The complete siege against Tigrai’s more than 6 million population, has been referred to as “Crimes against humanity. The crime of extermination. The crime of mass starvation. And certainly a lot worse than Darfur,” by Alex De Waal of the World Peace Foundation — a foundation known as “oldest secular peace foundation” with its 111 years of history. The US government stated “Access by road and by air, which along with electricity, telecoms, banking activity and fuel supplies are essential to enable aid delivery, are being denied by the Ethiopian government — indications of a siege.”
The siege before the war
The Siege against Tigrai started in early 2016 as part of the movement that ousted the EPRDF. Melaku Alebel, then head of the Trade Bureau of the Amhara Regional State, justified the three years blockade of the federal road connecting Tigrai with the rest of the country as the deserved punishment. This blockade did not allow any cars to move into Tigrai; those that dared to, were looted with notable reports of sheep that were being transported to be sold in Tigrai being robbed off of trucks in broad daylight in Woldia.
The siege also included economic sanctions on Tigrai by the federal government, where the fiscal budget of 10 billion birr was denied. This is despite the fact that Tigrai collected and paid taxes amounting to 9 billion birr to the Federal government, and the 10 quintals of gold and other minerals sent to the federal government. The Federal budget is made up of mainly external support and loans which account for up to 10% of the budget; domestic borrowing that accounts for 14%; and internal revenue that accounts for 65% of the budget of which Tigrai contributed higher than any other region per capita following Addis Ababa. Before the budget cut, the Tigrai Communication Bureau had officially announced that the three months safety-net program budget funded by western donors — which covered up to 60% of farmers — was blocked by the Federal government. Donor funding share for Tigrai, and federal budget share for Tigrai were also denied by the Ethiopian government during the desert locust invasion of 2020, as were, the chemicals and commercial drones to spray chemicals against the desert locust that were acquired by the Tigrayan diaspora to help Tigrai in its fight against desert locust. The Ethiopian government went as far as denying COVID-19 masks for school-aged Tigrayan students.
As a continuation of this siege, investors were banned from travelling to Tigrai including the widely covered blockade of Chinese business investorsdelegations in Addis Ababa.
These discriminatory actions against Tigrai and Tigrayans by the state had nothing to do with Tigrai’s leaders but more to do with attacking Tigrai and its people. And this was intensified in the three years before the start of the genocidal war against Tigrai.
The siege now
Medicine siege and its effects
Before the genocidal war, 13 million patients used to visit hospitals in Tigrai every year, and 60% of Tigrai farmers had health insurance coverage, based on a small annual fee of Birr 132 per household per year plus In addition Birr 30 per person/ year for dependents more than18 years. There were 22,000 health workers in the region — a figure that does not include federal-managed Ayder and Axum referral hospitals. Tigrai has 39 hospitals, 242 health centers, and 312 ambulances most of which were bought through some form of contribution from the community. Before the genocidal war, there were180,000 people with chronic non-communicable diseasesunder follow-up in Tigrai; they no longer have access to clinical follow-ups and disease management plans. These include 24,000 with diabetes mellitus, 20,000 with hypertension, and 43,000 people on ART. Following the launch of the genocidal campaign, the health system has completely collapsed. There are no drugs in stores, health workers have not had their salaries for four consecutive months, and people are dying because of lack of food and preventable diseases. All ambulances were looted by the invading army and taken to Asmara and Gondar resulting in increased maternal mortality rate. At present, there are less than 60 ambulances, most of which are not operating due to lack of fuel.
This is also visible in the COVID-19 prevention where Tigrai had established testing centers in all the 6 sites from Humera to Maichew and prepared 4,000 beds for COVID cases pre war. However, since 90% of Tigrai’s health facilities were looted and destroyed by Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Amhara forces, there are currently only 35 beds and one labfor COVID-related cases.
The situation brought about by the siege is so bad that in addition to the many children facing acute malnutrition,Ayder medical staff are also fainting from malnutrition while operating. This is because they cannot use the money saved in the banks to buy food as all banks are out of money and blocked by the Federal government. The genocidal regime is trying to wipe out Tigrayans in millions not only by blocking food but also blocking medicine.
