Africa in the Back Seat: The Tigray Genocide

Africa in the Back Seat: The Tigray Genocide

The United States and the West have rallied behind Ukraine. The U.S. pledged to resettle 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, while millions of other refugees from Ukraine are welcomed with open arms across Europe; and not too long ago, the U.S. pledged 50 billion dollars to support the Ukrainian war efforts. Such a pledge is beyond a good gesture, but one which to the rest of the world seems blatantly hypocritical, as there are wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide occurring in less geopolitically important areas, with hundreds of thousands of lives lost. An example of such a dire crisis is the genocidal war on Tigray, taking place in the northernmost region of Ethiopia.

A fraction of the attention and support provided to Ukraine would make a world of difference to Tigrayans forcibly displaced and those living under siege and occupation during a genocide. African lives, however, simply do not matter. 

An Overview of the Genocide on Tigray – Living Hell for Tigrayans

In November of 2020, after the Tigray war started, the Ethiopian government unleashed countless atrocities in a full-fledged invasion with the help of the Eritrean government and military aid from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Invading forces were indiscriminate in committing their heinous crimes–as the young, elderly, women, and men became subjected to atrocities amounting to acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide overnight. 

The Ethiopian government declared to the world that the mission was a “law and order operation” and that it would not take more than three weeks to take down the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). However, in the first month, more than two million civilians were internally displaced and over 65,000 civilians fled to the neighboring nation Sudan wearing only the clothes they had on. No city, town or village was spared from the fighter planes and drone bombardments. Fire rained day and night. Mass executions were a common practice among invading forces. Soldiers recorded civilian executions and the desecration of their bodies–horrific events that received some coverage in Western media.

These massacres of innocent civilians were made a spectacle by firing, not just one bullet, but rounds using machine guns usually reserved for combatants. People across Tigray would randomly get searched, and if their phone had a picture of TPLF leaders or the Tigray flag, then they would be executed on the spot. A curfew was instituted in all the cities and anyone who was seen walking outside after 6:00pm would be shot without hesitation. Not even ambulances were allowed to operate after 6:00pm. Life under genocidal occupation was a living nightmare. 

Who could forget the Axum massacre? Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers went door to door and street by street to kill. They killed close to a thousand innocent civilians in a single day. Eritrean soldiers were particularly brutal. They soon took over the big cities, and were merciless throughout the ensuing months. Young girls were preyed upon. Eritrean soldiers raped young girls forcing their parents to bear witness. Many of these young girls were also taken to military camps and raped and tortured for days without any food or water. Tigrayans lamented that these men had no fear of God. They killed people inside church compounds, and they even fired shots at churches to disrespect the houses of God.

I can count five people from my neighborhood who were killed. If I can count five people, God knows how many others were murdered. My neighbor and family friend was killed along with his son and his sister outside a church of St. Mary where he came to pay homage. It is hard to imagine how human beings can be this cruel. 

Since the invasion took place with a deliberate plan to cut Tigrayans’ communication with the rest of the world, it is difficult for the international community to grasp the magnitude of the horror and for foreign media to report the atrocities. 

Eritreans soldiers stole anything valuable; they spared no house or family. They pillaged cities and towns. They looted jewelry, money, medicine, cars and even cattle. They were so cruel and spiteful that they destroyed whatever they could not carry. They looted factories and many were burned to the ground. While rape and hunger were used as a weapon of war, 85 percent of infrastructures and health facilities were destroyed in just a few months. Aid workers were killed and their medical supplies taken to Eritrea. 

Upon being forced out of most parts of Tigray in June 2021, the Ethiopian government adjusted its strategy to successfully commit genocide. It shifted from invasion, genocidal war, brutal occupation and siege to a complete siege in which telecommunications, banking services, and electricity remained shut off and humanitarian aid was prohibited from entering the region. The Ethiopian government and its allies are effectively constricting a whole region.

Hence, the siege is a key part of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide with the goal of eliminating an entire population, including by using hunger as a weapon. We now have close to 7 million people in immediate danger of dying from hunger and disease. At least thousands have already lost their lives to starvation. 

Currently, the Tigray region is completely surrounded by the Federal government’s army, Eritreans troops, Amhara and Afar region special forces, effectively preventing any food aid and medicine from being supplied to the Tigray region. The blockade and depriving innocent civilians of life-sustaining supplies is part of the coordinated efforts of all belligerents to facilitate the extinction of Tigrayan people.

The humanitarian blockade has sewn the fate of an already destroyed healthcare system. The effects of the siege are felt most by the vulnerable, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those suffering from chronic illnesses. People living with HIV/AIDs, type I diabetes, tuberculosis, and cancer are left to die.

