Tigray’s survival crisis

Lamis El-Sharqawy, Saturday 7 Aug 2021

Washington sent USAID Administrator Samantha Power to Ethiopia just days after French President Emmanuel Macron urged the two sides of the conflict to start talks

Tigray’s survival crisis

Moves to push for peace in Ethiopia followed the World Food Programme warning this week that hundreds of thousands are in danger of famine, now that the agency in Tigray is expected to have run out of food by Friday. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) too warned that 100,000 children in Tigray could suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months, a tenfold jump over average annual levels. The UN estimates that some 5.2 million people – more than 90 per cent of Tigray’s population – depend on external assistance.

During her visit, Power focused on pressing the Ethiopian government about reports of ethnic cleansing, mass arrests, beatings and torture of Tigrayans in custody in Addis Ababa – accusations that Ethiopia denies, insisting that its fight is not with the Tigrayans but with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

“It’s critical to save lives in Tigray. As intended by Abiy of Ethiopia and Isayass of Eritrea, every day without action on this matter equals the lives of thousands of Tigrayans,” said Daniel Negussie, a former ethnocultural advisory member and chair of immigration and employment committee for the Canadian province of Manitoba. “The US has a moral obligation to put an end to this ongoing genocide and act now,” Negussie added to Al-Ahram Weekly.

Recently Macron urged the Ethiopian warring parties to start negotiations, the need to lift restrictions on humanitarian aid and to reach a ceasefire agreement to stop the conflict which has spread to the Amhara and Afar regions in the last few weeks despite the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces from Mekelle at the end of June after a siege that lasted some seven months.

“I suggest Macron do more research into the background of the conflict and the nature of the complexities of Ethiopian society. The human rights violations committed under Abiy Ahmed’s watch are not something that can be resolved through a croissant and a cup of tea. They need to be investigated by the international criminal court. If France, a member of the UNSC is not ready to take a hard line towards legal actions, they will be seen in history as genocide deniers,” said Kasech Rayaweyti, an independent political analyst focusing on the Horn of Africa as well as a human rights and ethnic nations rights advocate.

Highlighting the role that France can play to secure aid to the Tigrayans amid the Ethiopian conflict, Rayaweyti said the conflict threatens the security and sovereignty of Djibouti and the whole region. “The nation of Afar and the Somali Issa have been in conflict due to the federal instability in Ethiopia and Eritrea. As aid is primarily shipped through Djibouti, the stability of the region is a must if the people of Tigray are to get the help they require. Not to mention, as violence increases the flow of refugees into bordering Djibouti will be on the rise. Djibouti is an ex-French colony and France has the ability to play a major role in stabilsing the region,” Rayaweyti told the Weekly.

The international community, including the US and France, continues to call on the Ethiopian government to start talks with the TPLF, which it designates a terrorist group. Last Thursday, the TPLF set new conditions for talks with the Ethiopian government with a view to a ceasefire which included the release of suspended annual budget to the region and release of political prisoners jailed along ethnic lines, but Addis Ababa has not responded to the Tigrayan willingness to negotiate.

According to Yonas Atakilti, a Melbourne-based Australian of Tigrayan origin who works for a consulting firm, “By continuing to play polemics, the international community is giving free reign to Abiy Ahmed to continue further atrocities – including deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid. Subtle diplomatic gestures so far have only given Abiy Ahmed free reign to use sovereignty as a means to chokehold the people of Tigray. Ethiopia is plagued by pathocracy in power.”

The Ethiopian-Tigrayan War started in November when the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, launched an offensive in Tigray accusing the region’s then-ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking federal army camps. The TPLF, which dominated national politics for decades until Abiy came to power in 2018, said it was the target of a “coordinated attack” by federal forces and its longtime foe, Eritrea.

“From the onset the intent of war on Tigray by the Ethiopian and Eritrean pact has been to capitulate the people of Tigray to the forces of Amhara assimilationists. Now in its ninth month, Ethiopia’s national army is depleting fast as are its economic and diplomatic arsenals,” Atakilti told the  Weekly. “Tigray is likely to continue to pursue ‘armed struggle’ as a means to bring an end to the siege and hold accountable those that have inflicted atrocities on civilians – as well as force a political resolution to the conflict.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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