Roadblock Near Tigray Puts Five Million Ethiopians at Starvation Risk

ethiopian government clashing with tigrayan rebels hinders aid for locals

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

The only road to bring aid to war-ravaged Tigray is blocked. An unofficial blockade by the Ethiopian government has all but stopped food and medicine from reaching the battered region. Modern Ethiopian history has seen much conflict.

Ethiopian women walking on path
Photo By 72Dani72 / Shutterstock

Ethiopian government forces are clashing with Tigrayan rebels in the northern area of the African country. It is believed that 400,000 people in Tigray live in “famine-like conditions” while another 4.8 million need “urgent help.” However, aid workers face harassment at airports, while convoys of food and medicine headed for Tigray have been fired upon and ordered to turn back.

Since the 19th century, extensive conflict has disrupted Ethiopia, which has the second highest population of any African nation. In his video series The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela, Dr. Kenneth P. Vickery, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Advising in the History Department at North Carolina State, said that the colonization of Africa by Europeans, known as the Scramble for Africa, led to major historical events in Ethiopia.

Italy Makes a Play

Britain, France, and Germany had begun to colonize much of Africa by the 1860s. King Melenik II ruled over Ethiopia at the time.

“In the late 1880s and 1890s, Italy moved to take over Ethiopia,” Dr. Vickery said. “Italy, in a sense, wanted a piece of this action—this magnificent African cape. [In 1896] in a place called Adwa in today’s Ethiopia, Melenik II’s forces inflicted a resounding defeat on the Italians and sent them packing.”

Liberia had been founded by freed African American slaves and was the only African country without European colonizers within its borders. By repelling the Italians, Ethiopia joined it. Unfortunately, Italy returned with a vengeance.

“It was none other than Benito Mussolini, the founder of fascism, who took power in Italy in 1922,” Dr. Vickery said. “In 1935, he was determined to avenge his nation’s humiliation in 1896 and invaded Ethiopia and seized most of the country.”

The League of Nations ignored then-emperor Haile Selassie’s pleas for intervention, but Mussolini’s success was still short-lived. Allied Forces during World War II sent many troops to Africa, expelling Mussolini’s forces in 1941 and restoring Ethiopia’s independence.

Ending a Historical Monarchy

“Haile Selassie was very much an autocrat at best, a dictator at worst,” Dr. Vickery said. “He met his own reckoning finally in 1974, after something like a half century on the throne. Very committed Marxist officers overthrew his government and ended, at last, the Ethiopian monarchy after, again, something like 1,700 years.”

The Marxist officers replaced the monarchy with a military junta. It had some success but turned out to be more brutal than Selassie’s government. Eventually its leader went into exile. Armed secession movements in Tigray and Eritrea resulted in a successful Eritrean secession, establishing its independence in 1993.

“A great many people, including myself, have noted the artificiality of Africa’s modern borders,” Dr. Vickery said. “After all, every country on the map, it’s true, was drawn by outsiders during the so-called Scramble for Africa and so forth. This artificiality, however, once colonialism was past, has essentially remained unchallenged.”

Ethiopia is the only case of official, legal, formalized change in African borders since independence.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily