Fear of kingless country prophecy, Zemene Mesafint, drives Abiy Ahmed supporters

Like ancient Israel Ethiopia will fall without cohesion of a strong pious leader endorsed by righteous religious authority. This long and widely held political religious viewpoint has been directly assimilated into support for Abiy Ahmed by his supporters. They prophesize his fall from power will bring an unholy chaos and downfall of the state.

Abiy Ahmed visits deposed Abune Merkorios of the Ethiopia Orthodox Church who is supported by many diaspora

The origin of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) traces it history first to Hebrew traditions historically brought to Ethiopia by the Queen of Sheba and her son Menelik I who was fathered by the Hebrew King Solomon. Subsequently Judaism as the state religion gave way to Christianity in the third century AD under King Ezana. The EOC retained many Jewish features such as the kosher diet in part because of the nine Syrian Jewish Christians who came to Ethiopia and brought Scripture in the Geez language. Tewahedo, the concept of Jesus being of one mixed substance indivisible one from the other, separates it from Western and Eastern European Christology. Many Ethiopians see the parallels in the story of the struggle of the Jewish state and that of Ethiopia. They see this struggle as being dependent on the pious observance of the Ethiopian people.

Early on the EOC differentiated itself from the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantium Church in the this concept of Tweahedo but also by accepting Donatism. In simple terms this meant that priest had to be absolutely holy and without corruption otherwise they are incapable of performing priestly duties including especially rituals of forgiveness and the eucharist. It also gave them a higher status in many ways to even the monarchy or political leaders. This lent and continues to lend authority to the words of clergy to the population.

They did however look to Emperor Constantine as a model of imperial orthodoxy. Similar to what happened in Europe during the middle ages a partnership developed between the EOC and the monarchy. The holy nature of the clergy gave them authority to proclaim Ethiopian monarchy as being chosen by divine will.

Strength through unity expands the empire and protects it

Initially the Ethiopian empire was born out of the Axumite Empire bordering the Red Sea and even some territory in Yemen consisting of the Semitic speaking peoples we know today as the Tigray and Amhara. Over the centuries holdings in Yemen were lost but the new Solomonic dynasty began to spread south and west. The Cushitic peoples of western, southern, and eastern Ethiopia were overcome and became subjects of the empire. However fierce rivalries grew within the empire leading to many episodes of betrayal, assassination, and wars. Additionally there were times when Muslims who make up at least a third and maybe 40% of the population fought the empire.  Ethiopian Christians believe their “God derived” unity and tolerance towards Muslims who accepted subjugation preserved the Christian state.

This intertwining of destiny, religion, and the need to keep power created even academic misrepresentations of Ethiopian history propagated by the ruling Amhara monarchy. For example that the Oromo people were immigrants to the Ethiopia and that Muslims were meant to be graciously accepted as refugees from the pagan Saudi kingdom but not part of the Ethiopian manifest destiny. Cushitics  were inferior and meant to be ruled by Amhara.

The prophetic chaos of the time of princes (without a king)

Fear of the danger of collapse of the empire from disunity happened during the period referred to as Zemene Mesafint in 1769 through 1865AD which is an analogy to the collapse of the 12 tribes of Israel in Jewish history which rendered them susceptible to invaders. Additionally the analogy goes further that this collapse was due to following away from God. Even though the Emperor Tewodros II lost to the British in war and committed suicide he is glorified as an example of strength in this unity.

Divisions develop in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Over the past century the EOC has developed significant divisions in its ranks. Over a half century beginning in the Caribbean Islands critics of the leadership of the Ethiopian Church began to develop. This was in part driven by the concept that Cushitic peoples of Ethiopia especially in the western and southern regions did not have the same citizenship status or rights as Northern Ethiopians. Amharic royalty had become the holders of power leading to the allowance of slavery and land acquisition of Cushitic’s. Many Oromos were characterized also as pagans for not joining the EOC. This facilitated their increased conversion to Islam and opened the way for the introduction of evangelical protestants to flourish.

Large numbers of diaspora came to the United States and Europe during the Derg regime Tigray Peoples Liberation Front conflict which followed the end of the monarchy. Opposition groups distrusted the appointments of the Patriarchs leading the EOC in Ethiopia as being too aligned with the Derg and subsequently the TPLF. Three groups of EOC churches developed, the unrecognized Holy Synod in exile, the neutral, and those loyal to the Patriarch over the past two decades.