Complicit in Genocide

The world is simply watching this strangulation of a people already scarred by the countless atrocities unleashed on them. The world is watching idly as genocide is taking place, while certain global powers have facilitated the extermination of 7 million people. The international community will not be able to fall back on ignorance or plead not guilty. 

Genocide is happening and they know it. Most recently, in June 2022, the former chief of the World Food Programme stated a famine declaration in Tigray was obstructed by the Ethiopian government, despite there being ample evidence of it. But there is an argument to be made that world powers have known all along. The blood of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans is as much on their hands as it is on those that actually swung the machete, slit the throats, shot the machine gun, or even lit the fire and burnt Tigrayans alive. 

The level of cruelty Tigrayans are subjected to is difficult to process. What is even harder to comprehend is the level of cruelty and inhumanity the international community is willing to ignore, as long as it suits their interest. 

Case in point are the words and actions of the Amhara militias and Fano. Nowadays words such as “burn them alive,” “cook them and we will be blessed,”  and “make their death particularly agonizing and show them no mercy,” are the trending slogans across Ethiopia. There has never been anyone in the history of Ethiopia who fantasized about cooking and eating human flesh. Yet, here we are in the 21st century. Forces and militias allied to the Ethiopian government burning Tigrayans alive and stoning them to death.  

So why is the Western world so reluctant to call this a genocide, when they called the Russian-committed atrocities in Ukraine genocide after just a month of the invasion? Simply put, it is all a geopolitical game in which the lives of millions of Tigrayans are just collateral damage. NATO members themselves are actively involved in the atrocities committed against Tigray, as they kept a loose leash on their members who provided weapons and military assistance to the Ethiopian government.

Tigrayans will always remember that the Turkish government, a NATO member, aided and abetted the genocidal government of Ethiopia. The involvement of the UAE in the genocidal war on Tigray is also one that is for the books. The United States and the UAE collectively work towards a common goal of establishing stability and security in the Middle East. Sadly, the UAE is not as concerned about stability and security in the Horn of Africa, as it has taken an active role in providing financial and military assistance to the Ethiopian government in the past two years. As strong economic and security allies to several Western countries, Turkey and the UAE have thus far avoided strong international condemnation for their acts during the war on Tigray.

War crimes and crimes against humanity are not new concepts to the international community, but getting international attention and interventions appears to only apply to countries with the right merit. How the world has reacted towards the war on Ukraine is a true demonstration of the injustice and hypocrisy behind international politics. 

When Russia waged war on Ukraine, the world immediately rallied behind Ukraine. Countries openly welcomed Ukrainian refugees and provided different forms of aid to help Ukrainians manage the humanitarian crisis that unfolded. There is no shortage of media coverage of the war in Ukraine, with reporting that was different from how the international media covered other conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, or Africa. Ukrainian refugees were described as refugees usually are, at least when they are from countries in the Middle East and Africa. They were described as Europeans with blue eyes and blond hair that did not deserve what was happening to them. Meanwhile, the genocidal war in Tigray has continued for over 19 months. The Tigray state president has already announced that 350,000 Tigrayans are unaccounted for, 2 million internally displaced, and over 70,000 are refugees in the neighboring nation Sudan. Unfortunately, the leaders of international community are yet to decide whether genocide is being committed or not.  

While the United States pledged to take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, thousands of refugees who fled from Tigray to Sudan are stuck in precarious conditions; their daily existence is at the mercy of the rainy season. 

Just in May of 2021, a severe storm was responsible for the destruction of 200 tents in Al-Tenideba, a Sudanese camp holding 40,000 refugees from Tigray. Since the camp is built on “black cotton” soil, people are forced to sleep on wet, sticky, and muddy grounds. International media, the UNHCR and Médecins Sans Frontières have reported such wretched conditions. Many doctors have reported on serious medical problems at these camps, such as communicable disease and malnutrition-related complications. 


We praise the international community for standing against Russia, standing by Ukrainians, creating international coalitions to help. We want to believe that this is for the right reason, not because they are Europeans, or white, with blond hair and blue eyes. We want to believe that NATO’s involvement is to support freedom and freewill or perhaps NATO’s ambition to expand its territories. 

For many people from third world countries, the truth is far from that reality, especially knowing that we fail to give equal attention to human catastrophes. As an African, I want to support Ukrainians; their lives matter, but so do the lives of Tigrayans. Only time will tell if things will change, but time is not what Tigrayans have right now as a new war is around the corner once again. With every minute passing, the odds of saving one Tigrayan becomes slimmer. I am afraid it is déjà vu, just how we failed Rwanda; perhaps the worst is yet to come. 

The world must stand with Tigray, as much as it has stood with Ukraine.

Zanta Tigray – Omna Tigray External Contributor, July 2022