Ethiopian Airlines, one of the largest sources of foreign capital which bolsters the Ethiopian economy, has been severely affected by the prolonged Ethiopian Tigray war. Allegations of illegal war activity, approaching battlefront, decreased passenger traffic, and new initiatives by competitors are challenging the previous preeminence of the Ethiopian Airlines. Even before the war began in November 2020 what was Africa’s leading airline whose hub, Addis Ababa, had become the main African travel hub, was hurting due to the worldwide COVID 19 epidemic.
Now with many international agencies and governments evacuating the capital city of Ethiopia because of the proximity of the Tigray and Oromo forces many are wondering if an airport shutdown and closure of service is coming soon.
Numerous news sources have convincingly shown the airline to consistently carry munitions and troops in flights designated as regular civilian passenger flights which is against previously agreed upon international travel treaties including the Convention on Civil Aviation universally accepted around the world.
In October 2021 the Biden administration stated that strong evidence of weapons ferrying into and between Ethiopia and Eritrea would be justification for sanctions against the airline. Although officials at Ethiopian Airlines initially refuted the claims they later changed the message after numerous well documented instances were revealed to say that they were loyal and proper in what they were doing. Fair trade practices with duty free imports to the United States are governed by Ethiopia agreeing to follow human rights practices which it has not.
The new vulnerability and limits on Ethiopian Airlines is bringing in a new vigor for other African countries to develop alternative airlines instead of allowing the continuing monopoly. At the recent Dubai Airshow this past month, Air Tanzania, Uganda Airlines and RwandAir made major commitments with Airbus and Boeing to buy new aircraft while the cash strapped Ethiopian Airlines only worked on trying to lower maintenance costs. Many speculate that Ethiopian Airlines is in trouble financially because the reduced traffic has caused difficulty to make the payments on the millions of dollars in aircraft leases held.
The detention and imprisonment of ethnic Tigray is not a just a recent phenomenon but has gone on for most of the duration of current Ethiopian Tigray conflict. The soaring number of Tigrayan(Tegaru) detentions in Addis Ababa in recent months reported by the Globe and Mail in detention camps in Afar and outside Addis Ababa is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more has been going on for the past year.
After the occupation of Tigray by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara militias completed by the end of November 2020 already thousands were forced off their farming homes and many were placed in concentration camps in Western Tigray. Numerous video clips taken by these occupying forces taken as trophies of their orders from superiors to rape, destroy, and kill Irob and Tigray especially in the Western region and border have been documented. In Northwestern Tigray we know that multiple concentration camps were occupied by hundreds with daily rape and execution.
As the Abiy Ahmed government began to permanently shut down universities in Tigray it offered many of the Tigray a false chance to go to Addis Ababa and transfer to institutions there. This was a lie for many who instead found themselves not meeting relatives in Addis but ending up in prison camps in the Southern Regions and Afar. Many photographs have emerged falsely claiming them as captured Tigray fighters. Like those reported in Globe and Mail some of them have managed to pay thousands of birr to leave the camps.
Even in Addis, Tigrayan faculty members at universities and employees in government offices were offered special trips to discuss “peace proposals”. They were to show up for bus pick up which turned out to be to detention camps. Many physicians became wary and avoided this ploy. Unfortunately now Addis Ababa police have began just showing up at these same facilities over the past two weeks and taking custody with no discussion allowed.
We know that thousands of Tigrayan businessman had their businesses closed down, assests confiscated, and many also imprisoned. Official government reports that there may be in excess of 80,000 individuals affected by this process.
Although these activities have been ongoing the past year the progressive defeats of the Eritrean and Ethiopian forces have accelerated this human rights violations exponentially. Some estimates reach as high as 50,000 or more currently detained. Some analysts ponder whether Abiy Ahmed wants to use them as abargaining chip.
The prospect of an end of a year of war in Ethiopia which saw insufferable loss may be upon us yet there will be no time to celebrate. I pray a bloody conflict in vain is avoided. Attempts to turn back time to the Zemene Mesafint solution of the past has failed. Jesus said war will always be with us recognizing the fallibility of man to solve his problems reasonably.
As Winston Churchill said about the Battle of Britain when the Royal Air Force though outnumbered managed to defeat the Luftwaffe by superior tactics it was not the end but the end of the beginning so it is for Ethiopia.
The Federal government under Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party now on the final step of defeat by Tigray and Oromo forces still has managed to destroy the economy in its last gasp. Means of manufacturing in not only Tigray but also Amhara have been destroyed by carpet bombing, artillery barrage, and intended ransacking. This has resulted in default of repayment of billions of dollars in loans made by Ethiopian banks to build these factories and businesses.
Discussions with knowledgeable sources in Addis Ababa reveals that government coiffeurs are now empty with almost no payment to government employees. The Ethiopian federal government is broke.
The airport for now remains open but thousands are fleeing the country. Inflation will hit 50% up and the birr will hit 50% down in value. Millions are displaced and without employment. Food stocks and crops are sparse. Hope for the future is fragile at best.
