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The People of Tigray Should be the Priority

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According to the last estimate from the World Food Programme, there are 5.4 million people in Tigray who need outside food assistance. As of six weeks from the Cessation of Hostilities, more than 3.5 million Tigrayans who need food have not received any. This should have been enough time to finish the current food distribution round. After all of the well celebrated progress made in the last two months of 2022, aid is still being blocked from reaching the areas of Tigray where it is needed the most. Due to a lack of transparency and oversight, it is not possible to know precisely who is responsible for blocking the delivery of food, but it is either the Ethiopian government or their Eritrean/Fano allies.

Food has been pouring into Tigray. Fuel is more limited, but it is available. There does not appear to have been active fighting for months in most of the blockaded areas. Yet, civilians who could not flee far enough from the fighting are still being deliberately starved. Tigrayan families are left to face famine on their own, as they have done in most cases for more than two years. This is where we are right now as allies.

As an outsider, it is not my role to directly influence the path of advocacy or action for Tigray. I only present data and analysis. But the goal, as I see it, remains crystal clear. There are still millions in Tigray who need food and medicine right now to survive. They need protection from violence. They need support from outside of Tigray to stop the genocide that is taking place inside Tigray. These challenges are tragically existential and must remain our priority as long as they are still present.

Narrowing the scope of weaponized starvation is a denial of humanity. 

The blockade on the people of Tigray, in all of its forms, must be lifted entirely. Right now, incremental progress towards establishing humanitarian access to Tigray costs far too many lives to be celebrated. The fundamental rights of Tigrayans are tethered to their humanity, which does not change from one zone of Tigray to the next. The children of Tigray everywhere deserve to be allowed to grow into healthy adults and Tigrayan elders deserve to spend their declining years in whatever comfort can be provided. The people of Tigray deserve life, and more than that, they deserve time to heal and be healed, time to recover and rebuild, time to mourn and grieve.

The Government of Ethiopia wants the world to forget that the people of Tigray exist. This is a shamefully tempting proposition to an alarming number of other governments and multilateral bodies. How many senior officials, policymakers, and world leaders in the past two years have cast themselves as passionate defenders of human rights as a principle in the gilded halls of Western capitals, yet still shrink from defending human life as a practice in Tigray?

This kind of hypocrisy is not just found in the West and does not just affect Tigray. It is the critical factor undermining the battle for universal human rights in the world. When those who claim to be the strongest advocates of human rights are silent in the face of brutality in Tigray that is so staggering in severity and scope, it is a betrayal of humanity itself.

There are 5.4 million Tigrayans who need food to survive right now and hundreds of thousands more who need medicine and healthcare. The people of Tigray are my priority and your priority. They are also the priority of the Tigray Disaster Relief Fund. We cannot rest until they are America’s priority and the UN’s priority and the priority of every country that considers itself a champion of human rights. We will not let anyone forget about the people of Tigray, not those who have been killed, not those who have survived two years of hell, not those who are still blocked from accessing the basic staples of survival. Not one.


Note: This article also appeared in the January 2023 Newsletter of the Tigray Disaster Relief Fund.

Duke Burbridge was a Senior Research Associate at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD) for fifteen years where he provided research support for community-based peacebuilding programs in conflict-affected countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Colombia. During his time at ICRD, Mr. Burbridge also conducted research on the role of education in radicalization and recruitment into violent extremist groups in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the role of conservative religious leaders in countering violent extremism in Yemen and North and East Africa. He left the field in 2021 to write a book on reforming outside-led peacebuilding. He has put the book on hold to raise awareness of the genocide taking place in Tigray.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Duke Burbridge

    January 26, 2023 at 9:05 pm

    Dear Brother Shiferaw,

    Thank you for the insightful question. It should be noted that I am a former peacebuilder and anything I do with Tigray is in a personal capacity. That being said, if I was still a practitioner and had a project in Ethiopia, I would encourage a process of reconciliation that engages with issues of grievance, loss of loved ones, pain of injustice head on. Forgiveness cannot be achieved by forgetting loss, injustice, or suffering. If they are forgotten, what then is left to forgive?

    Any reconciliation process that requires people with legitimate grievances to forget their grievances or the people that have been lost cannot be sustained.

    Thanks!

  2. Shiferaw,

    January 26, 2023 at 6:48 am

    Dear Brother(Duke),
    Me for myself, I am supporter of none; but if you don’t ‘Forget’ something, esp. very painful ones,how Can you forgive; in fact if you are a real researcher &participate in Peacehbuilding , you have to underline that ,to gain some lesson from it, (form the past) we only learn to avoid such things never repeat. Otherwise ,a vicieos circle will go on for ever please.
    Thank you

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