Even in the much hyped European Union’s first air bridge to Tigrai, the regime has confiscated and unloaded the medicine from the cargo plane destined to the people, i.e, 70% of the cargo was offloaded. No medical supplies have been allowed entry intoTigrai since the start of the siege on June 28. Taking away all healthcare and medical supplies in Tigrai, the crude death rate, just from the absence of health care, could soar to 32 deaths per 1000 per year according to the analysis by Professor Tony Magana. For the 7,070,260 population of Tigrai, this will be 226,248.32 deaths annually.
Food siege and its effects
The food in Tigrai was first depleted by the genocidal armies of Ethiopia and Eritrea where “over 90% of the harvest was lost due to looting, burning, or other destruction, and that 80% of the livestock in the region were looted or slaughtered.”as reported by the UN Relief Chief, Sir Mark Lowcock to the security council in May. One should remember that although Tigrai had long-standing food security issues, it was never in famine conditions over the past two decades. The aggressors deliberately started the invasion early November – a high time for farmers in Tigrai to collect their harvest. They burnt crops, forests, grasses, cut trees; they also destroyed irrigation canals, small dams, and all household agricultural tools in what is a deliberate act of destroying the agricultural sector in Tigrai. The soldiers also looted food items from households, killed domestic animals with special emphasis on oxen and donkeys (essential for farmers in Tigrai). Dr Abadi, the Agricultural bureau head of Tigrai interim government, explained that Tigrai’s award-winning 40 year stride in land rehabilitation and regreening has been reduced to zero, something that will take another 50 years and more than 3 Billion USD to restore it to where it was. Sir Mark also reported that “Having missed one harvest, the region now faces a second failed agricultural season, as continued fighting is preventing planting before rains beginning in June.” This dire humanitarian crisis is then followed up by a total siege where food aid to Tigrai is blocked and millions are condemned to die by the starvation crimes of the government of Abiy Ahmed Ali.
This total blockade of the much needed humanitarian aid means “Every 2 minutes someone dies from hunger in Tigray” According to researchers from Ghent university that have closely studied the genocidal war against Tigrai from the very beginning. That is, a minimum of 425 hunger deaths per day, and a“conservative maximum” of 1201 per day and on average Over 677 people die daily because of the blockade. The estimate is that Since the ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ was declared, 104 days ago, about 124,904 Tigrayans are believed to have died of starvation and related diseases with the “conservative maximum” estimate. When food aid was still available in Tigrai, almost 1 million were considered to bein famine conditions. Now that stocks have depleted since the beginning of September, how fast do you think this number will rise to half of the population? This combined with sieging Tigrai and blocking access to humanitarian aid is a deliberate act of starving the entire population of Tigrai to death.
Bank siege and its effects
Banking services were discontinued by the government of Ethiopia after it started its Tigrai invasion on November 04. Banks were opened in some cities afterwards and then completely blocked again in June. Bank accounts opened in Tigrai branches even by Tigrayans currently living or migrating to other parts of Ethiopia are also blocked. This can be for one of the two reasons. Tigrai is known to have saved more than 20 billion birr in Commercial bank of Ethiopia in the year 2019. Therefore, blocking banking services and taking the bank notes from Tigrai when the Ethiopian government retreated from Mekelle meant that it could use this money for its genocidal campaign against Tigrayans themselves.
This blockage of banking is also hindering humanitarian agencies activities from providing the much needed help to save millions from death by starvation. As the Bishop of Catholic eparchy of Adigrat said, “towns are deserted, people are dying of hunger, transactions of the transferred money from our partner organizations/donors to the local banks in Tigrai which were intended to address humanitarian needs are suspended by the Federal authorities.”
