We must examine the devastating starvation in Tigray once again in this digest (section 1). We also point out that Tigray’s blockade may result in renewed warfare; hence the mobilization of the Tigray army (section 2). A number of scientific publications about the Tigray conflict have been written by academics (section 3). The recording of Howard University’s full-day symposium on “Crisis in Tigray: A Critical Dialogue” was made available by this “historically black” university in the United States (section 4). Unfortunately, we must also pay attention to human rights violations at Ethiopian universities; unpleasant news has come from the Universities of Gondar and Bahir Dar (section 5). We also discuss large Canadian mining interests and a fresh public relations operation (with academics involved) to whitewash the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes (section 6). The concluding portions of this digest, as usual, are devoted to an overview of media articles (section 7) and opinion pieces (section 8).
1. Famine in Tigray
These messages came from one of our friends in Hagere Selam, Tigray:
On 10 May: “I went to my village last week and was not happy because my relatives told me that most of our neighbours have finished their grain and are left with no food, no more animal to sell. The same is true in the other villages, such as Hich’i, Tsigaba , Halah, etc. I am very afraid for the coming few months unless some change is made.”
On 20 May: “Let me share you the current crises here following the siege. At the time of harvesting many people have been migrating to villages from the towns and now after finishing the grain of the farmers, the farmers together with their relatives who came from town are migrating back to the towns. The price of grain has increased to more than 8000 birr for 100 kg (quintal or qt). Before a few months our project bought a quintal of cereals by 2800 birr. At that time the price was also 4300 birr for 1 quintal of flour but now more than 12000 birr for one qt of flour.”
Part of the people do not just migrate to the towns, but took even the risk to move to the neighbouring Amhara region.
These famine conditions of course are related to the harvest of the end of 2021, which was the worst in decades, because sowing could only start lately. The lean season has started already. Next harvest is only expected for November-December 2022!!!
UNOCHA formulates the situation as follows (status on 20 May):
“Though humanitarian response operations in northern Ethiopia have been scaled up in the past months, the overall operating environment remains constrained mainly by the lack of essential services and functioning markets, as well as the inability to bring sufficient supplies, fuel, and cash to Tigray, limited access to people in hard-to-reach areas across Afar, Amhara and Tigray, and limited presence of partners on the ground in some areas. Also, the current response is not meeting the increasing needs of people in need as the resources available are not matching the requirements.
Around 15,500 MT of food has been brought into Tigray by the main food partners through the nine humanitarian convoys between 01 April and 16 May. The food has been dispatched to more than 45 prioritized woredas and distribution in the woredas is ongoing. At least 68,000 MT of additional food commodities are still required to move into Tigray to complete Round 3 distribution.
Between 5 and 11 May, slightly over 78,000 people were assisted with food in major towns. Cumulatively, partners have assisted less than 1.6 million people with food in Tigray as of 11 May and under round 3 launched in mid-October 2021. This is only 25 per cent of the total planned caseload.”
Earlier on, we have reported regularly about Hagere Selam and Dogu’a Tembien as an example of how life is nowadays in Tigray. With the communication blockade, our contacts are few and far in between.
On 8 May, Professor Kindeya filmed the Hagere Selam main street while driving through the town. https://mobile.twitter.com/ProfKindeya/status/1523911836910989312. Shadows look like 9 AM-ish. At this time in the morning, in normal periods, the town is alive and kicking with all shops opened, many people and vehicles on the streets. Here we have a feeling of a ghost town, though traces of the Hagere Selam massacre (4 and 5 December 2020) have been cleaned away. Only a couple of shops are open; it would have been interesting to see which goods are still available. Much of the war damage at street level has been boarded up; in taller buildings, broken windows and walls are visible. Water is brought in by donkeys and a horse cart; by the end of the video, in the lower outskirts of the town on the right hand side of the road, groups of people can be seen near hand pumps. In the landscape views at the end of the video, we observe freshly ploughed lands, but also lands that have not been cultivated (yellowish colour due to stubble remnants from last year).
Kindeya also posted pictures of farmers threshing teff harvested from irrigated lands near Wukro (https://twitter.com/ProfKindeya/status/1524959694997135384). In line with the findings of our study last year, irrigation farmers in Tigray continue planting cereals in places where commercial crops were grown pre-war. Feeding the family remains the first objective. It is also witnessed that there is a serious transportation problem for marketing agricultural products, as well as lack of critical inputs like seed, fertiliser and pesticides, for the upcoming planting season. Rains have started, land preparation is underway, but without these inputs, low yields are again expected for the next harvest.
- Markos Sisay: Ethiopian government’s Tigray siege leading to starvation, suicide, exodus (Ethiopia Insight)
- Reliefweb, 20 May 2022: East Africa Seasonal Monitor
- Global Citizen, 13 April 2022: 9 Shocking Facts on the Scale of Need in Tigray
- UMD Media, 25 April 2022: Conversation with David Del Conte, former OCHA’s Deputy Director for Ethiopia, on Siege Warfare and Starvation of Civilians in Tigray
- Michael Henry and Will Slotznick : Photo Essay – Beauty Before Atrocity: A Memory of Tigray (Yale Journal)
- Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 21 May 2022: Tausende sterben, und niemand schaut hin. Äthiopien ist ein zerbrochenes Land [in German]
- The New Humanitarian, 26 April 2022: Tigray’s health system ‘totally collapsed’, say health workers
- Associated Press, 20 April 2022: Tigray war claims the lives of at least 1,900 children through malnutrition
- The East African, 21 May 2022: Ethiopia tops global list of highest IDPs
- Tghat, 11 May 2022: Tigray’s Bureau of Education: Summary Report on Tigray Education’s Human and Material Damage
- Voice of America, 18 May 2022: Tigray War Costing 1 Million Children a Third Year of School, UN Says
- Fetien Abay and Biadgilgn Demissie: Tigray’s Wounded Agriculture and a Second Year of Famine: An Urgent Call for Action (World Peace Foundation)
- Research Professional News, 28 April 2022: Ethiopian researchers share how the war in Tigray has upended their lives and careers
- CBC, 20 April 2022: Food crisis in Ethiopia is growing as world’s attention turns to Ukraine: Sask.-born aid worker
- Addis Standard, 30 April 2022: US calls for urgent restoration of essential services in Tigray, encouraged by ‘series’ of actions to end conflict
- The New Humanitarian, 26 April 2022: Tigray’s health system ‘totally collapsed’, say health workers
- Black Star News, 21 April 2022: Ethiopia: If Abiy Ahmed Can’t Ensure Relief Deliveries Then U.N. Forces Must Step In
- Global Health Now, 12 April 2022: Tigray (and Its Health Care System) Under Siege; also 10 April: Attacks on Health Care: Responding to the Brutal Reality
- RFI, 12 April 2022: Éthiopie: l’étau se resserre autour des Tigréens [in French]
- News24, 19 April 2022: Only 4% of required aid has reached Tigray during mini-truce, says WHO chief
- Berhanu Gebremedhin: Starving Tigray by Destroying the agricultural Extension System (Globe News Net)
2. Risks of renewed warfare
The blockade of Tigray continues to disrupt the movement of people, trade, electric power, telecommunication, banking, regional government budget, salaries, etc. The most fertile lands, in Western Tigray, have been occupied and around half a million of people removed from their lands have become IDPs within Tigray or refugees in Sudan.
In red, the “hard to reach” areas, according to UNOCHA (status on 31 March 2022)
The general feeling in Tigray is that the siege of the region absolutely must be lifted. Media increasingly report on talks between regional and federal authorities, but also about risks of renewed warfare. Tigray has set up its own army, with a general mobilisation. Concerns on forced recruitment have been raised, which comes in addition to the overall plights of famine, massacres, lack of healthcare, and a quarter up to half million civilian deaths in Tigray. There is, however, also phony worry about this mobilisation, particularly from regime allies and Canadian lobbyists (see section 6). People who cheered the Tigray conflict and seemed unconcerned about the hunger and killings in Tigray are suddenly showing genuine concern for families whose daughter or son is being conscripted? Reuters reported on such forced recruitments in Tigray and included a reply by Prof. Kindeya on behalf of the Tigray external relations office: “some low ranking government officials had detained family members to force their relatives to enlist but such incidents are rare; the relatives have been released and the officials punished”. Some Tigrayans, who enlisted in droves early in the war, are however growing increasingly hesitant to fight, according to Reuters.
- News24, 21 May 2022: Olusegun Obasanjo secures release of more than 4 000 prisoners of war in Tigray
- Deutsche Welle, 20 May 2022: Concerns grow Ethiopia’s fragile truce may break
- The Independent, 22 April 2022: Ethiopia’s fragile truce over Tigray conflict threatened by lack of promised aid
- The Economist, 19 May 2022: Could Ethiopia’s war in Tigray spark conflict with Sudan?
- Ahmed Hassen and Simon Rynn: Ethiopia: An All-Out War Looks Imminent (RUSI, 6 May 2022)
- Tghat, 20 April 2022: President of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, Writes Open Letter to UN Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres
- Tghat, 21 May 2022: Tigray Releases More Than 4000 Captured Ethiopian Soldiers
- The Africa Report, 20 May 2022: Ethiopia: Tigray rebels vow to release 4,200 POWs in effort to boost peace talks
- Africa Intelligence, 10 May 2022: In Afar, TPLF applies scorched earth policy while keeping foot in the door
- New African Magazine, 3 May 2022: Lethal drones are a new menace to Africa
- Second Line of Defense, 5 May 2022: Turkey as Major Player in Armed Drones
- RFI, 7 May 2022: Violences sexuelles, exécutions… Des Éthiopiens témoignent de l’occupation tigréenne (in French)
- Le Monde, 30 April 2022: Demeke Zewdu, the warlord who wants to avenge the Amhara in Ethiopia
- African Affairs, 12 March 2022: Tigray: Why are soldiers attacking religious heritage sites?
- YouTube, 29 April 2022: [Congressman Brad] Sherman Raises Tigray Crisis to Secretary of State Blinken
- Ted Galt, 2 May 2022: The atrocious video footage of Ethiopia’s soldiers torturing and executing a young Tigrayan man has been geolocated. Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/Quen10Tarantino/status/1520949108571181058
- Lyla Mehta: Peace urgently needed for Ethiopia (Institute of Development Studies)
- Crisis Group: Building on Ethiopia’s Fragile Truce
3. Scientific publications
- Biadgilgn Demissie, Nyssen, J., Annys, S., Emnet Negash, Tesfakiros Gebrehiwet, Fetien Abay, and Wolff, E., 2022. Geospatial solutions for evaluating the impact of the Tigray conflict on farming. Acta Geophysica (2022): 1-15.
- Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) webinar: Tigray: Nature-based solutions, conflict and resilience
- Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS): Report: The war in Tigray is undermining its environmental recovery
- French National Museum of Archaeology, new website: Le royaume d’Axoum (the Kingdom of Aksum – only in French). Scientific direction: Jean-François Breton, directeur de recherche CNRS
- Hagos Abrha, 2022. Tigray’s ancient rock-hewn churches are under threat: why it matters. The Conversation.
- Hailay Gesesew, Kiros Berhane, Elias Siraj, Dawd Siraj, Mulugeta Gebregziabher, Azeb Gebreselassie, Amir Siraj, Maru AregawiSelome Gezahegn, Fisaha Tesfay, 2022. The impact of war on the health system of the Tigray region in Ethiopia: a response to complaints. BMJ Global Health. 7. e008839.
- Kaplan J., 2022. Targeting healthcare in war: a tragically tried and tested strategy that humanity must disown—an essay by Jonathan Kaplan. British Medical Journal, 377:o884
- Kibrom Abay, Guush Berhane, Chamberlin, J., 2022. What people from war-torn Tigray told us about the state of their lives amid the war. The Conversation.
- Matfess, H., 2022: Alms, Arms, And The Aftermath: The Legacies Of Rebel Provision Of Humanitarian Aid In Ethiopia, African Affairs
- Mulugeta Gebregziabher, Pamela DeLargy, Aisha Jumaan, Mukesh Kapila, Leonard Rubenstein, 2022. War prevention and mitigation are public health imperatives of our time. eClinicalMedicine, 47, 101385.
- Nyssen, J., 2022. Database: Western Tigray in 96 historical and ten ethno-linguistic maps (1607-2009) (1.1) [Data set]. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6557918
- Nyssen, J., Emnet Negash, Van Schaeybroeck, B., Haegeman, K., Annys, S., 2022. Crop cultivation at wartime – plight and resilience of Tigray’s agrarian society (north Ethiopia). Defence and Peace Economics.
- Plaut, M., 2022. Famine in Ethiopia: the roots lie in Eritrea’s long-running feud with Tigrayans. The Conversation.
- Sato, M., 2022: ティグライ戦争―現地で起きている「人道危機」について― [The Tigray War: The “Humanitarian Crisis” happening on the ground] (in Japanese). Journal of Global Humanities and Social Sciences, Nagasaki University, 8: 159-182.
