But in the months since the prime minister first vowed “to save the country and the region” by ousting TPLF, a more troubling picture has emerged. Witness accounts, reports from human-rights organizations and the U.S. government, and satellite imagery from the embattled areas all point to a much broader campaign of violence—against Tigrayan civilians, hospitals, schools, and places of worship. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned what he named “acts of ethnic cleansing,” calling for unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray and an independent investigation into the alleged human-rights abuses. The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied those charges as “completely unfounded and spurious,” but Ahmed later admitted that “atrocities have been committed in Tigray region” and that troops from neighboring Eritrea had caused “damages” to the people.
Speaking on a Signal call from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, one Tigrayan man, who asked to remain unnamed because of safety concerns, told me that the violence from both countries’ militias hasn’t been confined to strategic locations. It’s overtaken much of the region, he said, citing the factories, homes, and sacred religious sites he’d seen destroyed in his hometown, Aksum. “When you go down the street, you have to walk over so many corpses … Animals aren’t even killed like that.” (The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, and the prime minister’s spokesperson declined to comment. The Eritrean Ministry of Information did not respond to a request for comment.)
Read: Abiy Ahmed meets the Ethiopian diaspora
Beyond recounting humanitarian abuses and mourning their loved ones, dozens of the people I’ve spoken with in recent weeks—mainly in Ethiopia and the United States—have communicated a quieter kind of devastation: the betrayal they feel upon losing any sanguine vision they had for their country’s future. When Ahmed was first appointed to the premiership in 2018, Addis Ababa seemed consumed by “Abiymania.” That year, bumper stickers bearing his name or face covered nearly every taxi on the city’s roads; Abiy T-shirts came in a wide array of colors and patterns. Within months of his appointment, the energetic young reformist had freed political prisoners and journalists, ended the prior regime’s state of emergency, and coined the term medemer, or “to be added to one another,” to describe the Ethiopia he hoped to lead people toward—one in which all of its citizens and members of its diaspora could solve the country’s problems by uniting.
That August, I reported on his trip to the U.S., including the greater Washington, D.C., area which is home to the largest Ethiopian population center outside Ethiopia. “Today, if you all decide, if you commit to healing, then we as Ethiopia will write a new story,” Ahmed told the thousands gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center that sweltering day. “If you want to be the pride of your generation, then you must decide that Oromos, Amharas, Wolaytas, Gurages, and Siltes are all equally Ethiopian … What Ethiopians need is community.” After decades of political strife, especially among the country’s different provinces, the nation was primed for a leader like him.