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Tigrayans Fleeing the TPLF

May 1, 2022
Their Opinions Ignored within Today’s Most Misunderstood War

by Ann Fitz-Gerald and Hugh Segal

While most eyes stay understandably focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine, another war goes on that Canadians, Americans and Europeans barely know about, in Ethiopia. And what they’re told by much of the mainstream media fails to reflect reality on the ground. The New York Times, the Guardian and CNN have often cast the Marxist Leninist Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgency in the role of plucky “heroes” against a sinister Ethiopian state, portraying Tigrayans as a persecuted minority “blockaded” and “sieged” by federal forces. The fact that now Tigrayans themselves are fleeing their home region for the nearby Amhara and Afar regional states, with horror stories to tell about their so-called TPLF liberators, speaks volumes about the greater truth ignored by most western media.

A bit of background is needed. Western newscasters quickly gloss over the fact that the harsh TPLF ran Ethiopia, ruthlessly, for 27 years. They usually start and end with that single concession, admitting that there were some abuses. Nor are they clear about the cause of the present conflict: a long-planned unprovoked TPLF lightening attack on the northern command of the Ethiopian federal forces which, according to interviews with commanders and officials in Ethiopia’s national defence forces, saw thousands of federal soldiers murdered. Instead, mainstream news stories incorrectly and misleadingly refer to a conflict which started “when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed deployed troops as part of a law enforcement operation against the TPLF”.  Other reports cite that the Government of Ethiopia “had been planning the war for months” – a claim which is not supported by interview data on the deployment patterns of the federal troops which led the law enforcement operation after the TPLF’s attack on the northern base.

Thus far, the TPLF executive committee members and other senior officials based in both Washington and Geneva have been speaking for Tigrayans but hardly ever letting journalists and others speak with Tigrayans away from TPLF intelligence operatives. But thousands are now fleeing to the relative safety of Amhara and Afar districts. It’s reasonable to ask: Why would they do this if the Amhara are allegedly their most dreaded enemy? It turns out that they have the most to fear from the TPLF itself. Tigrayans of various ages in the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Jarra, in the Amhara regional state, and in a camp near Chifra in the Afar region agreed recently to be interviewed – interviews conducted in Ethiopia between 30 March and 8 April 2022.

While Twitter shakes with Western indignation over Tigray supposedly being starved by Ethiopia, the many Tigrayan IDPs interviewed say that only a small amount of aid sent to Tigray has ever been made available by TPLF authorities to ordinary people—going first only to those families who contributed fighters to the rebel force under a “one fighter per family” TPLF policy. Very little or no aid was given to families which couldn’t offer fighters. All this on the back of comments which verify how food secure people felt under the federal interim government administration, before this administration pulled out with the announcement of the June 2021 humanitarian ceasefire.

And the interviewed Tigrayans say that no matter how much aid flowed into Tigray, priority was always given to the TPLF leaders, certain TPLF-linked businessmen (given some staples, like oil, to sell in their shops) and fighters. In fact, aid organizations apparently had no voice in how their own aid was distributed—it was handed over to TPLF leaders. Anyone who approached aid organizations directly about the aid would be arrested.

Two Tigrayans interviewed witnessed first-hand how phony videos were manufactured with contrived evidence profiling fighters for OLF-Shene, another armed group affiliated with the TPLF rebels with other footage, put the “actors” in bogus federal Ethiopian military uniforms. Witnesses learned that their names were added to an arrest list which, they claim, was as a result of knowing about the video-making. One witness fled successfully, while the other was imprisoned. Those imprisoned by the TPLF say they needed to pay bribes, which could be eight times the amount of the court fee, in order to secure a release.

Another Tigrayan witness indicated that the TPLF would fire heavy weapons at drones used by the Ethiopian Government for surveillance purposes. When hit by weapons, an exploding drone would spray shrapnel around the area underneath. The TPLF would then deceitfully claim on local and international media that the federal government was bombing Mekelle.

And only now are some Tigrayans—safely away from TPLF intimidation—free to talk about how they were forced to fight. One male interviewee described how TPLF special forces waited for him at his workplace. When he tried to run, they shot at him, and he had no choice but to hand himself over. Other younger members of Tigrayan families spoke about having to sign up to fight in order to protect older siblings who were in ill-health or to prevent older family members, including grandparents and parents, from being taken away and imprisoned. Other respondents claimed to have fled due to the threat of imprisonment as a result of their sons residing in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, and refusing to return to Tigray to support the war. Some of the Tigrayan fighters interviewed in Ethiopia in April, were under the age of eighteen.  Captured Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) soldiers also say they were forced to fight, which is a war crime and against the Geneva Convention regarding Prisoners of War.

Tigrayan IDPs also reported that very few of them were given a weapon, let alone provided training for how to use it. They reported that TPLF commanders kept insisting that their side was winning, but it soon became obvious that most of the arms collected and distributed to new “recruited fighters” came from their own fellow Tigrayans fallen on the battlefield. Based on orders they received to “take your own life before giving your hand (surrendering) to the enemy”, many of the former fighters now, understandably, fear for repercussions against themselves and members of their families. Feedback from civilian IDPs mirrors this fear, particularly in light of the experience of many Tigrayans who respondents described to have had any interface with the federal interim administration between November 2020 and June 2021 – and who were killed or imprisoned by the TPLF; measures which were reportedly made possible by way of four new proclamations which the TPLF enacted in June 2021.

