“Canadian mining companies are actively lobbying the government in the middle of this genocidal war to gain access into Tigray—a Tigray, mind you, that is being massacred, that is being bombed, that is being starved.”
And Canadian Mining companies “are willing to dig through soil that is soaked in the blood of Tigrayans, if that means that they can make a buck…Tigray is covered in mass graves that these corporations would not think twice about excavating to get to the gold underneath”
These are just two quotes from the latest episode of The Red Review, brought to you by Socialist Action Canada, which is being shared on Social Media under the hashtags #TigrayGenocide and #TrudeauFailedTigray.
Daniel speaks with Fifi, a lead organizer with Tigrayan Advocacy Canada about the genocidal war being waged against the Tigray. For over a year, the Ethiopian State, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, wages a genocidal campaign against the Tigrayan people. While the Ethiopian State weaponizes famine, gender- and sexual-based violence, massacres, and concentration camps to eliminate Tigrayan people, the Canadian State remains silent on the conduct of its diplomatic and economic partner. Worse, Canadian mining companies are treating the current war as an opportunity — a ‘bonanza’ — to secure access to gold deposits in Tigray.
We urge comrades e to share this widely! The story of Canadian complicity in Tigrayan genocide has not pierced mainstream media coverage. Consider this a key defensive demand that we ought to forward!
You can reach Tigrayan Advocacy Canada at tigrayadvocacy[at]gmail.com.
The Red Review RSS Feed can be accessed here: https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1795649.rss
Daniel Tarade 0:14
Hello, and welcome to The Red Review, brought to you by Socialist Action. We have another great episode today, where we’re interviewing Fifi from Tigrayan Advocacy Canada, a group that is opposing Canada and its mining companies and their role in the genocidal war being raged against the Tigrayan people living in the northern part of Ethiopia. It’s been an ongoing genocidal war for over a year now, that has not penetrated media coverage at all in Canada. And that is why we have today a wonderful interview that will shed light on exactly what Canada is doing in its silence, and what the mining companies based in Canada are doing to get access to gold reserves in Ethiopia. Before we get started, all the people that work on The Red Review podcast, live and work on stolen indigenous land from across Turtle Island, so-called North America. And we recognize that there can be no reconciliation without restitution. And that starts with land back, RCMP off indigenous land, and the expropriation of the resource corporations and returning of those resources to the commons. We hope you enjoy the episode. And here’s our interview with Fifi from Tigrayan Advocacy Canada. Welcome back to another episode of The Red review. This week, we have another bonus episode that’s going to be covering a very important topic that is really poorly covered in our mainstream media. So joining us from Tigrayan Advocacy Canada is Fifi, a graduate student in the field of international political economy. Her research focuses on the political economy of development and urbanization in the African context, and recently has been organizing to fight for justice for the Tigrayan people. So welcome to the podcast, Fifi!
Awesome. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me, Daniel!
Daniel Tarade 2:19
As I mentioned already, something that hasn’t really penetrated the mainstream media sphere at all. And that’s what we want to do here is shed as much light as we can on the injustices that the Canadian state is supporting around the world. So just to get all the people listening up to speed, we don’t want to assume any background information. Are you able just to introduce for our listeners, where is this region of Tigray. What is it like? Who are the Tigrayan people? At that point, just anything we need to know before we get into the context for the current atrocities being committed.
So Tigray is small region in the northernmost part of Ethiopia, which is a state in eastern Africa. It’s home to an estimated 6 to 7 million people which represents about 6% of the total Ethiopian population. So the region shares international borders with Eritrea to the north and Sudan to the west. So Tigray has traditionally been known as a cradle of Ethiopian civilization because of the numerous kingdoms that had popped up at the time in the ancient and medieval periods, the most famous of which is the Aksumite civilization or the Aksumite kingdom, which is one of the most powerful kingdoms at the time that it emerged and it is long considered the source of Ethiopian sort-of civilization, and it is where Ethiopia’s unique written language, which is called Geʽez is actually originated from. So this region, which is home to about 6 to 7 million people, as I mentioned, is predominantly made up of ethnic Tigrayan people, which make up about 95% of the population. But there are very importantly two minority groups within Tigray, the Irob and the Kunama peoples,who have their own cultures and languages and social religious institutions that are part and parcel of the broader Tigrayan population as well. The majority have Tigrayan people practice Orthodox Christianity. We also have people who are Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and there’s a lot of historic and cultural sites of significance not only to the Tigrayan people, but to the broader horn. There are a lot of really important religious sites there. Aksum, just long considered one of, if not the holiest site, in Orthodox Christianity in Ethiopia is a really renowned and sacred place of worship, as well as Al Nejashi Mosque, which is found in Tigray, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam. And this is where companions of the Prophet Muhammad, actually fleeing prosecution in Mecca, came and found shelter among the people there. So it is a place with a really rich historical, cultural significance not only again, for the people living there, but for the people of the bottom horn as well.
Daniel Tarade 4:49
Wow. So thank you very much. That was a very succinct overview of the region that I’m sure a lot of people haven’t heard of. Now, the reason why it’s in the news these days is less to do with the cultural relevance or its people, but rather the atrocities that have been committed in the last year. So on November 4, in 2020, Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed declared war on the region of Tigray. Can you tell us why that happened? Why was there a declaration of war against this region within the state? And what is the relationship then between the Ethiopian state, the Ethiopian government and the region of Tigray?
