The brave nonviolent defense of Ayder Hospital by Mekelle citizens a year ago

Men and women Mekelle citizens of all faiths put up roadblocks to prevent looting of Ayder Hospital in November 2020 (Photo from Eritrea Hub)

This is the story I witnessed of the brave unarmed civilians peacefully protesting and blocking invading forces from ransacking Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in Mekelle, Ethiopia in November of 2020. I had been performing neurosurgery, teaching fellows, and medical students at Mekelle University  in the Tigray region of Ethiopia since 2015 in a federal university and hospital.  As such I was present in Mekelle from the onset of the war between the Tigray Defense Force and the Ethiopian/Eritrean forces from the onset until my evacuation about 3 months later at the behest of international influence and my family which was three days of driving through multiple checkpoints and unstable areas until we finally arrived in Addis Ababa.

The day before the occupation of Mekelle we knew that the Tigray Defense Force had left the city in hopes to avoid civilian casualities. Yet early in the morning an artillery barrage started which targeted essentially the whole city. Rounds were landing about every 5 seconds. This lasted until the early morning hours of next day. Stopped for a while and then was restarted for several hours. In my own immediate neighborhood just a few blocks from the Mekelle University hospital, Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital many homes and buildings were destroyed and many killed. A market and home for elders was directly hit killing and wounding many.

About 200 yards from my house, a home that housed a large extended family suffered a direct hit that sent shrapnel breaking my windows at about 6:30 in the morning. I ran over there to find a young woman in the street with a severe bleeding wound in upper leg but that was just the beginning of the horror. The walls of the house had been destroyed on two sides and the rest looked like a Swiss cheese with many perforations. On the ground was a motionless young woman who had only a red spot on the ground where her chest was supposed to be. Her lifeless arms were extended with each one holding toddlers. The children where crying. When I pulled back their hair I found that hundreds of small munitions fragments had penetrated the scalp of both children although the eyes seemed okay. There was nothing we could do for the mother nor her mother who lay beside her dead as well from penetrating shrapnel. Remaining family members rushed the sister with the injured leg and the children to Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital. 

At the hospital emergency room there was wave after wave of ambulances and private vehicles bringing those hit by the attack who were all civilians. Some could be helped but many were beyond hope. We were able to save the children and their aunt from the attack near my house. Although we would sometimes previously do mass casualty from bus accidents in the past this was a much greater magnitude as we saw more then 120 patients in the first few hours. 

Before the invasion of the city, we had been receiving civilian causalities,  Tigray Defense Force causalities, and also Federal/Eritrean causalities. We treated them all the same. The local people even brought food and blankets for the all the groups. However after the invasion the tenor of the invading force changed. Many patients were just suddenly whisked away to parts unknown and we were not allowed to inquire.

As the invading forces approached we saw many women with vulgar mutilations of their vagina, amputations, facial injuries, and mortal wounds from gunshot and blades. There were women shot in back apparently running from invading Eritrean and Ethiopian forces. Sometimes their small children were brought in with partial decapitation.

The next day on November 26, 2020 at which time Federal Ethiopian armed forces and Eritrean forces invaded unopposed the city of Mekelle.  For the next few days in Mekelle there were Ethiopian and Eritrean forces looting, shooting, robbing, and harassing civilians all around the Ayder area where I lived and the hospital was located. The hospital was occupied by Ethiopian army regulars, then Special Forces from Oromia, and so-called Federal Police. These fighters would be in every room watching everything done by nurses and doctors. They told us to write in the medical records that any civilian injuries were caused by Tigray fighters and not by Ethiopian or Eritrean forces. Then suddenly for about half a day they disappeared.

Rumors where flying in the city that Eritreans where ransacking public utilities, schools, etc. The hospital had always been a source of pride and necessity for not only Mekelle but all of Tigray. The local population of civilians began to put tires, logs, and stones to block trucks or other vehicles in the streets surrounding around Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital, the main teaching and tertiary hospital for Tigray, fearing that the hospital which was highly valued by the city would be destroyed or looted. Special Red caped soldiers showed up and began harassing the locals more and more. 

