By Sammy Dereje '22
A conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), representing the country’s northernmost region, has been mounting for the last few months. The TPLF led a coalition that took over the Ethiopian government following the overthrow of a dictatorship in 1991. Now, tensions between the TPLF and the federal government have escalated after Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia and last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, postponed the national election due to concerns regarding COVID-19. On November 4th, Prime Minister Abiy ordered a military offensive against the TPLF after accusing them of attacking a military base of the Ethiopian army. As the conflict intensifies, each side is doubling down in their efforts to keep power.
The most troubling issue regarding this conflict is the possibility of Tigrayan termination. The U.N. Refugee Agency warned that there could be a “full scale humanitarian crisis” unfolding in Tigray. The area is filled with destruction and violence; human bodies litter the streets. Upwards of 33,000 refugees have already crossed into Sudan, and the U.N. Refugee Agency expects another 200,000 to do so if the fighting continues. The refugees threaten to destabilize a country that’s already home to about a million other displaced African people. Semere Tesfai, a 35-year-old English teacher fleeing violence, said this about the conflict: “This is a genocide against Tigray people.” People are fleeing for their lives with no resources to survive. Zam Zam Maconin, a 26-year-old mother, stated, “We didn’t bring any food or clothes - we just escaped to save our lives and our children’s lives.” Speaking about federal forces, she added, “They’re killing people madly.” As refugees flee, government forces can be quoted as saying “Abiy Ahmed rules. We will rule you.”
These horrifying words exacerbate the worries of Ethiopian citizens just as the now-daily gunfire and fighting do. And to make matters worse, there’s a communications blackout that heavily restricts any incoming aid. This aid is essential to assist the thousands of Ethiopians affected by the conflict. Ethnic tensions have heightened in Ethiopia for far too long, and they are tearing apart the historic nation. Fighting continues all while opposing sides claim to fight in defense of their homeland, a homeland that’s shared by more than a hundred million people.
The hope of talks between the two sides has dissipated, as Mamo Mihretu, a senior aide to Abiy, told the BBC that “We don’t negotiate with criminals… We bring them to justice, not to the negotiating table.”
The Tigrayan people are innocent, yet their lives are being torn apart by the greed of others. In order to repair the damage from this conflict and heal as a community, these people need the world’s help. Just as it came together to support Haiti after an earthquake in 2010, the global community should unite to restore the richness of Tigray. When confronted with the responsibility of knowing where his brother was, Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is yes. In this case, when the world asks itself if it’s the keeper of Tigray, the answer is yes. We have a duty and a responsibility as human beings to help each other. Even in the midst of hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, these responsibilities do not vanish.
Aid agencies are requesting $50 million to help support the waves of refugees because they don’t have the funds to continue providing for so many migrants. Opposing forces continue to cause more damage and hurt Tigrayans who are fleeing to survive. However, both sides need to acknowledge their faults and work to help the people of Ethiopia.
For further reading about the conflict, see the sources below.