Yeah, absolutely. And this is a very long and complex — needs a really long and complex answer. So incidentally, it’s the prime minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed who made this declaration on social media. So he declared what he claimed to be a law and order operation, which ostensibly was designed to depose of what he had labeled criminal elements within the regional governance structure of Tigray, which was referring to the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, maybe people have seen this acronym floating around a little bit. And this is the elected government of the region of Tigray. And the reason that he gave for this attack, which would precipitate this genocidal war that has been waged against the people of Tigray since November 2020, is an alleged attack against a military base, that he says that these people that he had labeled a criminal element of the government had carried out right. And of course, these allegations and counter allegations are things that need to be sorted out in a court of law, they cannot just be taken at face value. And there is a really important context here to be understood since his ascendancy into the prime ministership in 2018, on the back of really popular grassroots movement, which later betrayed Abiy Ahmed had been taking significant steps A.) to centralize power in this federation, and to demonize and other not only Tigrayan leadership, but Tigrayan people as a whole, which laid really important groundwork for the genocidal campaign that would come later. Right. So one of the central tensions here is that Ethiopia is organized as a federation, has been so constitutionally since 1991, which means that the various nations that live within the state have a significant degree of self-governance and self-determination, which is really fundamental because the history of state formation in Ethiopia had been characterized by these really uneven relationships that this constitution was conceived of as a way to address. And of course, there are governance challenges since this Constitution came to be that needed to be addressed. But the key here is that these nations and nationalities, these peoples living within the state, given that we understand the state to be sort of an arbitrary, violent colonial creation in most instances, right, that these nations should have supreme political power to determine their faith. However, Abiy’s conceptualization, as he has enumerated a number of times, is one where he sees himself not as a prime minister of this country, but as an emperor, as a king, as a ruler, who is ruling over his personal kingdom rather than this federation that is made up of various nations. One of the most significant barriers to him consolidating this vision, this empire that he alludes to, oftentimes very explicitly and openly, was the Tigrayan regional government, as well as other nationalist forces within the country that refused to accept this. And so what we see is this long-term campaign against any and everybody that opposed his rule, right, which began with imprisoning political leaders and community leaders among the Oromo peoples, which is the largest ethnic group in the Ethiopian state. And this campaign went on for years. And before the war was waged on Tigray, there was a war being waged against the Oromo people in Welega and various other places in which state violence was used, and an attempt for this person at the center to consolidate their power. In parallel with this, we saw this active campaign, not only against the Tigrayan leadership, which had been part of the coalition that ruled Ethiopia since 1991, not the sole party, but a part of a four party coalition. So we saw these attacks against the Tigrayan leadership, blaming them for all of the countries ills, or giving them none of the credits for all of the good things that had been achieved, right. So we see this central sort of struggle between the power center in the capital that wanted to consolidate and centralize everything, and you have these regional forces, they will actually know we arrived at this 1991 consensus because of this very history. And so this was a campaign in which Abiy Ahmed went on an all out attack and you see the most extreme form of it. This attack that was launched against the people of Tigray right even though it was ostensibly a law and order operation. There was nothing lawful or orderly about it. It was a genocidal war, has been a genocidal war from the very beginning. And rather than being directed against any political entity has been directed against the broader population, the 7 million people that we’ve talked about, and in the lead up to it, there are also significant things that happened. As I mentioned Tigray, the northernmost region of the country, the main highway connecting Tigray to the rest of the country was interrupted. So it was cut, it was blocked. This severely hampered the transportation of crucial supplies of food, of trade, yet the federal government didn’t do anything. So quietly sort of acquiesced to this, which signaled an indication to want to isolate Tigray. Right, we saw Tigrayan generals, military personnel, parts of the government getting purged, you were getting retired, they were getting pushed out, because there was an attempt to systematically exclude Tigrayans from public life from government. And it was really hateful rhetoric that was being used describing Tigrayans as sort of the ultimate other even though they had been part and parcel of this Ethiopian state since ancient times, right, and uses a terms such as ‘day-time hyena,’ which is racially-, ethnically-coded language that specifically aims to dehumanize and demonize Tigrayan people. So this is the broader context that I think oftentimes, where this conversation rarely happens, this broader context is missed, right? All of these analyses begin with an alleged military attack, and then the war that came after it, but this groundwork for those of us who have been observing Ethiopian politics for some time, these dangerous trends, and these tensions and contradictions in these power centers had been really obvious. And so in some ways, there was some anticipation of some type of conflict. Granted, I don’t think anybody could have anticipated how atrocious and egregious these crimes would be. But we could see this coming. And so this is a little bit of the context that I think is really necessary in terms of understanding exactly what happened and why it unfolded the way that it did.
Daniel Tarade 11:49
That’s incredibly important. And when you’re talking about the efforts, the use of language to dehumanize the Tigrayan people, one thing I saw early on was that a lot of this hateful language, dehumanizing language spread on social media like Facebook, which did virtually nothing to stop it, because I assume they rely on a lot of automatic software. And because this was not being posted in English, it just completely slipped under any sort of notice. And in that way, social media was used to really lead this campaign of dehumanization. Is that the case?
That is absolutely the case. So and we saw this sort of radicalization of the speech, even online for years and years, and it’s gotten extremely dire now. And we know from the leaks, right that Facebook knew it had a problem. It knew it had a problem in Ethiopia in the same way that it understood it had a problem in Myanmar. Because fixing this problem would cost more and cut into their bottom line and the types of changes that Facebook needed to meet were more fundamental, and to be quite honest, in the way that the world is organized, people at the peripheries are perceived to be in the peripheries, such as the people of Tigray, the people of Myanmar aren’t central enough to warrant these corporations to change course. So they have long known, Facebook has long known that it has a hate speech problem, not just Tigray, across the world, but very severely in the Ethiopian case, we know that the Ethiopia office is not well-staffed. We know that hate speech, there are not enough people checking for it in domestic languages. There’s over 80 languages in Ethiopia, which makes it that much harder. Yet if Facebook wants to enter into that market, this is what it needs to do, which it has not been doing. And Facebook has been, I wouldn’t say at the forefront, but definitely among the main factors that have enabled this. There are articles that have come out that show that mobs are being directed towards a given village or given people are there are lynchings that are taking place, there are public murders that are taking place, and part of this, a part of it at least, is being facilitated via Facebook. And Facebook can perhaps claim that it does not know the extent of these problems, but it does know that it has these problems that it is repeatedly not addressing. So yes, and we have seen in the last few weeks, right, calls for all Tigrayans in Ethiopia to be taken to concentration camps being expressed by people who have 1000s and 1000s of followers. And even after multiple people have reported these posts, they have stayed online, even after Facebook has been made aware of them. So absolutely, the social media climate is contributing to the exacerbation of these problems and these giants are taking zero responsibility in terms of addressing the issues that they have.
