When we think of what has been lost in the Tigray war or the Ukrainian war we count the dead, the injured, and the abused. I had a remembrance of a commercial that was frequently broadcast in the late 1970s while I was a medical student at Harvard titled A mind is terrible thing to wasteby the United Negro College Fund. I suddenly had the revelation that what we do not think enough about in war is that we lose our future. A recent reading for Lenten reflection, Embracing Justice, I have done about social justice and what Christ visualized as an ideal society by Isabelle Hamley opines that Jesus calls for society to allow all members to use their talents for the greater whole in accordance with God’s rules of love, forgiveness, and putting others before one’s self. In my sixth decade of life the propensity for the world to be involved in cruel wars has not abated. Jesus in the Gospel remarks that war will be always be with us. A whole generation of talented people who could save lives and contribute to societal development have seen their chance to contribute delayed if not ultimately cancelled. Societies that hold back educational development opportunities for less favored groups, blockade necessities of life, destroy hospitals and schools are actually cheating themselves not just those they discriminate against.
From 2015 to the end of 2020 I was Professor and Chief of Neurosurgery at Mekelle University Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in the Tigray state of Ethiopia. After medical school our residents would go through a five year program to become neurosurgeons. I also taught medical students, surgery residents, and PhD candidates in Neurobiology. The vast majority of students I mentored at Mekelle University in Tigray demonstrated amazing maturity, original thinking, superb problem solving, and keen interest in playing a positive role for their community. Fellows and Senior residents would effectively come up with novel surgical ideas. A young faculty member who later became a PhD candidate published research on neural tube defects that attracted world wide attention. It served as a catalyst to develop prevention strategies for all of Ethiopia.
Not just Tigray is being affected. Ethiopia is bankrupt from spending more than $6 billion in weapons while drastically cutting budgets for education and healthcare. Food shortages, fuel shortages, and sky rocketing consumer prices for essential items are crippling Ethiopia. I cannot see how anyone in Ethiopia imagines their life now is better than it was before November 2020.
Adherence to God’s teaching maximally optimizes the transformation of the community. This transformation occurs because the interaction between God and man opens up new possibilities that man alone could not ponder. Societal downfall occurred in the Bible when leaders became fixated on their own advancement in ancient Israel. This corruption spread then throughout society and was inherited in subsequent generations. War, corruption, greed, and diminished belief in faith reduces the ultimate potential of societies members.
The easy passage of Senate bill S.3199 came as no surprise today given the catastrophic suffering of Tigray which extended to Afar and Amhara from war. Whilst Ethiopia talks of peace it is clearly mobilizing for war. Now this war fixation with seeking revenge is secondarily affecting all of Ethiopia due to economic collapse and poor national concern or planning for issues which were ignored due to the primary focus of the Ethiopian government on war. Ethiopia is accelerating into ruinous chaos in a growing rage of hate. They have abandoned their religious heritage and drifted into an idolatry glorifying tribal triumph rather than universal peaceful co-existence. While talking humanitarian truce just a few days ago now Ethiopia is sending three columns of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles to the Tigray border.
How can the leadership of Ethiopia and Eritrea be so blind to the basic moral fiber expected of what was once considered one of the most religious countries in the world. While thousands are dying daily from starvation and lack of health care, Ethiopian representatives in the government and military were talking about extermination, cannibalism, and openly recording barbaric torture on social media. Their declared primary objective was not restoring peace but instead calling for complete humiliation, denigration, and finally annihilation for the Tigray. The only issue that mattered to them was the right to uninterrupted and complete sovereignty of the current Ethiopian government which has refused any participation of representation by Tigrayan elected representatives to do whatever they wished without regard to United Nations standards and principles to which Ethiopia is a signatory. Unfortunately the lack of leadership of the African Union and the United Nations not only served to advance the suffering in Tigray but encouraged the ghastly massacre now occurring in Ukraine.
