Jan Nyssen provides a devastating critique and comprehensive archive of the consequences of Africa’s Forgotten War in Tigray.

May 23, 2022 | Uncategorized

Tigray Briefing from Professor Jan Nyssen of Ghent University

We must examine the devastating starvation in Tigray once again in this digest (section 1). We also point out that Tigray’s blockade may result in renewed warfare; hence the mobilization of the Tigray army (section 2). A number of scientific publications about the Tigray conflict have been written by academics (section 3). The recording of Howard University’s full-day symposium on “Crisis in Tigray: A Critical Dialogue” was made available by this “historically black” university in the United States (section 4). Unfortunately, we must also pay attention to human rights violations at Ethiopian universities; unpleasant news has come from the Universities of Gondar and Bahir Dar (section 5). We also discuss large Canadian mining interests and a fresh public relations operation (with academics involved) to whitewash the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes (section 6). The concluding portions of this digest, as usual, are devoted to an overview of media articles (section 7) and opinion pieces (section 8).

 

  1. Famine in Tigray

These messages came from one of our friends in Hagere Selam, Tigray:

On 10 May: I went to my village last week and was not happy because my relatives told me that most of our neighbours have finished their grain and are left with no food, no more animal to sell. The same is true in the other villages,such as Hichi, Tsigaba , Halah, etc. I am very afraid for the coming few months unless some change is made.

On 20 May: Let me share you the current crises here following the siege. At the time of harvesting many people have been migrating to villages from the towns and now after finishing the grain of the farmers, the farmers together with their relatives who came from town are migrating back to the towns. The price of grain has increased to more than 8000 birr for 100 kg (quintal or qt)Before a few months our projectbought a quintal of cereals by 2800 birr. At that time the price was also 4300 birr for 1 quintal of flour but now more than 12000 birr for one qt of flour.

Part of the people do not just migrate to the towns, but took even the risk to move to the neighbouring Amhara region.

These famine conditions of course are related to the harvest of the end of 2021, which was the worst in decades, because sowing could only start lately. The lean season has started already. Next harvest is only expected for November-December 2022!!!

UNOCHA formulates the situation as follows (status on 20 May): 

Though humanitarian response operations in northern Ethiopia have been scaled up in the past months, the overall operating environment remains constrained mainly by the lack of essential services and functioning markets, as well as the inability to bring sufficient supplies, fuel, and cash to Tigray, limited access to people in hard-to-reach areas across Afar, Amhara and Tigray, and limited presence of partners on the ground in some areas. Also, the current response is not meeting the increasing needs of people in need as the resources available are not matching the requirements. 

Around 15,500 MT of food has been brought into Tigray by the main food partners through the nine humanitarian convoys between 01 April and 16 May. The food has been dispatched to more than 45 prioritized woredas and distribution in the woredas is ongoing. At least 68,000 MT of additional food commodities are still required to move into Tigray to complete Round 3 distribution. 

Between 5 and 11 May, slightly over 78,000 people were assisted with food in major towns. Cumulatively, partners have assisted less than 1.6 million people with food in Tigray as of 11 May and under round 3 launched in mid-October 2021. This is only 25 per cent of the total planned caseload.

Earlier on, we have reported regularly about Hagere Selam and Dogu’a Tembien as an example of how life is nowadays in Tigray. With the communication blockade, our contacts are few and far in between. 

On 8 May, Professor Kindeya filmed the Hagere Selam main street while driving through the town. https://mobile.twitter.com/ProfKindeya/status/1523911836910989312. Shadows look like 9 AM-ish. At this time in the morning, in normal periods, the town is alive and kicking with all shops opened, many people and vehicles on the streets. Here we have a feeling of a ghost town, though traces of the Hagere Selam massacre (4 and 5 December 2020) have been cleaned away. Only a couple of shops are open; it would have been interesting to see which goods are still available. Much of the war damage at street level has been boarded up; in taller buildings, broken windows and walls are visible. Water is brought in by donkeys and a horse cart; by the end of the video, in the lower outskirts of the town on the right hand side of the road, groups of people can be seen near hand pumps. In the landscape views at the end of the video, we observe freshly ploughed lands, but also lands that have not been cultivated (yellowish colour due to stubble remnants from last year).  

Kindeya also posted pictures of farmers threshing teff harvested from irrigated lands near Wukro (https://twitter.com/ProfKindeya/status/1524959694997135384).  In line with the findings of our study last year, irrigation farmers in Tigray continue planting cereals in places where commercial crops were grown pre-war. Feeding the family remains the first objective. It is also witnessed that there is a serious transportation problem for marketing agricultural products, as well as lack of critical inputs like seed, fertiliser and pesticides, for the upcoming planting season. Rains have started, land preparation is underway, but without these inputs, low yields are again expected for the next harvest.