Fuel siege and its effects
The lack of fuel means that transportation services are almost non-existent in Tigrai, making theonce vibrant city streets devoid of people and movements. Movements between towns be it for trade, business, or family visits have also now become a luxury. This fuel blockade has also complicated the delivery of humanitarian aid making it an almost impossible task. Besides, Truck drivers carrying aid into Tigrai have been shot at, at least twice and some Tigrayan drivers have been arrested in the neighboring region of Afar, and they are only given one way fuel as UN Relief chief Martin Griffin said “First of all, they probably don’t have fuel to come out.”
Electricity and Telecommunications siege and its effects
The Telecommunication blockade didn’t start with Abiy Ahmed Ali’s genocidal war in Tigrai but it started with his attack in Western Oromia, Welega, a year earlier. He blocked Welega from communications and committed atrocities, war crimes, and air strikes against the residents of western Oromia. The telecommunications blockade in western Oromia also included some of the cities that were not in the war zone despite the risks of Covid-19 that were of great concern to the world at that time. This strategy seems to have worked fine for Abiy Ahmed Ali that most Ethiopians and even Oromos in other parts of Oromia weren’t aware of the extent of the war crimes and atrocities in Welega. Seeing how this Telecommunications and electricity blockade worked, he continued to apply the same strategy of total blockade when he invaded Tigrai in November 04.
The total communications and electricity blockade in Tigrai has brought Tigrai back to the stone age. Coupled with the lack of fuel, people can neither move from place to place nor communicate with their loved ones in Tigrai. This has put both life and the distribution of humanitarian aid in stand still.
This siege has continued to all of the areas in Amhara and Afar that are under the control of the Tigrayan Defense Forces (TDF). One of the motives behind the enforced complete communication blackout in TDF controlled territories, by the Ethiopian government, is to block the truth from coming out about the TDF’s treatment of the locals. This allows the government of Ethiopia to continue to demonize the TDF and motivate more new recruits with the usual, unhinged and fabricated propaganda. Because, if the truth sees the light of the day, it will lay bare the genocidal campaign and its demonizations against Tigrai and Tigrayan forces.
What is worse, the BBC have uncovered several misleading images used in a campaign to draw attention to the humanitarian situation in Amhara. These images were taken from Somali region 2011, Somalia 2011, and Tigrai 2021. Not only did they weaponize food and put Tigrai in a complete Gaza-like blockade, but they are also using the images of these starving Tigrayan citizens to incriminate Tigrai and Tigrayans – killing Tigrayans twice.
Conclusion – What needs to be done?
This article has shown that there is a clear intention of Abiy Ahmed Ali’s forces, Eritrean army forces, and their supporting political establishment to starve Tigray to death first by destroying it during the invasion and now by putting it under siege. Appeasing Abiy Ahmed Ali’s government by UN relief chief Martin Griffin, by WFP chief, or UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for unhindered humanitarian access doesn’t seem to work and it will not work. It has rather emboldened Abiy Ahmed Ali’s government that is hell bent on exterminating the people of Tigrai by hisgenocidal campaign together with the Eritrean government. As Dr Mulugeta, a peace and security expert put it, “How do you expect to stop war crimes with a request?” Doing so is destined to fail and will only accelerate the death of millions. Genocide differs from other crimes against humanity by its clear intent to wipe off a certain group, in this case, the certain group are ethnic group Tigrayans and the political party group – the TPLF. The history of genocides around the globe show us that genocide can only be stopped by putting an end to the genocidaires’ capability to commit the genocide.
Therefore, it is the moral and legal obligation of the international community to invoke responsibility to protect (R2P) resolution to put an end to the medieval age and barbaric siege against Tigrai.This can only be done by crippling the genocidaire Abiy Ahmed Ali’s and Eritrean government’s capability to commit genocide financially through sanctions and cutting budgetary support, by arms embargo on Ethiopia and Eritrea, and by enforcing a no fly zone in Tigrai, and starting airbridge of food, fuel and medicine before the death of millions.
Featured Image: Displaced Tigrayans sheltering at the Hadnet General Secondary School in Mekelle [File: Ben Curtis/AP Photo]