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The Fleeting Promise of a Peaceful Ethiopia (The Atlantic)

Post by sarcasm » 03 May 2021, 12:39

A new prime minister was met with overwhelming optimism that he would help stem the country’s long-standing tensions. But military violence in the Tigray region dispels any hope of a unified republic.


The morning after the 2020 presidential election, as ballots were still being counted in several battleground states and then-President Donald Trump drummed up dangerous conspiracy theories about the impending results, many Ethiopians in the U.S. woke up to distressing political news from back home, too. The Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had announced a military offensive in Tigray, the northernmost region of the East African country. The six months since then have exacerbated the tensions that existed well before Ahmed’s tenure, but that many had hoped he would assuage. Now the political situation in Ethiopia is playing out with deadly consequences for civilians in the Horn of Africa, and with dire implications for those throughout the diaspora.

Shared minutes after internet and telephone services were shut down in much of Tigray, Ahmed’s Facebook post stated that he’d deployed federal troops to the area in the early hours of November 4 to combat ongoing aggression from the region’s insurgent political party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. He accused the TPLF of specific attacks on a federal defense camp, as well as vaguer offenses such as crossing the “final red line” and forcing his government to retain “a policy of extreme patience.” The prime minister characterized the military action as a targeted operation meant only to remove a small cadre of dissidents from power. And despite its clear rebuke of the TPLF, Ahmed’s original post included references to healing the nation and moving its people forward with a “calm spirit.”

But in the months since the prime minister first vowed “to save the country and the region” by ousting TPLF, a more troubling picture has emerged. Witness accounts, reports from human-rights organizations and the U.S. government, and satellite imagery from the embattled areas all point to a much broader campaign of violence—against Tigrayan civilians, hospitals, schools, and places of worship. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned what he named “acts of ethnic cleansing,” calling for unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray and an independent investigation into the alleged human-rights abuses. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied those charges as “completely unfounded and spurious,” but Ahmed later admitted that “atrocities have been committed in Tigray region” and that troops from neighboring Eritrea had caused “damages” to the people.

Speaking on a Signal call from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, one Tigrayan man, who asked to remain unnamed because of safety concerns, told me that the violence from both countries’ militias hasn’t been confined to strategic locations. It’s overtaken much of the region, he said, citing the factories, homes, and sacred religious sites he’d seen destroyed in his hometown, Aksum. “When you go down the street, you have to walk over so many corpses … Animals aren’t even killed like that.” (The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, and the prime minister’s spokesperson declined to comment. The Eritrean Ministry of Information did not respond to a request for comment.)

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