Additionally, many Protestant converts, both in the diaspora and native Ethiopian population have now joined up with those in the Holy Synod in Exile fearing that a repeat Zemene Mesafint will happen. Currently under order of the the Prime Minister of Ethiopia,  Abune Mathias, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, has accused the government of wanting to destroy Tigray and been placed under house arrest.

The Tigrayan Abune Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is under house arrest

Many Ethiopian Protestant converts and exiled EOC members as well as Amharic factions in Ethiopia see Abiy Ahmed as the continuation of the partnership of political religious alliance that has been the prophecy of success for Ethiopia. While others see this as just a pretense for the continuation of expansionist Amharic elitism camouflaged by religion. 




Reflection: A different Ashenda this year but still a time for appreciation of God’s creation

Near the battle front women soldiers and their male colleagues celebrate and reflect on Ashenda this week.

The ancient Tigray festival, Ashenda, is different this year but even more important. I had lived in Tigray for the past seven years. Every year at the end of August on the western calendar the Ashenda festival would fill the city of Mekelle, capital of Tigray, with more than a million visitors. The festival is a celebration of the main harvest coming, the Virgin Mary, womanhood, and ethnic recognition of the people of Tigray. Often times it comes when there is still a rainy season going on but that does not stop young women in ceremonial dress from gathering in the city with lots of singing and dancing.

Ashenda celebration in downtown Mekelle in previous years

This year is different. Starvation, killings of innocents, atrocities to women, limited planting, and ongoing war have changed their world to horror.  Some internet trolls this year usually from the Amhara region wanted to sensationalize that this year Mekelle did not have the usual large crowds as well as suffering famine. In their twisted mind they imagined that an impingement in celebrating God’s creation was funny. They wished to demean the faith of Tegaru and especially of the Tegaru women.

Empty streets in Mekelle this August 2021

The book, The Sabbath, written by Hebrew Rabbi Abraham Heschel came to mind to help explain how the Tigray see Ashenda. As Rabbi Heschel writes that our celebration of our creation and being close to God is not defined by a place. That God in creating the universe designated a time not a place for this most important part of our being. Although he mostly talking about the day of the Sabbath this exactly also goes for Ashenda. Even in the midst of misery and war we must find time for the sacred and for reviewing our relationship with God.

This year in the midst of a terrible invasion which killed and abused tens of thousands it is more important then ever to appreciate God’s grace. So instead of huge crowds young women and their families are still celebrating God’s gift of creation, of Mary’s role in Christianity, and the hope that Jesus Christ brings ultimately justice for his followers.

The heart and soul of Tigray in the midst of catastrophe has not waivered. They do not believe God has abandoned them. Women’s role in being the mother to Christ, to sustaining Tigray society, and even fighting it’s battles of defense against horrific oppression has special significance this year more then ever.


How Ethiopia’s conflict has affected farming in Tigray Ghent University analysis

How Ethiopia’s conflict has affected farming in Tigray

In north Ethiopia, farmers commonly use an ox-drawn single-tined plough called mahrasha. Photo by: Edwin Remsberg / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Jan Nyssen, Ghent University; Emnet Negash, Ghent University, and Sofie Annys, Ghent University

Since fighting broke out in November 2020 between the Tigrayan regional government and the Ethiopian army, the conflict has wreaked havoc on the lives of people living in the Tigray state. Over 9,500 civilian deaths have been documented, with many more unrecorded. In addition about 2 million people have been displaced and at least 400,000 are now in famine.

Situated in the northern periphery of Ethiopia, about 75% of the 5.7 million population of Tigray are farmers. Most people who live there depend on local yields for survival. It’s expected that there’ll be an even greater demand on local yields this year because millions cannot be reached with aid and last year’s harvest largely failed.

Hence, we set out to know what the state of farming is in Tigray. We were concerned that, due to warfare, ploughing and planting might not occur on time or at all.

Read more: Ethiopia’s Tigray region has seen famine before: why it could happen again

Tigray’s growing period is generally 90 to 120 days long, depending on weather conditions in different areas. This stretches from June to September. Land preparation (ploughing) usually happens between March and July.

We investigated the status of ploughing from a distance because, due to the war, we couldn’t be present on the ground. Our main research tools were satellite imagery and telephone communications. This study covered March to early June 2021.

