Five hundred days and five hundred thousand dead in Tigray which means 1000 dead a day have and will continue to die. Although the Ethiopian government using weapons of war supplied by other countries continues to kill civilians including innocent women and children daily now the greatest threat to the population are the sanctions of Ethiopia on Tigray. The most powerful sanctions currently going on anywhere in the world is the complete blockade of food, water, electricity, communication, fuel, and medicines from Ethiopia or Eritrea to Tigray.
In a bizarre example of hypocrisy, supporters of Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian government have made the statement “Sanctions are a form of warfare that kill more people than bombs & guns” referencing H.R. 6600 which seeks to stop Tigray holocaust. The bill contains specific exemptions to humanitarian aid to any part of Ethiopia. It should be remembered that the United States still gave over $ 1 billion in aid to Ethiopia the past year.
Except for a few carefully pre-screened medical aid flights which are like giving a man dying from hunger a single grain of rice this situation is now extending into its second year. International experts say that 83% of Tigrayans are at risk of death eventually from hunger or otherwise treatable medical conditions.
During the occupation of the capital of Tigray, Mekelle, by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces between November 2020 and July 2021 unsung heroes were the daily and nightly volunteer unarmed foot patrols coordinated by youth groups. Although armed fighters were outside the city in surrounding mountains these youth groups played a key role in intelligence gathering, spreading and informing news to the kebeles (neighborhoods), and finally at great personal risk acting as safety escorts for women traveling in the streets.
A few days after the initial military occupation by regular military forces we saw a change in the composition of the enemy soldiers. A greater number of Eritreans and Amhara appeared on the streets. Everyday they would be “patrolling the street” in squad size groups carrying out looting of local businesses and even worse whisking away women off the street to terrible fates including sexual violence.
Local neighborhood groups of Mekelle residents organized unarmed foot patrols usually of just one person to function during daylight hours and also covertly at night when there was a curfew. Many times these guardians saved ladies walking from work, church, visiting relatives, or obtaining household needs by warning them of approaching enemy patrols or distracting the patrols while the women got away or found a hiding place.
From November 2020 through the beginning of January 2021 I know of at least seven young men who were shot by occupying forces. Those that were lucky enough to be brought to hospital by relatives or neighbors were often taken out of the hospital by enemy forces in the morning and never seen again. An evil fate for the remains of those killed at scene copied a practice used by the Derg regime. I first learned about this from a friend, Rev. Douglas, whose mission was near the Desta Hotel near the Business School Campus. I went there and saw the decaying body lying on side of the busy street. Bodies would be ordered to lay where they died on the street for days. You could see the locations from a long distance because within a few hours scavenging birds would circle over them.
The lack of response or even concern for the terrible suffering in Tigray for millions of innocent civilians, mothers, and children by the non-Tigrayan medical establishment in Ethiopia’s capital including at universities, medical schools, and government health organizations is shocking. For many years cordial relationships existed with cross training of medical students and post-graduate resident occurring frequently between Mekelle University’s Ayder Hospital and Addis Ababa’s teaching programs.
TGHAT Tigray News reported today about receiving a letter from a doctor who wished to remain anonymous complaining of the “blatant double standard and hypocrisy the leadership of the medical society has exhibited on issues related to Tigray”. This doctor felt the silence of suffering violated his sacred duty and oath as a physician to society. The head of the Ethiopian Pediatric Society, Professor Bogale Worku, threatened any physician who wanted to discuss help for Tigray during academic meetings.
Even the current Ethiopian Minister of Health, Lia Tadesse, a trained obstetrician gynecologist who spent time in training at Ayder, has acted as if Tigray does not exist any more. During the occupation of Mekelle several phone calls with Lia Tadesse by Ayder leadership were met with the response of “there is nothing I can do”. Subsequently all funding for the University and Ayder Hospital which were federal not Tigray institutions primarily were completely ended. Medical supplies intended for delivery to Ayder were sent to Eritrea. USAID officially complained to Lia Tadesse about her lack of regard for the welfare of the Tigray population and refusal to cooperate with aid to the region.
The fundraising effort, Doctors 4Ethiopia, claims to be raising funds to rehabilitate and restore medical services for “all of Ethiopia”. However in small text they have a disclaimer that they will only help hospitals designated by the Ministry of Health which apparently has decided not fund any Tigray hospital. They are intentionally misleading donors wanting to help Tigray.