Among the first to call citizens to action was the muazzin of the Adishmdhun Mosque. Although there was no electricity in the city using the mosque generator and microphone he called people to guard the hospital. The message was ” to all residents of Mekelle be Muslim, Christian, males or females : Ayder is being looted, so go and protect your hospital “. Immediately the people began to make the gatherings. There was was a group of motorcycle men who tended to gather at a pub just a few blocks from the hospital who began calling the same thing using a speaker. Youth groups and community elders answered the call. The demonstration and blocking of the roads was done with people of all faiths and different ethnicities.

The locals did not back off. They gathered by the thousands and began to surround the hospital 24 hours a day. Many times semitrucks and smaller trucks driven by Eritreans which were empty tried to make it to the hospital to loot it but where physically blocked by protestors standing in their way.  At one point a group of young men were shouting about ten feet in front me to the soldiers. Suddenly the soldiers fired at them killed one and injuring two others. At that time there were tires burning all around the hospital with thousands of protesters. The soldiers were scared and I feared the worst was going to happen. It was tense until morning. Finally the lined up trucks driven by plain clothed Eritreans were told to leave by the invading forces. The two that survived to be treated were hauled off from the hospital by the invading forces and have not been seen again as far as I know.

Pictures I had of the event were erased by Eritrean patrols that would search me everyday I went to the hospital but I will never forget the bravery of the people in Mekelle who unarmed defended their hospital. 

Ethiopian university removal of Tigray degrees may bring international sanctions

26th of November 2021 Professor Tassew Woldehanna, the President for the AAU, announces unprecedented actions against Ethnic Tigray degree holders

The announcement of Addis Ababa University that retroactive removal of academic degrees conferred on ethnic Tigrayans for not supporting the government of Abiy Ahmed may have severe repercussions not contemplated by the authors of this rash measure. Historically this type of action has been most associated with authoritarian regimes seeking to silence intellectual discourse which dissents from the despotic party line. When brought up in democracies on the other hand it has been rejected. International accrediting agencies for institutions of higher learning, funders of research, and potential universities offering advanced academic training for Ethiopians could place sanctions against this academic betrayal.

In the prelude to the World War II conflict Nazi Germany created a false Jewish strawman leading to the genocide of more than 6 million. In the midst of going from legalized discrimination to overt murder came the removal of all academic degrees from Jews in Germany and the occupied territories including Poland. 

In the United States students at Harvard University last year brought up the possibility of removing degrees from supporters of Donald Trump as punishment for his policies with which they vehemently disagreed. Long discussions where held and ultimately these type of sanction was deemed inappropriate as an attack on freedom of speech. 

The academic world of which I am a part is a world wide commitment to learning and teaching for the betterment of all mankind. Even between countries who are sometimes adversarial such as  China and the United States cooperate and share scientific discourse as well as research. I myself have looked at Iranian medical publications on treatment of tuberculosis of the spine as helpful for what to do in Tigray even though I do not agree with many policies of the Iranian government. The academic achievement of someone is a separate issue then their political affiliation. The beauty of academics is that those of different views can find common ground on which to collaborate.

I fear that the international academic community might feel compelled perhaps justifiable so to sanction active faculty of Addis Ababa University for their betrayal of the academic norms of procedure. This could include barring participation in international meetings, research funding from international sources, decertification of Addis Ababa University from international accreditation, and sanctions on assets of university leaders.

The continued efforts to isolate Ethiopia from the international community being self imposed will only lead to further loss of many milestones previously attained in development and human dignity.

 

Ethiopian diaspora in the USA should avoid acting as unregistered foreign agents

Protestors supporting Ethiopian government in Washington D.C. If they act without support or guidance from foreign governments they are acting within their right of free speech. However if receiving compensation and/or guidance that they are acting for a foreign government this is different.

Many Ethiopian diaspora becoming deeply involved as advocates for the Ethiopian governments genocidal actions should be aware of the differences between free speech and acting as a foreign agent.  The United States government has already imposed sanctions on Ethiopia for violating human rights previously protected in legal treaties with the United States and other countries. In addition now the government of Ethiopia is making threats of physical violence against the United States to the extent of approaching becoming a hostile nation.

Recently at a Washington, D.C. rally in protest of the Tigray famine several Tigrayan women were slapped, punched, and knocked down allegedly by members of diaspora Ethiopian organization. This is currently under police investigation. If for example these assaults were carried out or supported under suggestion of the Ethiopian government this becomes an issue.

