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 percent 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.
The level of ethnic hatred which has emerged on social media around this conflict is deeply disturbing. A quarter of a century ago, the genocide in Rwanda occurred under our noses, with the world failing to stop it. What is happening in Tigray must not be allowed to deteriorate even further.
South African faith groups and civil society lobbies should press our government 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.
Access should be allowed to all parts of Tigray to enable aid to flow. Journalists and independent human rights experts need to be allowed in. Foreign troops should leave Ethiopian soil and the tensions between Sudan and Addis Ababa 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.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town