Simran Kathuria details the unfolding conflict in Northern Ethiopia, and the human costs of the dispute
Rozina looked tense as she told the little kids surrounding her to hold their placards properly. The woman in her 40s was managing a crowd of protestors at a busy intersection in Dublin’s city center. ‘Stop the genocide in Tigray, end the dictatorship’ reads the first placard, ‘Granny needs food’ reads another one, and then the one in the hands of a little girl reads ‘Medicine for Tigray’. Small children were standing like a human chain with posters, conveying the harrowing stories of their displaced community in Ethiopia. The hidden war of the North African region was now echoing the streets of Dublin on a Friday afternoon. The Tigrayan community chanted for freedom from the Ethiopian government’s oppressive regime. Two years of civil war have brought distress to the lives of civilians with many dying of hunger and starvation. The first-hand accounts of those suffering at the hands of the Ethiopian government have recorded looting, killings of men and women, massacres, and widespread sexual violence, all in the name of ethnic antagonism.
“The government has declared a siege against families. Hundreds are getting killed in Tigray every day as a result of the bombings and shelling by government militias” says Rozina as she gathers other members of the group. “This is an evil act by the government, and we want this ethnic cleansing to stop in Ethiopia. Our children deserve a better life”, she adds to her comment.
Tigray lies in the northernmost part of Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country after Nigeria. With a combined population of over 110 million, Tigrayans account for almost 6% of the region. The community had held power in the region for three decades, until very recently. Composed along Ethnic lines, the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated the region in alliance with four other ethnic-regional groups. Eventually, 2018 saw the tables turn, as Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, drifting the political power away from TPLF.
Ahmed, who belongs to the Oromo Ethnic group (one of the four groups in the alliance) was elected as the Prime Minister after years of protest against his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn. Ending a border dispute with neighbour Eritrea, Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018. But the central power in the hands of TPLF has abated since Ahmed took control. The dispute between the two sides deepened when TPLF held its elections in September 2020, which were later postponed by the government due to coronavirus. With the political power toppling between the two sides, in 2021 TPLF finally withdrew from the ruling coalition, with Tigrayan leaders complaining of false corruption charges and unfair targeting by the Abiy Government. The feud further intensified as TPLF defied Abiy Ahmed’s regime and accused him of waging a war by slashing funds in the region. Casualties have been reported on both sides, as the war on ethnicity rages on in the Northern region of Tigray. Civilians are in deep distress, finding it difficult to make ends meet, desperate to return to normal life.
“We do not support what the government is doing. The bombing and shelling have killed many of our community members in the past 2 years. Nothing has improved, the situation is still the same. No food, no electricity, no internet… our community is struggling and we need help.” says Amina, another one of the protestors from the group, as she holds a placard which reads ‘Stop bombing schools’ along with the Tigrayan flag.
The region has been cut off from the outside world, with the government imposing communications blackouts and food and water shortages, increasing the demand for medical aid. The crisis in the Northern African region has been fuelled even more due to soaring food prices and the ongoing war in Ukraine, affecting a population of over 20 million. Many have fled the violence, settling outside the dusty towns in neighboring Sudan, but many are still lingering, hoping to hear from their loved ones, as the Ethiopian government continues to put a ban on communication networks. Nearly 50,000 Tigrayan refugees have fled to Sudan to what the United Nations claims to be the worst migration crisis in Ethiopia in nearly 2 decades. Hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans have been forced out of their homes by the government militia, in what the United States claims is an ethnic cleansing campaign. Now Tigray is at war with its government, unraveling the National fabric of the entire horn of the African Nation.
“We support our people and that’s why we have gathered here today. We want help from the Irish government. Many of us have traveled here from Belfast this morning to participate in this protest. People of all age groups from 5 years to 45 years are here in support of Tigrayans. Our people are dying and we want to save them.” says Rozina while chanting for freedom with other protestors.