Similarly, there appears at least superficially to be communication between Ethiopian diaspora groups in the USA and Addis Ababa about which political candidates should be supported. 

Ethiopian diaspora need to be aware that while serving in the Ethiopian or Eritrean military can ultimately lead to losing American citizenship it is also true that acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Ethiopia or Eritrea can lead to significant prison terms or fines.

The following information is taken from the official Department of Justice website

FARA is an acronym for the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended, 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq. (“FARA” or “the Act”)FARA is an important tool to identify foreign influence in the United States and address threats to national security.  The central purpose of FARA is to promote transparency with respect to foreign influence within the United States by ensuring that the United States government and the public know the source of certain information from foreign agents intended to influence American public opinion, policy, and laws, thereby facilitating informed evaluation of that information.  FARA fosters transparency by requiring that persons who engage in specified activities within the United States on behalf of a foreign principal register with and disclose those activities to the Department of Justice.  The Department of Justice is required to make such information publicly available. 

WHAT IS AN “AGENT OF A FOREIGN PRINCIPAL”?
An “agent of a foreign principal” is any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or otherwise acts at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a “foreign principal” and does any of the following:

Engages within the United States in political activities, such as intending to influence any U.S. Government official or the American public regarding U.S. domestic or foreign policy or the political or public interests of a foreign government or foreign political party.

Acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information service employee, or political consultant.

Solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value within the United States.

Represents within the United States the interests of a foreign principal before U.S. Government officials or agencies.

See 22 U.S.C. § 611(c); 28 C.F.R. § 5.100.

Rural poverty severely rising under Abiy Ahmed wartime Ethiopian economy

Prior to Abiy Ahmed coming to power poverty had been declining in Ethiopia but now rural poverty is increasing even in areas far away from conflict according to the World Bank and other authorities

Abiy Ahmed and the Prosperity Party war on Tigray is creating rapidly increasing severe rural poverty in Ethiopia not seen in many decades. In his quest to stay in power against the steady advance of Tigrayan and Oromo forces Ethiopia’s leader is rapidly reducing all other human needs to minimal levels instead just focusing on surviving. Ethiopia has gone from being an economic miracle to an economic disaster caused by the quest for power of the Prime Minister.

In the decade before Abiy Ahmed came to power as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia the extreme poverty rate of the Ethiopian population defined as living on less than $ 2 per day had decreased from over 39% to 19% overall. Now data from the World Bank Group shows that first due to COVID19 and subsequently the prolonged war which severely limited economic output and creation of employment the overall rate has reversed especially in rural populations rising to 41%. 

Ethiopia has maxed out credit at over $40 billion requiring payments greater than $ 2 billion per annum just to pay the debt service not the principle. Severe cuts in human needs such as medications, medical consumables, infrastructure maintenance and improvement, and equipment imports just to run basic societal functions are increasing. The rapid decline of the birr which has been more than 30% over the past few month alone as well as growing international sanctions due to the Ethiopian governments human rights violations combined with ongoing war make any chance for economic recovery poor.

Ethiopia holds old women, small children and mothers in view of African Union in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia’s latest concentration camp in Addis Ababa holds old women, small children and their mothers with little resources or cover near the African Union.

Why does Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party fear old women, small children, and their mothers so much? His latest concentration camp “China camp” is located in the Gotera area of Addis Ababa literally next to the head quarters of the African Union. They have no housing, no sanitation, no clearly available water or food. What message is Abiy Ahmed sending to the world? 

What message are the great democracies of the world, the organizations who proclaim to protect human rights and dignity, and the  leaders of the Abrahamic faiths sending in keeping silent. Whilst Ethiopian and Eritrean backers and some “neutrals” look at a speck of sawdust in the eye of the Tigray they pay no attention to the plank in their own eye says Jesus in Matthew 7:3. How can the African Union, the United Nations, and the rest of world deny being witness to this flagrant inhumanity?

A positive Mexican-American reflection on American Thanksgiving

Turkey tamales are one innovation Mexican-Americans have added to American Thanksgiving meals which represent a time of bringing families together

As a Mexican-American child growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas I remember celebrating the American holiday, Thanksgiving, as a day which seeked to convey a utopian image of the founding of America between native peoples and foreign immigrants. This remembrance has come under controversy with the emergence of a bitter feud between advocates that it should be a day of shame of European conquest and defenders who note it was and is a symbol of the ideal of what America is striving to be. That although not yet perfect America has made considerable progress to that promised by its inception.