Sadly, our findings revealed a painful situation in which farmers try to grow crops, but they’ve lost many of their assets and fear for their lives. War conditions have made ploughing very challenging as oxen, used to plough farmlands, have been looted and deliberately killed. In addition, there was hardly any access to farm inputs such as seed and fertiliser, while farm tools have been destroyed by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers.

The targeted destruction of Tigray’s economic basis – especially the agricultural sector – has been framed as a deliberate attempt to starve Tigray.

Tillage in Tigray

Crop cultivation in Tigray has a long history as settled agriculture started more than 3,000 years ago. This is reflected in the region’s high crop diversity, including endemic crops, such as the renowned tef cereal. Overall, farmers have small plots (less than a hectare in total). They mainly grow subsistence crops on rain-fed lands and cash crops on irrigated lands in narrow river valley bottoms.

Farming methods are mostly traditional and low-cost, but effective. Oxen-drawn ploughs (or mahrasha) are widely used to till the soil, seeds are mainly sown by hand and most crops depend entirely on rainfall without supplemental irrigation.

Farmers in Tigray have modernised a lot over the last decades: they use mineral fertilisers and selected seeds and advice is mainly provided by the Office of Agriculture.

As a whole, we found that rainfall conditions in early 2021 were conducive to a normal planting season. However, we contrasted bird’s eye photographs with historical Google Earth imagery and saw that in early May, in comparison to previous years, less cropland had been ploughed.

To better understand why this was happening, we used 17 telephone interviews with key witnesses – all of whom who are well experienced within Tigray’s agricultural sector and have strong networks.

Challenges to farming

Several key reasons were given for why land wasn’t being prepared.

In many cases, soldiers – mostly mentioned were Eritrean soldiers who had entered Tigray as an ally of the Ethiopian forces – weren’t allowing farmers to plough their land. They told farmers, “we are here fighting to die, and you want to plough?”

Another reason was that young men, who would usually do most of the tillage work, left for fear of being killed. Some became fighters.

Having experienced atrocities, many young Tigrayans felt compelled to join the forces. A witness said:

The number of youngsters joining the Tigrayan Defence Forces per household may vary based on what happened in their surroundings (especially massacres, rape and destruction). In a village that I know well, almost all the young men joined after witnessing the indiscriminate killing of 13 people.

Even if farmers were “allowed” to farm, the absence of farm implements and inputs was often quoted as a major challenge. An agricultural expert in Mekelle said that:

Most oxen have been slaughtered or looted by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. The Eritrean soldiers are not only disallowing farmers to plough but also burnt and destroyed their farm tools.

And a staff member of Mekelle University said that:

There are no farm inputs (seeds and fertilisers) available, and many oxen have been taken (without which ploughing is impossible).

Who farmed has also changed. Farmers feared that they’d be killed while ploughing. We were told that, in some places, during the daytime elderly people, women and children worked on the lands. Adult men worked at night and stayed in the village during the day because they were a target of the Ethiopian army and supporting Eritrean forces.

Still hope, but…

Farmers have been late with land preparation, but in June most rural areas came under the control of the Tigray forces. This meant that farmers could start working on their land again. Rural markets – where farmers bought or exchanged seeds – thrived.

Despite the difficult conditions, a big effort was made in June and July to prepare the land for crops. An analysis of True Colour Composite images (combining the red, green and blue bands of Sentinel satellite imagery) showed that, by June, most farmlands had been tilled at least once – the share of exposed dark earth was similar to that of 2019 or 2020.

But this wasn’t uniform across the region. Western Tigray, for instance, remains occupied by Amhara Special Forces and militia. Most farmlands have not been tilled and, on the satellite imagery, many display the typical reddish colour of the standing unharvested sorghum from last year.

We do have hope though for many farmers. Tigrayan smallholder farming systems are resilient. From interviews, we learned that farmers adapted by switching to crops that require minimal management and to fast-growing cereal landraces. Cereals require less human presence on the fields (as compared to tomatoes or onions for instance), hence less risk for the farmers to encounter soldiers and get killed.

Nevertheless, for many the last food that people had at hand has been consumed and the next harvest will only be in November. And we read that a fresh locust infestation is threatening.

While it was in a minimal food insecurity situation before the war, the larger part of Tigray has now entered emergency and famine conditions. This corresponds to at least two starvation deaths per 10,000 inhabitants per day in areas under famine.

