Ethiopia’s Tigray IDPs and The Phantom Blockade

On the question of IDPs there has been concerted international attention given to displaced people from the Tigray region at the onset of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, from November 2020 to July 2021. Their circumstance was given the limelight by many of the mainstream media outlets, and rightfully so. Any conflict leading to mass dislocation should indeed receive attention. However, the displacement in Tigray would later be dwarfed by that of the Amhara and Afar regions which came under attack by militants of the Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF) beginning in August of 2021 to January 2022. Yet, to the chagrin of many Ethiopian Americans, the same mainstream media outlets willfully ignored these IDPs. Their plight did not fit the narrative, which intentionally set out to vilify the government of Ethiopia, while glorifying the adventures of the TPLF. Similar distortions in news reporting were repeated hundreds of times throughout this conflict. And unfortunately, the pattern continues even now.

Enter the current phase of this conflict. After the TPLF’s reckless attempt to seize Addis Ababa failed, the militants were pushed back to their stronghold of Tigray. By January of 2022, the government of Ethiopia had decided not to pursue the TPLF into Tigray, sighting humanitarian reasons in its declared cessation of hostilities. After a brief lull in the conflict, lasting several days only, the TPLF launched another attack against the Afar region. This time farther north and closer to the Tigray region, a strategy which would be more sustainable for the militants than an all-out confrontation with the ENDF. It has become clearer the primary target of this new onslaught are soft civilian targets, with the aim of creating unsustainable dislocation and IDPs to burden the government, while simultaneously creating obstacles for the flow of intentional humanitarian aid into Tigray, which flows through the Afar region from the port of Djibouti. These unscrupulous operations allows the TPLF to play the victim of a “blockade” in what seems to be a coordinated disinformation campaign with participation of some mainstream media addition to humanitarian orgs.

In March of 2022, IDPs from Tigray started to arrive in Amhara region. This revealed two weaknesses in TPLF’s posture. First, its calculous of impeding incoming humanitarian assistance and then blaming it on blockade by the government of Ethiopia failed to convince a critical mass of the “international community”. It had become an obvious phantom blockade. Second, IDPS from Tigray started to arrive in Amhara. This meant the people were choosing with their feet, and leaving TPLF occupied Tigray, for the Amhara, a region that had hitherto been described as hostile to Tigray. A combination of these two events finally forced TPLF to cease obstructing humanitarian aid destined to Tigray via Afar. Not doing so had too many liabilities politically. It showed clearly TPLF was holding the people in Tigray hostage as political bargaining chip.

Nevertheless, the mainstream media, so focused on Tigray victimhood and TPLF exploits has consistently and deliberately ignored the reality described above. In addition to the media, certain international humanitarian organizations have also downplayed this truth, until it became too obvious to ignore, at which point, they simply and conveniently went mute. Nevertheless, these sorts of distortions and inconsistencies which have plagued this conflict have not gone unnoticed by Americans of Ethiopian decent. They have taken to social media as well non-traditional media to counter these false narratives.

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