Daniel Tarade 14:38
For years then, there’s been escalating language, escalating rhetoric, a diviseness being sowed. And so this alleged military attack seems to have just been the excuse used to finally wage this war. It’s been over a year now since Abiy Ahmed had declared the war. What, to the best of your knowledge, is the current situation right now in Tigray?
So it is very difficult to find out what the current humanitarian situation in Tigray is, partly because of the blockade that has been imposed on the region. So on and off communications have been largely restricted in Tigray since the declaration of war on November 4, 2020. But since July 2021, there has been a complete blockade on all communications, no internet, no transport in and out of the region. So the little reporting that we’re receiving, we are receiving from the regional government of Tigray as well as aid organizations, who have some access into the region. And I’m often struck by the words and the phrases that these folks use to describe the situation. So the UN’s relief chief, described Tigray as the worst place in the world to live right now. And this is a person who has been to that region and a person who has decades of experience in these humanitarian catastrophe zones. And I think that gives us an idea of how bad the situation is. We know that the humanitarian situation, the word ‘crisis,’ doesn’t even describe it anymore. It is a catastrophe. We know that because of the combined efforts of the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara, there is a famine in Tigray. So for a long time, there was a prospect of famine because we could see this developing. What we know now there is famine on the ground. Estimates put the number of people living in famine anywhere between 400,000 to 900,000 people. We know that at least 1.8 million people are on the brink of famine. We know from all NGOs and international organizations that at least 5.5 million people are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. Aid agencies have told us, in very plain language, that their stocks are completely depleted, they have no food to give to the people that need it. And what this famine means is that hundreds of people, predominantly children, nursing mothers, and elderly people as well as vulnerable populations, persons with disabilities are the first to be affected. We’re seeing malnutrition rates that are the worst anywhere in the world. We have already had reports of hundreds of children that have died, and malnutrition rates among mothers in particular as up to 70% rate. So there’s simply no food for people to have. And this is because of the deliberate, intentional and sustained efforts of this government that decided to wage a war, not just again, on a political entity, but on the entire population of Tigray. So these are millions of people living under a blockade that are denied food, whose food stocks were deliberately destroyed right in front of their eyes, then they will have to sort of wait. You get really heartbreaking, heart-wrenching stories of mothers having to choose, right, of who do you feed, if you have multiple children. We see video and footage that rarely makes it out of their region, but when it does, it shows children that are so malnourished that they can’t even muster, you know, a cry. So the situation there is, again, it’s slipped under the radar for so much of the mainstream media, is absolutely dire. We know that there’s a huge displacement crisis that is related to the famine and the humanitarian situation at large. So at least 70,000 Tigrayan refugees have made it into Sudan. There’s 2.1 or 2.2 million internally displaced people within Tigray that have been removed from their homes that have had to leave with only the clothes on their back, hoping to save their lives. And because there is no infrastructure that is designed to take in 2.2 million new people, people are finding shelter in abandoned factories or old schools or just out in the streets. And because there is no infrastructure to reach them, they have to rely on the generosity of host communities to survive because aid agencies are simply not getting in there. Host communities themselves are facing famine. So we see this exacerbation of all of these crises. And on top of that, when it was first to retreat from most parts of Tigray, the federal government and his troops went to great lengths to entirely destroy the infrastructure in the region. So there has been no electricity, no communications, no internet since July 2021. So that’s 3, 4, 5, I don’t even know how many months where people have gone without access to basic services. So this means that hospitals aren’t able to operate. So patients that normally would have been saved, that would have gotten the access that they need now die. And that’s even considering the fact that over 80% of the health infrastructure of Tigray had been destroyed throughout the course of the war because of the deliberate targeting of these facilities. So Tigray is under siege right now, it is being besieged by the federal government that is refusing to let humanitarian aid through into the region so that starving people can have food to eat. We’re looking at all of Tigray and the sort of geographical variation, we see Western Tigray, which is an area of Tigray that accounts for about 25-28% of the total landmass, and the entirety of Western Tigray has been under the forceful occupation and invasion of the Amhara and Eritrean forces, who have taken control of this land illegally, outside of any constitutional or legal order, and are administering it, and what we see in western Tigray is a communications blockade is so strong that very, very few accounts are coming out. Well, we are hearing your words, and this is corroborated by satellite data and independent recording as well, there are multiple concentration camps in which 1000s and 1000s of ethnic Tigrayans are currently imprisoned. And in these concentration camps, it is not only young men but also elderly people, persons with disabilities, children, toddlers, nursing mothers, pregnant women, that are in these concentration camps just because of the fact that they are ethnic Tigrayans. And so this is the extent of it, especially in the last week or so, we’re hearing very alarming reports, and it was reported in the news today, of waves of displacement. We know that extra judicial executions, mass executions have been recorded in this area because the bodies of excuted Tigrayans are thrown into a river and they are being recovered in the Sudan by refugees. So we have an inkling of the extent of the atrocities that are being committed. But the fear here is that what we don’t know is probably 10 times worse than what we have managed to find out. And the concentration camps are becoming somewhat of a trend, even in the capital, Addis Ababa, a city that I was born and raised in, a city that my family lives in, we know that 1000s and 1000s of ethnic Tigrayans, just because of the fact that they are Tigrayans, are being imprisoned, they’re being detained, they’re being taken to concentration camps. Nobody can get a hold of them, nobody’s allowed to visit them. Like in front of my own eyes, I’m seeing my friends, their online profiles get deleted, right, and they disappear, because this is the extent that they have to go to to protect themselves and to stay alive within that state in which now that Tigrayan identity is becoming criminal in and of itself. And what we’re hearing about what’s coming out of these concentration camps, which are sort of spaces outside of the purview of law and domestic human rights regulations, or any notion of really, sort of humanity, is that there is torture going on in these places, there’s interrogations going on in these places, and sexual- and gender-based violence, which is a really atrocious sort-of hallmark of this conflict is beginning to emerge, right, even in concentration camps. So we know that the weaponized sexual- and gender-based violence, which has been utilized as a tool of ethnic cleansing in Tigray, has affected 10s of 1000s of women and girls as well as men and boys. We know that at least at the most conservative estimates, 22,500 Tigrayan women and girls will