With currently a meagre 10% of the required food aid getting into Tigray, it’s imperative that any aid blockades on Tigray are lifted.The Conversation

Jan Nyssen, Professor, Ghent University; Emnet Negash, PhD Candidate, Ghent University, and Sofie Annys, Researcher, Ghent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ethiopia’s worsening inability to pay $40 billion debt

While Abiy Ahmed has struggled trying to squelch rebellion throughout Ethiopia and proclaiming wonderous record economic growth truth of financial collapse is coming out. This week China’s EximBank decided to hold disbursing $339 million in further loan to Ethiopia because it is default. Currently 12 major infrastructure projects have no capital to continue including the electric railroad from Dijoubti to Addis Ababa. Another $98 million in debt from the African Development bank is also in default.

The Ethiopia-Djibouti railway carries a heavy debt burden

The railway is currently disabled by forces allied with the Tigray Army but its problems started well before the Tigray Ethiopian conflict. Under Abiy Ahmed’s leadership production of electricity for the whole nation had fallen behind to the extent that often there was not enough power to run the train. Secondly, although the Ethiopian government had dreamed of the train carrying exports including shoes to Djibouti this did not happen.

Since 2018 the African Union and international credit organizations had counseled Abiy Ahmed to focus on realistic economic development and restructure debt in a realistic matter. Instead he fixed his whole plan for fixing the economic distress and debt burden of Ethiopia on visions of selling electricity from the Grand Renaissance Dam.

International financial analysts have warned Ethiopia that the “Chinese model of heavy infrastructure development” financed by Chinese banks was a failed strategy unless domestic economic production was substantially increased. For example instead of being a net exporter of footwear the Ethiopian share of the domestic market is only 10% while 90% are imported.

Abiy Ahmed proclaimed that the Ethiopian Tigray conflict had cost more than $2.5 billion before the expansion of the war into Amhara and further uprising of regional liberation groups active throughout Ethiopia. At this point it is clear there will be no rapid return to the status quo present before November 2020. The war prosecuted by Abiy Ahmed has brought and likely will bring more sanctions from Western democracies as well as more defaults to Chinese, European, and other creditors. Financial stability does not seem attainable for the foreseeable future. There can be no prosperity without peace. 

Noted international authority on national debts, Fitch, now rates Ethiopia as ccc which is equivalent to a financially failed state. Now with $40 billion in debt, in a country wide civil war, severe inflation, yearly locust outbreaks and poor forecasts of economic growth unlike was present before he took power there seems no answer but a change in leadership.

The betrayal of the Tigray Region by Abiy Ahmed

In April 2018 Abiy Ahmed the new appointed Prime Minister of Ethiopia came to visit Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, with a message of hope, cooperation, and development. As a teenager in the Ethiopian Army he had served in the Tigray region and learned Tigrinya, the native language. He watched a circus show, sat with Tigray People Liberation Front leaders, and talked about a future together. Before his visit he had stated that it was time for a new era for all regions to work together. That the country should look forward and not be focused in the past.

Abiy Ahmed sits with TPLF leaders at the Mekelle Monument to Martyrs

He talked about infrastructure development including hydroelectric dams, a railroad project, the Mekelle water problem, giving support to private sector development , loans for investment, export support from the national bank, improving tourism,  bringing public meter taxi for Mekelle,  and a short lease proclamation for agriculture. None of these things ever happened.

Instead after his visit there came to be a movement in Ethiopia about the need to deal with the past.  In late 2018, the Prime Minister created a Reconciliation Commission “to maintain peace justice, national unity and consensus as well as Reconciliation among Ethiopian Peoples.”

Discussion began about injustice under the Monarchy, the Derg, and the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Front under whose auspices Abiy Ahmed came to power as a compromise between Amhara and Oromia factions. Soon however, this effort which lacked any clear mandate, become a mechanism for consolidating power. 

By the 2019 budgets for the Tigray state which were calculated by population formulas used for all regions were beginning to be cut. Many former political leaders including those of the TPLF were sought out for arrest. Ethnic identity in the Amhara region, and other regions as well,  which normally had about 10% Tigray became an issue. There were pushes which began subtilty but then became open and forceful causing many Tigray to leave other regions and move back to Tigray.  Abiy Ahmed was using the usual formula for dictators by creating a Tigray strawman. He began to turn on even those who facilitated his rise namely Jawar Mohammed from Oromia.