Victory will bring a new challenge for the whole country but will only be the end of the beginning of new era which will take time. Addis Ababa will be named Finfinne as it should have been all along. Tigray more then another region has been devastated and will have to rebuild its infrastructure, health system and economy from scratch. The Oromo region, the most fertile land of Ethiopia, and her people deserve to finally have their say and I hope they will be heard. Their concept of gadaa, that is learning from the past about the right use of resources for the community as a whole in consultation with elders, should be respected.
Once again the area we call Ethiopia will have to persevere to find a way to live together in mutual benefit and peace.
With Oromo and Tigray forces certainly coming to Addis Ababa (Finfinne) will Ethiopian ministers leave the country? Now almost a year since the Ethiopian and Eritrean invasion of Tigray which had been planned for months prior the world has seen convincing evidence from many sources of unparalleled inhumanity, murder, and deprivation. Yet even though Abiy Ahmed claimed to have a medemer cabinet including many women in “powerful” positions” nary a one of them stood up against the killing and violation of thousands of innocents.
Even though Abiy Ahmed and his Prosperity Party tried to maintain a complete communication black out witness was born by many on the horrors suffered by the Tigray population. Tegaru and Irob refugees to Sudan gave accounts of widespread rape, murder, theft, and destruction. Journalists entered the war regions secretly to record stories and images that alerted the world that Abiy Ahmed’s “law enforcement” operation was really an intentional Tigray genocide. Even officials who were appointed by Abiy Ahmed to be in the Interim Tigray Administration after the temporary fall of Mekelle have now themselves proclaimed against the wrath of Abiy Ahmed the lie that Ethiopia had no evil or even benign intentions.
Although an official police statement from Bishoftu says that visitors are welcome to today’s celebration of Irrecha, the Oromo national unity holiday, the truth is far different. Since yesterday the 39 kilometer expressway from Addis Ababa (known as Finfinne to Oromos before the Amhara conquest) to Bishoftu has been mostly blocked off. Many witnesses report that numerous Oromo youth from Addis Ababa and other areas have been arrested by police trying to enter Bishoftu. Despite the roadblock the editor of Addis Standard in her twitter reports says that many are still choosing to walk the 39 kilometer distance by foot to attend the celebrations at lake Hora Arsedi. Many have been quoted as saying that Abiy Ahmed will not succeed in stopping Oromo protestation to wrongful imprisonment of Oromo leaders and other grievances including extrajudicial killings.
The Ethiopian Federal government is so fearful that large formations of federal police and soldiers are now deployed in Bishoftu. A complete blackout of telephone, cell, electricity, and internet services has been done. Hospitals and clinics are under strict orders not to report any injuries in Bishoftu just as yesterday doctors and nurses in Addis were rebuked for reporting injuries at Irrecha celebrations in Addis Ababa. Additionally there are now reports that prominent human rights leaders from Addis Ababa including Tesfalem Waldyes, founder of Ethiopia Insight, have been arrested.
Instead of coming to the major Oromo cultural event of the year, Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and of Oromo ancestry, decided instead to send armed soldiers and pickup trucks mounted with high caliber machine guns. Witnesses from the scene report that unarmed Oromos began to protest the jailing of Jawar Mohammed and others while shouting “down with Abiy!”. In response the large crowd was sprayed with bullets killing many. Doctor contacts at Paulos Hospital in Addis Ababa report many causalities, at least more then 10, some in serious condition have so far been received.
This week the Oromo people of Ethiopia who make up the largest ethnic group of over 30% celebrate a special holiday called Irrecha. It signifies the end of the rainy cold season. The event usually occurs near a large body of water to honor the nature deity, Waaqa, and give thanks for the blessings of the past year. It is more than a religious holiday as Oromia of all faiths Christian and Muslim also celebrate the holiday as a day of unity and cultural recognition.
Abiy Ahmed’s father was Oromo and in his Parliamentary position, Abiy Ahmed was a representative of the Oromo area just north of Addis. His rise to power was fueled by Oromo leader, Jawar Mohammed, and his Qeero (bachelor) movement. However since taking power, the PM switched allegiance to Amhara expansionists who have a long history of enslaving and denying rights to the Oromo. He has jailed on charges of terrorism many of his previous Oromo supporters and mentors including Mohammed. An armed resistance, the Oromo Liberation Army, is growing by the day in hopes to depose the Prime Minister who they see as a traitor to the Oromo cause.
Tomorrow a major celebration is planned at a sacred lake in Bishoftu a short distance from Addis Ababa. However, now security forces are blocking the highway connecting from Addis Ababa trying to stop the gathering. Apparently Abiy Ahmed fears that more protests against the government will occur embarrassing the PM that his own people are against him while this week he is in the midst of the upcoming presentation of his new Prosperity Party government this week. Many Oromia and others feel these elections in their regional state were unfair to opposition parties.
Tigrayans living in Addis Ababa are facing increasing difficulty in routine daily activities of urban life. Restrictions on civilians of Tigrayan ethnicity
are blocked from travel, moving about in the city, and even making simple purchases while facing a constant risk of detention.