seek or will have sought medical help for sexual- and gender-based violence. We know that extremely egregious, disturbingly violent forms, including gang rape and sexual slavery, have taken place in Tigray. And the women and girls and men and boys that need help, the type of psychological and medical help that they need in the aftermath of these attacks are being denied that help because medical supplies are not allowed to go into Tigray. And so it’s really difficult to kind of encapsulate and tie together all these different elements of the genocidal war that has been waged. But what is clear is that it has been waged with the explicit intention of completely destroying Tigrayan society. What we see is that the Tigrayan identity is under attack. And it does not matter whether you live in Tigray or whether you’re a Tigrayan who has never been to Tigray. So many of the people that are in concentration camps have never even visited. They don’t understand the language. They don’t understand the culture. Yet that identity itself is what has been deemed an enemy by this government. And it is this enemy that they are trying to wipe out. And we know this because that intention has been explicitly communicated. The Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has repeatedly described Tigrayans as cancers, as weeds, as enemies to the people, as something that the entire country must mobilize to fight against. You see this incredibly dangerous, incendiary rhetoric that is being used to justify the murder and genocidal campaign against the 7 million people of Tigray. That kind of gives you an idea of what the current situation is.
Daniel Tarade 24:26
You summed it up with the word ‘catastrophe’ at the beginning, genocidal war, multifaceted, an occupation, it’s a siege. People have been targeted in many different ways. And we don’t know even the full extent of it. Historically, we know that it’s not really the case that any one state can carry these things out in isolation. They’re often supported. They have other countries supporting them. You’ve already mentioned Eritrea a few times. So can we talk first, I guess about the local context to an extent. So Ethiopia is working with neighboring states in this war, in this genocidal war. So let’s maybe first talk about that a bit. From what I understand, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, he won a Nobel Peace Prize because initially, the connections he was able to form with neighboring states. Is that the case?
Yes, that is the case. Absolutely. And despite the fact that this has been labelled a domestic affair, it very much is not. So 2018, 2019 I believe, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won a Nobel Peace Prize for striking a peace agreement with neighboring Eritrea, with whom the Ethiopian state had been in a sort of detente with for the last 20 years. And initially, this was welcomed by all sides, right. Who doesn’t love peace? Then everybody thought, okay, here is a person who was able to broker this peace agreement. But almost immediately after, there was a lot of questions raised, right. This agreement wasn’t an agreement between the Ethiopian state and the Eritrean state, this was an agreement struck between two men: Isaias Afwerki, who is the dictator of Eritrea and Prime Minister abiy Ahmed. So the contents of this peace agreement, or what has been labeled a peace agreement, are not known. So Ethiopia is, on paper, at least a Federal Democratic Republic, there is a governance structure, there is a legislature, there’s an executive, there’s a judiciary. So when an agreement about the country is made, it needs to be brought before the representatives of the people so that they may learn what this agreement is. Yet, in line with Abby’s views that he is a king or an emperor, rather than a person who has been elected to serve the people, the contents of this were not discussed. And part of why the tension between the Tigrayan leadership and Tigrayan regional government and federal government began to escalate was because there was lack of transparency regarding what this means. And as I mentioned at the top, Tigray shares a border with Eritrea. And so whatever war breaks out, whatever conflict breaks out, Tigray is the first place to be affected, so the Tigrayan regional government said what are the contents of this peace deal that you have made? We all need to know. And this wasn’t clear. We would later find out in 2020, of course, given how quickly Eritrean troops moved into Tigray and participated in committing among the worst atrocities by any of the war parties. And this is, you know, acknowledged by multiple reports, is that this was likely a military agreement. This is an agreement that was struck between Isaias of Eritrea and Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, the contents of which are unknown, but they seemed to have formed some type of agreement, potentially based on both of their desire to eliminate or disempower the Tigrayan leaders and this is what we have learned. So immediately after the declaration of war, Eritrean troops entered into Tigray on multiple fronts, and they participated, like I said, in some of the worst atrocities that have been committed, particularly in regard to sexual- and gender-based violence, looting and massacres. Hundreds and hundreds of people had been killed. The holy city of Aksum that I mentioned earlier, actually was a site of one of the most gruesome massacres, where churchgoers were shot by Eritrean forces. So Eritrean forces are very much there. Like I said, Ethiopia is a federation and there’s different regions the different regions have also been mobilized to participate in these war efforts. The number one region is the Amhara region, which is the region that is neighboring Tigray, and there have been territorial disputes and claims and counterclaims between these two regions, and Amhara forces were among the first to mobilize. They’ve also been implicated in some of the most egregious crimes throughout this conflict. And Special Forces from around Ethiopia have been pulled and mobilized by the federal government to carry out these attacks. Now, internationally, what Tigrayan activists have long noted is that there are foreign forces that have been sort of participating in this war from the beginning. And there were from the early days of November, 2020, drones that were being used, and they were sort of rumors and speculations about who had supplied these drones. So we know because of reporting actually, that came out today that the UAE was the one that was applying the Ethiopian government and, as far as we know, continues to supply the Ethiopian government with these weapons. We know that in the summer of 2021, Ethiopian Prime Minister went to Turkey and signed a military agreement with Erdoğan, who also is sort of implicated in a whole host of atrocities as well against minorities in the state and elsewhere. So we know that this isn’t a purely Ethiopian endeavor. We know that at the very least and most straightforward, Ethiopian and Eritrean states have combined and have collaborated. And I think in a way that is not precedented,` in an unprecedented way because the Ethiopian government essentially invited in a foreign army to brutalize and massacre its own people and collaborated in doing so. We do know that a whole host of regional and some Gulf state actors have also been present in this. So the picture that is emerging is very complex. but it is one that directly implicates the Ethiopian government in, at the very, very least, failing to protect its citizens. But what is emerging is that it has actively participated in undermining the safety and security of its citizens by directly going out and attacking them. And it is worth noting here that Ethiopian government denied the involvement of Eritrean troops until March of 2021, despite the evidence of our eyes, and the accounts by our friends and family members from Tigray, who were telling us what they were seeing. The Ethiopian government and Prime Minister Abiy on camera denied this multiple occasions, which is what undermines their position, whenever they say anything else. These are some of the regional actors that I think are important to note.