On the occasion of the 2019 harvest and women’s festival Ashenda , Abiy Ahmed sent a message that Tigray culture was an important and vital part of Ethiopia. In a speech to Parliament he stated that the TPLF and Tigray leadership were examples to follow for other regions in Ethiopia. 

The Tigray Ethiopia conflict which was the end result of almost two years of escalating actions against the Tigrayan ethnicity was touted as a “law enforcement action”. That the Ethiopian government was going to free the Tegaru people from the crimes committed against them by the TPLF. Instead with its expatriate Eritrean allies it looted, killed, raped, and stole from the very people Abiy Ahmed said he would “liberate”. Finally he sarcastically complained that he had to remove his army from Mekelle because the Tegaru were helping the Tigray government too much. 

Today more than 300,000 Tegaru are suffering famine. Aid is being actively blocked by the Ethiopian government.  Revolts are now active in Beningshagul, Afar, Oromia, Agew, Somali, and Gambella who also feel betrayed.  Hope has been replaced to a fight for survival against a great betrayal. 



Report from Mekelle: Starvation, no health care, no power, and blockade August 19,2021

Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital campus of Mekelle University

Every once in a while I receive audio communication from Mekelle. This was a summary of what they told me of the situation on August 19,2021. Starvation, lack of healthcare, and the continuing blockade to help the situation continue.

Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital of Mekelle University
This is normally the tertiary hospital for Tigray and surrounding regions having a catchment area of about 10 million. It is part of the second largest medical school, research center, and training center for medical specialties in Ethiopia. Although civil non-violent actions stopped complete destruction of the hospital by Eritrean and Ethiopian National Defense Forces the hospital now is almost at a standstill.  Having no antibiotics, no insulin, no cancer medications, cardiac medications, working ICU, no c-section or blood transfusion for delivery, no ambulance service the population of Tigray has been rendered to having essentially without healthcare. No laboratory equipment, x-ray machine, anesthesia machines work anywhere in Tigray. From smaller hospitals most of the equipment was taken as war booty to Eritrea. Many hospital were ransacked and bombarded by artillery. There is very little diesel available to run the hospital generator.

Currently the hospital being overwhelmed with many patients lying in hall ways with starvation victims. Children especially are the most vulnerable so they make the majority of victims. There are outbreaks also of COVID-19 and other viral diseases because no immunizations are available. Recent outbreaks of rabies have occurred because hungry vicious dogs are roaming the streets. Ayder has no rabies treatment available. There is only few intravenous bags left and those are being used to try to help infant and child victims of starvation. There is now a World Health Organization team in place to assess and assist but their pleas for help are ignored by the Ethiopian government.

Everyday more victims of abuse both male and female are coming to the hospital for counseling and care. High numbers of families are disconnected from others trying to find their loved ones.

The staff and physicians of the hospital and university have not been paid for three months. The food supply is gradually deteriorating and is much worse in the countryside. Ethiopia blocked planting and killed livestock during the occupation of Mekelle. Stores of seeds, fertilizer, farming equipment were taken as war booty to Eritrea.

Condition of the Tigray Power Supply -19August 19, 2021
Electric power remains out in all of Tigray. There is a very sparse supply of fuel for any generators and when available it comes at a high price.

The Tekezé Dam normally has four turbines that produce 300 mw of electricity through a 105 kilometer transmission line to Mekelle. It was severely damaged by the Ethiopian National Defense Force and Eritrean forces leading up and during their occupation of eastern Tigray. Now I am informed that work is going on to at least partially repair the damage. Apparently the current water level is not high enough to make use of what is currently functional so they are hoping with more time the level may rise. Significant components need to be replaced but this blocked by the Ethiopian blockade. They are hoping some interim repairs will allow partial function when the water level rises from the rainy season.

The Tekezé Dam was attacked and rendered nonfunctional by Eritrean and Ethiopian National Defense Forces

The Ashegoda wind project  was similarly sabotaged by Eritrean and Ethiopian National Defense Forces. This wind farm close to the Mekelle airport can produce 120 MW power out of 30 turbines that can meet the needs of 3 million people in Tigray. I am informed that vital parts have been damaged or stolen and then taken to Eritrea. In order to repair these vital structures supplies and expertise must be allowed past the current Ethiopian blockade.

