Ethiopia and Russia have long histories of Christian monasticism, scholarship, and devotion with magnificent cathedrals to worship Christ. Millions claim allegiance to Christ. The Bible story of Christ resisting the temptations of evil represented by Satan in the desert is routinely taught to children as exemplary conduct to be emulated. Yet here we are over 2000 years later with powerful country leaders, self identified as Christians in both countries, openly defying Christ’s teachings of love and peace instead giving in to evil actions of war including deprivation, violation, and murder for the sake of acquiring the power to rule over others. Its no accident that in the Old Testament God gave a clear and stern warning about how power can corrupt mortal men who become kings.
For over a year the Tigray and the Oromo of Ethiopia have been the targets of conflict and deprivation and now Ukraine similarly has been assaulted by Russia. The world has paid little attention to the African conflict while seemed fully engrossed in the Ukraine war. The Gospel of Matthew recites how Christ suffering isolation and hunger in the desert for 40 days as a man devoid of his Godly power resisted Satan’s offer of food when when he was starving, of proving God would intercede if he jumped off a cliff, and finally being given a throne to rule the world with absolute power if he subjugated himself to the Devil. Jesus wanted humankind to be make a free choice to follow his example.
However it is not only the leaders who are at fault. For Jesus also tells us that we cannot be idle witnesses to inhumanity. Watching others suffer whom we could help is the antithesis of Christianity. There is controversy about when or even whether war against others is justifiable but there is no controversy about actively preventing it and not empowering leaders who use it as a weapon of subjugation, revenge, or intimidation. I pray the world will take time to reflect on what it means to be a Christian and seek relief for the millions now at risk in Ukraine and Tigray.
Rather then accept Ethiopian government responsibility for lack of attention and investment in agricultural development now worsening due to severe drought Abiy Ahmed decided to call Ethiopians “lazy” as the cause of hunger. Curiously he complained that lack of food would be detrimental to the young causing “stunting” and the elderly while he continues to mandate a blockade against Tigray. He also called upon private banks to make loans to farmers and pastoralists.
He seems to be repeating the same mistakes from the 1980s when the Derg regime Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, paid little attention to agricultural realities. Haile Mariam wasted millions of dollars of foreign donation on buying weapons rather then for agricultural development. The Derg leader came up with the strange idea of transplanting farmers from Northern Ethiopia to areas with better growing conditions without modernizing farming techniques. This resulted in the worst famine in Ethiopian history. Historians have noted that the Derg may have done this as a way to quell protest and insurrection rather then to truly help food production. A lesson no doubt not lost in Abiy Ahmed’s thinking. One can not help but wonder if Abiy Ahmed is beginning to imagine making farm work prison camps for opponents of his oppressive regime.
For sometime many agricultural experts have encouraged the Ethiopian government to modernize and commercialize food production, commence water projects, improve food transportation, and make more investments in production. The ability of food export is decreasing as the population increases but food production does not. Instead of modernizing and improving agriculture, funds that could used were funneled to Addis Ababa beautification projects costing millions in dollar value and then billions in weapons to fight a war which has accomplished nothing for Ethiopia.
The absolute inability of the United Nations, African Union, and other international collaborations to solve issues aggravating against global peace is now undeniable. The events of the past year have been the culmination of a process going on for years where the countries of Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and now Russia have decided that might not reason will determine the outcomes of disagreements. The United Nations appears to be following the same course as its predecessor the League of Nations which failed to prevent World War II.
As regards the Ethiopia and Eritrean war on Tigray this continued deterioration all but predicts that any political dialogue mediated by the African Union or United Nations will not happen. Abiy Ahmed is living in his personal fantasy of grandeur and influence while increasingly being transformed into the nightmare of a pawn of Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki and apparatchik for Russia and China. In simpler terms just a puppet on a string. All the while the people of Tigray starve and Ethiopia becomes poorer by the minute.
Ethiopian diaspora imagining any closer relationship between Ethiopia and the United States while Ethiopia is actively promoting the military alliance with Russia are not in touch with evolving global realities. Many are expecting that Russia will use Eritrea and Ethiopia as bases to project power over the Red Sea to confront NATO presence.