Daniel Tarade 30:45
That was an incredible overview. So we have a number of, as you said, regional actors that are carrying out these atrocities. And now if we can turn our attention, Socialist Action, we’re in Canada, so while all of this is so important to know, for us to be able to directly impact or agitate around this, it’s always important to know as well what the imperialist states are doing. So if you can start first with the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and then we can get into Canada afterwards, but what has the response been from the larger international community? Like I mentioned, the United States and European Union in terms of condemning or being silent on these issues?
Yeah, that’s a that’s a really important question. And I think, broadly, the international community, sort of conceptualized as such, has expressed various iterations of concern, right. So often they are concerned, sometimes they’re deeply concerned. And finally, they’re gravely concerned. Whenever these — I know it’s, it’s heavy — but whenever news comes out, we wait to see what level of concern is being expressed. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you get alarmed, right, you get an entity that is quite alarmed, yet not alarmed enough to be moved to action. So what we have seen is that the international community is aware, perhaps not of the extent, but aware of what is going on, knows about the war, knows about the genocidal undertones, if not explicit, genocidal campaign of this war. So there is that recognition on the one hand, but there has not been proportionate, decisive action to mobilize to stop it. And part of that is because of the way the international arena is structured, right. The International arena is made up of states, who only recognize and want to protect other states. So non-state actors, just though their cause may be, are not recognized as valid players here. And so what we saw a time and again, was it focused on sort of the unity and territorial integrity of the Ethiopian state. Nevermind what that Ethiopian state was using this unity and territorial integrity to do, which is brutalize its own people and killed them in the 1000s and 1000s. So the international response has been largely sort-of coddle and appease the genocidal sort-of self-styled emperor. And it is terrible because we do know where this policy of appeasement goes, right. We have historical sort of precedent. We know that appeasement will not work and will only embolden actors that are intent on eliminating, completely eliminating people they have conceptualized to be their enemies. And so while we have seen some moves, particularly from the US, there has been a sanctions regime that has been announced and sanctions have been levied against the Eritrean government. And some travel restrictions have been imposed on the Ethiopian government as well, or members of Ethiopian government. We saw the EU discussing seriously sanctions and an arms embargo on the Ethiopian state, not that that’s going to make that much of an impact, because Ethiopia will simply turn east to the other side of the global empire. And so what we have seen is sort of these concerns without the action that such concerns would warrant. So news that comes out is no longer news anymore because we know that we are in the midst of a genocidal campaign, yet the international community has been very slow to act, and has sort of been in support of the status quo, which is the Ethiopian state at the expense of the well-being of the nations and peoples that are living inside.
Daniel Tarade 34:27
Yeah, so a strategy of appeasement, and you’re right, historically, we see where that goes. And it needs to be opposed at all levels to the best of our ability. So turning to Canada, before the war was declared a little over a year ago, just set the scene for our listeners, what was the diplomatic relationship between Ethiopia and Canada? And what was the economic relationship between Ethiopia and Canada?
For sure, yeah, so before the war, the diplomatic relationship between Ethiopia and Canada was strong, and the economic relationship between the two was particularly strong. So Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of Canadian development assistance. So it had between 2010 and 2019 had received nearly two billions of dollars in Canadian development assistance. In 2018, alone, trade between Canada and Ethiopia peaked at around $170 million. So this economic relationship is extremely strong and extremely important, especially for Ethiopia because this Canadian development assistance goes a long way. Canadian development assistance also, as sort of state policy often is, has been very strategic, and has been designed with Canadian interests in mind. The money sort of put under the umbrella of Canadian development assistance also goes towards supporting key sectors of Ethiopian economy, namely mining. So not coincidentally, Canada has spent about $15 million to support mining reform in Ethiopia. We are quite aware of what reform actually means. Absolutely. We’re definitely doing air quotes. And in 2016 alone, about $12 million of Canada’s international aid has been spent on the Ethiopian mining sector. So there is an economic relationship there that is strong, that has a long history. And that exists not only under the umbrella of humanitarian assistance but also to support Canadian foreign policy and economic aims.