OLA forces reach Addis outskirts increased trade sanctions against Ethiopia coming

Abiy Ahmed meets with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey

At this moment multiple sources report Oromo Liberation Army elements are fighting in the neighborhood near Entoto Mountain on the edge of Addis Ababa just a short distance from the airport. At the same time Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a hasty visit to see the President Erdoğan of Turkey.  The Tigray Defense Force continues to advance toward both Bahir Dar and Gondar while also pushing into Western Tigray. The supply of weapons and trained combat soldiers seems to have run out for the Amhara militias trying a last stand near Bahir Dar and Gondar.

Meanwhile Germany and the United States are setting up to increase sanctions on the Ethiopian government.  Many are asking will the Prime Minister be able to come back if a take over of Addis is imminent?

Although there are all out call outs for volunteers many of the new fighters have no training and only sticks for weapons

Assuming for the moment his Prosperity Party will stay in power at least for a while recent diplomatic actions or lack there of predict poor relations with the United States. The snubbing of USAID Head Samantha Powers last week and now Jeffrey  Feltman, the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, by Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, raises the high likelihood that Ethiopia will be declared in violation of the AGOA which allows Ethiopian exports to the USA in hundreds of millions of dollars. Should the Ethiopian government survive which many seem to doubt at this point Ethiopia .


Graph of the trade balance between Ethiopia and the United States in millions of dollars

The United States State Department requests for peace talks with the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front by the Ethiopian government have been soundly rejected as well as requests for military forces invading Tigray to withdrawal, restoration of power, internet, access of aid and investigatory bodies to be allowed to enter Tigray. Growing impatience with the American State Department as well as members of Congress who have passed several resolution condemning the treatment of Tigrayans and the atrocities attributed to the Ethiopia and Eritrean fighting forces have resulted in no response.

U.S. total imports of agricultural products from Ethiopia totaled $151 million in 2019. Leading categories include: unroasted coffee ($130 million), nursery products ($6 million), spices ($3 million), planting seeds ($357 thousand), and wine and beer ($271 thousand)

Only 9% of total imports to Ethiopia come the United States. Ethiopia main imports are: foodstuffs, textile, machinery and fuel. Ethiopia main trading partners are: China (18 percent of total imports), Saudi Arabia (13 percent),  Russia and India (9 percent)

The African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2001 gave Ethiopia a chance to export 1800 different products to the United States duty free. However to participate in AGOA To meet AGOA’s there are strict eligibility requirements including ” countries must establish or make continual progress toward establishing a market-based economy, the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process.  Additionally, countries must eliminate barriers to U.S. trade and investment, enact policies to reduce poverty, combat corruption and protect human rights.”

Ethiopia needs prayer and a reality check

For Ethiopians previously not affected by the Ethiopian Tigray conflict it is now time to come to reality. Now is the time for all to realistically assess where to go from here. It is a time for prayer and contemplation. Ethiopians not affected by the war so far need to realize they soon will be.

Wars always start too early and end too late. Having fantasy notions about a coming Ethiopian miracle will only cause more misery. Whatever becomes of Ethiopia is going to happen regardless of what further futile military action is done by Ethiopia.

Captured prisoners of the Amhara militia and Ethiopian National Defense Force on Mount Guna August 16, 2021 where the TDF repeated their historical victory which turned the tide against the Derg.

One in four people in all of Ethiopia are approaching a state of famine and for Tigray that is approaching 500,000. Ethiopian Airlines and mining interests are so disrupted by the war that the economy of Ethiopia is falling fast. Abnormal rain patterns as well as war now occurring in Tigray, Amhara, Afar, Oromia, Beningshugal, Somali, and the SNNPNR will surely reduce the major harvest this year. Inflation for the year is approaching 50% and the birr may reach 75 to the US dollar very soon.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has left to meet Isaias in Eritrea and then on to Turkey. It may happen that the Bole Airport may be overtaken by Oromia Liberation Army forces before he makes it back if he really intends to comeback. So far Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has refused to negotiate but instead promising a massive counterattack which has never materialized. The Tigray and their allies have at least offered to negotiate.

At this point it is clear by many military and strategic analysts that Ethiopia cannot mount a significant counterattack to defeat Tigray. Now the Tigray Defense Force is being joined by fighters of liberation armies from Agew, Afar, Somali, Beningshugal, Oromia, and Gambella.