The government of Ethiopia has openly called for “extermination of the weed” of the Tigrayans. Now more than 50,000 Tigrayans have been imprisoned with many being sent to detention camps in the the southern and eastern regional states. Even for those Tigrayans living in Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia just walking on the street and obtaining necessities is becoming impossible. I have heard from several Tigrayans living in Addis Ababa that police are coming to their home insisting on an immediate donation of at least 50% of cash assets to pay for war costs. They are further told to cease all business activities. Properties have been confiscated including motor vehicles and buildings without any type of legal proceeding or charges.
Now in an even greater restriction has been placed on several Tigrayans when trying to withdrawal money from the bank or even buy groceries from a store when they have been asked for identification. Upon seeing that they are Tigrayan they were informed that the store has been told not to perform any purchases from Tigrayans. Ethiopian banks such as Ethiopian Commerce Bank are freezing accounts of Tigrayans all over Ethiopia. Whereas before this activity was more limited to those with accounts or businesses in Tigray it is now becoming commonplace for those who have lived and worked in Addis Ababa.
It has become routine in many neighborhoods for Tigrayans driving a motor vehicle to be stopped by police who upon discovery that the driver is of Tigrayan ethnicity to be told he or she is not allowed to drive permanently. Almost no Tigrayans are allowed to leave the country by airline.
My experience in Ethiopia has taught me that how the people of Addis Ababa see Ethiopia is often from a much different perspective than how those in other ethnic groups living outside Addis Ababa especially those not Amhara see the country. This creation of a capital identity group versus a regional identity group plays a role in understanding the current Ethiopian conflict. The different perception of an Ethiopian identity creates an ideological conflict that is difficult to overcome.
I have lived in Ethiopia since 2012 functioning as an academic neurosurgeon training students, neurosurgical residents, fellows, acting as an advisor, as well as doing intense research on the scourge of neural tube defects. Initially I lived in Addis Ababa, the nations capital, then in Dessie in the Amhara region and then since 2015 in the capital of the Tigray region, Mekelle. When I moved away from Addis Ababa, still for many weekends I would travel to Addis Ababa to see patients and also do consulting for NGO development, business interests, and government health concerns. In both Amhara regions and the Tigray region I made trips to the countryside rural areas to meet with the rural people to try to understand how they live and what contributed to the incidence of neural tube defects for which I helped create research sites throughout Tigray and recently trying to establish in Oromia which was interrupted by the war.
The creation of monarchial command center
Addis Ababa is a relatively new city. Although there was some settlement there by the Oromia who called it Finfinne its urbanization began when the Ethiopian Amharic Emperor, Menelik II, moved there in the late 19th century to create a more centralized command post to control his domain that extended much farther south then northern Ethiopia. As has been well written about about the capitals of many developing countries, Addis which is the short term used by locals, became more cosmopolitan then other areas. A large influx of Amhara gradually moved into what had previously been Oromia. They encouraged the development of educational institutions, commerce, diplomatic interaction, and modernization of the city which rapidly outpaced that of the other areas of Ethiopia.
Immigration from many regional states to Addis Ababa blends into a city identity
Immigrants from every region of Ethiopia came seeking work and opportunity they could not find in the countryside. Whereas in the countryside, which makes up the largest percentage of a rural population in the world among countries, lived a life less cosmopolitan and urban. While inter-ethnic marriage became very common in Addis it rarely happened and is often shunned in the countryside. The everyday language and identity in the countryside is the local one whereas in Addis those who were born and raised there identify themselves commonly as from Addis Ababa adopting Amharic as their main language and the Addis identity. They transform from their local ethnic culture to the Addis culture in one generation.
The current generation who was born in raised in Addis Ababa or went to university in Addis Ababa is more likely to accept the idea of a national identity to Ethiopia which makes a very small percentage of total Ethiopian population. Many have never been to the countryside and cannot relate to it other than it was where their ancestors grew up. This division of identity and experience no doubt plays a role in what is happening in Ethiopia today.
Those living in Addis Ababa have been raised with and most easily accept the idea of single Ethiopia identity predicted by such western social writers such as Levine. On the other hand researchers who spent time in the country side such as Young see Ethiopia as an empire of differing nations prone to recurring conflict.
The autonomy of the regional states and regional educational development empowers regional identity
Since the post Derg era began all the regional state capitals have had universities built. Although initially they were staffed by mostly Amhara faculty that is giving way to more regional ethnic faculty. Many of these faculty have had to chance to study abroad or least cooperate with international institutions.
Over the past several decades thirty-three universities have been built in the many different regions of Ethiopia. Whereas the center of intellectual development was in Addis and primarily dominated by Amhara now there is a new spring of ideas and identity perceptions arising in each region. Thus new growth of regionalism is a strong counter to centralized Addis Ababa identity which promotes one national identity. Instead of all regional leaders going through a transformational experience of living in Addis Ababa for a time during their education that may alter their identity they are now being educated in regional universities by increasing regionally trained faculty and influenced by regionally experienced elders of the community.