Daniel Tarade 36:30
So if Canada and Ethiopia have this very strong economic relationship, obviously, it means that Canada then can exert a certain amount of influence on the Ethiopian state. So in the last year, what has the response of Justin Trudeau and the federal government been to the ongoing atrocities? You had that scale earlier, where there was concern, deep concern, alarmed, where does Canada fall when they make their public statements about this?
Sure. So if that is kind of a spectrum of concern, I think Canada lands somewhere between kind of indifferent to sometimes not concerned but surprised, you know, they would raise an eyebrow here and there, but they wouldn’t necessarily be deeply or gravely concerned. And I mean, sort of all jests aside, that is what Tigrayan Canadians who have been appealing to the Canadian government for more than a year now, writing letters and petitions and appealing to parties and individuals and the government at large, thought that here is this great opportunity for Canada to bring back what in 2015 I believe Justin Trudeau called Canada’s constructive and compassionate voice back into the global arena, especially given all of this leverage that the Canadian state has to at least make a forceful statement, to say all the parties should come to a political negotiation and settlement. And what has happened is the contrary. The Canadian government, despite the constant protestations by the Tigrayan community here and globally, has continued to provide funding to this regime. Right. And, of course, humanitarian assistance, development assistance is very much needed in the Ethiopian context. Yet, when you cannot account for or really see with any transparency what these funds are being used for when you know that you have a partner, and the Canadian state still considers the Abiy administration of partner, that is committing these acts of ethnic cleansing, of war crimes, and crimes against humanity and crimes that are consistent with acts of genocide, to continue standing behind what you label a partner, it’s deeply insulting not only to the Tigrayan-Canadian population but to the Canadian population as well, in whose name this action is being taken, or lack of actions being taken. So we’ve received a few half-hearted statements of some concern by the Canadian government. It’s not deep or grave concern, it’s somewhat concerned. But it definitely has not used all of the tools or any of the tools at his disposal to demand a ceasefire and access to humanitarian assistance. And in the last couple of days, we’re seeing calls, records of calls, between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed being released in various conversations, and they read very strange to those of us who are familiar with the issue because they are quite disjointed from the reality on the ground. So we received a call out of a phone call a couple of days ago in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expresses this great optimism that there will be moves towards the ceasefire soon, but that came hours after the Ethiopian Prime Minister announced that not only is he not stopping the war, but he’s going to the battlefront himself. After the Ethiopian Prime Minister said this, the Canadian Prime Minister is saying well, there’s a room for a dialogue, which does not make sense, right. It’s discombobulating. And so what Canada has done is it has quietly supported the Ethiopian government and many believe, and of course, we don’t have any way to substantiate this, in the hopes that the Ethiopian government can finish this campaign. Right that, that it can sort of resolve this issue domestically and that Canadian sort of involvement will not be necessary. Involvement not in sort of any type of presence in Ethiopia, any type of direct involvement, but at least in using the tools at the Canadian government’s disposal to say, here is the expectation that we have for our partners, and you are not living up to it. And we have seen absolutely none of that. And the Canadian response, especially compared to the American response to the European response, has been exceedingly disappointing.
Daniel Tarade 40:37
Yeah, so that’s, that’s basically it, right? We need to put Canada on blast, to borrow a phrase from Gen Z. In trying to build the narrative around this. One can try and speculate that as to why Canada is weaker on this, even compared to the United States. It’s not as if Canada, generally speaking, falls behind America when it comes to imperialism and these horrible atrocities. But there is something unique about the Canadian context, and we talk about it on the show, every once in a while, because it’s so relevant to Canadian foreign policy. 75% of mining companies in the world are based in Canada, and 60% of mining companies trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange because regulations are so lax in Canada. And it’s because of these mining companies that Canada internationally is really developing this awful reputation for environmental and humanitarian disasters brought about by these mining companies. You already mentioned that a lot of Canadian aid to Ethiopia specifically is going to reform the mining sector. With what is happening now in Tigray, are there any Canadian mining companies active in that region? What do we know about them? And are they there to take advantage of this situation, of the atrocities being committed?
I think this is the key question here. And when eventually the story of this war and genocidal campaign is written, Canada’s place in it will be very dark, it will be a corner of that textbook that Canada will want to avoid being in because the picture that is emerging is exactly as you noted, one that paints Canadian complicity in what has been going on because of economic considerations. So we do know that at least six companies headquartered in Canada currently have active mining licenses or applications for licenses to operate in Tigray. There are huge supplies of gold reserves to be extracted, primarily its gold in Tigray, and multiple reports by Canadian reporters and journalists have indicated that Canadian mining companies that are headquartered in Canada do have a very clear interest in Tigray. So Globe and Mail reporting actually talked about two Vancouver-based companies that have been in touch with the Ethiopian government during the war on Tigray, pushing to get licensing rights for their projects in the region. And so some of the communications that the reporters have gotten a hold of show that the Canadian mining companies are actively lobbying the government in the middle of this genocidal war to be able to gain access into Tigray, a Tigray mind you that is being massacred, that has been bombed, that has been starved because people are being killed, to be able to go in there and extract resources, because ultimately, that such as the system of capitalism and mining companies are there to mine, right. And that has been the priority. And so the fear here, right, and the concern, and again, the picture that is emerging is that Canadian silence around what they Ethiopian government has done may have been motivated, in part at least, by A.) the lobbying efforts or B.) the financial considerations of the Canadian government itself. Why has the Canadian government been quiet? Is it because it’s afraid of this sunk cost, these millions of dollars that it has spent into a mining field or until mining sector in Ethiopia that it hopes to get return out of and it believes that it cannot if this government does not have this grip on power that it does? This is definitely a question that has come and a question that many of us have raised time and again, a question that has not been answered by our government or our prime minister. And so while millions of Tigrayans as I described are cut off from aid and communications and transportation and are fighting to survive, we know from reporting that Canadian companies see to Tigray as, quote, ‘a bonanza.’ And it should show us how broken the system is that a genocidal war in which people are dying in their hundreds by the daily is seen as anything more than the worst humanitarian catastrophe that we should all mobilize to address. It is seen as this opportunity, it is seen as a minefield, if you will excuse the expression — I will allow it. — Thank you. And what was even more sort of egregious is that in June, 2021, the Canadian ambassador to Ethiopia shared on Twitter, news of his meeting with the Mining Minister of Ethiopia, talking about the prospects for the future, which is like, it’s so disconnected from reality, right? This is June 2021, when we knew about the rapes and the massacres and the starvation, and we knew, to some degree at least, the extent of the atrocities that had taken place. But that was not an issue for this minister. And that tweet has since then been deleted. But of course, it’s the internet and everything there is forever. So we have the screenshots, and we have the archives to show the Canadian government’s priority has been and continues to be its mining interests rather than the people. And of course, mining corporations, those that are based in Canada, those that are not, and we know the overwhelming number of them are based or headquartered in Canada, it appears that they are willing to do anything if it means that they get access, exclusive access, to these resources, nevermind the people that live on the land. They are willing to dig through soil that is soaked in the blood of Tigrayans if that means that they can make a buck, and the Tigrayan landscape now, parts of it, is sort of covered in mass graves that these corporations would not think twice about excavating over to get to the gold underneath. And we see that the Canadian government as it has done in Guatemala, in South Africa, in so many places around the world, where indigenous peoples rights have been consistently violated for profit for Canadian corporations, the Canadian government has remained quiet. I know we cannot say with any sort of certainty this is the causation. Correlation does not mean causation. The Canadian government though through its silence is not helping this case at all. And these suspicions, these concerns are fair, and they deserve to be addressed. Because the Canadian government doesn’t serve Canadian mining companies, it serves Canadian people. And the Tigrayan-Canadian population is very much part of that people that are supposed to serve. And this group of people, who are very personally invested in what’s going on, have been asking for a response and have been met with absolute silence. There is definitely a link there, and it is such a tired cliche, but follow the money. I think it’s extremely relevant in this instance because, again, when this story is written, Canada will definitely be a part of it. And it has to decide. And we as Canadians have to decide what our part in that story is going to be.
Daniel Tarade 47:38
Absolutely. And we don’t even have to look outside of our colonial borders here to see how Canada can prioritize the quote unquote needs of a corporation over that of Indigenous people who are defending their land. I think we have the context, as much as we can glean at this point. We have a Prime Minister who leads like a dictator, trying to consolidate all power over what is really meant to be a federation of nations. In that context, Ethiopia can be thought of as a prison house of nations. And you have the Tigrayan people as a oppressed people in the crosshairs of Ethiopia, and Eritrea, and the United Arab Emirates, all trying to consolidate their power in the region, while the major imperial powers either do little or nothing. And in Canada’s case, it seems they’re more concerned about the mining opportunities, rather than the 7 million or so people who are being brutalized and killed en mass. What can we do in Canada? And I want this to then be a segue to what work you and others are doing in Tigrayan Advocacy Canada. How did you get started? What have you been doing? And where do you want to go with this campaign? And in that, how can other people join to bring light to the atrocity, to pressure the Canadian state that we already established actually has so much leverage in this situation?
First, I love that you put into like a three minute little segment, something that it took me an hour to say. That is excellent. And I think it was a great articulation of the issue at hand. And you’re absolutely right. So we at Tigrayan Advocacy Canada are a group of people with roots in Tigray, families in Tigray, who since November 4, 2020, have been watching in shock and horror as these atrocities are visited upon our families and our friends and, and the families of our friends and our circles and people that we know. And we have, for the most part felt very powerless, right? We are individuals, we are students and teachers and corporate workers and before this, I don’t think many of us had even gone into the advocacy space to this degree. But we saw a world that was indifferent to the suffering of ourselves, our families, and the people of Tigray. We saw a media landscape that was not interested in covering what it understood to be yet another conflict in a remote part of the world. We saw that our positioning in the periphery in this global structure had made our issues and our concerns also peripheral to the globe. And so part of how we got involved or began this sort of advocacy work, like so many other organizations, right, and there are so many excellent organizations that do phenomenal, outstanding work, and what we focus on, as do organizations like Omna Tigray, Stand With Tigray, and to many to name, is educated advocacy. First of all, what we want to do is bring to light the suffering of the people of Tigray, and I often abhor that expression being a voice to the voiceless, but I think it’s accurate here. But what we see ourselves as doing is being the voice to people who have been rendered voiceless, who have been violently suppressed and silenced not only by a global system that values profit over people, but by a dictatorial regime and a murderous state that is intent on eliminating them. It is about amplifying the concerns and the issues that the people on the ground are facing in the hopes that this education can bring about some action. So we mobilize, we organize together, these articles that are written sometimes, we mobilize in writing articles ourselves based on the data that we have, and we focus on verified information, what we know, what we understand, so that the world at large, and the Canadian population in particular, may learn about it. So a lot of our members have been part of planning rallies and protests. We had a large protests on November 4, 2021 in Ottawa. We’ve had multiple actions here in Toronto as well, collaboration with Socialist Action as well on one occasion. So what we want to do is raise awareness, we hand out flyers, we do campaigns where we go out and we put posters in places so that people can learn and understand so that this issue is not peripheral to us anymore, so that people need to understand, particularly in Canada, given the central role the Canadian government and Canadian mining have played that it is very much a Canadian issue as well. And what we hope to do, of course, in the grand scheme of things, is stop the human suffering in Tigray, right. What we want to do is push the Canadian government to use all of the tools at its disposal to bring about a cessation of hostilies, to ensure that humanitarian