The Tigray Defense Force and their allies are driven by a need to free their people from perceived tyranny and abuse from Amhara elitism. The Amhara elites and their allies claim they want to preserve a chance for a unified Ethiopia that will become a more modern state. Unfortunately they cannot force their point of view upon others. As I and others have stated previously Ethiopian has always been an empire of subjugated nations. The prejudiced view of a united state of Ethiopia quickly fades from view as soon as you leave Addis for the countryside.

Thousands of Ethiopians are displaced now. Dessie Hospital and others in Amhara are overwhelmed with casualties. Most of the fighting equipment of the Ethiopian national defense force has been destroyed or taken by the Tigray Defense Force. Supply lines to both Tigray and Amhara as well as from Djibouti and Kenya are cut off. It may be just hours to days before the Bole Airport is closed. As of now no Ethiopian airline  flight is flying domestically. Civilian traffic between major cities is severely restricted. The isolated and tormented people of Western Tigray will soon be freed.

A prayer from His Eminence Archbishop Abba Kewestos Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate:

In the name of the Father and of the Son
And of the Holy Spirit one God, Amen.

For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:

Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

And who is he that will harm you if you will be followers of that which is good?

But if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meakness and fear;


What I learned and hope to return to at Mekelle University Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital

Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital campus of Mekelle University

In building neuroscience and neurosurgery at Mekelle University I experienced great happiness in serving the people and training future neurosurgeons and scientists.  My seven year experience at Mekelle University serving the people of Tigray and surrounding areas as well teaching neurosurgeons and neuroscience gave me a new perspective on what is true career success. I now recognize there are three phases.

When I first came to Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in 2015 my initial goal was get a good neurosurgery service going. They were really the only government hospital capable of developing this goal outside Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, as well as being some distance north so it would offer chances to treat patients who would otherwise go untreated. The University and hospital were committed to building not only quality and quantity of good health care for Tigray and surrounding regions but also to medical education. 

Initially I helped teach neuroscience and clinical neurology/neurosurgery to medical students and general surgery residents (young physicians who have graduated from medical school now doing specialty training) basic neurosurgical skills involving mostly traumatic injuries. My goal was to create a neurosurgery training program as well as a neuroscience research team. 

Teaching medical students about head injury

After about a year working with Ethiopian Ministries and some good collaboration from the Ethiopian ministries, World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies, and Mekelle University faculty we started a five year training program and a three year fellowship program. Up until the Tigray Ethiopian conflict we had grown to 18 trainees, doing 1,500 operations  year, and published internationally recognized research with our multidisciplinary research team on neural tube defects which occur in a high incidence in Ethiopia.

Our research team meet with the World Health Organization

Going through this experience made me reflect on what has been important in my career. When I was a college student at Texas A&M, then a medical student at Harvard, and finally a resident at the University of Miami I was mostly focused on personal achievement and perhaps also personal recognition. Through out that experience and subsequent practice I saw my career as having two phases. Learning to be a neurosurgeon and then becoming a great neurosurgeon. However it was my experience at Mekelle University and Ayder Comprehensive Hospital that taught me there was still a greater accomplishment which was to train great neurosurgeons and neuroscientists. 

Senior neurosurgery resident is supervised to remove a brain tumor

At first it was struggle. The hospital had little experience with neurosurgery. As a 60+ year old guy I was in the hospital every night doing surgery with young general surgeons and then residents with whom we had to start from scratch. Still they were eager to learn. With help from Indian and the few Ethiopian neurosurgeons we got up to date textbooks for them to read. Even though English was their second language they became proficient. At the end of the first year they knew more than I did at their level some 40 years ago. 

During surgery they have to learn about anesthesia, positioning, hand control, to make movements less than millimeter which could mean life or death, how to control bleeding, how to do a 12 hour operation, and much more. We began to have weekly seminars on very complicated ideas where they absorbed the concepts so well I was learning as much they were.  We were organized as most neurosurgical services in a sort of military style hierarchy to which the residents responded to well. Very quickly good and close relationships developed not only with those that were Tigray but also with others from other Ethiopian regions and other countries in the program.

I formed strong relationships with the research bodies of Mekelle University and we created a strong multi-disciplinary research team on neural tube defects which lead to meeting with government and World Health Organization officials, international NGOs, and a finally the beginning of a nationwide plan for prevention and treatment.

