Message from a resident in Tigray as Ethiopia shows signs of dialogue

How our lives “turned into a joke”

We used to have this inside joke in my friend circle long before the war started. It started as a witty comment made to mock one of our friends who has a habit of evading splitting the bill whenever we go out together. 

Our group comprises bachelors who are civil servants who regularly hang out over meals and beer. When the bills come, this friend always drags his feet to contribute his share, often successfully evading payment. Another friend who was tired of this said, “My friend do you receive your salary in the form of wheat flour? How come you never have cash on you?”

The joke stuck on in our circle but we never would have imagined that it would be our reality. After the war, people from all walks of life including Professors, Doctors, Teachers, and civil servants now swell up the queues at aid agencies for rations of wheat. 

Our lives turned into a joke, literally!

Employees haven’t received their salaries for more than seven months since the federal government blocked all banking services and put strict control over every penny coming into Tigray.

The more unfortunate ones are perishing in hunger daily. In rural areas, it’s common to see severely malnourished skinny children are everywhere. More and more elderly people are going out on the streets seeking alms.

Tigray has been systematically besieged. With the cutting of basic humanitarian needs, countless innocent civilians were subjected to unbearable suffering. Supplies in the market have depleted to the last drop. Parents who can’t afford the skyrocketing prices of the last few packs of baby diapers have resorted to using folded rags instead. 

Not everybody is suffering out of poverty. Even well-to-do families with significant amounts of savings in the banks are going through this misery and woe because they are denied access to their hard-won resources. They are deprived of their basic rights, by design, by the very government that is supposed to protect them.

It is becoming crystal clear that the Ethiopian government has neither the will nor intention to separate between the people of Tigray and the combatants in the war. This is evidenced by the continued indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian houses and market areas throughout Tigray, in addition to the blockade. 

I believe the blockade is being used as a strategy to starve the people of Tigray into submission. It resembles the “surrender or starve” tactic used by previous dictatorial regimes against the people of Tigray. This strategy has not yielded fruits of military gain in the past, nor will it today.

It will only bring a never-before-seen catastrophe. The more this tactic is employed, the more innocent lives are lost. Adults are dying from a lack of medical treatment, countless unvaccinated children will perish from starvation. 

This tactic will only fuel stronger resistance against the government. More young people, university graduates, taxi drivers, farmers who felt breaking the siege is a matter of survival are joining the Tigray Defense Forces. The continued blockade is reinforcing people’s belief that there is an all-out effort to wipe out every single Tigrayan.

For someone who saw their loved one die a preventable death from lack of medication, what is left to hope for?

Chemotherapy hasn’t been available for months now. Even the most basic medical supplies like gloves have become a luxury to the point where Physicians are operating by putting on plastic bags. Very essential medications for HIV, Tuberculosis, diabetes, and hypertension are getting scarce. 

I remember the incident where the realization struck me how catastrophic the situation has become in Tigray.

Last week, an old acquaintance approached me while I was having coffee and asked me if the truck parked nearby belonged to me. I told him it was not mine and asked him if he was okay.  He looked disturbed and in a hurry. He then briefly told me how a man has died because he hadn’t taken his HIV medication for months. A truck was needed to transport the body but it wasn’t easy to find one. There is an acute shortage of fuel across Tigray.

One is considered lucky to find a liter of benzene for electric generation Tigray’s capital Mekelle. It’s hard to imagine how the less developed towns and cities are functioning.  

Electric power suppliers were repeatedly targeted in the war leaving millions in the dark. 

What is more perplexing in all this is how the world turned a blind eye to the misery of the people of Tigray. Why isn’t the international community trying to do something practical apart from issuing statements of “grave concern”?

Let me tell you another story before I conclude. 

Recently I was with a group of friends at our hang-out spot. (Nowadays, people have to come to certain public places to check up on each other since there are no other means of communication) 

When we were having some chit chat about current issues, one of our friends playfully twisted the arm of the other. Then she pleaded for our rescue particularly looking at the one she thought would certainly come to her rescue.

But he responded by saying “I am gravely concerned, dear friend”.

Everybody burst out into laughter and we didn’t discuss it further. But it keeps coming to my mind whenever I think of the situation we are in. That is how we actually feel and understand the international community’s response to the Tigray situation. Mere expression of pity!

The international community must dispose of its responsibility by stepping up action to end the suffering of the people of Tigray. A lot of time to end this violence has been wasted because of its reluctance to act in a way that matches its capacity.

However, the world still has time to make things right and initiate a peaceful dialogue between all warring parties.

This starts with helping to break the siege on the Tigray region. Lifting the blockade of basic services and aid would be a great start for the Ethiopian government to pave a way for dialogue and demonstrate its will for actual peace.

The people of Tigray have always shown their wish and readiness for peace. No Tigrayan mother wants her child on the battlefield unless it is necessary for her and her child’s survival. All the people of Tigray wanted was peace until they are left with no other option but to fight to survive. 

The international community, therefore, has the responsibility to make sure that there are other options.

Editor’s note: The author is a resident of Mekelle whose name is withheld for the time being. 

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