On Friday, October 22nd, a United Nations humanitarian aid flight to Mek’ele, in the conflicting Ethiopian region of Tigray, was forced to turn around before landing due to a government air raid sent to the city. While the UN Humanitarian Air Service unit carrying eleven passengers was cleared by the Ethiopian central authorities, the flight team had to make an in-transit decision to return to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, after hearing reports of incoming bombing flights.
The region of Tigray, in northern Ethiopia, has been struggling with widespread famine and resource shortages for over a decade and due to the conflict between the government and liberation forces within the region, the problems have only been exasperated. Heightened militarization and anti-government protests and attacks have left the region’s population in a war zone. Al Jazeera wasn’t able to speak to an Ethiopian military official, but they spoke to Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, who stated the UN flight and the military bombing flights had “different time and direction.” However, it’s unknown how close the raids would have occurred to the landing and relief work of the UN flight passengers.
Since September 2020, the political and military turmoil between Tigray and the Ethiopian government has been rising. Conflicting ideologies and constant power struggles between the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led to the Tigray local government holding a regional election, a violation under the central authority. The TPLF looked to separate Tigray from the Ethiopian government, but after a raid on Ethiopian military bases in November, the prime minister moved military forces into the Tigray region.
After the initial bombing in Mek’ele on Friday, the raids continued for the next several days, leaving large populations in the region in an electrical blackout, with zero connection to outside communications. Damage to the university in Mek’ele has been reported, but it’s unknown the destruction caused. The Washington Post spoke to UN Humanitarian Chief Martin Griffiths after the flight was safely accounted for in Addis Ababa. Griffiths showed great concern for the civilians of Mek’ele, who are still struggling with famine. He stated, “The U.N. had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mek’ele and had received the necessary clearances for the flight.” TPLF leadership suggests that the Ethiopian government knew the airstrike and the UN flight landing would potentially cross paths, but it is still unclear if their statement is true.
Purposefully blocking humanitarian aid headed to civilians in need is disgraceful, and a destructive form of social warfare on a population. Most receiving aid from humanitarian efforts in Mek’ele are impoverished civilians in need of nutritional support. The United Nations along with numerous global non-governmental aid agencies have been providing relief to the Tigray region for years, but the recent violent obstruction to their efforts is alarming. As more information comes out of Mek’ele, further insight on the true motives behind the Ethiopian raids will arise.