- Schulte to Bühne, H., Weir, D., Nyssen, J., Weldemichel, T.G., 2022. Tigray in Ethiopia was an environmental success story – then the war undid decades of regreening. The Conversation, 27/4/2022.
- Tronvoll, K., 2022. The Anatomy of Ethiopia’s Civil War. Current History, 121 (835): 163–169.
- Wall, L., 2022. The Siege of Ayder Hospital: A Cri de Coeur from Tigray, Ethiopia. Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery
4. Symposium at Howard University
On 12 November 2021, Howard University organised a full-day Virtual Symposium “Crisis in Tigray: A Critical Dialogue”, with about twenty speakers, all from academics. Howard University is a “historically black university” in the U.S.; one of their alumni is Kamala Harris, current Vice-President of the USA. See the symposium overview, including Organizing Committee, Participants’ Bios and Schedule, at https://cfas.howard.edu/tigray. Full recording of the symposium is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eivJjTWqmc .
5. Some examples of Ethiopian universities’ involvement in human rights abuses
BBC reported that experts from the University of Gondar (UoG) supervised a campaign of disposal of evidence of massacres in Western Tigray in April 2022. UoG denied, asked retraction of the article and sanctioning of the journalist. BBC maintained the article and published a summary of the UoG reaction.
- BBC, 7 May 2022: Ethiopia war: Evidence of mass killing being burned – witnesses
- BBC, 10 May 2022: Ethiopia’s Gondar University denies aiding grave destruction in west Tigray.
Sources close to Bahir Dar University management mention that the university was contacted by journalists investigating the murder of Professor Meareg (BDU). In the days before the murder, the BDU staff Facebook page had posted an article inciting to murder Prof. Meareg. The page remained online for many months; it was taken down only on 24 March 2022, after journalists contacted the university management – fortunately their staff’s post concerning Prof. Meareg has been archived at https://archive.ph/A3ac6. Remarkably, BDU only has reacted when they were challenged by international media – the murder in itself was not a reason to take down the inflammatory post.
The database of Ethiopian public universities involvement on human rights abuses has been updated.
6. Canada mining and lobbying
Canadian professor Ann Fitz-Gerald recently published an article on the website of the MLI lobby group: Tigrayans speak on the realities of life under an insurgency regime. She depicts life in Tigray based on interviews with Tigrayan prisoners of war, and refugees who fled famine in Tigray (see section 1).
A first read indicated that she reports the discourse of POWs and IDPs who try to “talk themselves out of it”, saying what the Ethiopian authorities wants to hear. In the whole article not one of the witnesses had a discourse about massacres, killing of oxen, looting of their village, no aid entering, etc. When people move out of Tigray (for sake of famine, livelihood, family reasons, to avoid conscription…) they are put in prison camps by Amhara militias and government soldiers; to survive they are compelled to hold a discourse blaming the Tigray government. They cannot say “drones were bombing Mekelle”, rather they will say “TPLF shoots at the drones and we get the shrapnel”!
Patrick Wight launched a discussion about the ethics of the reported research on Twitter (https://twitter.com/PatrickWight1/status/1519718699732713474), as well as Prof. Mulugeta Gebregziabher ( https://twitter.com/ProfMulugeta/status/1519861116758855680 ).
The Economist’s journalist Tom Gardner also raised issues related to the ethics of Fitz-Gerald’s report. After which a Canadian novelist, Jeff Pearce, started a bullying campaign that led to Tom Gardner being expelled from Ethiopia.
One of the reasons for the Canadian government avoiding to officially address the atrocities in the Tigray war might be related to the country’s mining interests in Tigray. The active and applied mineral exploration and mining licenses for Tigray’s gold and base metal resources have been mapped. The largest exploration license areas are concessions of Canadian companies, followed by the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Recently, The Ethiopia Cable (https://twitter.com/RAbdiAnalyst/status/1522461584064499713/photo/1) exposed links between big Canadian mining interests and the renewed PR campaign (involving among others lobbyist Ann Fitz-Gerald) to whitewash the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments.
