A special role of the Tigray in Ethiopian Christian history is evident today which is the eve of the Epiphany. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church calendar the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist will be celebrated in a two festival. On the first day, Ketera (meaning blocking of waters for celebration) traditionally the congregants lead by the priest escort a tabot, which is a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, to initiate the holiday. On the second day after the celebration the tabot is returned to the church. This shows the continuity between the Jewish roots and Christian traditions in the saga of the Axumite empire.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church began in Tigray in the city of Axum when in the 4th century King Ezana officially adopted Christianity. Many centuries before the Queen of Sheba of the same area had born a son, Menelik, from the Israeli king Solomon and according to church tradition had brought the original Ark of the Covenant to Axum.
Between November 19 and 20, 2020 Eritrean invaders came to Axum and killed hundreds of church worshipers. They left the bodies where they lay and did not allow the families to remove the bodies for several days. No doubt this attack was approved by the Ethiopian government. It escapes me how Ethiopians can celebrate this holiday after desecrating the traditional home of the Ark of the Covenant.
In recent weeks almost 200 innocent Tigray civilians including women and children have been killed by drones under the command of the Ethiopian government. Yet today in a statement of egregious blasphemy the Ethiopian government sent a letter to a supplier of the deadly drones, United Arab Emirates after they suffered a drone attack from rebels in Yemen. The letter goes so far as to say that attacks on civilians are cowardly that “neither the norms of humanity or international law can justify”.
Following World War II the United Nations was formed with the basic tenet of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The members of the United Nations agree to principally follow these directives. Yet Ethiopia continues to openly kill and starve civilians as well violated just about every article of the UN mandate.
The forecast for growing cereal crops (teff, sorghum, maze, and wheat) in Tigray and Ethiopia in 2022 is poor for Tigray and questionable for Northern Ethiopia due to below average rainfall predictions based upon meteorological data and satellite sensors. Tigray cannot grow enough food to escape famine without receiving food aid. Normally there is a second season harvest which is more dependent on good rains then the first. The Ethiopian government continues the complete blockade of food and medicine to Tigray.
Without outside food aid from international sources such as the World Food Program this years crop in Tigray will be very insufficient to relieve the ongoing and worsening famine affecting more then 1 million Tigrayans and threatening ultimately another 5 to 6 million. Even for Ethiopia, the war spending in excess of $4 billion since the war with Tigray started will make it difficult to meet its needs even outside of Tigray without major purchases and/or aid.
Although Ethiopia claimed to withdrawal from Tigray last season to allow planting, Abiy Ahmed appointed official, Abraha Desta, said this was a lie and explained that seeds and farm equipment were sent to Eritrea as well that farmers were prevented from planting. While Ethiopia denied famine, Desta claimed it was a crisis causing many deaths. Eritreans also ransacked food aid during their occupation of Tigray. Just this week an Ethiopian attack on a community mill which farmers in Tigray need to make their crops into flour was destroyed. No seed supplies, fertilizer, or farm equipment has been allowed to be delivered to Tigray since the conflict began in November 2020. Most farmers depend upon farm animals to plow and carry heavy loads in their work but many animals were killed by Eritreans and Ethiopia forces.
Unfortunately those who think Ethiopia under Abiy Ahmed has been transformed into the mythical state of “Wakanda” are suffering delusions of grandeur. For most Ethiopians health, education, and standards of living remain at the bottom of the barrel even for Africa. Abiy Ahmed and his supporters tout Ethiopian progress into a modern democratic state linked to emergence from Western democracy influence. The reality is that even the parts of Ethiopia not directly involved in war remain at or near the bottom of global human development scales even by comparison with other African states. While many Abiy Ahmed supporters are successful diaspora who have some education which allowed them to live middle class lives in Western democracies they care little about the countryside farmers who have seen only misery under Abiy Ahmed. Even while Tigrayans are suffering a catastrophic blockade of all life’s necessities the rest of Ethiopia has not fared well either.
While Abiy Ahmed has been placing pretty lights on the streets of Addis Ababa, building parks, and a few fancy museums in Addis Ababa which serves only the top 4% of the population meanwhile in the countryside where 88% live in poverty nothing positive has happened. Educational and health budgets have been slashed. Water projects abandoned. Prior to the onset of war in November 2020 one in four Ethiopians in the countryside required international aid for basic food stuffs. With millions displaced, locust outbreaks, and climate changes which have all been ignored by an Ethiopian government fixated on killing Tigrayans this need has increased.