This time of year both Christians and Muslims remember the kindness and faithfulness of the John the Baptist otherwise known as Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā to Muslims, cousin of Jesus, and Jesus, son of God to Christians, an important messenger to Muslims. His mother holds a special place in both religions. At a meeting of John’s mother, Elizabeth, and Jesus mother, Mary, the Bible recants a song sung, Luke 1:46-55, by Mary called the Magnifcat, that reflects that God is the deliverer of justice to the oppressed and will provide for the hungry who are deprived. The high adoration of Mary in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church would surely not condone this lack of merciful intent by Ethiopia. Many theologians see Mary as a bridge between Christians and Muslims.
My prayer is that all the waring parties in Ethiopia and Eritrea will let themselves be influenced by divine intercession to look for a way to peaceful co-existence. To reflect on their faith and ask to be guided to righteousness. To search to fix the brokenness of hate and restore the wholeness of peace now missing in the Horn of Africa. It is not too late.
The United States cannot be an accessory to the cascading humanitarian crisis in Tigray and Ethiopia. Giving unrestricted aid which will support its continuance and foster a greater Tigray genocide. The pronouncements and actions of Ethiopia are a betrayal of her responsibilities recognized by being a member of the United Nations. The sanctions are morally justifiable and are intended to strongly encourage peaceful resolution with all due haste.
It has been over 48 hours since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a “unilateral indefinite humanitarian truce” to relieve civilian suffering of famine and lack of medical supplies to Tigray. Many including this writer were suspicious of the veracity of this announcement. The complete lack of any arrival of relief has caused 2000 people to die and 1000 more will die everyday this promise is not keep. Instead over 230 buses loaded with armed soldiers have departed from the Wollo region in Ahmara and are scheduled to disembark at Kobo on Amhara Tigray border.
This new negative and nefarious development is reminiscent of the fake projection of famine relief portrayed by the Derg Regime tyrant, Mengistu Haile Mariam, during the Ethiopian famine from 1983 to 1985. He initially claimed to put together groups of scientists and others to study the problem and reason a solution. Instead what they came up with was a devious punishment of forced displacement, murder, and mayhem that resulted in deaths of at least one million over the two year period. The most affected areas were Tigray, Wollo, and Eritrea.
As a result of the delayed response to that famine international relief organizations and United Nations members were supposed to create better famine prevention and response mechanisms. Millions contributed to fund drives and some foreign militaries airdropped food. But today the UN and western democracies are exhibiting too much patience that may once again kill a million or more people with a leader of Ethiopia whose record of treachery seems intent to exceed the evil done by his idol Mengistu Haile Mariam with the use of starvation as a weapon of war.
An update from Mekelle University’s Ayder Hospital today. At the current time there is fuel to run the hospital generator to allow some diagnostic devices and therapeutic devices to work. They have resumed doing urgent surgeries in some specialty fields thanks to donations of anesthesia supplies and suture materials. Unfortunately the limited materials means the hospital is forced to “triage” the patients because there is not enough to care for everyone.
The teaching of students and medical doctor trainees in medical specialties is continuing but there are shortages of materials. Many computers and cell phones containing these materials were confiscated by the occupying forces of the ENDF and Eritrean Army before Mekelle was retaken by the Tigray Defense Force.
All University and hospital employees are working without pay while trying to meet the everyday needs of their family. The moral remains strong with the phrase they use to express their determination “its tough but we can make it”. At this moment they do not put much stock in Abiy Ahmed’s promise of allowing humanitarian supply access to Tigray. However, they remain undeterred in carrying on as best they can.
The veracity of promises to Tigray made by the Ethiopian government including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been totally lacking towards Tigray since even before the onset of armed conflict in November 2020.
