The War in Tigray
Bladen county north carolina made national headlines in two thousand eighteen when a congressional race was thrown out due election fraud. The story behind that election is actually a story of a series of election fights. Fueled by personal grudges petty beefs family history and history history and it's about the oldest fight of all the fight for the black vote. I'm zoe chase host of the improvement association from the makers of cereal and the new york times. Find it wherever you get your podcast from new york times. I'm michael bavaro. This is the daily today. How the leader of ethiopia went from winning the nobel peace prize to undertaking a military campaign. That over the past few months has killed thousands displeased millions and led to claims of ethnic cleansing. Sabrina taverny spoke with our colleague chief. Africa correspondent declan. Walsh it's wednesday. June sixteenth declan. What's happening right now in ethiopia. So if you'll be just about to hold a major election now normally. This would be a cold for celebration. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in africa. Just a couple of years ago. It was seen as this grey democratic hope for the continent and instead yoga is in this terrible state. There is a civil war raging in the north of the country. There is being widespread reports of massacres and other human rights abuses there's a looming famine potentially involving millions of people and read this point where this nation that just a couple of years ago was seen as an anchor for the region of the horn of africa but also hope for the content on the hull is now staggering through this conflict and some people say even tumbling to a place where the country itself could be on the point of unraveling and i think that really just gets to the broader question of. Why didn't we see this coming. So declan what's the answer to that question. I think finance her. We've gotta look back in the history. If you'll be this country that was never colonized. And through the twentieth century this country was ruled by an emperor until the nineteen seventies and then for a period it is ruled by this brutal marxist dictatorship thou- really sort of ravages the place and eventually is ousted in nineteen ninety-one by a rebel group that seizes control and it's led by people from tigray. Which is this region. Right in the north of ethiopia up on the border with our trail the two grains take power and they run the country for almost thirty years. It is a period of stability. If you start to develop economically and the country begins to cast off the image that so many people associated with ethiopia which is with the terrible famine that devastated the country back in the nineteen eighties so there is great progress but it comes at a high price. Under the to grains ethiopia is effectively a one party state there are no proper elections speak of the presses quite curtailed political opponents have been thrown in jail and from about two thousand and sixteen. This whole system starts to run out of road effectively. Anti-government protests are erupting in several parts of the country. The police repressive in a very heavy handed way and then in two thousand and eighteen. The government surprises everyone by making a significant concession to the opposition it effectively fires the man who was the prime minister and in his place a couple of a way to yes. I knew relatively unknown guy clothes beyond much as to who is meant what we know about him. So he's young guy in his early forties. He's from oromia which is home to the largest ethnic group in ethiopia. Thirty five million people about one third of the population and the romo's with these people who have felt marginalized for decades. They feel they've been excluded from power and so i'll be on for them represents this hope for a return to the corridors of power. If you like on top of that. He's dynamic. He has served in the military. He started off as an intelligence officer. But later rose through the ranks of politics so for the two grains and when i say the to grains i mean the tigray people's liberation front that's the main party in the tigray region. I'll be represents a safe pair of hands. Because in fact he was already part of the ruling government so they figured that he would guarantee the continuation of the same system of rule and guaranteed the interests of the degree in political elite. So declan what does he do when he first comes to power well. He immediately defies all of the expectations. That people had for him in two thousand eighteen when he comes to power. He sets about undoing the decades of iron-fisted to grain rue he throws open. The prisons allows political prisoners to walk free. He invites home from exile if european who had been living abroad and then soon after that he does this totally unexpected thing. The half a century then nations fought wars g reaches out to eritrea. Ups archrival eyeing each other wearily across the fiercely disputed border country. They've been out war with technically for two decades and he says i wanna make peace ethiopia's new prime minister took the first step a surprise and controversial decision to accept a long-delayed peace deal and before you know it they've signed this landmark peace deal bringing the conflict between these two countries to an end. Throw these extraordinary scenes where the first commercial flights in decades between these two countries are taking place. The border is open and there is this real accents that here is this inspirational leader. Who's not only opened up politics at home. He's also reached out to if ups biggest full and made peace with them virtually overnight so it sounds like this is really above and beyond anything. Anyone expected this new leader to produce absolutely