It has been over a year since I have addressed this blog and its community, but I think about it constantly. Although I have been waiting for a positive moment to discuss and share, it is time we start talking about some hard issues in the hopes to spread awareness.
This post will be a bit heavy hearted, but its intensions are to briefly inform you of the current state of Ethiopia (and some of the history of why things are the way they are) and to encourage you all to talk about these issues as well as form your own conclusions as events evolve. So lets get into it.
Although it is starting to get some global coverage, if you have not heard, Ethiopia is starting down a slippery slope to civil war and thousands of people have been displaced, injured, or killed. The political/military regime that was in power for over 20 years up until 2018 (the Tigray People’s Liberation Front-TPLF) is in armed conflict with the Ethiopian national army.
To understand why any of this is happening, we need a 10,000 foot view of the last 40 years. Please keep in mind that what you read here is a combination of my couple of year anecdotal experience and whatever textbook third party-knowledge I have been able to pick up.
In 1974, the Derg, which was an Ethiopia military group backed by communist USSR, overthrew the Ethiopian government and established a communist regime in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. Here, they ruled from 1974 to 1987 causing egregious harm to anyone who apposed them. As the USSR struggled, funding backing the Derg ended and the Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took back Ethiopia while Eritrean People’s Liberation Front took back Eritrea. However, it must be pointed out that the Eritrean/Ethiopia border had been shared during the Derg regime, so families mixed and the formation of the new border in 1991 artificially fractured families and created long-lasting tensions.
Due to the fact that so many of the EPRDF were Tigrayan military people (both men and women fought together), the initial new Ethiopian leaders elected by the people came from the TPLF. The TPLF ran the government from 1995-2018 when civil unrest essentially forced the current prime minister to resign. This triggered the Ethiopian parliament to elect a new leader, Dr. Abiy Ahmed who the world knows for his Nobel Peace Prize award in 2019.
During the ~23-year rule under the TPLF, there had been massive tensions derived form the ethnic minority (Tigrayan TPLF) ruling over the ethnic majority. Although admittedly I do not have any of the verified details, most Ethiopian’s I speak to suggest that political corruption, embezzlement, and ethnic violence was pervasive during this time period.
Prime Minister Abiy’s diplomacy in his first year in Ethiopia focused on justice (towards the wrongs imposed by some members of the TPLF), unity, and peace. Many political prisoners were released, other’s jailed and power was slowly taken away from the TPLF. The decision that helped win him his Peace Prize was the negotiation of peace with Eritrea and the opening of the border for trade. Keep in mind that this border is in Tigray and although there had been tensions between the TPFL and Eritrea since 1991, opening the border benefited everyone, but the Tigrayan families the most. For the first time in 27 years, blood lines were able to reunite. I remember these days well as Mekelle is only a 3ish hour drive away from the border (see the map). Everyone was so happy and it was a beautiful moment for everyone.
Since Abiy was elected by parliament and not by the people, a general election was set to occur in August of 2020, but canceled because of the COVID pandemic. The TPLF rejected this federal decision and held their own elections which the Ethiopian government promptly denied their legitimacy. Since then, tensions have boiled up until November 4th when the national army was sent to Tigray in response to rumors that the TPLF attacked a government defense post in Mekelle.
In the 11 days since, all of the terrifying ingredients of a civil war have been added. The internet and electricity has been cut off to Tigray. When I look at my Telegram messenger for my resident group back in Mekelle, it all says “last seen Nov 03.” Thousands of Ethiopians are pouring into Sudan, Amnesty International has confirmed a senseless and brutal ethnic attack on civilians, and the world begins to wonder if Abiy is attempting to mitigate the violence or instigate it.
Now today, there has also been reports of attacks on nearby airports of Gondar, Bahir Dar and even in Eritrea. It appears that Ethiopia is leveraging its newfound relationship with Eritrea to place additional military pressure on Eritrean’s own former bloodlines.
There is a lot to be upset about here, but what I hate most is that I have no idea what is actually going on there. I have talked about in previous posts that the government will cut internet connection intentionally when civil unrest occurs to stop the spread of information (both true and false). Most Ethiopians would express to me that they liked when the government did this because one false rumor trending on Facebook could be dangerous for everyone. I still don’t feel the same way, but since I have moved back to America, I can easily understand how unsubstantiated rumors can completely manipulate an entire population of people that rely on these small pieces of information from social media to form their internal political and ethical choices.
Nevertheless, because of this lockdown, the world has extremely limited access into what is actually happening in Ethiopia. When I am able to contact my friends outside of Tigray, they express that they are safe, but are extremely scared of what is to come. I am too.
I encourage you all to click and read the links I have added here to help form your own opinions. Although I will not be updating my blog to cover these events (that’s not what I want this blog to be about), I will soon post an update on my life and how it relates to our continued medical work in Ethiopia.