Just before Thanksgiving a year ago I was a part of Mekelle University medical faculty teaching medical students, providing healthcare, and promoting research to improve the lives of Tigrayans as well as their fellow Ethiopians. Unfortunately today I find myself displaced by a horrible war that has killed, starved, deprived, and rendered hopeless tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia. Everyday of the war reminds me they have not yet reached the state of progress we have struggled for in America. We versus they thinking has poisoned their society. They need to be exterminated mentality has ruined a country.

I am currently reading Thaddeus William’s Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice which has helped me to come to terms with how I view Thanksgiving.

First we have to recognize that all men are created by God in his image. All of us are potential sinners and potentially repentant members of the human family. Neither the native American society nor the Europeans were without sin yet they judged each other as “they” not “we”. Today this lack of seeing others like ourselves deteriorates into volatility and then violence. This has been sin of man since history has been recorded.

As a Mexican-American we honor our native and European roots. They are our mother and father. To hate one and love the other only recognizes half of our whole. The American expansion to the southwestern continental region of North American engulfed our traditional lands which beforehand had been taken from our native ancestors by Europeans.

Today we are a part of a great country, the United States of America, to which we have contributed much including building its infrastructure, harvesting its food, blending into and adding to its culture,  as well as defending its liberty from foreign threats. We cannot change history but we can learn from it. Our identity now is we are an essential part of the American dream and it is an integral part of our culture. Today I can celebrate Thanksgiving because although there was a flawed past there is a  future with  promise. I thank God for his creation of us all.

War on Tigray bringing decline of Ethiopian Airlines and competition

 

International air travel authorities are increasing the risk calculation for flights to Bole International Airport almost daily due to the approaching battlefront.

Ethiopian Airlines, one of the largest sources of foreign capital which bolsters the Ethiopian economy,  has been severely affected by the prolonged Ethiopian Tigray war.  Allegations of illegal war activity, approaching battlefront, decreased passenger traffic, and new initiatives by competitors are challenging the previous preeminence of the Ethiopian Airlines. Even before the war began in November 2020 what was Africa’s leading airline whose hub, Addis Ababa, had become the main African travel hub, was hurting due to the worldwide COVID 19 epidemic.

Now with many international agencies and governments evacuating the capital city of Ethiopia because of the proximity of the Tigray and Oromo forces many are wondering if an airport shutdown and closure of service is coming soon.

Numerous news sources have convincingly shown the airline to consistently carry munitions and troops in flights designated as regular civilian passenger flights which is against previously agreed upon international travel treaties including the Convention on Civil Aviation universally accepted around the world.  

In October 2021 the Biden administration stated that strong evidence of weapons ferrying into and between Ethiopia and Eritrea would be justification for sanctions against the airline. Although officials at Ethiopian Airlines initially refuted the claims they later changed the message after numerous well documented instances were revealed to say that they were loyal and proper in what they were doing. Fair trade practices with duty free imports to the United States are governed by Ethiopia agreeing to follow human rights practices which it has not.

The new vulnerability and limits on Ethiopian Airlines is bringing in a new vigor for other African countries to develop alternative airlines instead of allowing the continuing monopoly.  At the recent Dubai Airshow this past month, Air Tanzania, Uganda Airlines and RwandAir made major commitments with Airbus and Boeing to buy new aircraft while the cash strapped Ethiopian Airlines only worked on trying to lower maintenance costs. Many speculate that Ethiopian Airlines is in trouble financially because the reduced traffic has caused difficulty to make the payments on the millions of dollars in aircraft leases held.

Panic and the fog of war are undeniable in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is clearly moving into a panic with all foreign governments evacuating their citizens, wanton capture of Tigrayans, and a marshal state of law

Clearly those who stated Addis Ababa was living day to day business as usual were wrong. To describe the situation as panic based upon contacts I have spoken in the past few days is a conservative appraisal.  Conflicting reports on the status of various government officials and which government agencies are still functioning abound. 