and then at the end of two thousand nineteen after just eighteen months in power. I now call upon the noble peace prize laureate of twenty nine teen to come forward and give his nobel lecture prime minister nobel peace prize comes knocking and they award the most prestigious prize to be armored. I am honored to be here with you. Today and grateful wage in nobel committee in recognition of the peace deal with eritrea. We have released all political prisoners. Have shutdown attention facilities where torture and human rights abuses took place but also for his domestic reforms at home and for helping to turn ethiopia into this country that suddenly hope for the region and indeed for the continent we are creating. that is second to none and it's gone off rhythms of expression while the nobel peace prize. That is quite an honor. It was amazing. So low login nagging monday king of auto piece shelby up on all of us. Thank you very much but in the middle of that is somewhat odd thing happens. When i'll be ov goes to oslo to collect his prize. He refuses to hold a press conference to answer questions from journalists which is normally the tradition among recipients of the nobel prize. Why wouldn't he want to talk to the press but wasn't really tear at the time. Why but in retrospect it's been seen as a sign of problems with obama's leadership that were brewing back at home in ethiopia and what was happening back at home. Well there are these ethnic conflicts erupting in several parts of the country where you have these ethnic groups that are seeking greater independence for their region and their mounting protests against government. You know we think of opium as this one unified country but in fact it's got over hundred ethnic groups and so during the thirty years of rule that preceded this one party state had kind of kept a lid on all of those tensions between ethnic groups that were competing for power when ambience merge through open the floodgates and liberalize the system in many ways all of those tensions suddenly came bursting out and flowing over and he is struggling to contain it. What does he do in response. So that's where things really start to go wrong. His response is actually to go back to the way things where he starts to lockup some of his opponents the press starts coming under pressure again. The police start behaving with great brutality against protesters and suddenly ethiopia. This brief moment of hope starts to feel like it's backsliding and that. I'll be honored suddenly now starting to move back towards being sort of tar -tarian that he was supposed to have replaced so he's really doing this one eighty on so many of these reforms that he put in place when he came in in just a short period of time right. I mean everything that drew all of that positive international attention in the first place. Yeah he's reverting to the old playbook and not only that he's turning on the people who put him in power and it becomes apparent that obvious creating this kind of political time bomb that would eventually go off with huge forest last november. We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by america's leading beverage companies working together to reduce plastic waste in our environment not all plastic is the same america's beverage companies are carefully designing one hundred percent recyclable plastic bottles including the cops. Their bottles are made to be remade and they're investing in community recycling programs to help get more bottles back so they can be turned into material to make new bottles that completes the circle and reduces plastic. Waste please help get back. Learn more at every bottle back dot orc sedan. What you mean by political time bomb well. As ibn ahmed consolidated his power one thing he did was to basically turn on the people who put him there. You remember the two grands around the country for thirty years. They thought he was going to be a continuity candidate but very quickly he started to turn on those two grand leaders marginalizing them from power and then initiating these prosecutions against some of the former rulers of the country for human rights abuses corruption. Other things like that as actively biting the hand that fed him. I mean these are the people who ruled for thirty years and he is effectively stripping them of power that's why and it creates a huge problem for him because you know his project suddenly now faces these two huge challenges he's got protests erupting in some parts of the country based on these ethnic demands and then at the same time he's wrestling with these powerful grain politicians who feel that he has discriminated against him and his treating them unfairly and then in the middle of all of this comes covert and like many other leaders. Around the world albion decides. He needs to postpone the elections that he had promised for august of last year but because the political situation in the country is so phibro always opponents are suddenly up in arms and they're saying he's doing this because he's using the pandemic as an excuse to avoid an election he doesn't want to contest this crisis continues to build and it climaxes in september when the two grains go ahead with elections in their own province in defiance of the orders of the central government. And that only exacerbates this crisis with abby ahmed and pushes it to a new level. So that the krantz respond by defying. How does avi respond well. The government's first step is to try and cut funding to the two grand who in turn respond by saying we no longer respect the legitimacy of the government so things are really getting tense through the month of september and october and then it really escalates when there are reports that the government is moving military units around inside tigray there