The policy of willful neglect by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education for the status of thousands of university students who were previously enrolled in Tigray including Mekelle University furthers the false narrative of a limited law enforcement operation being carried out in Tigray by the Ethiopian government for the “benefit” of Tigrayans. This week the Ministry announced that degrees will not be awarded to students who transferred to other Ethiopian universities because of incomplete records.
Since the occupation of Mekelle the Ethiopian government imposed a blockade of internet, mail, power, and transport. I and others witnessed the bizarre communications done by satellite telephone with the Ministry which repeatedly told us to continue our educational duties but offered no budget, no salary, or any effort to relieve the communication blockade. Any lack of records is not due to any action by Mekelle University or other universities in Tigray. Instead this just confirms the intent of the Ethiopian government leadership to carry out a cultural and education social genocide to completely punish the Tigray people.
Many school children in Christian settings often learn the story told in the Gospel of Luke about a Samaritan who helps a Jew he finds on the road who was robbed and injured even though he is an enemy. Instead Abiy Ahmed and his allies who claim Christian mandates as justification for evil have twisted the classic story of charity to a new narrative. They now practice the idea that in such an encounter one should give just a drop of water and a grain of rice to the starving while robbing them of all their possessions. Faith has been replaced by blasphemy they celebrate the holiday with violation and deprivation.
During the Easter season while millions of Christians around the world recognize the message of hope Jesus gave to mankind the leadership in Ethiopia has built a golden calf in a cruel mockery. Many Ethiopians used to celebrate the holiday by buying a chicken to prepare the traditional doro wat but now that Abiy Ahmed’s reckless military spending has caused the price of a single chicken to soar to one thousand birr, three times the normal price, but now this time honored family tradition is not possible. Even the palm oil which used to cost about 300 birr for a month’s supply now cost over a thousand birr. While Abiy Ahmed feasts like a king Tigrayans are dying of starvation, Oromians are being killed, and about two thirds of the rest of Ethiopia is facing increasing food shortages.
Whilst videos of wealthy Ethiopian government supporters practicing their holiday hypocrisy emerge on social media prideful presentations celebrating this new “ethos” of torment showing truckloads of looted family possessions from the poor Tigrayan farmers in Western Tigray deliver their booty to Gondar. All the while the United Nations and many Western civilizations who also learned the story of the Good Samaritan as children now as adults seem to have forgotten it. During this holiday season one thousand a day continue to die in Tigray from starvation and lack of health services.
Over the past year I have been repeatedly struck by the sacrifices and endurance of Tigray women in the Ethiopian Tigray conflict. I used to live a block from the Mekelle University Business School campus where there was a statue of young teenage female fighter who died fighting the Derg and I am deeply sorry I cannot recall her name but the symbolism and message that sculpture carried I do understand so clearly now.
During the Easter season we mostly think about the sacrifice of Jesus on cross who was resurrected on the third day after his crucifixion. What we often do not focus on is the courageous and caring role women played in Jesus’s human life as role models and care givers who themselves suffered for the benefit of others. Mary known as Mariam in Tigray whose love and care for her son whom she had to watch suffer on the cross. God choose the “three Marys” to be the first witnesses to Jesus resurrection and tell the Apostles. More then once God has chosen women to be messengers of faith, hope, and truth. The women of Tigray have repeated that role. They often bear the greatest burdens of sorrow while showing the most courage.
Even though terrible atrocities were suffered by hundreds of thousands of Tigray women including rape, mutilation, watching their loved ones killed or starved, displacement, and isolation from family they as a group have shown a superhuman resilience to survive. Young women joined the Tigray Defense Force, other women while trying to keep their children alive still cooperated with community efforts to gather food and water. They willingly gave up their sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and even grandfathers to join the armed struggle for freedom at their own personal peril.