aid makes it into Tigray so that this catastrophe does not get worse, so that we may get to a place where people can get food or people can get medication, people don’t have to live in horror of an invasion that they are living in today. So that is the number one priority is to get the Canadian government to act. So in the same way that the the American government, the European government, and Parliament has moved towards an arms embargo and potentially sanctions, with the full understanding that there will be multifaceted effects with all of these decisions, to push the Canadian government to understand and use all of the leverage that it has to bring this to an end. What we want to consider, and something that we are hoping can come about, are also visa programs. We know that Ethiopia is not a safe place for Tigrayans right now, Tigrayans are being detained, they are being thrown into concentration camps, they are being murdered. And in the same way that Canada opened up its doors to Syrian refugees, Afghan refugees, we are hoping that a similar program can be sort of entertained or can be thought of or conceptualized for Tigrayans, who need to get out of that state because it’s quite literally a danger to their lives t o remain in the state. Anything beyond that, what we want to do is also not just sort of get Canada to understand the gravity of the issue but also push Canada to live up to its promise. We know that Canada, particularly under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, makes a number of lofty promises that we all want to believe. We know that these promises are violated from right here at home, we know that with what’s going on in Wet’suwet’en and land protectors and defenders, we know what’s going on in BC, we know the various violations that happen. And there is a thread that is to be pulled here, right, of sort of Imperial violence that that is being exacted on the people. We want Canada to be aware of it and aware of its role within sort of this global space and to understand that bringing that compassionate and constructive voice is still possible, but that needs to be deliberate. And that is a project that Canada needs to begin to engage in. And related to that is to recognize the scope of the atrocities that have happened in Tigray, which we at Tigrayan Advocacy Canada believe to be genocidal, and this is in reference to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. In line with that, what has happened is a genocidal campaign and recognition of that genocide comes with a set of responsibilities. and Canada, which is a signatory to this convention, needs to act in accordance with that. And as the originator of the responsibility to protect, Canadian inaction thus far, it’s quite frankly, embarrassing to legacy of the country, right. And there is still time and room to live up to that. Finally, is to recognize the role of Canadian mining companies around the world. And new people familiar with the issue know that from environmental issues to gender-based violence to just straight up violence and murder, massacre that has happened to enslavement that has happened on Canadian-run mines all around the world, Canadian mines have a terrible reputation. And a part of that is enabled because of the lack of oversight the Canadian government allows. And it is a system that these corporations exploit time and again, to extract value and resources from often the poorest, most vulnerable Indigenous people of color around the world. And the Canadian state and Canadian people can no longer ignore that as a marginal issue. There needs to be an understanding that Canadian wealth and peace and stability is being built in part because of the creation of poverty around the world. And we cannot sleep and rest well here, knowing that that rest comes at the expense of the rest of the world. Right? So there needs to be this understanding what we want to do by taking this sort of holistic approach is underscore that these struggles are interconnected, that for Canada to live up to its promises, the vision that it has itself and the vision that Canadians have of ourselves, we need to begin by recognizing the scope of the atrocities that have taken place, and move towards fixing them. So lofty goals, but yeah.
Daniel Tarade 56:52
Lofty goals but also necessary. You don’t, you don’t make the progress that’s necessary by playing it safe with the demands. Because how do you, how do you compromise between no genocide and genocide? We’re not going to just sit here and be okay with, let’s just have less genocide. Your, the demands put forward are the ones that need to be put forward. And what’s, what’s the problem facing the people advocating is, how do we how do we get that, and Socialist Action will continue to support, I will continue to support and we will spread this as far as we can. Because the more we can bring together those different groups, and you’re right there, there are billions of people around the world that can be united around the message you just shared, the people that have been directly displaced, occupied, brutalized, while the Imperial core enriches itself. Do you have any final words you want to say, to the audience, any potentially upcoming events or articles or anything to look out for, as we wrap up here?
Sure, I want to say thank you to folks for listening to this. Part of the the challenge that we’ve been facing is breaking through and getting folks to hear our message because we do genuinely believe that if Canadians heard our message, then they would get on board, that they would be concerned and then they will be moved to action. So I hope that this enables us to do that. And we hope to continue to build these solidarity networks. And again, there is a deep understanding among those of us at Tigrayan Advocacy Canada, that all of these struggles are intertwined, inextricably so, and to, to kind of remember the words ‘that none of us are free until all of us are free.’ And that is the struggle that we pursue. And that is what orients the struggle itself. And of course, at this time, most of our energy and our time, and our efforts are spent on Tigray, where we’re working to end the state-sanctioned genocide, but absolutely, we stand with all peoples. And I think you used an expression the other day that I really, really like, ‘besieged nations,’ right, besieged nations. This is the central unit here. This is who we fight for, this is the people that we fight for. And it is the people of Tigray who have been besiefed, who are still besieged that we’re fighting for. And so those who are interested in joining this fight, there’s a number of resources online. And Tigrayan Advocacy Canada will soon have our sites and our social media. Actually, we do have a Twitter.
Daniel Tarade 59:29
Absolutely. But also just so you know, all this stuff, send it to me in an email, it’s going to be in the description of the podcast.
So people can can get in touch with us in our socials. We’re happy to have conversations, host sort-of teach-in sessions, anything that that we can do to help bring about the end of this humanitarian catastrophe and ensure liberation for all of our peoples.
Daniel Tarade 59:56
Thanks again to Fifi! Working with Tigrayan Advocacy Canada is now an important part of what Socialist Action has been doing. And we will continue to work to raise consciousness about this horrible, genocidal campaign being waged with the complicity of the Canadian state and the potential support of Canadian mining companies, who care more about access to precious minerals than they do about oppressed people. We urge all listeners to get involved, you can write to your MPs and amplify this campaign as much as you can. And until next time, take care and stay safe and stay active.