is a total collapse and trust between the two sides and then in the early hours of morning of november fourth while the entire world has its attention fixed on the us election. I'll be honored in the middle of the night issues. The statement to say that degrades have carried out an attack on a federal military base. And he has been forced to respond with a military action against two grains while so obvious bed sort of quietly send in troops while the international community's attention is elsewhere is this an invasion of tegray. Well he calls it a law and order operation against what the european government calls a criminal fugitive politicians who have defied the a cars you have government and need to be brought to justice and ambiance tells ethiopians that this is going to be over in a matter of weeks and in fact a one point even goes to the point of telling people that will be entirely bloodless very quickly. It becomes clear that that is not what is happening. So what happens declan. What are we start seeing. Well in the early first couple of months we just do not really know what's going on in tigray there is a media blackout the internet and the food services are completely off. The government is preventing workers or journalists from entering the area and so us at new york times and other reporters were really struggling to find out. What's going on. But we hear enough to know that it is very serious there are these grain refugees streaming across the border into sudan and they bring accounts not only if the fighting but also of attacks on civilians and even some massacres. But it's only when things really open up from around the end of january early february that the scale of what's going on in tigray really becomes apparent declan when you talk about the scale. What were some of the things that were happening. There was widespread losing by soldiers and massacres of civilians. Who were dying in their dozens. Sometimes hundreds in a single incident forces entered and burned out homes and killed people. They left us with nothing so he fled here to sedan those unable or unwilling to flee with slaughtered by government troops. They said maybe was on. The street was killed so many people were lay down. You can see them bleed. The city stop to smell. I left with my parents and my child what we were now. We have nothing. We fled from death and murder. There were accounts of horrific sexual violence that they gave to every house and force the men to leave. We don't care about you. They said we only listen to our urges dynasty. Gonna some girls that. I managed to leave the village but on the road. More than ten soldiers took turns raping us hundreds of cases of rape reported which probably means that this far far more women that have been fred. Say that the things that they say to them when they were writing them is that they need to change their entity and they they've come to clinch plays. The blunt likely cleans the bloodline in the west of tigray. There are reports of ethnic cleansing forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and everywhere across the region throughout these reports of hunger. People stores of food have been looted. Farmers aren't able to plant their crops and people are starting to starve. We don't have enough food shelter sleeping materials and clothing before. The war fed our children three times a day but now we cannot and yet the ethiopian government is blocking relief groups from reaching the most vulnerable people and declan all of this violence. The murder and the rape is all of this on the orders of prime minister. Abi at first he denies it but as reporters and aid workers start to get access to tigray. The terrible reality on the ground is undeniable. Now it's important to say and the un stresses this that all sides to this conflict including and rebels have carried out abuses but it's also true that the vast majority of those abuses are being committed by the ethiopian military and tallies and declan who are its allies. What do you mean by that. When albion the ghost war in tigray he doesn't just send in the european military. He needs help. The ethiopians can't hold on this region on their own and then to the great surprise of just about everybody that helped comes from eritrea. Dealed fu whose forces crossed the border entity. Great and start fighting alongside the ethiopian military. Wow so this is abi ally with a foreign power eritrea. A country that ethiopia itself fought a bitter war with the. He concluded the peace deal with in order to attack his own people. It's absolutely astonishing and so in the early weeks of this campaign. You have these airtran soldiers. That are boosting the government's effort to defeat the two grants and for the eritreans themselves. This is kind of payback because remember a couple of decades earlier. They'd fought this war with european largely against to grand soldiers and for them. This is their opportunity to come. And some measure. Take their revenge to declan. What's happening now with a conflict. Dwar is rumbling. On the to crayons are mostly in a mountainous region in the center of the country. They are fighting against the government forces and elsewhere in tigray. The region has been pretty much destroyed. Its economy is on its knees. The banks closed the phone. Still largely. don't work and the humanitarian situation is especially dire aid groups. Say that over five million people in tigray urgently need immediate food assistance and that three hundred and fifty thousand people are already living in famine conditions. And if things don't get better by next september the region could be in the grip of a famine on a scale that hasn't been seen in ethiopia in decades and at the same time there is huge international pressure on beyond the now to stop