Makgoba calls for SA government intervention in growing ethnic crisis in Ethiopia

Ethiopian troops cheering near the borders of Tigray and Amarha provinces in a screenshot image from a video by the state-owned Ethiopian news agency in November 2020 (PHOTO: AP/Eastern Mirror

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has called on South African faith groups and civil society lobbies to press the SA government to intervene in a Ethiopia where the government is accused of committing war crimes against the people of the northern province of Tigray.

Warning that what is happening in Tigray should not be allowed to follow the path of the genocide in Rwanda “that occurred under our noses” a quarter century ago, he called for pressure on the SA government to “not only to step in to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but to act more decisively in bringing pressure to bear on the African Union and all parties in Ethiopia”.

In a statement released yesterday, Makgoba says: “The plight of the Tigrayan people in northern Ethiopia tears at my heart. Over and above the coronavirus which threatens us all in Africa, tens of thousands of people in the region have been forced from their homes, millions need humanitarian aid and there are shocking reports of war crimes in the form of attacks against civilians. 

“Opposition parties allege thousands have died since the federal government in Addis Ababa sent troops into the province against the regional government controlled by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front just over three months ago.

“The Ethiopian Red Cross has reported that more than half of the region’s six million people need humanitarian assistance, but it doesn’t have the capacity or resources to reach 80% of them. Human Rights Watch has accused federal troops of  indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, striking homes, hospitals, schools, and markets, killing at least 83 civilians, including children, and wounding over 300.”

Makgoba said that access should be allowed to all parts of Tigray to enable aid to flow and journalists and independent human rights experts shou,d be allowed into the area. He also called for foreign troops to leave Ethiopia and for tensions between Sudan and Addis Ababa to be defused.

“And the Ethiopian people need to sit down with one another and work out a broadly acceptable resolution which balances regional autonomy and federal power.

“Pray for justice and peace for the people of Tigray and all of Ethiopia, and for the people of Sudan and Eritrea,” he says in his statement.

In January media reports emerged of at least 750 people being massacred at an ancient cathedral complex in the city of Aksum where they had sought shelter from the conflict.

Last week more details of the cathedral attack were relayed to media by eyewitnesses who said that following the massacre by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops bodies lay on street corners for days and the city began to smell of death.

Christian Headlines reports that according to the New York Times, in the 1970s and 80s, Tigrayan fighters led a war against Ethiopia’s hated Marxist dictator. The dictator would fall in 1991, and the Tigrayans – considered national heroes – would rule over the nation for the next 30 years.

But in 2018, after Abiy Ahmed was named Ethiopia’s prime minister, he discarded the Tigrayan leaders. Then, in November of 2020, tensions between the two entities boiled over when Abiy launched military strikes against Tigray, marking the beginning of a brutal months-long war.

Multiple aid agencies have stated Ethiopians face mass starvation if there is no intervention in the war. The Ethiopian government denies they have committed any atrocities, but the UN says there is “consistent” information that says the opposite. A spokesperson for the UN stated, “We have received consistent information pointing to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by all parties to the conflict – including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting.”

According to a report in Eastern Mirror last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says his troops are days away from crushing the Tigray military.

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