In long history of mankind it was not unusual for the healing professions of opposing sides to show mercy to enemy combatants and innocents. Notable exceptions occurred in World War II where some Nazi German doctors used Jewish civilians for immoral experimentation. More recently during the Rwanda genocide of 1994 the Hutu regime punished doctors who treated Tutsi victims. There was at least one doctor, Sosthene Munyemana , who has been called the “Butcher of Tumba” for his atrocities to the Tutsi. The prevailing sentiment in the organized medical establishment of Ethiopia appears to have abandoned their morals and duties in favor of seeking political favoritism.
The immoral global disparity in recognition of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine versus Tigray occurring in press coverage has also now been seen in scientific publications. Noted researcher, Dr. Mulugeta Gebregziabher PhD, Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina had put together an international collaborative team including on site researchers from Mekelle University to assess the destruction of health care facilities in the war on Tigray. The research findings were published in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet however so far the journal has refused to publish a commentary on the morality and urgency of this potential form of genocide while it quickly published a similar comment regarding attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine.
Whilst no one is denying the urgency and gravitas of the Russian invasion on Ukraine many are asking the question as to why Western democracies are so silent and barely involved in seeking solutions to the conflict where at least half a million people have died due to war, starvation, lack of health care, and blockade of food, fuel, communication, electricity, clean water, and other necessities of life?
Medical research has the most fundamental tenet that it is committed to improving human life. We teach young researchers that as well as developing sound scientific principles of investigation there is an absolute need when completed to communicate the research to the public otherwise the effort is meritless.
A part of this reporting a priori requires an analysis of the morality of the issue. This substantiates the need of response and level of response to identified problems. Talking about unnecessary death, suffering, and deprivation to millions of people cannot be done with a total disregard to the moral values which define the lessons we are supposed to have learned from catastrophic world wars.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister is talking to the United States after a period of defiant silence because Ethiopia’s economic survival is threatened. Ethiopia cannot survive economically and continue the Tigray war indefinitely. Take a class in basic economics about nations and you quickly learn about “gun vs butter”. All nations need both. Now Abiy Ahmed is learning that lesson.
As reported earlier this year in the influential South China Morning Post and later by the Global reporting center in The World, China is at a crossroads about how much more it can lend to Ethiopia. The Chinese are the first to say they did not cause the Ethiopian conflict with Tigray and other groups. This conflict works against Ethiopian prosperity and debt repayment.
Abiy Ahmed has said in the past he would always prefer loans from the International Monetary Fund or World Bank which he equates to “borrowing from one’s mother” rather then the Chinese because the terms of Chinese loans are high interest rates with short repayment schedules. In addition to which there are hidden costs that Ethiopia bears by “guaranteeing” the loans against business failure.
At an estimate of Ethiopia’s debt exceeding $60 billion by the end of 2022 and no agreement yet reached with special negotiators, China and France, for the IMF it is clear that Ethiopia will need to negotiate with the West to stay afloat. In the past Ethiopia tried to “play off Europe vs China” but now the bet that China or even the Middle East alone are a way to finance Ethiopia’s economic growth appears to have been a grave misjudgment.
The action of the majority of the world’s leading democracies to vote for investigation of human rights violations by all parties in Ethiopia is only significant if it represents a concerned and determined effort rather than a fleeting sound bite that will be forgotten.
Voting for a leader is the beginning of democracy not its end. Not since the rise of fascism and communism in the early 20th century has the concept of what makes democracy been so threatened in the world. Democracy is not the iron will of a majority over a minority it is instead the recognition of the rights of all citizens to basic freedoms. This is essence of democracy.
At this moment Ethiopia has become one of the most repressive governments in the world. There is no freedom of the press, no freedom of assembly, no habeas corpus protection, no right to impartial due process or any due process, no freedom from legal discrimination against a minority, no freedom of communication, no freedom to private property, no freedom to earn a living, and finally no freedom against extrajudicial killing or violation.
The State Department under the Biden Administration talks a lot but in reality has accomplished very little in facing many international challenges. America’s security and world stability always sits on the edge of precipitous cliff because democracy is a very fragile entity to maintain at home and abroad. As St. Paul tells us in his writings man is always struggling against his animal nature to find his spiritual self. The 18th century English philosopher John Stuart Mills, a major inspiration to the American revolution, espoused responsibility, morality, and freedom to live ones life as one chooses but strongly proclaimed that society must act strongly when clearly its actions hurt others pointing to the conflict of mob actions versus a minority.
The valuable resources the United States expends in foreign aid which are the fruit of Americans hard work should be given with understanding of promoting democracy. At this point when there is much that needs to be done in America and you have a country of Ethiopia who is choosing to spend its capital in weapons and deprivation against minorities then America should abstain from facilitating these actions. Whilst many say that the United States cannot and should not be the policeman of the world nor should we be the facilitator of evil tyrants. Like the Bible tells us we should leave the house, shake the dust from our feet, and move on as regards Ethiopia.
