Abiy Ahmed plans to spend 49 billion birr ($931 million) to build a new official residence for the head of government. While the Ethiopian government has decided to spend a much lesser amount, 20 billion birr, ($38o million) for “war rehabilitation” which may not include Tigray based upon a $300 million grant from the World Bank. The new palace project will house the Prime Minister and other high government officials in a special neighborhood with planned lakes and functional buildings for government business.
Meanwhile the government has decreed that all buildings in the capital of Ethiopia will have to be painted gray. Tinted windows will no longer be allowed. A consideration is being to give exceptions to buildings owned and or occupied by international companies.
The economy of Ethiopia due to the costs of weapons, instability, falling birr value, rising costs of necessary imports including food and fuel is showing no sign of recovery. Millions are displaced without any income. Critical food shortages are occurring not just in Tigray where there is a severe widespread famine but also in many other regions due to poor agricultural production practices.
The cost of food, fuel, medicines, clothing, and other consumer goods has gone up 50% the past year while the birr has is now at an all time low 0.019 to the dollar. The wisdom of undertaking the building of such a monstrosity of a palace for the Prime Minister is hard to justify.
Even though Gondar University and for that matter any university in Ethiopia does not possess advanced anthropological or forensic capabilities to analyze long buried remains they have made claims to the contrary. One cannot judge ethnicity by bone structure. Or even clothing as Tigrayans and Amhara in northern Ethiopia share those items if even some survived. Judging the age of remains is difficult because it is due in part to the soil composition, weather, species of insects, and other things are can be specific to region. There are only a few of these experts world wide.
Probably one of the most important ways to analyze the remains is to get samples of DNA that can be traced to living relatives. Unfortunately when we examine the photograph submitted of the “discovery and excavation” we see that no one is wearing any protective garments to prevent incidental hair and skin dust from falling from the Amharic workers onto the scene. Contamination of human DNA at burial sites from failure to take these precautions is well recognized as a standard part of proper procedure.
The photograph of the improper procedures not being followed and the lack of any scientific report discussing the procedures followed or more likely not followed may explain why no “scientist” has made any supporting statement. Any other place in the world would have sealed off the site and called in world renowned experts to get the best evidence of what happened. Why did Ethiopian authorities not do the obvious?
As a result of war debt and chaos of failing to find resolution even in the capital of Ethiopia health care access, food security, and the dream of becoming a middle income nation have been dashed. Imagine for a moment what the Abiy Ahmed led Ethiopian government could have accomplished with estimated at least $6 billion spent on war since November 2020. This high expenditure has caused literally irreconcilable debt affecting the health and well being of all Ethiopians. Most of us remember in college learning the “guns vs butter” laws of economics but it appears the Ethiopian leadership skipped that class. Before Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018 Ethiopia had experienced almost a 10% annual economic growth and had hoped to reach a state of at least 25% of the population having a middle income by world standards. Instead by refusing to make progress in peaceful resolution hoping that Tigray will just starve to death the Ethiopian government has drastically reduced the quality of life for all Ethiopians.
The average healthcare expenditure per capita in Ethiopia has likely been reduced from an average $23 per capita per year to $18. While most developed countries spend close to 10% of their gross domestic product providing health care for their citizens as a priority for Ethiopia it is only 4%. Under Abiy Ahmed there have been some developments in private health care in a few of the larger cities for the 10% of the population considered middle class who make more than 4000 birr a month. With current birr value at about 6 cents to the dollar this equals about $240 a month.
While many assume that Ethiopia has a socialized health care system without any beneficiary payment this is wrong. Except of the first month of life most health care even at government facilities requires co-pays averaging $32 per house hold per year. The high inflation of decreasing availability of jobs is making it hard for poor and middle class families to access healthcare because they cannot afford the out of pocket costs.
If the Ethiopian government had spent another $2 billion on healthcare instead of defense they could have almost doubled the current healthcare budget. More clinics and more outreach could result in better treatment of chronic illness such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and HIV. While only about 20% of pregnant women in Ethiopia have medically assisted delivery this could be dramatically increased reducing maternal complications and improving infant mortality. Millions cannot afford to pay for subscriptions. Increasing the availability of surgical care for treatable conditions now considered essential standard worldwide has severely dampened.
For this first time in a generation circumstances of drought, locusts, poor agricultural support, and a lack of general attention to both fertile farm lands and dryland farming are resulting in combination with war to cause the worst food shortage in a generation. Millions of displaced persons and the war environment have complicated food production and distribution even outside the besieged state of Tigray. Ethiopia normally needs $260 per capita per year for food. If another $2 billion was spent on food instead of defense an additional 10% of the poor who make up the majority of the population could be feed.
Abiy Ahmed in trying to manipulate and coerce extremist religious leaders of Ethiopia as well as diaspora has created havoc. Although many Ethiopians have for years presented Ethiopia as an example of religious harmony between Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews the reality is there have always been undertones of conflict. For the most part until recently cooler heads prevailed with many religious leaders being united in calling for peaceful co-existence that recognized each group had an appropriate and respected place in Ethiopian society.
This stability began to change with the coming to power of Abiy Ahmed. It was hoped with his mixed ethnic and religious ancestry a new era of harmony would come. He claimed a new state of medemer alleging a united national identity. However the largest part of his power base has been Amharic expansionist Orthodox as well as evangelical protestants. To some extent he tried to make the Tigray a “straw man” enemy against which various ethnic groups and religious views could unite. He has often rather falsely claimed the Tegaru, the people of Tigray, are a godless people forgetting the the Orthodox Church had its origins there. It also has longstanding albeit small but significant populations of Muslims and Catholics.