When I review who is on social media writing in support of humanitarian aid and the suffering of Tigray I see many young diaspora women, often highly educated with advanced degrees and successful professional careers in developed countries, who mobilized to save lives and spread truth to the world. Most of them identify themselves openly risking not only ad hominem personal internet harassment but even physical attacks at demonstrations by agents of the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments.
Many times these virile attackers on Tigray women are anonymous making one wonder if they are really ashamed of what they do. The others who I will not name attack the womanhood of Tigray diaspora which only degrades the speaker by demonstrating her ignorance. They never talk about relieving suffering but instead are filled with hate and a unending pre-occupation with vengeance. I pray they will let the God into their hearts because mercy and peace are needed now more then ever.
I further pray the world will accept the Tigray women as messengers of truth and act without haste to relieve the suffering.
For Tigray mothers and their children running away from barbarous invasion by Eritrean, Amhara, and Ethiopian forces is just the beginning of an odious journey seeking just to survive. It is an exodus of Biblical proportions without liberation.
Life for a young mother in rural Tigray in which more than 80% of the population lives even before the eruption of war in November 2020 was a challenge. Women often traveled miles daily on foot to gather the daily water supply of 5 liters per person in the family. Added to this is helping care for farm animals, crops, the household and the children as well as an elderly parent. Studies have shown that a large percentage of women were somewhat underweight and undernourished with 25% requiring food aid.
Young mothers have often lost their spouse and other adult male family members to imprisonment or murder. They become displaced losing whatever previous food source they had for themselves or their children. Along the way they may suffer forced trafficking for labor or sex, personal violation, theft of their few possessions or cash, and isolation from their previous community. Lack of fuel and transportation means travel by foot without shelter from the elements.
Many women in Tigray are breast feeding two children as it is not unusual to see breast feeding extend to toddlers. The sudden decrease in caloric and protein intake can result in loss of breast milk production in just a few days to weeks. We know that in famine 50% of the casualties are children under 5 who cannot tolerate long periods of starvation. Especially vulnerable are infants who may sometimes live only days if mother has no breast milk.
The dominant Ethiopian Orthodox religion requires burial within a day of death. The lack of communication, transportation, and health care results in most of these not being recorded in a permanent record. The dietary laws they follow of the Old Testament prevent the eating of wild meats or other foods. During approximately 40% of the year they fast from taking meat, sugar, or milk products. Some forms of wild fruits and peas appear edible but in fact can cause chronic metabolic or neurological dysfunction and often there does not exist a community knowledge of this danger.
Even if young children or lactating mothers receive some food they may survive longer but still suffer permanent disability from poor brain and musculoskeletal development. Most often the cause of death is infection because of the loss normal immunity with starvation. Bacterial or parasitic contamination of water sources leading to diseases like cholera which under normal circumstances are treatable with antibiotics and intravenous hydration instead become killers of many affected.
Why are member denominations of the National Council of Churches all but ignoring the catastrophic suffering and death in Tigray while being fully engaged and concerned appropriately about the horrors of the Ukraine invasion by Russia. Apart from an initial statement in November 2020 the NCC has been silent ever since.
The situation in Ethiopia and Tigray should be especially concerning for Christians as the Christian faith has been horribly twisted by many Protestant and Ethiopian Orthodox leaders to justify extermination of the Tigray which is clearly blasphemy to the highest degree. It was just a generation ago the Christian Church was slow to act when Italian priests blessed weapons and justified the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. A few years later the world Christian community remained passive to the initial acts against Jews in Nazi Germany which no doubt empowered its ultimate descent into a genocide that killed over 6 million. Already half a million have died in Tigray from civilian deaths from military action followed by a siege which cut off supplies of medicine and food. Tens of thousands are incarcerated only because of their ethnic identity. Horrible violations of thousands of women have occurred. Everyday the siege continues brings death to another 1000 people.
