Half a Million Dead In Tigray and the World Just Yawns

Abiy Ahmed
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Abiy Ahmed, architect of the genocidal embargo on Tigray. Photo: African Union/Wikimedia 

Is anyone listening to the anguished cry of people on the verge of extermination? A genocide has been underway in the regional state of Tigray in northern Ethiopia ever since the war of choice was declared on his own people by Nobel Peace laureate, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia on November 4, 2020. 

Abiy called it a “law enforcement operation” aimed at apprehending leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) with whom he had a political dispute and falling out that could have been resolved through dialogue. The war was preceded by months of strategic planning with his new found friend, Isaias Afeworki, the mercurial dictator of Eritrea.

The plotting culminated in the multi-pronged invasion of Tigray deploying the bulk of the Ethiopian national defense forces including its air force, scores of infantry and mechanized divisions of Eritrea, Special forces and armed militia of the adjoining Amhara state. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) provided attack drones flying from their base in Eritrea. 

Failing to achieve their purported objective, the invading forces unleashed their fury on the civilian population of Tigray, committing war crimes including massacres, extrajudicial killings of young men and boys, gang rapes of women of all ages, and not sparing even nuns. The aggressors carried out air strikes and artillery shelling of cities, targeting churches, mosques and cultural heritage sites. Widespread looting of private and public properties, systematic and wanton destruction of the state’s health, educational, and economic infrastructure were some of the war crimes widely reported. 

The TPLF forces evacuated the Tigray capital Mekelle and other major cities and dispersed to the country side. They were able to regroup and reconstitute themselves as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) within six months. After their ranks were swollen by an influx of new recruits, they mounted an effective and successful counter-offensive against the Ethiopian and Eritrean defense forces, pushing them out of much of Tigray. 

Abiy Ahmed’s government, in retaliation, imposed an embargo on the region barring the flow of food, medicine and fuel in addition to implementing a complete communication blackout. There were no internet, telephone, electric and banking services. No independent reporters were allowed. 

The Abiy government owned news network was the only source of information which presented “alternative facts”, to borrow the term coined by a former Trump administration official. Abiy’s minions at the UN repeatedly reassured the UN Secretary General and the rest of the international community that there were no Eritrean troops involved In the invasion and that aid to Tigray was flowing, and that the reported atrocities in Tigray never happened.  

The series of reports by Cara Anna of the Associated Press (AP) based on interviews of Tigrayans who fled for their lives across the border to Sudan underscore the intent and objective of the invading forces. AP Headlines such as Erasing an Ethnicity, Floating Bodies, Food is often a Weapon of War,  Leave no Tigrayans , left no doubt as to the genocidal nature of this campaign against Tigray. 

Similar reports from the New York Times, BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, DW and AFP were raising the alarm time and again over the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said “acts of ethnic cleansing have been committed in Western Tigray.” UN humanitarian chief, Martin Griffith called the situation in Tigray “a stain on our conscience.” 

A rare joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued on April 6, 2022 chronicles in gruesome details the crimes against humanity in Western Tigray. 

These reports have failed to move the international community to act. The war combined with the blockade of Tigray, barring food and medicine from entering the region have, according to the research by the University of Ghent caused the loss of half a million lives inTigray

The African Union (AU) has proved itself impotent, incapable and unwilling to invoke its own Peace and Security Council provision and has chosen to stand on the sidelines. Under the current chairperson of the African Union, Congo’s president Felix Tshisekedi, and the chair of the AU Commission, Mousa Faki, the body has become an embarrassment. The AU looks more and more like its predecessor the Organization of African Unity (OAU), a club for self-preserving despots. It is in need of a wholesale restructuring to reflect the will and interest of the African people. 

The United Nations has not fared any better. The Security Council from its very inception was meant to protect the interest of the five permanent veto-wielding powers, the United States, the Soviet Union—now Russia—Britain, France, and China, after it joined the U.N.

These powers have divergent interests in the current crisis in Ethiopia, precluding decisive unified action to stop the genocide. The AU and the UN invoke Ethiopia’s sovereignty to absolve them of responsibility to act. The Abiy-Issaias cabal have been playing that card effectively. How many more Tigrayans need to die for the international community to care? 

Is there a finite number that triggers action? One million? Two million? More? Or do we wait for the entire population to perish? 

There will then be some hand-wringing, finger-pointing and the customary shedding of crocodile tears, with some moralizing and contrition thrown in. We will no doubt hear vows for the umpteenth time about “Never again”, a slogan which has lost its meaning and purpose. 

It is time that Africans and people of color around the world realize they are being told their lives don’t matter. Time to wake up and make their collective voices heard and use their numeric majority in the United Nations have impact. 

More importantly demand immediate action now to stop the genocide in Tigray. No issue is more urgent in the world today than the genocide and the humanitarian catastrophe being visited upon the people of Tigray. 

Mohammed A. Nurhussein MD

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