In June, despite the black-out imposed by Ethiopian authorities, determined international reporters could at last reach Tigray. On July 2, ARTE TV broadcasted their documentary film: “Tigray: in the land of hunger”.
ARTE has informed that “due to legal restrictions”, most probably distribution rights, there are no English subtitles for this documentary film. An unofficial English translation (text only) has been published by UMD media.
All the pain that we attempted to highlight in the 41 preceding digests is confirmed by this ARTE TV broadcast, that was recorded in the village of Bamba in the Saharti district (see on Google Maps), in Abiy Addi (Google Maps), Mekelle and Aksum.
Even if you have already seen the documentary, make an effort to watch it again since you will pick up on so many things… People are simply dying at home because they know that the staff at the hospital can’t help them… An eleven years’ old boy, eight kilos… Direct culprits, implementing the blockade, are the governments of Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Amhara Region. Additionally, as a summation of international diplomacy, UN Secretary General Guterres allows it all to go on!
- More on Tigray famine and starvation
- UN OCHA, 17 June 2022: Northern Ethiopia situation report
- The New York Times, 23 June 2022: When Satellites Capture a Crisis – How one research team is telling the story of Ethiopia’s civil war.
- The latest news from Abba Melaku/Father Angel Olaran: about aid distribution in Wukro, genocide investigation, daily life in Tigray [in Spanish – with numerous photos]
- VoA, 4 July 2022: Aid Flows Into Tigray Region as Ethiopia’s Humanitarian Truce Holds (the title does not cover the content of this article, which is much less optimistic)
- The Ethiopia Cable, 3 July 2022: Tigrayan lives don’t matter
In a flashy announcement on social media on 29 June, the United Nations boasted that since 1 April, the World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered enough food to Tigray to feed 5.9 million people per month – a poor rewording of the original tweet by @WFPLogistics : “WFP has delivered enough food to feed 5.9 million people for a month.”
The announcement then provides a hyperlink to their own WFP Ethiopia country brief, which states: “In the Tigray Region, WFP delivered food assistance to 461,542 people in May.” That is far from 5.9 million!
And UN OCHA, in its situation report (17 June): “Food partners in Tigray assisted more than 340,000 people with 5,303 MT of food during the reporting week. (…) Cumulatively between early April and 8 June, more than 20,000 MT of food have been distributed to more than 1.2 million people in the region.”
The reality is that over the last three months, the WFP transported enough food to Tigray to feed 5.9 million people for just one month (out of three). But, because of lack of fuel, only 1.4 million of the inhabitants of Tigray (25%) have been reached. Only 15% of the required fuel and 35% of the cash needed for humanitarian operations has been allowed into Tigray by the Ethiopian authorities.
Feedback from one UN staffer: “It would be more accurate to report on impact than on MTs and trucks that made it through”.
Yet, the UN system, at the highest level, posts jubilatory announcements, rather than telling the truth that they face a myriad of obstacles that prevent them from reaching out to the starving population of Tigray.
More on “diplomacy”, or rather “The art of looking away”.
- Alex De Waal: A peace process is possible in Ethiopia, but obstacles remain (Responsible Statecraft)
- Devex, 21 June 2022: Russia, China foiled UN meetings on Tigray famine, says Lowcock
- Martin Plaut, 24 June 2022: Debating peace in Ethiopia
- Africa Intelligence, 29 June 2022: Obasanjo’s softly-softly approach to Tigray mediation causes frustration all round
- European Council, 4 July 2022: Readout of the telephone conversation between President Charles Michel and Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed. In a twitter thread, colleague Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel calls for “actions, not words”.
- In the UK House of Lords, on 4 July, Lord David Alton raised that starvation is being used as a weapon of war against 6 million people under siege in Tigray. He cited the ARTE TV documentary “Tigray: the Land of Hunger” and called for prosecution of those responsible for atrocity crimes.
- Tigray famine is good business for Abiy’s government
Just like the Derg military government in the 1980s, the current Ethiopian government actually makes money from the Tigray famine, through sale of fertiliser at inflated prices.
New Business Ethiopia titled on 13 April 2022: The Government of Ethiopia has spent one billion US dollars for importing fertilizers during the current budget year, to purchase of 1.28 million MT of fertiliser, what corresponds to a cost of 781 USD per MT. On 18 June, Addis Fortune confirms the information, giving more precisions on the purchase price for fertiliser by the Ethiopian Agricultural Businesses Corporation (EABC – governmental company): 650 USD per MT for NPS and 1000 for Urea.
In June, in a belated announcement (given that rains are there and the fertiliser should already be at farmers’ hands), the FAO mentioned that the Government of Ethiopia has offered humanitarian agencies access to fertilizer at a cost of 1350 USD per MT, i.e. 1.7 times the purchase prize of 781 USD per MT. One could argue for changes in the exchange rate (well below 170% in six months, in any case), but the EABC practice in past years was to resell fertilizer at the price of purchase. In 2022, the government even largely subsidised the fertiliser when reselling it to farmers in six regions (not Tigray) at 3500 ETB / quintal, what corresponds to 87% of the purchasing prize (or even 56% when calculating with the black market exchange rate for USD).
The expensive reselling of fertiliser to FAO is a means for the Ethiopian government to get hold of foreign currency. For those who have known the Tigray famine in 1984, such predatory practices by the Ethiopian government in worst times of crisis are not new. In his book “Surrender or starve – the wars behind the famine”, Robert D. Kaplan writes about the then Mengistu government: “The famine was good business for the Dergue. A port fee of $12.60 was charged for each ton of donated grain. This replaced coffee as Ethiopia’s biggest hard currency earner. The United States paid $5 million just to have its first 400,000 tons pass customs inspection”. That was back in 1984.
- How can we help?
After seeing the ARTE report, we get questions: “besides sharing the information, what can we do to help the people in Tigray?”
The main issue is that even UN organisations do not succeed in securing humanitarian corridors (see section 2). The amount of cash that can be carried on UN flights is very restricted.
At a smaller scale, organisations still find ways to organise support locally.
Weforest supports villages near the Des’a forest.
Also EthioTrees could recently send project money to Mekelle and Dogu’a Tembien.
The support action for the Fremnatos home for elderly and disabled in Mekelle also continues.
“Kvinner for Kvinner i Tigray (KFK-Women to Women)”, a nonprofit organization based in Norway is fundraising to help women and girls survivors of sexual violence restore their lives.
And there is the fundraiser organised for the staff members of the four universities in Tigray.
Individuals depend on money smugglers to transmit cash to friends and family in Tigray. Sending the money to one’s ‘idir (traditional neighbourhood social security association) in a village or a town, where it will be shared among all members, is a solution that has also been effectively used. Pictures received in exchange demonstrate how dependent everyone in Tigray is on humanitarian supplies as a result of the conflict and blockade!
- Scientific articles
- Abraha Hailu Weldegerima, Hagazi Tesfay, Samuel Berhane, Leuner, C.J., 2022: Tigray Siege and its impact on cardiology services in Mekelle University Hospital: a call to action. European Heart Journal, ehac295.
- Opinion pieces
- Mulubrhan Balehegn: Neoliberalism has enabled genocide in Tigray [Ethiopia Insight]
- Soreti Kadir: Genocide: The Weapon Used to Keep Ethiopia Intact [The Elephant]
- Other media articles
- BBC Sound – Assignment, 30 June 2022: Ethiopia’s disinformation war
“When President Abiy Ahmed came to power in Ethiopia, he was seen as a reformer who was heralding a new era of hope. In 2019, he was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But less than a year later, he ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray in the north of the country. He said he did so in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops. It’s a conflict that has been characterised by an almost constant media blackout in Tigray. In the absence of detailed reporting, rumour, denial and misinformation has been rife. But a few dedicated journalists have been working hard to get at the truth. Chloe Hadjimatheou hears from one of them (Lucy Kassa) as she tries to unpick fact from fiction in Ethiopia’s information war.”
- The Economist, 24 June 2022: I was a war reporter in Ethiopia. Then I became the enemy
- Africa Intelligence, 22 June 2022: Eighteen Eritrean mutineers interned in a camp in Afar
- VoA Tigrinya, 14 June 2022: ፕሮፈሰር ምትኩ ሃይለ ንዝለዓለ ሽልማት በቒዖም [in Tigrinya] (Professor Mitiku Haile obtains top prize)
- Tigrai Television, 19 June 2022: የ2021 የአለም የእርሻ ሽልማት የሎሬትነት ማእረግን፤ ሎሬት ፕሮፌሰር ምትኩ ሃይለ በመቐለ እውቅና አሰጣጥ መድረክ ተከናወነ፡፡ [in Amharic] (2021 WAP laureate Professor Mitiku Haile’s recognition ceremony was held in Mekelle)
- BBC, 25 June 2022: ‘ካብ ገባር’የ ዝመሃር’ ዝብል ሎሬት ሕርሻ ዓለም ፕሮፌሰር ምትኩ ሃይለ [in Tigrinya] (“I learn from the farmer“: laureate of the World Agriculture Prize Mitiku Haile)
- Africa Intelligence, 24 June 2022: Egypt continues to court Sudan as GERD talks with Ethiopia falter
- Middle East Eye, 28 June 2022: Sudan launches assault on Ethiopia after alleged executions
- AP, 25 June 2022: ‘Total bloodbath’: Witnesses describe Ethiopia ethnic attack
- Reuters, 27 June 2022: Ethiopia denies Sudan’s accusation it executed Sudanese soldiers, civilian
- Africa Intelligence, 29 June 2022: Abiy cornered due to inter-ethnic violence in the West
- AFP, 4 July 2022: Watchdog: Tigray Violence Overshadows That in Ethiopia’s Oromia
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).