At this time many sources including Ethiopian government report that Abiy Ahmed has given the role of day to day government administration to Demeke Mekonnen whereas before it was Demeke Mekonnen who was visiting the troops in the field. If Abiy Ahmed is truly commanding the armed forces of Ethiopia then how can he be incommunicado? Additionally he has ordered all members of his Prosperity Party and all government staffers to fight. So is the government apart from the military shutting down?

Abiy Ahmed tells Jeffrey Feltman and others in the diplomatic community he can negotiate successfully while in the same breath says he can get an easy military victory. The Tigray leadership as usual does not make clear its immediate military intention. One wonders is their goal when they reach proximity to Addis Ababa will be to impose a siege as they have done before?

 

President Sahle-Work Zewde belatedly claims she was against Abiy Ahmed “war mongering”

Great hope was placed when Sahle-Work Sahle as Ethiopia’s President.

Sahle-Work Zewde the President of Ethiopia who was widely hailed as a sign of reform of Abiy Ahmed has come out now saying that she was against the “war mongering” of Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party supporters but could do nothing because her position was ceremonial only. Where was she when children were being starved, women being violated, and innocent villagers being executed?

Previously in February 2021 after being silent for three months she did utter the words that the humanitarian needs in Tigray were “enormous” but nothing else. Her words now claiming that “Abiy was dragging his country into a sort of downward spiral” to me seem mostly self serving to escape blame. If she is really sincere then she most immediately go public and convince Ethiopians to stop supporting Abiy Ahmed and seek an end to more killing, detainment, starvation, and suffering.

Like Tewdros II Abiy Ahmed has failed to create a centrally controlled Ethiopia

Abiy Ahmed’s leadership has followed a similar course to Tewdros  II of initial enthusiasm, then bloody despotism, and finally military defeat

Abiy Ahmed seeing himself as Tewdros II reincarnation will likely end in his fall from power just as it did for Tewdros. The struggle between a single strong central government versus a confederation of states has recurred in Ethiopia many times since the 18th century with centralism never prevailing.  The very insightful author of Ethiopia Insight, Abel Tesfaye, wrote a prophetic article in 2019 asking the question did Abiy Ahmed want to be another Tewdros II, Emperor of Ethiopia? 

Today many Amhara look with pride at the story of Kassa of Quara, an Amhara, who would go on to become Tewdros II. The popular legend is that he arose to attempt to create a unified Ethiopia which had been stopped in its development by constant infighting between Amhara, Oromo, and Tigray at the end of 18th century. In fact many Amhara blame a Tigrayan nobleman, Ras Mikael Sehul, whose capture of Gondar started an era commonly referred to Zemane Mesafint, meaning time without princes or sometimes also referred to as time of darkness.

At that time the Tigray were called woyane same as Abiy Ahmed’s followers do to them today. This time was seen as chaotic and harmful to the development of the state of Ethiopia. Tewdros ultimately killed himself when he suffered a military defeat from an invading British army which was helped by Ethiopians opposing a strong central government. Historians have often tend to define Tewdros as a “bloody madman” while many Ethiopians especially Amhara idealize his memory as that of a martyr. 

The current situation today with the Tigray Defense Force and Oromo Liberation Army close to capturing Addis Ababa does mirror what happened to end Tewdros II’s reign. Abiy Ahmed supporters portray Ethiopian history  that “hundreds if not thousands of years” of Ethiopian harmony and identity were only disrupted once by the terrorist Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. This is far from the truth. 

Tewdros tortured and killed any opponents. He disliked the idea of missionaries and diplomates and favored the idea that war was the only way for countries to relate to each other.  This reminds of Abiy Ahmed’s distrust of diplomacy and non-governmental organizations. There was only the victor and the defeated with no in-between.

Many claim that by 1863 Tewdros II was actually hated by most under his despotic rule. Like Abiy Ahmed today at first he was greeted with enthusiasm with a promise of building a stronger nation but eventually his thirst for power created death and destruction and alienation of many foreign countries. Instead what Ethiopian history tells us is that time after time a strong centrist government with one dominant ethnic group will usually fail. Maybe it is time for a new idea instead of subjecting each generation to bloody wars. Abiy Ahmed seems to have earned the same fate of failure and defeat as suffered by his idol, Tewdros II.