The founding of the United States of America was based upon a core religious belief stated in Declaration of Independence that
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
This assumption comes the creation story of man by God in the Book of Genesis and is shared by the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament tells us
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17 ESV)
It is not ironic that this week the Christian calendar shared by many members of the National Council of Churches honors the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and martyr, who died opposing Hitler’s rule. A major theme of his ministry was that Christians cannot stand idly by in the face of evil. He said
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
What is the effect of continuing war for the average Ethiopian? Since November 2020 the measures of national success and prosperity for Ethiopia have progressively deteriorated. The Ethiopian government can lie claiming economic growth rates of 10% but the increasingly uphill struggle of working Ethiopians to put food on the table and provide a better future for their children tells the truth.
Ethiopia’s Human Development Index which is a measure of the chance of each new generation to improve societal measures of success is only 0.485, one of the lowest in world. Almost half the population is illiterate. While the average salary of a middle class worker in Ethiopia is 8,900 birr a month ($178) many workers make just a little over 2,000 birr ($40). Meanwhile the value of the Ethiopian birr has plummeted and the consumer price index has increased by more than 40% the past year making food, fuel, and other necessities unaffordable to a great portion of the public.
Addis Standard reported that a confederation of Ethiopian trade unions is pleading with the Ethiopian government to address soaring inflation and the lack of income for thousands of factory workers as a result of sanctions including the cancellation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Ethiopian government bonds are rated as worst then junk and investment interest by foreign entities has waned severely. With a government debt now approaching $70 billion and so far no takers on refinancing the country is facing financial collapse.
There is no doubt that the call to start the war and persist in conflict is greatly fueled by diaspora from the United States and Europe as studies have shown who were refugees from the downfall of the previous monarchy or Derg supporters in the 1990s. Within the exile synods of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and previous functionaries of the Derg a vision of reclamation developed. Additionally regional Amhara political leaders who imagined a chance to return to restart Amhara dominance which characterized the reign of Menelik II. These protagonists hoped for a quick victory in cooperation with Eritrea providing additional military capacity that would happen fast enough that the world would take little notice. Yet no one seemed to have done an assessment on what would be the benefit for the average Ethiopian. The old Tigray Peoples Liberation Front and its coalition partner, The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, had been deposed from power and the Tigray had retreated to their regional state.
Most of the Western democracies who previously were eager to support a progressive state they saw in Ethiopia with aid and investment but now they see a sinister authoritarian state. Unlawful detention, extrajudicial killing, seizing of property without due process, press incarceration and censorship, ethnic discrimination, and finally flagrant disregard for the Ethiopian Constitution project a despotic regime not a democracy. While Abiy Ahmed supporters vociferously support the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the suppression of human rights in China, and strict Islamic terrorist state of Iran they also fabricate lies about charities from these same Western democracies who in previous times saved the lives of hundreds of thousands in need. Taking the name of Jesus to justify genocide reminds the West of the fascism that tore the world apart a generation ago.
One of the most devastating injuries in war occurs when vital blood vessels, bones, and/or tendons are injured. The Neurosurgery Department at Mekelle University Ayder Hospital is currently making a special effort to treat patients afflicted with these disabling nerve injuries. Although often on popular televisions heroes are portrayed to recover from such wounds without surgery that is not the case in real life. Hundred of civilians in Tigray have suffered death or injury from air strikes, drone strikes, directed military fire from Eritrean, Amhara militia, or ENDF forces. Sometimes soldiers would intentional shoot an arm or a leg to permanently disable women they raped or farmers they wanted to evict from their homes knowing such injuries would render them unable to work. Being able to perform this surgery for peripheral nerve injuries absolutely requires the continued supply of anesthetics, suture material, and other supplies otherwise these patients will be left with a permanent disability. Too long a delay in availability of materials can result in a potentially treatable condition becoming a permanent disability because the nerve damage is irreversible.