The Biblical story of Ahab and Naboth recounts a similar situation to Ethiopia and Tigray illustrating that even powerful leaders have ethical and more limits in their actions. In 1 Kings 21 the powerful Northern Kingdom King Ahab covets the vineyard of Naboth, a humble subject, who owned the property by right of inheritance. When Naboth will not accept a land trade Ahab and his wife conspire to kill Naboth. Although Ahab is a powerful king he cannot escape his duty to protect the rights of those over whom he rules. His lack of concern for the rights and even the dignity for Naboth condemn him in the eyes of God.
Like Ahab Ethiopia’s leader Abiy Ahmed has denied the Tigray the right to live in Western Tigray where they have lived for centuries. It was in Western Tigray where the revolt against the Derg Regime began almost 50 years ago. Ethiopia choose to use war as a just weapon and ignore the humanity of the Tigray people. This goes against their right of autonomy in the Ethiopian constitution. Like Ahab wanting to kill Naboth to acquire his vineyard so the Ethiopian government sought to annihilate the Tigray through war, famine, and lack of health care. God speaks through the Prophet Elijah rebuking Ahab for his sins. This message remains as true today as it did then.
Now we hear that Ethiopia is putting in place an immediate truce to facilitate humanitarian access to Tigray. At the same time the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is calling for the expulsion of U.N. officials complaining that there is no humanitarian access to Tigray provided by the Federal Ethiopian government. The world was witness to the recent videos ransacking and looting of trucks in Afar intended to deliver aid to Tigray. The fear of the imminent implementation of punitive sanctions by the United States is clearly the causation of the most recent pronouncement.
The history of communication from Ethiopia on Tigray has been an unbroken stream of nefarious declarations intended to fool the international community. Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize over what is now known to be false pretenses by September 202o Abiy Ahmed had already lost credibility with many Western democracies. It is to be remembered that Abiy Ahmed in a speech before the Ethiopian Parliament said he would never go to war with Tigray. Once the war was started he called it a “law enforcement operation” done with the intention of “protecting Tigray civilians” which of course we now know suffered and continue to suffer atrocity, deprivation, and violation on a massive scale. Then in June 2021 he claimed a unilateral ceasefire to allow planting of crops in Tigray however his own appointees to the Tigray Interim Administration occupying Tigray told international media including France’s News24 that they were blocking planting.
It is well past due for Ethiopia to recognize the human dignity and rights of the Tigrayan people. To reaffirm their ancestral right to live in Tigray. To repent from the sins of nefarious greed and finally to seek peace.
The announced resignation of Tewolde GebreMariam as CEO of Ethiopian Airlines for health reasons is not an end to his story or the questions of actions of the airline under his leadership condoning unfair practices and violations of international conventions. Mr. GebreMariam’s response to the well publicized exposure of weapons and combatant transport by Ethiopian Airlines was a statement to “his management members that the airline will continue fulfilling demands of the government and the maximum care should be taken at all level of operation not repeat similar leakage off information”. This declaration that lack of secrecy and not violation of international agreement was his concern cast serious doubts about GebreMariam’s morality. There is no doubt that he is a gifted business leader largely responsible for putting Ethiopian Airlines at the forefront of African airlines and also a major international competitor during his 37 years with the airline including 11 years as CEO. He was seen prior to the war as a successful ethnic Tigrayan contributing to building a better Ethiopia.
However there is also no doubt that Ethiopian Airlines undertook inappropriate actions during the ongoing Ethiopian Tigray conflict. There are many reports of Tigrayan employees suddenly stranded in foreign countries because their employment was suddenly terminated resulting in not being able to return to their families. The internationally recognized Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation to which Ethiopia is a signatory specifically forbids civilian airlines to carry military weapons or combatants under the guise of a civilian flight. Yet Ethiopian Airlines repeatedly violated this agreement in weapons delivery within Ethiopia and also in flights between Eritrea and Ethiopia. There may have been even more flights that have not yet been identified.
Many in the Tigray sphere have contemplated without clear cut evidence that GebreMariam was under duress. It is absolutely incumbent upon him especially if he going to stay within the safety of the United States to fully expose what Ethiopian Airlines was doing and what was his situation. Short of doing this will result in a permanent doubt about his integrity and humanity.
