Is Addis Ababa My Home Anymore?
By Yosef* November 14, 2020
I have lived in this city for a good chuck of my adult life. I went to college here, in Mengistu’s time, and headed to become a civil servant. I lived here more than in Tigray where I come from. I called it home and it was, indeed, my home. Really, it was at least until the night of November 3rd. While busy watching the CNN coverage of the American election, Bang!, my friend from the US calls and alerts me to Abiy Ahmed’s ungodly hour televised statement declaring war on Tigray.
What my friend and I didn’t know was how fast and wide that statement could go. I never slept.
The day broke, with lots of ugly happenings.
A lady who earns her modest living by preparing spices for small eateries was harassed by a group of vendors for changing her mind about buying their onions. She fast disappeared in the crowd only to be again bullied by another group. She lived her entire life here in Addis Ababa. He Amharic, without a trace of accents, is impeccable. She was not sure why she was being intimidated until she was alerted to her braided hair that was typically Tigrayan. Almost immediately, she covered her head, hurried home and untangled it. Now no one will know where she is from. In the safety of tasteless nonentity, she became them; the very people who hounded her. Never knowing for how long?
But this Tigrayan, a middle-aged man, was unlucky. He had a typical Tigrayan scar on his face. He had to hide somewhere until the war now raging is brought to an end; that nobody knows how and when. I am told that somewhere is the home of a distant relative. Meanwhile, the public space is not for him.
Another Tigrayan with a classic Tigrayan name was left choice-less. This town that is busy checking Identity Cards of its residents was no place for him. He bribed a district official, got a brand new ID card with a classic Amhara name, and headed south with Kenya as his destination. Definitely one of the countless who are doing same, he probably is now in Moyale, on the Kenyan side.
I was trying to reach this Ethiopian Airlines hostess to get me a pack of prescription medicines on one of her flights back from the US. Until I was told that she was grounded. I now hear there are over a hundred employees of this Africa’s leading airline instructed to stay at home- a euphemism for “fired.” A company that has done well representing Africa and its success, a unifying body, and ferried COVID-19 supplies donated by Jack Ma to several countries on the continent, is incapable of showing that within its corporate offices.
That was thanks to Abiy Ahmed’s clear instructions that night he came on television and said he was at war with Tigray. “Look for the unusual in your neighborhoods,” he instructed the people who may heed his call.
The rest is statistics. The “unusual” were Tigrayns.
Does that sound familiar? To me, this smacks of Rwanda; every bit of what happened in the run to 1994 genocide.
One of the most unaudited figures in Ethiopian politics that targeted Tigrayans as the mayor of Adama and later at the Ministry of Revenues, and also as Attorney General, Adanech Abebe continued her foolhardy charges when she tweeted last week thanking Addis Ababans for helping her get “2000 tips” on Tigrayans in the city “who were suspect.” By now, they must be in concentration camps in Adama and elsewhere here in town. According to the latest report I received, close to 40,000 Tigrayns are now incarcerated since Abiy declared that war the day America was voting. Tigrayans in the Ethiopian Civil Service including the Mayor’s administration are kicked out. The army has purged all its Tigrayan generals all the way to the lowest ranks including those from Peace Keeping Missions in Somalia and Abiye. They have jumped into Ethiopian embassies with Tigrayns reportedly being told to hand over their passports. If you are a Tigrayan and would like to travel, well, forget it. A new instruction requires travelers to produce their local identity cards. From those cards, they will know your ethnicity. If you have filled another ethnicity in the card, then your name will betray you. Even those with foreign passports- Americans of Ethiopian/Tigrayan origin, for instance- are not spared. What happened so far? Many missed critical medical appointments, not a few were taken to prisons straight from the airport. “To be investigated later,” they were told.
I have always felt Abiy was doing exactly what Isaias Afewerki has and is doing inside Eritrea that devoured its young and made the country a technically failed state.
Just on the heels of the September 11 attacks in the US and when the world’s attention was anchored in that direction, Isaias threw all his erstwhile comrades in dungeons simply because they said they needed to sit down and talk about the future of their country. Jailing journalists and closing the vibrant media that was barely getting off the ground followed that. Twenty years have passed since. And Abiy did just the same. He put all formidable politicians behind bars, and stifled the press. Go pick any paper published in town, go tune to any of the tv stations in the country, and tell me I am wrong.
Isias, house-arrested Abune Antonios, the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, a man in his nineties, for 13 years and counting. And Abiy just did that to Abune Mathias, the Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, a Tigrayan. In his last sermon at Meskel Square’s Demera event, he boldly called for negotiations among the political parties and to then “let the people decide.” In the weeks that followed, a coup in the church orchestrated by primarily the Amhara rendered him ineffectual. His two assistants were arrested. Alone and with the CCTV installed in all the residence of bishops and not his, the patriarch is in clear danger.
Isais created a cobweb of spies inside Eritrea and Abiy followed suit. In fact he segued into a bizarre intervention. When the CEO of RIDE, the equivalent of the US’s Uber, resisted the Addis Ababa city administration’s demand to daily handover all the client’s data, Abiy reportedly went ahead buying sedans for his foot soldiers as well as assets and had them sign up. In most cases, the targets are Tigrayns.
What do you really do? When,
-What you call your very own can’t protect you but actually conspires with outsiders to crush you?
-The whole Tigray is encircled, prevented from receiving food aid meant for the over 1 million needy that the Ethiopian government never paid a penny for?
-When Tigray- though the second top to generate the highest annual revenue to the central treasury- is stripped of the budget it deserves?
-When the central government cuts all forms of communication (internet, mobile telephony, landlines) to the region in this age of Coid-19?
-When the central government cuts all power to Tigray with all the hospitals providing critical services are condemned to total darkness. And when the Tigrayan technicians manage to manipulate the Tekezze Dam’s sub-station, the government goes ahead and bombs it and turn the whole Tigray dark again?
-Abiy Ahmed instructs, via a television appearance- the bombing of Tigrayn towns and villages for days on end culminating in tons of casualties and entire villages relocating to the refugee camps in Sudan?
-Television stations in Tigray are jammed (often unsuccessfully, though) and only the government and affiliate station are meant to be the source of all “news and info” (often lies) and shameless propaganda that banks in encouraging ethnic cleansing?
-The government never allows the international media to travel to Tigray and only allowed to report from Addis Ababa side of the war zone?
-The media is either completely silenced or made to beat the war drum with such nationalist fervor we have only seen during the dying hours of the Dergue?
-Aid agencies, humanitarian agencies, denied access to Tigary in a bid to provide much needed assistance, are all mum in the heat of all these deaths?
-The EU goes behind the door to do silent politicking in the wave of clear and distinct crimes against humanity in the making? Just as it did in Eritrea.
-The UN can’t go beyond saying “de-escalation”?
-The AU also miserably fails like the UN?
-IGAD, a victim of Abiy and Isaias coalescing, proves itself technically dead by just posting a press release that is so banal?
-America is tied in transition politics and only limited to sending intermittent calls for same “de-escalation” and cessation of hostilities?
-The “wise men” and those “voices of reason” that we thought would come forward have totally disappeared from the spot?
Where is a Tigrayan supposed to cling to when all that is absent from the scene?
And when are the UN, the AU and IGAD, and all those that are supposed to check in first, going to say it loud and clear- that Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea is at war with Tigray, and of course in cahoots with Abiy Ahmed? Isn’t his involvement in the battle in Weston Tigray by handling the heavy artillery fire not enough? Does the world want to see him again like we did this weekend when he tried to launch an offensive from the Zalambessa and Rama sides in northern Tigray? The world must stop Abiy from his delusional bravado of involving Isaias Afewrki, who several times claimed that he has stake in Ethiopia. A take that he said should end with the demise of the TPLF.
Meanwhile, the Tigrayan manhunt continues. Just this week, the World Food Program (WFP), this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been instructed by the government of Abiy Ahmed, last year’s laureate, to hand him the list of Tigrayns working for it in the Amhara Region. I hope, the WFP will display the moral authority on the ground and say NO WAY! Several international organizations have reportedly received similar requests. But can you imagine, for a second, that this was happening in a country run by a man who must obviously have deceived Oslo?
I have called many Tigrayan friends to check the speed with which this ethnic cleaning is progressing. Most of the cell phones were switched off. Some of them work for international organizations. They must have been kicked out or left the country or simply disappeared into silence until the tsunami exits. All said, the volume of Tigrigna speaking in public has shrunk; lest they attract the attention of the one sitting next. And you could be reported to security following the Abiy Ahmed’s televised instructions that day America went to the polls.
Could I be next?
That is what every Tigrayan is feeling like now.
*The writer is a retired Tigrayan civil servant in Bole, Addis Ababa.