Since I came to Mekelle University’s Ayder Comprehensive Specialized Hospital in Tigray in 2015 we had developed among the staff and the specialists in training the ability to deal with these potentially devastating injuries. Losing the use of a hand or leg can mean a farmer can not farm and that his family could starve. If the nerve is completely severed repair is best done within a few weeks. If there is partial injury then sometimes delayed surgery even many months later can help restore functional use of the extremity. Prior to the onset of war in November 2020 we had dealt with many such injuries mostly from motor vehicle or work accidents with very good outcomes in the vast majority of cases deemed operable candidates. In some cases we even did transplants of non-vital sensory nerves in the leg to restore function in the arm successfully.
The sudden publication of photographs from an alleged mass grave site in Western Tigray by Amhara news sources boldly claims that these findings are ethnic Amharas who were killed in the early 1980s. This report omits any scientific data or methods used to reach this conclusion. Interestingly this was announced at the same time as a damning report on human rights violations of Tigrayans in Western Tigray by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. This conclusion apparently was made by “researchers” at Gondar University unidentified by their area of specialty or training. It seems highly unlikely that a team from Gondar University with their limited capability could publish such a report in a recognized peer reviewed journal. That would be the gold standard of expertise.
Ethiopia has very little resources for carrying out these studies . There is no reliable DNA sequencing facility in country and no significant post-graduate training program for this advanced area of inquiry. There is basic training for entry level forensic technicians. Mekelle University and St. Paul’s Medical School in Addis Ababa have post-graduate training programs in forensic medicine.
Just looking at the photo the changes seen of the bone look more recent then one would expect from a 20+ year mass burial. Even stalwart Canadian political science academic perennial defender of the Abiy Ahmed, Ann Fitz-Gerald, said that the remains should be evaluated by a panel of experts.
A proper scientific inquiry would require internationally recognized scientists to study the remains. We know that deterioration of skeletal remains can vary greatly depending upon the chemical composition of the soil and temperatures. There does not appear upon my initial review of published literature to be much if any research on this in Ethiopia. Additionally, trace DNA can often be recovered from such remains. This could traced to living relatives to help identify the ethnicity of those buried. Given this lack of expertise it would seem that Ethiopia would welcome the United Nations mandate to investigate human rights violations in Tigray and Ethiopia rather then oppose them.
The brutal occupation of Western Tigray over the past year and a half with hundreds of thousands of missing persons makes the Tigray government concerned that these remains are more recent and Tigrayan. The only way to know the truth is to proceed with the best scientific inquiry following international standards.
The following is a story of a single patient treated at Mekelle University’s Ayder Hospital where I was the Head of Neurosurgery. You can multiply the saving of this one life tens of thousands of times to recognize the work of our hospital. Originally written in 2018 in an international neurosurgery forum before the Ethiopia Tigray conflict. It was a time of hope. I have altered the writing for a different audience here to show how life was improving in Tigray. That we could bring something new to Tigray and help the farmers whose lives had seen too much killing and death in the past. I pray these days will come again. Advocates for blockade of Tigray which denies medical care to the people of Tigray try to paint them falsely as less then human. Instead the reality is that most of them are poor farmers living a hard life.
A Day in the Life of a Neurosurgeon at Mekelle University Ayder Hospital
As the family said goodbye to him he left the ICU for the operating room. He had been intubated and resuscitated in the emergency room where he presented with coma. A young uneducated farmer from a remote primitive area who had been deteriorating for a year and half. Tumors in this part of the world are large and angry because they present so late. The MRI of the brain showed a 10 centimeter tumor in the fourth ventricle which was highly vascularized. This is the type of case neurosurgeons dream of, a mix of danger and hope. Besides giving sophisticated medical care we were building capacity to continue this care for future generations by training surgeons, anesthesia professionals, nurses, and others to serve more than a 7 million population.