What he did not predict is how a new struggle would emerge for power in Ethiopia between these groups based upon old wounds. Between Muslims and Christians there are some major differences for example in how important historical events played out. For example Christians believe that Christian King Negas welcomed Muslim refugees fleeing the pagan Saudi rulers. Many Ethiopian Muslims believe that the monarch was converted to Islam.
The struggle for dominance between Islam and Christianity continued until the nineteenth century when the Tigrayan monarch Yohannes compelled Muslims to convert to Christianity. The Muslim ruler Mohammed is claimed by many to have converted to Christianity changing his name to Mikael. However many in the Wollo region of Amhara belief this was not a true conversion but a temporary act. After Yohannes was killed in battle, the Amharic emperor, Menelik II carried out vicious atrocities against Muslims and pagan worshipers especially the Oromo.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church until the twentieth century did not consider Oromos or the people of Southern Ethiopia who were of Cushitic origin unlike the Semitic peoples of the north to be fully human. Slavery of Oromo and southern nationalities was common by Amhara interests in response to the religious determination. This ultimately lead to the introduction evangelical Protestant movements.
There are major diaspora supporters of Abiy Ahmed especially in the United States who feel strongly that God intended for Ethiopia to be a Christian country. They oppose the pantheist traditional beliefs of many Oromos as well as Islam. Traditionally under the Amharic monarchy, Muslims, Oromo pantheists, and Jews were often not allowed to own land. By aligning himself with those holding extremist views in the exiled synods of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and evangelical protestants Abiy Ahmed has given new voice to their claims that Ethiopia is a “Christian” nation. Yet even among them there is now fighting over who has rights to traditional religious areas such as Meskel square in Addis Ababa. In recent years there have been increasing attacks on mosques and churches throughout Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed’s ally, Eritrea, has defaced and ransacked both Christian and Muslim places of worship as well as killing innocent worshippers.
Meanwhile although the “official” census states the population divide between Christians and Muslims is about 60% vs 40% there are many areas where Muslims predominate such as in Harar and the traditional regions of the Afar and Somali people. It is well documented that the population growth of Muslims is likely increasing faster then the Christians. Many outspoken Muslims believe they are undercounted.
There is little doubt now that Abiy Ahmed rather then bringing unity is fomenting division and distrust in Ethiopia. Whereas Christianity and Islam preach peaceful co-existence and civil society the regime of Abiy Ahmed has been exactly the opposite.
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.
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.
Ethiopian and Eritrean supporters are now resorting to personal attacks laced with lies in a vile and vain attempt to defend the indefensible. In the wake of a majority of United Nations members nations mandating international investigation of human right violations in Tigray a new round of ad hominem attacks on the womanhood, intelligence, and morality of accomplished highly educated Tigrayan women who have spoken up for protecting human rights is their latest desperate Ethiopian attempt to obscure reality. Ethiopian leadership who claim to be pious Christians seem to have discarded the Commandment given by God through Moses that “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour“.
Although the protagonists of this effort have internalized this concept of the complete dehumanization of Tigray to justify their murder by drones, violation, and deprivation their attempt to propagate it to the rest of the world is failing more and more each day. This degrading of the humanity of Tigrayans has in the twisted mentality of Ethiopia and Eritrea been a justification for egregious human rights violations including weaponization of starvation, military ordered rape, destruction of property and livelihoods, detention, and isolation.
Since the beginning of the Ethiopian Tigray conflict supporters of Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki have incessantly, loudly, and nefariously degraded the humanity of the people of Tigray. Within the first few days of the invasion of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces into Tigray they called Tigrayans “hyenas” who should be eradicated. Soon after Ethiopian Protestant and Orthodox clergy supported the concept of a Christian fatwa against Tigray. They proclaimed Tigray mothers wombs were possessed by Satan. A prominent Abiy Ahmed “intellectual” supporter on social media was emphatic that Tigray children are destined to be evil and should be killed at birth. Within a few days we learned that Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers were told by their commanders to kill male children under age four. The ranks of the invading army into Tigray purposefully included HIV infected soldiers to spread the disease in their violation of women.
In fact a recent video of the ENDF shows a commander discussing the live burial of a five year old Tigrayan child. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed himself referred to Tigrayans as weeds that need to be cut out and his Social Minister, a so-called Deacon, called for the complete elimination of Tigray from the planet as well as any history of their existence.
When Mekelle was under the Ethiopian Tigray Interim Administration the local military commander admitted to Ethiopian news media that there had been rapes committed in the city. The Minister of Women, Children, and Youth, Filsan Abdi, went to Mekelle along with a prosecutor and determined that there was significant evidence of mass violations against women by invading forces. The response to this evidence from Abiy Ahmed supporters was to release mocking videos by Amhara women that the Tigrayan women were lying and probably wanted sex with the soldiers. In the end Filsan Abdi felt she had to resign when the Ethiopian Federal government refused to foll0w up on the reports of human rights violations.
More recently a video of the burning of Tigrayans alive purportedly for the purpose of cannibalism was proudly posted on social media. Just within the past 24 hours numerous photographs have similarly been posted on social media showing Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers digging up mass graves of Tigrayans in Western Tigray to be secretly relocated or destroyed. This occurs in the region where there has been irrefutable documentation of extrajudicial killing of Tigray whose bodies were thrown into the Tekeze River.