Meeting Tigrayans’ Humanitarian Needs

Black and white drawing of people waiting in a long line in front of building with a sign "food", their shadows cast grave stones.
Hunger (Artist: Camdelafu).

Tigray sued for peace to save Tigrayans from starvation. More humanitarian aid is now arriving and services are being restored in many areas. These are just the first steps.

In a memo circulated today, we look at some of the challenges of aiding Tigrayans to restore at least some of what has been destroyed in the two years of war.

Tigray’s humanitarian needs must be met in the context of deep distrust between the Federal and Tigrayan authorities and a sharp decline in confidence among Tigrayans in their own political leadership. At federal and regional level, institutions are at best quasi-functional. A ‘business as usual’ approach just won’t add up to the urgent response that is desperately needed. Work arounds will be needed, for example through using major NGOs as implementing partners.

Tigray needs a vision for peace and rehabilitation that matches the extraordinary levels of energy and commitment shown by the Tigrayan people during their resistance. This energy exists in communities and civil society. We propose that assistance modalities should prioritize an enabling environment for communities to assist themselves. This means support to civil society, and urgent attention to human rights and protection of civilians.

Aid donors face a special challenge in the aftermath of state policies of destruction, deprivation and pillage. How can they channel reconstruction funds through government institutions, after that same government deliberately destroyed the region’s infrastructure, including aid-funded projects?

Mulugeta Gebrehiwot is a WPF-affiliated researcher. He served as the director of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of Addis Ababa University from 2009-2013. He holds PhD from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, an MA in Public administration from Harvard Kennedy School, an MBA from the Open University of London, a BA degree in International Management from the Amsterdam School of Business. As an expert in Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution with a focus on East Africa he has consulted with different international organizations including AU, DFID, DANIDA, ECOWAS, GIZ, IGAD, UNMIS, UNAMID, and UNDPA. He advised the AU and UN on mediation strategies and led the WPF program on African peace missions, 2015-17.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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