The Eritrean and Ethiopian “law enforcement operation” which occupied Tigray resulted in the destruction of 90% of community water resources. Tigray is an arid land with very few ponds, lakes, or rivers. Much of the water supply was derived from government maintained wells. There is only appreciable rainfall during the summer months. Adult Tigrayans living a hard rural farming life which makes up 90% of a 7 million population generally need at least 2.5 liters of potable water to drink.
Water is essential for life. Death can occur if there is no water intake in just days. Water borne disease can cause febrile illness, diarrhea, and inability to carry out even the necessary labors of daily life. Without antibiotics or intravenous fluids to treat these conditions normally treatable disease becomes fatal potentially for thousands of people as always been seen in the past. The limited water intake of Tigrayans had already been documented to contribute to high rates of kidney stones and kidney disease which now without medical treatment become fatal. Just about any medical condition is made worse by lack of water. Pregnancy and child development become compromised by the lack of proper intake and disease.
Before the onset of the Ethiopian Tigray conflict in November 2020 most of the urban areas had water plants often with their own generators which provided water several days a week. Many of the modest homes had water storage at a low height that allowed low flow by gravity to dispense the stored water. Sometimes they had an electric pump to push water up to higher storage. The loss of electricity rendered city water supplies inoperative. In the rural countryside traditionally women would carry 5 gallon containers on foot often traveling for hours to government installed manual pump equipped wells. Many women searching for water became targets of violence and violation by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers.
In the urban areas the community now receives water delivered to the neighborhoods, kebele, by horse drawn tank carts which collect water from wells or natural resources. This is not purified in any way and may contain bacterial, parasitic, or chemical contaminates. While I was in Mekelle during the occupation we would try to filter the water by pouring it through blankets and then boil it. As there was no electricity we had to search for fire wood which was in short supply. The timing of the fire was key because it was used to keep warm during the often chilly evening hours and used to cook food as well as to kill pathogens in the water.
Seeing the television news of air attacks on Ukraine brought back flashbacks in my mind of Mekelle under air attack from Ethiopia . Unfortunately this war has been intentionally hidden from the world by intention of Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki to conceal their evil intent upon the Tegaru and Irob people of Tigray. Although my experiences were small compared to those of many Tigrayans I will never forget them and they haunt me everyday.
I remember being in Ayder Hospital in the first days after the conflict started in November 2020 when we heard a jet overhead. A girl in the Surgery office began to scream relentlessly. She was instantly paralyzed with fear. Many ran out into the street to see. The jet moved to the North where we later learned it bombed the Business School campus of Mekelle University killing and injuring students at the cafeteria having lunch. Of course the Ethiopian government denied that it happened and that they only targeted military installations.
A short time later jets attacked the area around the airport known as Quiha, one of the oldest areas of city. One of many civilian victims was a teenage boy had a bomb fragment penetrate his chest and through the heart. He was dead on arrival. The father and mother had both been students at the Ayder Elementary School that was bombed by Eritrean jets on June 5, 1998 just across the street from where Ayder Hospital was built later. Now their son was a vicious reminder of that war and added a new inconsolable sorrow. For the people of Tigray war is a recurring nightmare that will not go away.
Ethiopian diaspora supporters of Ethiopia’s military Russian alliance wasted no time in launching a propaganda campaign to justify the invasion and destruction underway in Ukraine. The US not for profit People to People is disseminating an argument mirroring Russian leader, Putin’s claim, that the invasion is justified due to shared heritage and dominance history. Founder and P2P President Enawgaw Mehari started the organization in 1999 to improve relations with professionals internationally and help diaspora organize to help Ethiopia. Now it appears this has transformed to an organization committed to the politics of supporting Abiy Ahmed. These claims interestingly mirror the Amhara expansionist and dominance false rational used by Abiy Ahmed supporters to eradicate ethnic identity in Ethiopia. This is proof positive of the Russian influence underway in Ethiopia.
