Nobel de la paix qui s’en va en guerre

Mehdi Labzaé is a French sociologist who particularly studies the Amhara nationalist movements. At the outbreak of the war he was in Gonder, interviewing fano militia members. He also travelled several times through western Tigray in 2021 and was direct witness of massacres and ethnic cleansing. Hopefully we will soon see an English translation of his article « Ethiopie. Dans l’Ouest du Tigray, un nettoyage ethnique à huis-clos », Afrique XXI, 8 décembre 2021.

Interviewer is journalist Justine Brabant, who earlier on published this article on French arms sales to Ethiopia: « En Ethiopie, la France partagée entre business et défense des droits humains », Mediapart, 21 janvier 2021.

  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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