The medical blockade of Ethiopia on Tigray prevents diagnosis and treatment of disabling , deadly, and contagious infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV-AIDs, and many others endangering not only Tigray but also neighboring Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan. Almost since the beginning of the conflict in late 2020 over 43,000 HIV patients and 1500 active tuberculosis patients have gone without treatment. Before the war 164 TB cases per 100,000 population was the prevalence. Now without health care and food this no doubt has skyrocketed.
This week the Ethiopian Ministry of Health touted their treatment and prevention programs for tuberculosis while ceasing all completely in Tigray along with all other health services. Only a small portion of medications comes irregularly from the World Health Organization from the small airplane loads allowed.
Currently at least 83% of the Tigray population is facing significant food shortages which can ultimately lead to death but initially surely leads to decrease immunity to infection from chronic parasitic, bacterial, and viral infections such as TB and HIV. Very few immunizations against viral diseases commonly done in childhood and COVID19 have occurred. Because of drought, war, and poor agricultural planning crop production is now significantly reduced in not only Tigray but also Amhara, Oromo, and the Southern regions (SNNP). The displacement of millions of poor farmers and laborers now occurring carries a catastrophic risk for dramatic rises in prevalence of these infections into the Horn of Africa and beyond.
It is in Ethiopia’s best interest to restore prevention and control measures and health care treatment facilities to Tigray to substantially stop the development of epidemic disease outbreaks.
The Ethiopian facade of being an independent African “superpower” belies the reality of a failing country whose decisions are directed to maintain Amhara elites and their self-centered allies at the expense of the common folk of all Ethiopia not just Tigray and Oromo. Giving unfettered aid from Western democracies without regard to internationally accepted goals of development only makes them accomplices in tyranny. Ethiopia ranks 173rd out of 189 on the human development index. Since Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party have come to power this has been the consequence:
A doubling of national debt to foreign entities which will exceed $70 billion. This will take several generations at best to repay.
Two thirds of Ethiopia is facing a food crisis in part to due to lack of concern and agriculture planning
Significant cuts in healthcare spending nationwide with increase in out of pocket payments being one of the highest in a developing country
Severe cuts in education budgets and planning causing a major loss in this generation of school children reaching their potential
Decades of relative peace have given way to violence and unrest not only in Tigray and Oromo but also Benishangul, Ethiopian Somali, Gambella, Amhara
Unprecedented levels of extra-judicial killing since the fall of the Derg Regime
The worst record of press freedom and imprisonment in Africa second only to Eritrea
Arrest and detention based solely on ethnic identity
Complete disregard for the Ethiopian Constitution guarantees of personal rights and regional autonomy now replaced by fiat
An Ethiopian government more beholden to diaspora concepts of glory then the basic needs of citizens of Ethiopia
Claiming it is independent and sovereign while in fact totally dependent on billions in foreign currency aid for basic human necessities. This allows the Ethiopian elites to ignore these necessities, manipulate them to hold their power, and ignore true requirements for real development. This violates the covenant in spirit and in law of United Nations membership
There is no greater betrayal of professional duty then the case of Lia Tadesse’s treachery to Tigray. Throughout 2021 Lia Tadessa, Minister of Health for Ethiopia, falsely promised in press announcements that medical supplies and medical facilities would be provided to Tigray while off-camera giving the message to Tigray medical leaders that she would do nothing. In March of 2021 she visited Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, when it was already known that the vast majority of health care facilities where out of supplies, nonfunctional, or even destroyed. I have had personal discussions with most of the local Tigray health attendees at the meeting who described how armed security forces were there to carefully monitor topics and threatened immediate arrest of any words critical of Ethiopian policy or the situation at hand. Even many of the Abiy Ahmed Tigray Interim Administrators complained of her inaction.
