Humanitarian situation in Tigray (26 October 2022)

Dear reader,

At least, after two years of war, there are now peace talks ongoing in South Africa (section 1). Further, this Digest addresses the Tigray death toll (section 2), and Ireland’s strong stance in international diplomacy (section 3).

There is also the announcement of a webinar “Healthcare in war-torn Tigray” (section 4). Humanitarian air and road access to Tigray was halted due to lack of clearances by the Ethiopian government on 23 August. That was the day before fighting resumed… For the people of Tigray, since the international community appears to resign, only God can protect them. See the powerful video of a nightly group prayer in the holy town of Aksum: “God of peace, don’t leave and don’t deny us!, please help us!” https://twitter.com/Dr_HagosAbrha/status/1582486457792352256

  1. Peace talks in South Africa

The peace talks between the Ethiopian and Tigray authorities have started in South Africa. To be considered successful, the following should be among the outcomes (as suggested by Rashid Abdi, and further appended by Tim Vanden Bempt):

  • Immediate stop to hostilities
  • Flow of aid to displaced. Unhindered access for aid agencies
  • Restoration of basic services like power, water, banking services
  • Negotiated permanent ceasefire
  • Accountability, justice and reconciliation

Without the latter, no peace deal will survive as it will end up in another cycle of violence during this generation or the next.

The Ethiopian Reporter notes that Addis Abeba’s appeal for quick aid at the IMF hasn’t received a suitable response there. A positive interpretation is that of a strong stance by the international community – that if the peace negotiations fail to produce results, no financial assistance or debt restructuring will be provided, and economic pressure will increase. In a more negative interpretation, one may also think that Abiy needs money, and the only requirement his lenders presumably asked for was that he agrees to pointless discussions. The deal would then be that Abiy receives his financial assistance or debt restructuring, and the lenders save face.

We rather like to subscribe to the conclusion of the Ethiopia Cable’s editorial (October 13-17, 2022): Obviously, these types of sanctions can be taken by individual countries, without waiting for the EU or the UN to act. In the US, influential senators have proposed a new sanctions bill “against individual actors who are found to undermine attempts to resolve, who profit from, or who provide material support to any entity that is party to the civil war.” Just like in case of international sanctions on apartheid South Africa, which grew from a principled stand taken by the Nordic countries, individual countries should take action against Ethiopia, while lobbying others to do likewise. What can no longer be countenanced are governments throwing up their hands and decrying their lack of influence over the Ethiopian government.

Further reading:

  1. Tigray death toll

The discussion at the UN Security Council on 21 October, was deceiving, in the sense that Russia and China vetoed the resolution, that was proposed (for the first time) by the “A3” (Gabon, Ghana, Kenya – the three African countries in the UNSC) as well as Norway. Kenya further challenged Russia and China about why they were contravening an African position. However, it’s interesting to note that the US ambassador to the UN used our estimate of the dead toll from the Tigray war. See her statement’s third paragraph. She doesn’t specifically mention our team as a source, and that is also not important; the main issue is that this 500,000 estimate makes it to the world news. Being a very senior diplomat, Linda Thomas-Greenfield would not be claiming that estimate unless her co-workers gave her the go-ahead that it is reliable and probably correct. Thus, it serves as another further affirmation of the scale of the catastrophe…

From one of our readers, in relation to US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks: “I just wanted to be sure that you and your colleagues are aware of the huge contribution that your work has made and is making to moving the dial on international thinking about Tigray. I know it doesn’t even begin to be enough, and that the diplomatic process is so heartbreakingly bloody awful that it often feels easier just to ignore it, but without the work that you have done things could have been even worse.  

I know it has been a devastating few weeks, on top of a devastating two years, for everyone who cares about Tigray but please know that you are having an impact.” 

And from another reader: “We must simply continue our advocacy and use every opportunity to keep the eyes of the world on such unimaginable and indescribable man-made suffering.”

And these encouragements must be shared with all our readers and our key informants, who all contribute to informing the world of this major humanitarian catastrophe.

Further reading:

  1. Ireland’s strong stance in international diplomacy

When it comes to international diplomacy, the particular strong stance of Ireland in favour of peace and humanitarian aid to Tigray needs to be underlined. Ireland is a country that knows what is famine, and also man-made famine.

Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Demeke Mekonnen comes with the strongest threats against Ireland, backed up by Abiy Ahmed’s national security adviser Redwan Hussein who also was the Ethiopian ambassador to Ireland, up until 2018. (Redwan was also EPRDF Secretariat Head in 2005).

But Irish historian Ryle Dwyer points out that throughout the 1930s, the president of the Irish National Council, De Valera was well recognized for his anti-imperial speeches, particularly those before the League of Nations, in support of Ethiopia, and against Italy. In a radio broadcast from Dublin in 1935, De Valera hinted that Ireland and Italy may go to war in  order to defend Ethiopia in accordance with the League of Nations’ charter. If his suggestion had been taken, either Ireland as a member of the League would have declared war on Italy, or forced it to back down.

Redwan seems even not to have heard about this while he was ambassador in Dublin.

More surprisingly is that we did not hear any voice from within the EU diplomacy, or individual EU countries, strongly taking the defense of Ireland.

More about (absence of) international diplomacy:

  1. Upcoming healthcare webinar on 2 November

The People’s Health Movement (PHM) cordially invites you for the webinar “Healthcare in war-torn Tigray: targeted or collaterally attacked?”, organized by the PHM Tigray circle and the thematic PHM War and Conflict, Occupation, Forced Migration circle.

Speakers:
• Dr Yiheyis Maru, CSIRO, Australia
• Dr Hailay Abrha Gesesew, Torrens University, Australia
• Dr Fasika Amdeslasie, Ayder Hospital, Mekele, Tigray
Moderator: Hani Serag

See also:

  1. Other opinion pieces
  1. Other media items

Follow up communication compiled by Em. Prof. Dr. Jan Nyssen.


Jan Nyssen is a 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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