A team of eleven researchers, coordinated by the Geography and Environmental Studies department at Mekelle University, have conducted a thorough investigation of the effects of the Tigray War in ten villages in Dogu’a Tembien. The inquiry comprised in-depth group interviews, repeated photography, and field observations. The amount of data gathered is enormous, and we are working together with our colleagues and PhD graduates to analyse it, and publish the results in an international journal as soon as possible. The great priority of this research means that this Digest’s publishing will happen at more irregular intervals.
Group discussion about the community’s sufferings as a result of the war on Tigray (January 2023)
In this Digest No. 51, we highlight a unique broadcast on “Cropping during the Tigray war”, that reached Tigray’s farming communities (section 1) and examine the narrative of normalcy after the Cessation of Hostilities agreement (section 2). We try also to interpret different estimations of the number of deaths in the Tigray war (section 3). Accountability for the civilian victims of the Tigray war is of utmost importance, but it fades away for the sake of realpolitik (section 4). There is also the book announcement for “A Survivor’s Story” authored by Goitom Mekonen a.k.a. Getu Mak – he was present during the Aksum massacre in late 2020 (section 5). More practically, we report on some project activities in Tigray (section 6), as well as upcoming events in Zürich and Amsterdam (section 7). The digest ends with a short overview of recent opinion pieces (section 8) as well as some media articles (section 9).
- Cropping during the Tigray War
As a consequence of our research output related to cropping during the Tigray war, the Voice of America (VoA Tigrinya radio programme) broadcast a full hour of interviews (17 and 18 December 2022) with colleagues Emnet Negash (UGent, Belgium), Meley Mekonnen (NMBU, Norway) and Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel (NTNU, Norway), where they discuss farming activities in Tigray, including the progress made pre-war, the drastic damage sustained, and the way forward. Since it was broadcast on a widely listened Tigrinya radio programme, our research findings directly reached Tigray’s farming communities. See the full video of the VoA interview with our colleagues Meley, Teklehaymanot and Emnet. The two 30’ audio fragments that were broadcast by VoA-Tigrinya have been extracted from this full interview.
ዘተ ኣብ ጉዳይ ሕርሻን ሓረስታይን ክልል ትግራይ [in Tigrinya] (Cropping and farmers in Tigray region)
- Narrative of normalcy
Following the restoration of normalcy in Tigray (or at least the narrative of normalcy) with the resumption of Ethiopian Airlines flights between Mekelle and Addis Abeba on January 7, limitations were placed. Only children, the elderly, and those with medical issues are permitted to travel. Such normalisation followed by restrictions runs throughout the Abiy reign, beginning with the opening of borders with Eritrea and then shutting them, permitting humanitarian relief and then blocking it, etc. It is all about framing the narrative for the world community by Abiy.
- Mulugeta Gebrehiwot and Alex de Waal: Humanitarian Priorities for Tigray, Ethiopia, after the Cessation of Hostilities (World Peace Foundation)
- Trouw, 31 December 2022: Tranen van geluk na wapenstilstand in Tigray, maar de vrede is kwetsbaar [in Dutch] (Tears of happiness after ceasefire in Tigray, but peace is fragile)
- NRC, 27 December 2022: Nooit eerder was Ethiopië zo onveilig en het valt de premier moeilijk het land te stabiliseren [in Dutch] (Never before has Ethiopia been so unsafe and it is difficult for the Prime Minister to stabilize the country)
- Washington Post, 25 January 2023: Peace deal ending Ethiopia’s Tigray war yet to dispel fear of more atrocities
- Addis Standard, 24 January 2023: IDP camp sheltering over 54,000 civilians in Abiy Addi, central Tigray, severely hit by food, medicine scarcity
- Abc News, 10 January 2023: Ethiopians abroad celebrate Christmas with hope and angst after November cease-fire in Tigray
- Guide to the number of deaths in the Tigray war
On 19 January, “Every Casualty Counts” and the Royal Holloway University of London organised a webinar on casualty recording in Tigray. We presented our average estimate of a total number of civilian deaths in Tigray of 518k (with a lower estimate of 311k and an upper estimate of 808k) between 4 November 2020 and 31 December 2022. Since the beginning of 2023, there has been further fighting and the civilian deaths need revising upwards. Of these, approximately 10% would be due to massacres, bomb impacts and other killings; 30% due to the total collapse of the healthcare system; and 60% due to famine.
This is certainly not the final overall figure for the entire war. This estimate, indeed, does not include civilian victims in the Afar or Amhara regions, nor battlefield deaths (Ethiopian, Eritrean, Amhara, Tigray and Somali soldiers). For these reasons, several estimates of the death toll are considerably higher than ours. The 800k death toll mentioned by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, appears plausible.
- Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12 January 2023: Krieg in Tigray – Das Sterben der anderen [in German] (War in Tigray – When others die) – This is just the second non-Tigrayan, independent journalists’ team that managed to report from within Tigray since July 2021 (18 months). The Ethiopian government laid siege on the region and doesn’t allow journalists to travel freely, so both the SZ and the earlier ARTE team had to go there in a clandestine way and at high risk. This twitter thread by journalist Bernd Dörries brings the summary: https://twitter.com/Techjournalisto/status/1613222920712556571
- Axumawian Media, 16 January 2023: Humanitarian Aid in Tigray – the reality – With Tim Vanden Bempt
- Financial Times, 15 January 2023: War in Tigray may have killed 600,000 people, peace mediator says.
- Accountability for the civilian victims of the Tigray war – should be top priority for the international community
- BBC Focus on Africa, 16 January 2023: Ethiopia: Will peace lead to justice? (with interviews of our friend Tim Vanden Bempt in the first 5 minutes, and then Daniel Bekele of EHRC)
- Twitter thread by Michael Sassin: Germany ignores genocide
- Die Welt, 13 January 2023: „Wir erwarten prompte ökonomische Kooperation“ [in German] (Translation: “We expect prompt economic cooperation” – Will European Union change policy towards Ethiopia after the visit of the French and German foreign ministers?)
- Mehari Taddele: As a Tigrayan, I Choose Peace over War, Accountability over Impunity (The Elephant)
- Elizabeth Schmidt: US Policy Toward Ethiopia Is a Story of Cynicism and Self-Interest (Jacobin Magazine)
- Gimgema, 20 January 2023: France, Trusted Partner in Genocide
- VoA, 28 December 2022: Journalist Hopes Coverage on Ethiopia’s Tigray Will Bring Justice
- Amhara Militia’s Confession of Committing crimes in Alamata, Timuga & Chercher in Southern Tigray. https://twitter.com/neo_tigray/status/1614411464244367362
- The Guardian, 5 January 2023: ‘I’m scared to think what Ethiopia will become’: Tigray war refugees fear return
- Book announcement: PRIMED FOR DEATH – just out!
PRIMED FOR DEATH – Tigray Genocide: A Survivor’s Story authored by Goitom Mekonen Gebrewahid. Goitom (a.k.a. Getu Mak) survived the Aksum massacre, among others.
Professor Alex de Waal, Executive Director of World Peace Foundation, wrote the foreword. Blurb notes by Mukesh Kapila and Kjetil Tronvoll.
- Project activities in Tigray
Throughout the period of the Tigray blockade, development projects have continued to function, though there were poor communication chains. It was often according to the System D, but the partners on the ground have the will to do things and everyone—both in Tigray and among the outside partners—was committed and enterprising.
I am getting very positive news from the EthioTrees project operating in Dogu’a Tembien and surrounding districts, which they will communicate soon.
And here is also the latest news from Father Angel who stayed with the Wukro community throughout the period of the blockade: “There are many families in need of microcredit to rebuild their lives”
- Upcoming events
Amsterdam (NL): Friday, 10 February, 19:30. Alarm bell for Tigray https://www.splendoramsterdam.com/agenda/712438/noodklok-voor-tigray
Zürich (CH): Saturday, 11 February, 19:30. Tigray: the invisible genocide? https://rotefabrik.ch/#/events/21241
- Opinion pieces
- Magdalene Abraha: Think the war in Ukraine is the world’s deadliest conflict? Think again (The Guardian)
- Asmelash Yohannes: Because of the war, many Tigrayans no longer identify with Ethiopia (Ethiopia Insight)
- David Volodzko: Tigrayans Need a Path Home After Abiy’s War (Foreign Policy)
- Martin Plaut: What was the Tigray war all about?
- Teklehaymanot G.Weldemichel, Emnet Negash, Gebrekirstos Gebremeskel, Amare Teklay, Jan Nyssen: Ethiopian universities have infringed on human rights during the Tigray war (Ethiopia Insight)
- Duke Burbridge: The Human Cost of Peace in Tigray (Tghat)
- Kjetil Tronvoll & Meressa Tsehaye, 19 January 2023: Post-war election may trigger new conflict in Ethiopia (Democracy in Africa)
- Other media articles
- iNews, 30 December 2022: Spotlight on Ukraine overshadows the world’s forgotten wars in Tigray, DRC and South Sudan
- The Globe and Mail, 16 January 2023: Eritrean dictator emerges as Horn of Africa’s biggest winner after Ethiopian war
- The Wall Street Journal, 22 January 2022: Eritrean Troops Endanger Ethiopian Peace Deal
- The Guardian, 18 January 2023: ‘If you had money, you had slaves’: how Ethiopia is in denial about injustices of the past
- Avvenire, 23 December 2023: Etiopia. Nel Tigrai una guerra senza fine che il mondo fatica a riconoscere [in Italian] (In Tigray, an endless war that the world struggles to recognize)
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).