Further reading

 

  1. Risks of renewed warfare

The blockade of Tigray continues to disrupt the movement of people, trade, electric power, telecommunication, banking, regional government budget, salaries, etc. The most fertile lands, in Western Tigray, have been occupied and around half a million of people removed from their lands have become IDPs within Tigray or refugees in Sudan. 

Image

In red, the “hard to reach” areas, according to UNOCHA (status on 31 March 2022)

 

The general feeling in Tigray is that the siege of the region absolutely must be lifted. Media increasingly report on talks between regional and federal authorities, but also about risks of renewed warfare. Tigray has set up its own army, with a general mobilisation. Concerns on forced recruitment have been raised, which comes in addition to the overall plights of famine, massacres, lack of healthcare, and a quarter up to half million civilian deaths in Tigray. There is, however, also phony worry about this mobilisation, particularly from regime allies and Canadian lobbyists (see section 6). People who cheered the Tigray conflict and seemed unconcerned about the hunger and killings in Tigray are suddenly showing genuine concern for families whose daughter or son is being conscripted? Reuters reported on such forced recruitments in Tigray and included a reply by Prof. Kindeya on behalf of the Tigray external relations office: “some low ranking government officials had detained family members to force their relatives to enlist but such incidents are rare; the relatives have been released and the officials punished”. Some Tigrayans, who enlisted in droves early in the war, are however growing increasingly hesitant to fight, according to Reuters.

Further reading

 

  1. Scientific publications

 

  1. Symposium at Howard University

On 12 November 2021, Howard University organised a full-day Virtual Symposium “Crisis in Tigray: A Critical Dialogue”, with about twenty speakers, all from academics. Howard University is a “historically black university” in the U.S.; one of their alumni is Kamala Harris, current Vice-President of the USA. See the symposium overview, including Organizing Committee, Participants’ Bios and Schedule, at https://cfas.howard.edu/tigray. Full recording of the symposium is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eivJjTWqmc . 

 

  1. Some examples of Ethiopian universities’ involvement in human rights abuses

BBC reported that experts from the University of Gondar (UoG) supervised a campaign of disposal of evidence of massacres in Western Tigray in April 2022. UoG denied, asked retraction of the article and sanctioning of the journalist. BBC maintained the article and published a summary of the UoG reaction.

 

Sources close to Bahir Dar University management mention that the university was contacted by journalists investigating the murder of Professor Meareg (BDU). In the days before the murder, the BDU staff Facebook page had posted an article inciting to murder Prof. Meareg. The page remained online for many months; it was taken down only on 24 March 2022, after journalists contacted the university management – fortunately their staff’s post concerning Prof. Meareg has been archived at https://archive.ph/A3ac6. Remarkably, BDU only has reacted when they were challenged by international media – the murder in itself was not a reason to take down the inflammatory post.

 

The database of Ethiopian public universities involvement on human rights abuses has been updated.

 

 

  1. Canada mining and lobbying

Canadian professor Ann Fitz-Gerald recently published an article on the website of the MLI lobby group: Tigrayans speak on the realities of life under an insurgency regime. She depicts life in Tigray based on interviews with Tigrayan prisoners of war, and refugees who fled famine in Tigray (see section 1).

A first read indicated that she reports the discourse of POWs and IDPs who try to “talk themselves out of it”, saying what the Ethiopian authorities wants to hear. In the whole article not one of the witnesses had a discourse about massacres, killing of oxen, looting of their village, no aid entering, etc. When people move out of Tigray (for sake of famine, livelihood, family reasons, to avoid conscription…) they are put in prison camps by Amhara militias and government soldiers; to survive they are compelled to hold a discourse blaming the Tigray government. They cannot say “drones were bombing Mekelle”, rather they will say “TPLF shoots at the drones and we get the shrapnel”!

Patrick Wight launched a discussion about the ethics of the reported research on Twitter (https://twitter.com/PatrickWight1/status/1519718699732713474), as well as Prof. Mulugeta Gebregziabher  ( https://twitter.com/ProfMulugeta/status/1519861116758855680 ).

The Economist’s journalist Tom Gardner also raised issues related to the ethics of Fitz-Gerald’s report. After which a Canadian novelist, Jeff Pearce, started a bullying campaign that led to Tom Gardner being expelled from Ethiopia

One of the reasons for the Canadian government avoiding to officially address the atrocities in the Tigray war might be related to the country’s mining interests in Tigray. Theactive and applied mineral exploration and mining licenses for Tigray’s gold and base metal resources have been mapped. The largest exploration license areas are concessions of Canadian companies, followed by the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Recently, The Ethiopia Cable (https://twitter.com/RAbdiAnalyst/status/1522461584064499713/photo/1) exposed links between big Canadian mining interests and therenewed PR campaign (involving among others lobbyist Ann Fitz-Gerald) to whitewash the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments.

Further reading:

Further reading

 

  1. Other media articles

 

  1. Opinion pieces

 

 

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Jan Nyssen
Professor of Physical Geography
Department of Geography
Ghent University
Belgium

https://publons.com/researcher/453437/jan-nyssen/publications/

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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