While Ethiopia expects citizens to average 8.8 years of schooling the real number according to the latest United Nations Development Report is a paltry 2.9 years. This is basically the worst in the world. Abiy Ahmed and his supporters are part of an elite class which adds to the inequality rating of 43% for Ethiopia again one of the world’s worst. The overall disaster of life for most Ethiopians is expressed in the Multidimensional Poverty Index which combines health, education, and living standards which again finds Ethiopia near the bottom.
The world is disgusted at the malevolent indifference of Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian government to the starvation and torment constantly applied to the innocent Tigray population. The world must understand the origin of a twisted blasphemous manifest destiny of Amharic domination that began with the death of Yohannes IV the last Tigray Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889.
Similar to Europe there was a strong imperial character to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which existed with the monarchy. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church developed quite independently of the Roman Catholic Church and also somewhat isolated from the Eastern Orthodoxy as well with its own special characteristics including the concept of Jesus Christ incarnation of human and God being indivisible. This concept is called Tewahedo and often the Ethiopian Orthodox Church uses this name in short. A very important concept for the clergy was Donatism which stated that priests had to be perfect examples of the followers of Christ otherwise they could not carry out their sacred functions of the Eucharist, Blessings, and Forgiveness, and Counsel to the Emperor. This concept which is not seen in the Western Church empowers Tewahedo to have tremendous influence over the secular government. They can forgive any sin and counsel any heinous act.
The Byzantine founder, Constantine, greatly admired by Tewahedo followers believed that although Jesus teaches peace and love the imperfect soul of man will inevitably bring war. Whenever possible the concept of akrievia (Greek: ακριβεια)which is to strictly follow the peaceful path must be sought. However in a fallen world where human weakness has brought chaos Economia(Greek: οἰκονομία, oikonomia)is allowed to temporarily break God’s commandments. The end will justify the means. Tewahedo clergy leadership has the power to give temporary dispensation for committing of even mortal sins to facilitate Amharic destiny.
Although previous Tigray rulers including Ras Alula sought some expansion from Tigray into Eritrea and Johannes temporarily captured Gondar it was after the death of Yohannes IV when Menelik II came into power that Amharic expansion began with the application of economia theological support for barbarism and cruelty. Killing, torture, theft of land, and enslavement were morally justified towards the Oromo, Southern People, and Muslims of the Western Ethiopia to achieve the goal of building the Amharic Empire. In the last decade of the 19th century, Amharic expansion violently captures the regions of the Oromo, Sidamo, and Somali lands tripling it’s territory and making a new capital, Addis Ababa, out of the former FinFinne.
Today the Nobel Prize committee said Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize has a “special responsibility to end the conflict and contribute to peace” in Ethiopia where Tigray remains under a complete blockade. About the current situation in Tigray they added “The humanitarian situation is very serious, and it is not acceptable that humanitarian aid does not emerge to a sufficient degree”.
Once seen as the emergent African nation of prosperity and democracy instead its honor and status has fallen precipitously to competing with North Korea, Iran, and Eritrea for the most evil pariah. Everyday at least 40 children die of starvation, 50 innocents are killed by air or drone strikes, all the while over 7 million Tigrayans have continued to be without food, medicine, power, travel ability, or communication. More then one hundred thousand are held in concentration camps in Western Tigray, in the areas around Addis Ababa, Afar, parts of the Southern Nations regions of Ethiopia, and even now in Eritrea.
Once a champion of free speech and free press, Ethiopia has jailed more journalists than any other African nation. So called terrorism laws allow journalists to be jailed indefinitely without due process for printing any information not explicitly approved by the government.
Estimated to be more than $60 million in debt within the next year, government estimates that the pre-war debt would take 3 years to pay if there was greater than 8% growth are now impossible. In reality it may take a whole generation if ever. The per capita income has dropped to $700, birr has halved in value, Ethiopian bonds are now rated junk, and world wide interest in investment in unstable Ethiopian state has withered to almost nothing. Chinese news sources have indicated they continue to withhold $339 million in further loans because Ethiopia is unstable.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister is talking to the United States after a period of defiant silence because Ethiopia’s economic survival is threatened. Ethiopia cannot survive economically and continue the Tigray war indefinitely. Take a class in basic economics about nations and you quickly learn about “gun vs butter”. All nations need both. Now Abiy Ahmed is learning that lesson.
As reported earlier this year in the influential South China Morning Post and later by the Global reporting center in The World, China is at a crossroads about how much more it can lend to Ethiopia. The Chinese are the first to say they did not cause the Ethiopian conflict with Tigray and other groups. This conflict works against Ethiopian prosperity and debt repayment.
Abiy Ahmed has said in the past he would always prefer loans from the International Monetary Fund or World Bank which he equates to “borrowing from one’s mother” rather then the Chinese because the terms of Chinese loans are high interest rates with short repayment schedules. In addition to which there are hidden costs that Ethiopia bears by “guaranteeing” the loans against business failure.
At an estimate of Ethiopia’s debt exceeding $60 billion by the end of 2022 and no agreement yet reached with special negotiators, China and France, for the IMF it is clear that Ethiopia will need to negotiate with the West to stay afloat. In the past Ethiopia tried to “play off Europe vs China” but now the bet that China or even the Middle East alone are a way to finance Ethiopia’s economic growth appears to have been a grave misjudgment.
The discussion today between US President Joe Biden and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Amed has not resulted in any immediate appreciable change but clearly points to some inescapable realities.
Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party now understand moving totally away from Western democracies is not the best path for developing Ethiopia. At the same time the United States has consistently stated that the pre-conflict borders of Tigray had to be respected, air strikes to civilians must stop, detentions must stop, and negotiations for peace must honestly begin in cooperation with the African Union. The only way to restore previous trade and assistance status is through this route.
After more then one year of war, nothing has been accomplished by the Ethiopian government except thousands of deaths, millions displaced, destruction of billions in domestic and foreign businesses, and the return of Ethiopia to the title of poorest country in the world.
While last week Abiy Ahmed supporters were celebrating “victory” over Tigray this week is seeing a new fast growing dissension in the Amhara ranks. Recent actions by the Prime Minister are fueling protest. Instead of Ethiopian unity so vividly propagandized we now are reminded of Biblical Gospel in Mark 3:25 ” A house divided against itself cannot stand”.
Dissatisfaction and outright anger at Abiy Ahmed from Amhara who were previously enthusiasts seems to be growing. Shiferaw Abebe, who may be a faculty member at Bahir Dar University, in heartland of the FANO Amhara militia group and home to many Amhara elites supporting Amharic dominance, published a very critical long statement critical of Abiy Ahmed in the prominent pro-Amharic website Borkena.
The words written are harshly disparaging the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s actions beginning with the title, “Amnesty for the criminals, cold heart for the victims”. This is followed by the subtitle, “He is out of his mind”. Abebe and many other Amharas were deeply aggravated about the release of a few older TPLF prisoners. At the same time Abebe is complaining that Abiy Ahmed cares little to nothing about the civilian casualties suffered in the Amhara invasion but instead was only concerned with his own safety.
He further says that Ethiopians should protest the management of the whole war, the Defense Minister Prof. Berhanu Nega and Dr. Belete Molla should resign. Abebe questions if there has been a real victory. As regards Ethiopia’s debt he is calling for Abiy Ahmed to reveal to the Ethiopian people the severity of the war costs and level of debt.
Could Tigray in the near future begin to function as a “special case” independent case like nearby Somaliland? If the Tegaru, Irob, and Kunami of Tigray decide they do want independence will they have to wait for international approval or could they at least initially follow the Somaliland model? Whether Tigray will eventually remain a part of Ethiopia or function as an independent state is yet to be answered? The leaders of Tigray have argued that the Ethiopian constitution allows separation from Ethiopia.
An eastern neighbor of Ethiopia is the self governed state called Somaliland. In 1960 the northern part of the colonized Somalia was freed from Italy and the Southern part, what now makes up Somaliland, was freed from Britain. Initially the plan was for the two to join into one Somalia but the Isaaq clan of Somaliland and their allies never got along with the northern clans.
Today Somaliland is considered a “special case“. Not officially recognized as a state but carrying on business, having currency, and a national identification system. There are international flights from some countries.
While Somalia to the north has had ongoing violence and terrorism disrupting its development Somaliland has been at peace since 2008. Yet there are factions in Africa and beyond that have been remiss to offer clear independence status to Somaliland for fear that it will only encourage more separatist movements in Africa.
Many of the borders of African states were carved out by colonial powers artificially combining different ethnicities and cultures together creating tensions. To some extent many argue that Ethiopia was always an empire of nations rather than a single state. The Amharic monarchy who took over the former Abyssinia in the 18th and 19th century then began to acquire the modern state of Ethiopia colonizing Afar, Somali, and the Southern peoples as well dominating the former kingdoms of the Oromo and Tigray region into a single empire.