The residents and fellows do the initial opening until the back of the brain is exposed which takes the first hour of surgery. Through the donated microscope I can see the tumor erupting to surface with very swollen blood vessels around it. Instead of the ependymoma (an easier tumor to remove) this was going to be hard. I begin working a millimeter at a time. Gently dissecting tumor from brain, isolating and separating scar bands and blood vessels. Using directed light and magnification for the next 8 hours I cannot take even a 5 minute break. Removing the tumor means there is constant blood loss. The brain receives more blood than any other organ. Tumors cause extra blood vessels to grow into them. As you control one bleeder another 2 start.
By the fourth hour into surgery he has lost 5 liters of blood and his blood pressure is fragile. By the sixth hours there is still about 20% of the tumor left which is covering the cerebral aqueduct. This must be removed to allow flow of cerebrospinal fluid. We are millimeters away from vital areas that cannot be damaged. A wrong move could kill or result in crippling paralysis.
Another 2 hours goes by and there are times when the blood loss starts again and pressure gets low even with another 2 units. After 8 hours from the beginning of my part of the surgery the tumor is completely removed. The patients blood pressure is holding thanks to high dose epinephrine (a drug to raise blood pressure in critical patient). Now comes the hardest time. Will the patient wake up? He goes to the intensive care unit and we wait. After a few hours he begins to move in a way that suggest he will emerge from coma. This is the life of neurosurgeon. Fighting to stay on the brink of life for hours at a time.
He left the hospital fully functional and returned to his farm. I pray he has survived the war. One precious life saved and the building of hope for a better future.
One can easily match exactly the nature of atrocities occurring in Ukraine by Russian forces to those that have taken place against the Tigray and are still happening in Western Tigray and other areas of Ethiopia. Why is there a delay in recognition of what to most observers is patently obvious? With Tigray civilian deaths authoritatively estimated to be at least 500,000 the loss of human life in Tigray is much greater then Ukraine so far.
Both United States President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken have declared that Russia committed outrageous war crimes on Ukraine by attacking residential dwellings, schools, hospitals, markets, and other civilian targets. Additionally he noted the detention, rape, and arbitrary killing of civilians by Russian forces often as they retreated from oncoming Ukrainian advances. This list of infractions against civilians matches exactly to what the Tigray have suffered from Ethiopia and Eritrea.
From the very beginning of the Ethiopian and Eritrean war against Tigray a hallmark of their actions have been directed to civilians. Fleeing civilians where shot in the back as the forces approached Mekelle. At least 120,000 Tigrayan women were raped and mutilated by soldiers who told them this was an official part of intended action to Tigray including spreading HIV infection. Numerous international highly respected organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented these violations. Farms, homes, businesses, factories, schools, and health care facilities have been destroyed. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans are presumed dead killed for nothing else but being Tigrayan. Even the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights complained to Ethiopia that indiscriminate bombing of civilians was wrong and should be stopped. They are currently awaiting reports from “specialists” to make further determinations.
Yesterday the British Parliament openly discussed the issue of Ethiopian and Eritrean genocide against the civilian population of Tigray. Without opposition the clear terms of war crimes and genocide were used to describe actions of Ethiopia and Eritrea. This included the use of famine and blockade of humanitarian supplies as a weapon of war.
Although the United States expelled Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act because of human rights violations by Ethiopia the United States has delayed officially calling Ethiopia and Eritrea actions “genocide”. Most analysts speculate that this delay is being used as a bargaining tool to persuade Ethiopia to cooperate with a cease fire and unfettered humanitarian access to famine stricken Tigray. Meanwhile Ethiopia has only allowed one convoy of 20 trucks has come while the need for over 100 trucks a day is necessary to minimally relieve the famine. The likelihood that the call to truce was only a temporary ploy while Ethiopia and Eritrea mobilize forces for new attacks on Tigray has been hypothesized by many analysts. The lack of further convoys support this idea.
Although it is important the United Nations international investigation be carried out there is no justification at this point for the United States to delay further what is clearly inevitable in urgently declaring Tigray genocide. Every human life matters.