the fighting immediately and to send those airtran troops home. Who are doing so much damage and instead of that. We're having an election right. I almost forgot about the election. What's happening with that well. It's been postponed a couple of times. But it's going ahead next monday for ibm mode. It's important to face the voters for the first time because when he came to power in two thousand eighteen he was installed by zone party. Nobody elected him. And it's boost to be this key milestone on ethiopia's journey towards democracy but declan. How did he hold an election in the middle of a civil war. Well the short answer is that the election is not going to take place in several parts of the country. It's not gonna take place in tigray at all. And there are several other regions where ethnic violence has been flaring. The government has effectively imposed a kind of localized military rule in those areas. So that already. We know that the vote won't be taking place in those places. The european union has refused to send election monitors and the state department issued a statement. Just last friday saying that it's gravely concerned about the conditions in the country. When this vote is gonna take place so declan hearing you lay all of this out and seeing how quickly abi and ethiopia have turned essentially in a span of eighteen months. He's gone from nobel peace prize winner to alleged ethnic cleanser. How did the world the nobel committee in in foreign leaders everywhere so drastically miscalculate. I think part of the answer is the this is a story people wanted to believe in they wanted. Ibm to succeed. Perhaps desperately and i think that people's view of what was going on on the ground meat. Gop was a little obscured by the dazzle of the nobel peace prize. It's interesting. I've been speaking to several western officials in sources about this and one of them said to me. You know in the west because we don't pay that much attention. What goes on in africa. We tend to categorize african leaders either as soaring hopes and democratic If you like and bad guys and after he won the nobel peace prize especially beyond was very firmly. Put in the category of a good guy. And there's a real sense that people took the ri- of the bowl and they weren't paying attention to the warning signs of what has now come to pass in the country with such tragic consequences for ordinary ethiopians. I mean essentially what you're saying is the world wanted to believe it him that the international community wanted him to be a hero and so they made him one because that was what they wanted to see up. -solutely so where are we now with ethiopia. What's going to happen there. you know. There's a real sense that the world is now waking up to what's going on and their constant coals for an immediate ceasefire the united states has blocked visas for some ezio paean officials. They have block some international financing for the european government. And really that's just the start. Probably of measures against ethiopia if things continue but it's a way to try and pressure with european government to pull back from the brink of this war and it kind of gets to the broader view of the international community. At this point officials are telling me this isn't just about a devastating civil war or even about this tragic famine that is looming but this is about very stability of ethiopian state. When you look at all of these sort of centrifugal forces that are pulling the country apart arguably in places the question is now not just whether dpa can be persuaded to pull back or some sort of peace settlement can start but whether they can stop this. What some people are looking. On as a kind of unraveling that is starting to pull the country apart at the scenes jecklin. Thank you treasure We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by america's leading beverage companies. Were working together to reduce plastic least in our environment. Their carefully designing their bottles and caps to one hundred percent recyclable. So every bottle can be remade into a new one. Please help every bottle back. Learn more at every bottle back dot work. Here's what else you need today. This is a momentous day and we deserve it because it has been a long long road and on tuesday the governors of both new york and california dropped virtually all remaining covid nineteen restrictions on businesses and social gatherings after more than seventy percent of adults in both states had received at least one dose of a vaccine. What does seventy percent mean. It means that we can now return to life as we know in new york for instance restaurants and movie theaters no longer be required to space tables or seats six feet apart. Despite that progress the times reports that in the coming days the us death toll from covid nineteen will surpass six hundred thousand experts said that it was unvaccinated americans who are largely responsible for the lingering deaths and for the grim new milestone. Today's episode was produced by sydney harbour. Luke vanderploeg and daniel g met with help from lauren jackson. It was edited by m j davis limp and engineered by chris would. That's it for the daily. I'm michael borrow seat him. This podcast is supported by america's leading beverage companies working together to reduce plastic waste in our environment not all plastic is the same america's beverage companies are carefully designed in one hundred percent recyclable plastic bottles including the cops. Their bottles are made to be remade and they're investing in community recycling programs to help get more bottles back so they can be turned into material to make new bottles that completes the circle and reduces plastic waste. Please help get every bottle back. Learn more at every bottle. Back dot org.