- The Globe and Mail: Canadian miners pursue prospects in war-torn Tigray
- Breach Media: Leaked report accuses Canada of covering for mining companies in war-torn Ethiopia
- All Africa: Canadian Miner Keen on Gold Deposits in Ethiopia’s Tigray
- Tony Magaña: Canadian fake policy and silence on Tigray to preserve mining claims alleged
- The Economist: On May 13th Ethiopia’s government withdrew the press accreditation of Tom Gardner, The Economist’s correspondent in Addis Ababa
- Open Canada, 13 April: Trade Trumps Human Rights for Trudeau in Ethiopia’s Civil War
- The Continent (South Africa), 14 May 2022: The propaganda wars: How Ethiopia restricts foreign press (pages 24 and 25)
7. Other media articles
- Nation Africa, 19 May 2022: Red flag raised over possible ‘genocide’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray
- Telemadrid, 18 May 2022: Alcorcón dedica una plaza a María Hernández, cooperante asesinada en Etiopía – Alcorcón dedicates a square to María Hernández, a aid worker killed in Ethiopia (in Spanish)
- Voice of America, 17 May 2022: Zimbabwe Willing to Extradite Mengistu
- Bloomberg, 14 May 2022: Ethiopian Region Claims 7,000 Civilians Killed by Tigray Forces
- Express & Star, 14 May 2022: ‘Don’t forget about Tigray crisis’ says Black Country campaigner
- National Catholic Register, 11 May 2022: Ethiopia Is Committing Genocide Against the Tigrayan People, Say Priests From Region
- Democracy Now!, 3 May 2022: Rights Groups Demand Release of Ethiopian Journalists Facing Death Penalty over War Coverage
- The Economist, 3 May 2022: Lucy Kassa on the dangers journalists face for uncovering truths in war
- Voice of America, 27 April 2022: Advocates Warn of Environmental Destruction in Ethiopia’s Tigray
- AFP, 24 April 2022: Ethiopian peacekeepers from Tigray seek asylum in Sudan
- Addis Standard, 23 April 2022: National Security Council classifies Ethiopia’s “enemies” into three, vows to respond with timely, proportional measures
- Eater SF, 21 April 2022: San Francisco Restaurant Owner Raises Money for War Refugees From Tigray
- Anadolu Agency, 19 April 2022: Ethiopian ex-soldiers desirous to join Russian fighting force in Ukraine – Thousands turn up at Russian Embassy in Addis Ababa to submit their credentials
- Addis Standard, 18 April 2022. Russian Embassy denies long queue of Ethiopians to join Russian army, says queue show of solidarity
- The New Humanitarian, 18 April 2022: Ethiopia launches a national dialogue, but divisions run deep
- Human Rights Concern – Eritrea describes the dangers faced by Eritrean refugees in Alem-Wach camp in Amhara Region, and in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in Tigray (15 April 2022)
- Tghat, 14 April 2022: Destruction of tourism infrastructures in Hawzen district, Tigray
- BBC, 13 April 2022: Ukraine attention shows bias against black lives, WHO chief says
- Devex, 13 April 2022: European Commission: $300M World Bank grant to Ethiopia ‘premature’
- The Economist, 13 April 2022: Ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans may prolong Ethiopia’s civil war
- Foreign Policy, 12 April 2022: U.S. Envoy for East Africa to Call It Quits
8. Opinion pieces
- Aman: Ethiopia: A Land of Fabricated Mythos (Omna Tigray)
- Asafa Jalata: Abiy’s regime is a modern version of the Ethiopian empire-state (Ethiopia Insight)
- Daniel Berhane: A Quarrel in a Faraway Country (World Peace Foundation)
- Alex de Waal: Abiy Ahmed—PhD? (World Peace Foundation)
- Alex de Waal: Strongmen, coups, corruption drive Horn of Africa to the brink (Responsible Statecraft)
- Ethiopia Insight: The Ethiopian civil war that destroyed Tigray’s economy
- James Jeffrey: Ethiopia’s sacred tablets must remain in Britain – With thousands dying in Tigray, why is Parliament discussing ancient relics? (The Critic)
- René Lefort: Abiy’s botched centralization fuels Ethiopia’s feuding centrifugal forces (Ethiopia Insight)
- Trevor Lwere: On Ethiopia, Ukraine and the problem of the color line (NDSMC Observer)
- Meron Gebreananaye, Hailay Abrha Gesesew and Arkebe Taddele: Ukraine and Tigray: A Hierarchy in the Value of Human Life (The Elephant)
- Mitiku Haile: Direct Talk with Professor Mitiku Haile https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUNAtzGmirY&t=5s (Tigray TV)
- Michael Rubin: Why do Western leaders support Ukraine but ignore Tigray’s genocide? (Washington Examiner)
- Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel: Tigray is Africa’s Ukraine: We Must Build Pan-African Solidarity (The Elephant)
- Tony Magaña: Western Tigray mass grave exposed to wrongful DNA contamination
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).