On the other hand, if we abandon the Tigray, Oromo, and others in Ethiopia who are currently at risk of being crushed out of existence then that demeaning of their status of being equal creations of God in his image will serve to forever demean our own status before our Creator.
The cost of war for Ethiopians is not just felt on the battlefront or even the millions now displaced but in the ransacking of the future of young Ethiopians who once believed in future prosperity. The dream of Ethiopia to escape poverty is rapidly fading. While Ethiopian diaspora who are rarely Tigray and Oromo tout Abiy Ahmed as a prophetic bringer of fortune and power the opposite is becoming clear. The economy of Ethiopia is diving into a bottomless abyss beginning when Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018 with an increasingly accelerating progression downward.
The Ethiopian birr has fallen in value by almost 50% since 2018. Noted Johns Hopkins economist Steven Hanke as well as others note that the current inflation rate of 31% which predicts will lead to an unbearable circumstance for the average Ethiopian.
Total Ethiopian gold reserves were at over $ 400 million when Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018 but now are likely below $100 million after payments to Eritrea, United Arab Emirates, Iran and others for weapons.
The Biden administration has clearly stated that it no longer considers the government under Abiy Ahmed a democracy. The free trade agreement, African Growth and Opportunity Act, with Ethiopia was dependent upon Ethiopia following democratic principals mutually agreed upon which were violated. Similarly many Western democracies are taking a similar view.
Although the Ethiopian government falsely claimed economic growth rates of 6% the real number is more like -2% and dropping. The human rights violations and the instability of the Ethiopian state by an ongoing war with no end coming on the horizon severely inhibits foreign investors from participating in the Ethiopian economy which at this point has no future.
A complete collapse of the Ethiopian economy comes closer to reality each passing day. The calamity this would bring in terms of literally total loss of human necessities for survival for most Ethiopians may ultimately be the cause for an end to the war. Will the Ethiopia Tigray conflict end due to peace talks, military victory, or collapse of the Ethiopian economy?
The government of Abiy Ahmed remains fixed to its position it will not negotiate with “terrorists” even though it is suffering progressive defeats and loss of territory. The Ministry of Finance is releasing optimistic economic forecasts being sternly questioned by even economists who are ardent government supporters. At the same time international financial institutions and Ethiopian economists are sounding the alarm that the war costs are bringing the country to a financial collapse. Ethiopia has received less than $500 million in loan disbursement this year while spending $1 billion in payments to Eritrea and 51 million to Turkey. Amounts for other weapons are unknown at this time. The United States and European allies are clearly indicating tough sanctions will happen if no progress to peace is made.
Over the past several weeks the armed forces of Eritrea and Ethiopia have been retreating from advancing Tigray and Oromo Liberation Army forces. Economic activity remains stalled in Tigray as well as much of the Oromo and Amhara regions. Today the large Amhara city of Dessie is surrounded, Gondar has lost all communication, and Tigray forces are 150km away from Bahir Dar. In an attempt to slow the advance of the Tigray forces into western Ahmara the Ethiopian National Defense Force destroyed a strategic bridge at Ibnat. Military analysts at this time do not predict a speedy end or that the Tigray will be defeated.
According to the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance the total foreign and domestic debt incurred by Ethiopia is $55.6 billion (USD). In just the last year in great part due to the war effort but also affected by COVID and poor agricultural prices the debt has nearly doubled. Out of this more than half is debt owed to foreign lenders. Within the last year the government has paid $1.8 billion debt service payment The country’s gross domestic product was $1.4 billion but it had to pay interest on loans in excess of $1.8 billion.
Since Abiy Ahmed assumed power the percentage of the gross domestic product used to pay interest has gone from 20% to over 33% of the GDP. Some are predicting the debt cost will go to 70% of GDP and the total debt could easily double. Although Ethiopia is one of the top ten producers in the world of many grains abnormal rains, locusts, inflation, war, and displacement have reduced its agricultural output. Additionally food imports since Abiy took office have been increasing rather ten decreasing. Combining lessening high quality food exports with the need for more imports is leading to forecasts of greater food dependence of foreign aid. Before the war 25% of Ethiopians were dependent on foreign food aid. In Tigray more than 90% have been assessed as needing food aid. Now with millions displaced the number has certainly increased.
The Ethiopian government is trying to slow down inflation now at 45% for this year alone based on the Consumer Price Index by buying wheat and forcing banks to put more deposits in the central bank. Even so many Ethiopian economic experts say that even if the war stopped tomorrow it would take 10 years or more for an economic recovery assuming 5% percent or more economic growth yearly could be obtained instead of the -2% this year.