Even though she had trained at Mekelle University’s Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital she avoided visiting this tertiary facility. Instead she focused on the small city hospital in Mekelle. In a bizarre statement, she claimed that Tigray had been behind in health care and she would make sure rapid rehabilitation and improvement would be done. In a bold outrageous lie she stated that “seventy percent of health care facilities were fully functioning” in that March 2021 visit. In continuance of a cruel joke the statement “The Ministry of Health would like to take this opportunity to thanks Partners, various sections of the community locally and abroad for supporting the government’s efforts to ensure all people have access to essential health services, and calls for strengthened support and coordination between all sectors.”.
Meanwhile we know that Ethiopian Defense Force commanders had ordered to kill Doctors Without Borders doctors as well as in coordination with Eritrean forces gave carte blanche to ransack, loot, and destroy medical facilities in Tigray.
In February 2022 she hypocritically celebrated the Government of Ethiopia being committed to the African Union Year of Nutrition and Food Security 2022 while condoning the starvation killing innocent women and children at a staggering 1000 lives per day.
She coordinated international fund drives to collect medical supplies for Ethiopia which specifically excluded Tigray and parts of Oromo. Her time of service has seen a reduction of spending per capita for health care from a high of $23 per capita to estimates as low as $10 for Ethiopia reversing a decade of progress. She has traded being a physician to being an expert propagandist. As a Christian I must pray she will one day repent for being an active participant in Tigray genocide.
The costly delay in accepting the reality of the deadly intentions of an authoritarian regime will cost the lives of potentially millions. While those familiar with Ethiopian history understand the true repercussions of Abiy Ahmed’s leadership others in the leadership of the international community continue to misread him as a potential democratic reformer who is just taking time to right his course. This is similar to how Europe and the United States initially judged Adolph Hitler as a positive influence to develop Europe.
The high recruitment of Amhara and other Ethiopian professionals to the Prosperity Party which supports the obliteration of human rights to build a strong unified state hauntingly mimics the similar attraction occurring with the Nazi party in the 1930s. Historians and social scientists have studied the German phenomenon finding vulnerabilities, motives, and rationalizations that may have predisposed German physicians to Nazi membership. A similar situation exists in Ethiopia where one would not initially expect a religious nation not unlike Germany to have jettisoned its morals to seek glory.
Both the German intellectuals and Amhara intellectuals perceived unfair treatment following major wars (WWI and the revolt against the Derg respectively). They saw a charismatic leader who promised a new age of reform dedicated to building a “super state” dependent upon total allegiance to that cause. An inherent obedience to authority and wish to remove “contaminations” of minority views which threatened to prevent an idealized empire of the past. An especially telling moment occurred this week when Abiy Ahmed nominated himself as President of the Prosperity Party in unprecedented demonstration of unchallenged power.
For the Amhara especially they saw the condition of Ethiopia in 2018 just before Abiy Ahmed ascending to Prime Minister as being similar to the Zemene Mesafint “time of the princes” where Ethiopia lacked a strong centralized leader before Menelik II came to power. Seeing the reality of what Abiy Ahmed leadership was really going to bring, one time supporter of Abiy Ahmed, the Oromo Jawar Mohammed, predicted Abiy Ahmed’s moral downfall from his jail cell. Under Abiy Ahmed the old Amharic strategy of barbarous treatment of Tigrayans and Oromos as well as domination of the Southern and Muslim regions is once again a manifest destiny ordained by God for the greater purpose of building a nation. Medemer is not a blending but instead a pounding into submission.
Like Adolph Hitler’s belief that German’s where endowed by God to be superior natural leaders of Europe this justified the use of barbaric force to achieve this end. Similarly proponents of Amharic expansionism echoed a similar philosophy justifying genocide of the Tigrayans and Oromo who stand in their way. New world synods of Ethiopian Orthodox Church formed by immigrants arriving during the 1990s prophesized the return of an Amharic guided leader. Non-Amhara who have been educated in the Amharic dominated culture have adopted this vision as well fulfilling their sense of inclusion.