Op-Ed: Abiy Ahmed Failed the People of Tigray

Op-Ed: Abiy Ahmed Failed the People of Tigray

The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, who is actively committing crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, was a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner. During the Nobel award ceremony, Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, presented Abiy with the award and a regrettably ironic speech considering what has become of Abiy today. He stated, “Prime Minister Abiy, the award bestowed upon you today rests on three major achievements. First, your crucial role in creating peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Second, your efforts to build democracy in Ethiopia by strengthening civil liberties and developing institutions. And third, but not least, the award is given to you for your contribution to peace and reconciliation processes in East and North East Africa.”

Leading up to Abiy’s Nobel Peace Prize award, Abiy pushed for multiple political, social, and economic reforms to build his “reformist” image. He successfully re-established bilateral relations with Ethiopia’s long-time foe, Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki, agreeing to give up the disputed border town of Badme. He lifted the ban on opposition groups, pardoned one of the country’s most high-profile political prisoners, and granted equal representation to women in the government’s ministerial roles. He swiftly apologized for the killings of protesters by the Ethiopian government and lifted the state of emergency that had been put in place following social and political unrest in previous years. All of these “reforms” did not go unnoticed by the international community.  A year after being in power, Abiy was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reconcile peace with Eritrea and his efforts to democratize the country. 

Unfortunately, Abiy’s promises and “reforms” were short-lived and quickly overturned. Ethiopia now finds itself in an unprecedented level of violence, instability, and chaos.

On November 4, 2020, Abiy accused the elected party representing the Tigray region, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of initiating war by attacking the Northern Command located in Tigray. However, political analysts and diplomats in the region have confirmed that there were evident signs of preparations to attack Tigray prior to November 2020, hence the need for the region to defend itself and disarm the Northern Command. Furthermore, prior to November 2020, Abiy allowed road blockades restricting access to Tigray, reduced Tigray’s budget, and hindered the fight against locust infestation. The isolation, weakening, and attack on Tigray by the Ethiopian state began long before November 2020, shortly after Abiy was appointed interim Prime Minister in 2018. 

“The isolation, weakening, and attack on Tigray by the Ethiopian state began long before November 2020, shortly after Abiy was appointed interim Prime Minister in 2018.”

Abiy had initially called the war on Tigray a domestic “law-and-order operation” that would not last more than 5 days, but it involved large deployments of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), Eritrean forces, Amhara militia, and aerial bombardments. Although there have been regional and international efforts to call for dialogue, Abiy has rejected any form of political and national dialogue that would forge an intent alliance with the TPLF. With over 70,000 Tigrayans fleeing into Sudan, over 2 million Tigrayans internally displaced, and over 5 million Tigrayans at the risk of starvation, it is clear that Abiy has tragically failed in his promised intentions. He has sent the country into war against its people and committed countless atrocities qualifying as war crimes, human rights violations, and acts of genocide. 

After eight months of committing such atrocities, the ENDF and Eritrean forces withdrew from the majority of Tigray following continued successful offensives by the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). On June 28, 2021, TDF regained control of Tigray’s capital city of Mekelle. 

To avoid the humiliation of the defeat, the Ethiopian government declared an immediate and unilateral ceasefire after Tigrayan troops retook Mekelle. While the ENDF fled Mekelle, they attempted to damage and loot as much as they could. They ransacked aid compounds, cleared out the banks, and stole communication equipment and food supplies. 

Although the forces that had been committing crimes on Tigrayans have left most of Tigray, the humanitarian corridor remains blocked and restricted. The region is also still under a telecommunication blackout, and there is no access to banks. This retreat was just the start of a shift in war strategy, and the ceasefire was a delay tactic until the ENDF could regroup. This “humanitarian ceasefire” was in fact just a complete siege of Tigray, as the Ethiopia government once again completely cut off the region, as over 900,000 people are in famine conditions. 

Further, aid agencies who realize the grave humanitarian crisis in Tigray continue to face many challenges, as Ethiopian and Amhara militia block roads to Tigray and target humanitarian workers traveling to Tigray.

“This ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ was in fact just a complete siege of Tigray, as the Ethiopia government once again completely cut off the region, as over 900,000 people are in famine conditions.” #TigrayGenocide

Following his military defeat on the ground, Abiy has shifted the blame to Tigrayans as a whole, by stating that his army units had been ambushed and ‘massacred’ while passing through villages [in Tigray]. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader, his actions and rhetoric have fueled more chaos and instability in the country. In continuing his genocidal war against Tigray, Abiy has intensified his rhetoric against Tigrayans, categorizing them as ‘internal enemies,” incapable of rest and peace. Most recently, in reference to his war on Tigray, he called his enemies “weeds,” “cancer,” and “disease.”  

Despite some international pressure and responsibility assigned to the Abiy administration, Abiy has failed to acknowledge the crimes being committed by the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces who have massacred civilians, bombed cities and towns, and raped young girls and women. Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces have also destroyed and looted Tigray’s infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, markets, religious places, and government offices. 

Meanwhile, Abiy’s administration continues to deny the extent of the humanitarian crisis in Tigay, as it works to continue covering up the crimes it has already committed. Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen claimed to diplomats that, “[they] have been exerting every possible effort to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore electricity, telecoms, internet and banking services in Tigray.” With over 900,000 people in Tigray in famine conditions, ‘possible efforts’ have not been sufficient enough to reduce starvation numbers, nor rebuild Tigray. 

Abiy continues to refer to the TPLF as “rebels,” a “terrorist organization,” and “criminal junta,” suggesting no form of equal agreement could be met by both parties. Ethiopia’s diminishing image in the international community, Abiy has continued to dehumanize Tigrayans across the country, revealing his ultimate goal of subjugating those who associate themselves with his perceived enemy—the TPLF.  

“Ethiopia’s diminishing image in the international community, Abiy has continued to dehumanize Tigrayans across the country, revealing his ultimate goal of subjugating those who associate themselves with his perceived enemy—the TPLF.”

The war on Tigray demonstrates Abiy’s failure to keep his promises to Ethiopia. Abiy’s administration continues to deny the atrocities committed in Tigray, thereby refusing accountability and true leadership. Abiy still has the time to allow humanitarian aid to enter the whole region of Tigray, regardless of his beliefs or polarity towards the TPLF. Abiy must decide where the future of Ethiopia rests, in the disintegration of Ethiopia in his attempt to destroy Tigray, or allow humanitarian aid access and come to the negotiating table with the government of Tigray.

Rodas – Omna Tigray Contributor, August 2021

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