Before the  Ethiopian occupation and blockade shut the neurosurgery training program down we had operated on more than 5,000 patients from not only  Tigray but also Amhara,  Eritrea, and occasionally Addis Ababa to Gambella. This week far away from Mekelle I had been doing the “paper work” for my first graduates. I wish we could have had a formal ceremony but I had good voice communication provided. Now I have learned that the best phase of a neurosurgeon’s career is seeing his trainees carry on and expand what I started. 

Holiday dinner with my neurosurgery residents and fellow

I pray God will see fit to facilitate Ayder Comprehensive Hospital and myself to return  to its service, teaching, and research missions once again.

Church dictatorial paternalism to social issues is contrary to Jesus faith in his followers

Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mont where he explains how Christians should live

The Christian Church wielding overpowering paternalism denying Christ’s followers the ability to freely make decisions denies the faith God has in human ability to find truth through faith. This goes beyond teaching their followers to make moral judgement. It demonstrates a condescending view of their flock as incapable of full development to make moral decisions as intended by God in their creation. A term for this was coined clerico-fascism referring to Mussolini support by the Catholic Church in the 1930s. The writers of the Constitution of the United States wisely foresaw this dilemma when a solid division between church and state was legislated. Yet this division is under attack and not only in the United States.

Now today while many Protestant and Jewish leaders are joining the call for protecting voting rights in the United States the Catholic leaders and especially the American Bishops are absolutely silent. Not a single word. Do they fear that a mob of peasants will endanger their political goals? In Ethiopia many clergy are calling for a Christian fatwa in a civil war between ethnic groups which they are saying allows who they see as the righteous to commit inhuman atrocities. 

There are many times when I have looked with awe at the many things the Catholic Church does for the poor throughout the world. Helping school children to learn basic skills, giving orphans a chance to grow up, helping poor families in third world countries.  Similarly I have traveled widely in Ethiopia and seen the Ethiopian Orthodox Church be a beacon of hope for poor souls starving, abandoned, or needing some social support. In earlier times and even today church grounds provided the only well for water for rural populations. Many school children learned to read Amharic because there was no public school system.

However, going back to the middle ages the  church has always had a problem with wielding overbearing paternalism. Although it cared deeply for the people the leaders of the church had a prevailing attitude that their sheep were totally inept to make their own decisions. In World War II the Catholic Church forestalled American’s recognition of the dangers of the Nazi movement because it feared communism more. During the struggle for civil rights of minorities in the United States the argument that “now is not the time” was a common theme so counsel was given not to pursue “too aggressive measures to combat” prejudice and racism. In Ethiopia the Orthodox church saw Kushitic peoples as less human then the Semitic peoples of the north allowing slavery.

We remember when attempts were made to translate the Bible to the lingua franca, common language of the people, instead of Latin these were seen as evil heretical acts. The Word of God was for the clergy to give the people not for them to discover. Since the Middle Ages it has been well documented that the organized church has always struggled with what its role should be versus government. What should be the role of clergy to government leaders and what should be the role of clergy toward the public? Should they be advisors on general moral issues and abstain from specific political questions?

The Bible in the Book of Samuel warns the nature of man is contaminated when power is given. That society must always be on guard because power corrupts. The great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his writing the Cost of Discipleship went so far as to say that Christians should avoid political office because it was inconsistent with being a good disciple of Christ.

The Catholic Church today in the United States has been diminished greatly and has hoped to invigorate itself by tying itself tightly to the cause of abortion. I respect their point of view that life begins at conception and also see it as a reasonable goal to eliminate abortion.

However, in his mandate for Christians to build the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, on earth Jesus did not intend for Christians to be political zombies with no respect for their free will. The creation of man with free will is a key tenant to God’s purpose that man freely chooses to love God and follow Jesus teaching. That this devotion comes out of using all his gifts of the spirit including his intellect. Christ’s love leads and inspires the body not the paternal dictatorship of church leaders.

When Jesus was incarnated of two natures, one human and one divine, he was made by God with the idea that his humanness had the capability to reach a state that appreciated God’s grace. Man has this dual nature. Saint Paul said becoming a Christian involved man overcoming his beastly nature to find his connection with God. His creation by God made this possible even for the gentiles who had no history of knowing God there was an inherent chance. Some theologians have in fact called this the deification of humanity.  When the Church shows no faith in human ability to follow God it is denying God’s intent in how man was created. God has faith in man because he created man in his image. The church should be a guide but like parents to a child eventually the child will grow up to make his own decisions. This facilitates how we can be true members of the Corpus Christi.