Just yesterday Russian members of the Russian Parliament met with Ethiopian government members of the Ethiopian Parliament to discuss “mutual security”, “technology use”, and other issues. The new alliance is of concern because Russia has been seeking a place near the Red Sea which would give it a strategic base to harbor influence. The increased adversarial nature between NATO and the Russian Federation makes this a priority. As Ethiopia has now moved away from a clearly friendly status with NATO members most of whom now have placed an embargo on arms sales on Ethiopia given the violations of human rights committed in Tigray.
Scores of Tigrayan soldiers who have faithfully served as members of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force on the Sudan-South Sudan border are fearful to return to Ethiopia via Addis Ababa. The United Nations has not offered them any clear options of safe transfer to Tigray or a manner to claim asylum.
Thousands of Tigrayan members of the Ethiopian Defense Force have been arbitrarily detained since November 2020. Court martials held in somewhat secret circumstances sentenced them en toto without defense to long prison terms although many Ethiopian officials have threatened summary execution. The United Nations has an duty to protect these loyal soldiers.
The military alliance with Russia created by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Russian leader Putin apparently allows for placement of Russian forces in Ethiopia. While fellow African Union members Kenya, Gabon, and Ghana have denounced the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Ethiopia has remain silent apparently in support of its military ally. Given the now clearly hostile situation developing quickly between NATO and Russia, this Ethiopian agreement must be seen as a threat to Red Sea security and to NATO presence in the Red Sea. This has implications also to the importance of passing legislation in the Congress which sanction Ethiopia. Maintaining freedom of commerce through the sea lanes of the Red Sea and Suez canal is vital to the world.
Over the past year Russia has been working to establish a naval presence in the Port of Sudan. Analysts have noted that the previous Soviet regime failed to establish such bases giving NATO an edge which Putin seems intent on not repeating. American warships have began to also visit the port of Sudan and at times have faced tension with Russian naval elements.
Now the clearly adversarial nature of Russia and the United States aggravated by the Ukraine invasion means that in maintaining the strategically vital Red Sea the USA must start to consider Ethiopia as potentially a hostile ally of Russia. If Abiy Ahmed’s government allows Russian Air Force or ground forces to station in Ethiopia this may be unacceptable.
The world payed too little attention to the barbarous invasion of Tigray a little over a year ago. Even though much of the world claims piety to faiths which preach doing good for others over harm somehow this did not apply to a poor African region which was not strategically significant. The complete failure of the African Union, United Nations, NATO alliance, and the G7 industrialized nations to speak up contributed to willful inaction. This was further reinforced by the propaganda machines in Ethiopia which connected to their allies abroad saying any accusations of atrocity in a “law enforcement operation” were false.
Today already hundreds maybe thousands are dead in Ukraine from Russian military strikes from a “law enforcement operation”. Last night the Russian government all but laughed at the United Nations emergency Security Council meeting calling for an end of the Ukraine invasion. They have already set a precedent in Myanmar, Rwanda, and Tigray that impotent discussion of tragedy is a sufficient response to mass violence and genocidal intent. Now another country, Ukraine, and its millions of innocent women and children will pay the price.
When will the world learn?
The quickly deteriorating Russian Ukraine crisis has triggered the United States and NATO allies to begin quickly escalating punishing sanctions against Russia. The close relationship developed between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Russia including secret “military cooperation agreements” somewhat guided by Eritrean despot Isaias Afwerki who many think is controlling Ahmed will have consequences.
Some of the outcomes coming to or affecting Ethiopia could include the world wide oil prices continuing to rise steeply which will severely further damage the Ethiopian economy. The previous friendly relationship of NATO countries with Ethiopia has ended with almost complete cessation of weapons to Ethiopia due to the ongoing complete blockade of Tigray and failure to make progress towards peace. If the military cooperation with Russia brings forth a Russian armed force presence in Ethiopia or its neighbors, Djibouti or Eritrea, while NATO is preparing for a possible military intervention Ethiopia could be seen as a hostile supporter of Russian aggression leading to harsher treatment of Ethiopia by the Western democracies.
The largest trade partner of the Ukraine is China. China sells machinery to Ukraine and imports needed metals from Ukraine. China has requested that the security concerns of Russia should be settled peacefully. China has already indicated that it hopes for an end to war in Ethiopia so that progress can be made in finally making a plan to repay the near $70 billion in debt mostly owed to China which so far haw made no progress.