We witnessed Somali and Eritrean mercenaries as casualties in Mekelle during the Ethiopian Tigray conflict. We know that instead of being allowed to stay in Ayder Hospital, transferred to the local military hospital, or to Amhara instead they ultimately disappeared after a transfer to a stadium. Many Somali mothers whose young men where taken by the former Somali government to Eritrea to join forces invading Tigray in November 20202 are asking what happened to their sons? Similar questions are being asked of the Eritrean government by Eritrean mothers.
I was present at Mekelle University Ayder Hospital as a faculty member during the early Mekelle occupation by invading forces. We cared for many casualties of war including civilians and combatants from Tigray and the invading forces. We identified both Eritreans and Somalis in Ethiopian uniform. The locals easily recognized the accent and mannerisms of Shabia which is the term they use for Eritreans. Similarly we had many doctors in training from Somalia and Somaliland who were able to communicate with the Somali mercenaries.
However, the supervising Ethiopian Defense Force quickly moved these foreign mercenaries from Ayder to a makeshift hospital with high security set up at the Mekelle soccer stadium. Apparently there were no doctors there or any type of medical equipment. One wonders what was the fate of these mercenary forces who were injured and required medical treatment? No patient was found there when the ENDF retreated. Apparently families in Eritrea and Somali have been told nothing.
Everyday there are growing reports of extrajudicial killing in just about every region of Ethiopia. Clearly the population diffusely throughout the country has no faith in the government. While Abiy Ahmed makes international trips to get his picture taken with various foreigners this does not hide the lack of solidarity rising in Ethiopia. His lies about economic growth, currency stability, and domestic food security, are blatantly exposed by the millions now displaced facing hunger and insecurity from Tigray to the the Kenya border. Once stable lives for working class and middle class families in the cities throughout the country are now faced with growing unemployment and rising inflation making everyday life the most miserable in several decades. Meanwhile the Tigray siege continues unabated except for a trickle of aid which the Western democracies foolishly call progress.
When I first came to Ethiopia in 2012 it seemed to be a place that was on the way to a better future. Many hospitals and universities had been built. There had been relative peace since the 1990s. At first the change in leadership in 2018 seemed to be a continuation of progress with many promises of free speech, opposition parties without condemnation, free press and economic opportunity. Frankly it is hard to believe it is the same country now. Educated professionals of just about every ethnic group including Amhara, Tigray, Oromo, Somali, etc. are leaving the country in droves. They have become pessimistic that the country’s situation will improve in the near future.
Even previous skeptics of immoral acts by the Ethiopian government such as the poorly regarded Ethiopian Human Rights Commission are now admitting growing horrors. Probably in part because they fear future criminal liability for being conspirators in genocide.
European democracies and most of the American political establishment although wanting to support the poor status of the population especially in Tigray need to finally realize that sustaining the current failed leadership is only leading to a failed state of death and misery. There is no medemer or unity.
A funeral procession for Eritrean soldiers who died fighting in the Tigray invasion points to the way young peoples future is wholly decided by the government. Human Rights Watch research finds that most Eritreans have to go through compulsory military service with many “spending their entire working lives at the service of the government in either a military or civilian capacity”. In my work at Mekelle University Ayder Hospital I saw and interacted with student refugees and hundreds of patients sent by the United Nations and International Organization for Migration over the past 10 years of being in Ethiopia. They told many horror stories.
Those with close ties to the the despotic leader, Isaias Afwerki, are the only ones exempt. Otherwise all teenagers must attend Warsai Yekalo Secondary School, located in the Sawa military camp which is isolated and restricted from visitors near the border with Sudan, for the final half year of secondary school. Satellite imagery and reports from refugees describe large mass burial grounds where noncompliant students end up. Over the past twenty years more than 500,000 young people have fled Eritrea often risking a perilous crossing of the Mediterranean sea.
New conscripted soldiers are paid about 2000 Nakfa per month which is about $132 dollars. This is about half of what government civil servants are paid. Their families can be threatened if the soldier has poor performance. During the Tigray invasion Eritrean prisoners of war were found with lists of items they were supposed to acquire and help bring to Eritrea including medical equipment, computers, cars, farm equipment, telephone equipment, factory machines, and the list goes on. It is known that Ethiopia paid at least $4 billion for the mercenary services which benefited the ruling elite but only brought death for thousands of young people.