The constant allegations of a deliberate siege on Ethiopia’s Tigray by the some members of the international community is baffling. For one, there is no siege or attempt to block humanitarian aid going into Tigray. Apart from interruptions caused by flare ups in fighting, the government of Ethiopia has done everything in its power to avert a humanitarian crisis by allowing unfettered humanitarian access by land and by air. Yet to no avail, many in Western policy circles continue to accuse the government of Ethiopia of deliberately starving its own people.
Putting aside racist connotations of the “beastly African” leader depriving his or her subjects, the drum beat “siege” accusations have fallen on deaf ears exactly because people on the ground know this to be untrue. This is demonstrated by the stark difference in tone by humanitarian operations on the ground versus those calling the shots in Geneva, London, or Washington. Repeatedly, local representatives of the UN’s World Food Program, USAID and other have commended efforts being made to facilitate the flow of aid into the Tigray region. A leaked audio interview by UN’s Ethiopia migration chief, Maureen Achieng in October 2021 revealed the extent to which HQ has tried to intimidate and silence on the ground aid workers. Undoubtedly, superiors who are far removed from on the theater have struck the opposite tone, affirming the deeply politicized nature of the humanitarian aid bureaucracy.
It is difficult to imagine how the government of Ethiopia would benefit from starving its own people in the 21st century. These cynical claims are either highly diluted or deceitful. In short, famine is political suicide for anyone at the helm. Even an unelected self-serving autocrat knows that much. Ethiopian authorities are also keenly aware from their own country’s history the implications of famine for political stability. If anything, making sure famine is averted is a key priority among the leadership in Addis Ababa. Moreover, their actions demonstrate this willingness.
Indeed, food security is a top priority of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Recently, the country has sought to transform its agriculture, particularly with cluster farming of wheat, a key staple food in the Horn of Africa. The country’s ministry of agriculture plans to double current levels by the end of 2023 and begin exporting to global markets. So far, Ethiopia’s total grain output has jumped 70%, a remarkable achievement in a short period of time. However, in true “Manufacturing Consent” style no mention of these achievements is to be found in the Western mainstream media. Instead, and ironically, all the hoopla is around shipment of wheat from Ukraine supposedly destined for Ethiopia docking at port Djibouti.
Despite ongoing insurgent wars in the north and west, the country continues to balance key national developmental goals, including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance hydroelectric dam. This impressive juggling act has garnered little international mainstream media attention or praise. Indeed, something much deeper has changed. The once darling of the international aid community seems to have had a falling out recently. But why? Could it be their cliental no longer occupies the national palace?
Interestingly, these calls to lift the “chokehold” on Tigray reach a crescendo whenever TPLF’s position is in deep crisis, like say, when Ethiopian troops are advancing. Those same cries however fall silent when the opposite is true, and TPLF seemingly has the advantage. Very recently, in the past few days, the one-sided humanitarian truce was broken as TPLF forces began an offensive on several fronts. It did not take long for the rebels, using human wave tactics to be checked, however. The planned third round insurgency seems to have stymied, and Ethiopia’s army will likely continue to pursue TPLF’s rebels further. If the recent past is of any indication, it is at this exact moment the “humanitarians” jump into high gear to save the TPLF.
Already a flurry of commentary and news about the ongoing “siege on Tigray” has become top story again. Coincidentally, a USAID general discussion on famine in the Horn Africa focusing mainly on Ethiopia was also opened to the public today. Finally, an opinion piece to bolster the phantom claims “siege” include Foreign Policy’s mouthful “Africa Must Do Its Part to Break Ethiopia’s Abusive Tigray Siege”, published on August 31st, 2022, by Kenneth Roth or Human Rights Watch. Based on previous experience this upsurge in activity surely correlates with TPLF’s setbacks. In any case, the African Union’s peace initiative was and is admirable, but TPLF leaders failed to show up, instead choosing to lay down a gantlet of preconditions. In any case, the group currently finds itself busy disparaging AU-led efforts along and chief mediator, Olusegun Obasanjo.
A missing fact in all of this is that a majority of Tigray’s rural population are still able to feed themselves through time tested subsistence agriculture. Much like the rest of Ethiopia rural subsistence farmers need critical fertilizer inputs, but not once have we heard an outcry about fertilizer by the “humanitarians”. Indeed, if the population can farm, increasing their output rather than creating more aid dependency would be an obvious starting point. Still, the goal appears to be the opposite, and there is no better partner to facilitate aid addiction than the TPLF leadership, which seeks to turn Tigray’s entire population into conscripts for its senseless war of aggression using food aid bait as one of its cynical tools.
UN Officials recent reports of humanitarian aid warehouses being looted by TPLF forces in Mekelle is not news. The Ethiopian public has long been aware of similar crimes. Even the aid agencies no longer hide this fact. But along this story, came revelation humanitarian aid warehouses are full in Mekelle, and yet no aid had been distributed. Late August to mid-October is typically peak food insecurity season in the Ethiopian highlands including Tigray. This period, which comes after the rainy planting season is usually when rural communities have depleted their food stocks while awaiting the next harvest. So, amid the cries of looming famine, why hasn’t the distribution started? Certainly, accountability is missing here.
The last time when Tigray’s ill-fated rebel leaders struck the nation’s northern command, it took but a few weeks for Ethiopia’s national defense forces to reverse TPLF’s fortunes and oust its leadership. Even after having commandeered Ethiopia’s entire northern army resources, the rebels fell apart in days before ENDF marched into Mekelle. It was only after outcries of impending humanitarian doom that the group was able to be resuscitated from its shellshock. Perhaps calling into question the real role of the international “humanitarian” aid officialdom in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict. The layers upon layers of politics and deception that lurks underneath the global humanitarian aid complex is perpetuating the conflict by emboldening TPLF leaders.