What’s also remarkable is how these Tigrayans feel about their own country—sentiments that completely contradict the narrative pushed by their self-appointed leaders. The TPLF have always maintained that the ethnic Amhara people are their sworn enemy (this is even stated in their founding document). The TPLF has pushed a relentless “divide and rule” strategy asserting that Ethiopia can’t go on without a separate Tigray nation, or unless Tigray is in charge over all. In fact, many Western commentators have erroneously suggested that Ethiopia is on the verge of a Balkan-style breakup, and that in the end, this would be a good thing. Yet many of the Tigrayans in the IDP camps say there can be no peace in Tigray as long as the TPLF exist, and that “there will never be any democracy for Tigray if we are not part of Ethiopia.”

U.S. and European policy makers would do well to consult Tigrayans directly in the camps rather than rely on the TPLF leadership and their paid lobbyists in Washington and Geneva. Ethiopia, a federal state with a duly and democratically elected government, could build the lasting peace and prosperity that can help ensure long-term stability in the Horn of Africa.  When Tigrayans themselves – when allowed to reflect freely on the authoritarian excesses of the TPLF – indicate what they believe to be the facts on the ground, the world really has a duty to reflect on the dynamics which, in Ethiopia, matter.

About The Authors

Ann Fitz-Gerald is the Director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Canada, a Senior Research Fellow at RUSI and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy. She recently completed in person field research in IDP camps and communities in northern Ethiopia.

Hugh Segal is the former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Mulroney, chaired the Senate committees on foreign relations and anti-terrorism and is the Mathews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University, a Senior RUSI fellow and CGAI fellow.


  1. Ann, Ethiopians love you like their sister and mother – a symbol of integrity and decency! A beautiful soul who saved a whole nation from losing all hope in humanity.

    God bless you Ann, and everything and everyone that’s dear to you!

  2. The TPLF is a fascist grouping and does not care about the people of Tigray. It has a great deal of experience in exploiting famine and will do the same now.

  3. Today Ann Fitzgerald and Senator Hugh Segal shared their ground-breaking research document ‘The Front-line voices’ which reveals TPLF’s atrocities in Northern Ethiopia-Tigray Province. The facts revealed in their paper are not like the fabricated disinformation reports cooked at the desk level by Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Rather they are facts spoken and told by TPLF victims.

    Certainly, those who have been feeding false information to the international media and the global community will be sleepless. And there will be no surprise if they are in a defamation campaign against Ann and Hugh. We say to those types of people that the train of truth will travel at a lightning speed and the false passengers will be left behind at their station.

    We also thank Wilfrid Laurier and Queens Universities of Canada for allowing these seasoned researchers to do the job. It is not surprise that these universities got their reputation and fame through professionals researchers like Ann and Hugh who spoke truth to power. The universities’ hallmarks are recognized for fact based research, realism, and professional etiquette.

    On behalf of the victims of TPLF, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for telling the international community the truth and the only truth that existed on the ground to date. There is nothing more onerous than being a voice for the voiceless.

    Thank you all.

  4. Just doubling down!!!

    I would like to say a few things that I consider important to the younger generation of the old country. I am gonna tell you them based on what took place there since the mid 1960’s and mid 1970’s in particular. When I do that I have decided to stay within the current boundaries of the country because I believe I am not entitled to look over the fence and talk about someone else. I ain’t gonna do that.

    Those years were the times when the entire world was in political turmoil. The old country could not manage to escape the turmoil. What made it peculiar was it was the time when more and more of young people were going to schools. There were more high schools than before and the only college was expanded branching out to some provinces. More and more students were sent overseas and ran smack into noisy protests that sometimes went violent. The late emperor brought in foreign instructors as college professors. What he and his officials missed was some of those professors were not only teaching what was in the curriculum. They laced their presentations with teachings from Marx, Lenin and that master of knock-off’s Mao. Those who came here and Western Europe were not spared from the mualims of Marxism/Leninism either. One countryman once told me the majority of those who went on to found leftist organizations were radicalized at several colleges here in the West. We all remember what used to be posted/printed on their periodicals. Reform was relegated to be the most reviled word in their working protocol. Those of us who preferred reforms were told ‘revolution is the right path and remedy, dummy!’ Slowly and gradually that student movement was repossessed by ultra leftist smart alecks. Some of those smart alecks chose the ethnic paths and went on to found the ‘liberation’ fronts we see today that currently wreaking havoc in several regions in that gem of the colored.

    The ones that founded the TPLF turned out to be the most prolific organizers and crafty leaders. They grew into something the noble people of Tigray never suspected. They became the best in creating the most efficient and well controlled state apparatus. They are very generous to those who served them well and ruthless to those who have a 2nd thought about the whole spiel. But by the time it was all realized it was just too late for the noble people of Tigray to do anything about it. They followed the despots carrying them on their backs all the way to Addis Ababa/Finfine. For the common people of Tigray it has become just the sun rises and the sun sets. When the despots told them to mow down more than 300 peaceful demonstrators in Addis/Finfine and they reluctantly did it to the letter. Now that created undeserved hostility and they become the most hated group of people in Oromia, Amhara, Gambela, Sidama, Somalia, Afar regions and the rest of the country. Those smart alecks took advantage of such misplaced hostility then and that is they are striving on now. The term ‘Woyane’ became the most reviled and hated word and it even became the catchword for battle cries. We all remember the cringe-worthy thunderous noise ‘Down, down Woyane!’ during demonstrations which led to innocent citizens being dragged out of their shops and homes and savagely lynched to agonizing death. It was one of the saddest moments in my entire life. Now no one will come to the aid of those noble people of Tigray. The solution is in their own hands. I really believe that the rest of the country is ready to welcome them back no questions asked with open arms but without these despots riding on their backs. I really believe that in my heart and soul because the people of the old country are known to be magnanimous and they still have it.

    Now back to the lesson for the younger generation. Many of you seem to be huddling around so-called ‘liberation front’ of this or that. I have no doubt in my mind that these ‘fronts’ are dens for smart alecks with dictatorial tendencies inherent in them. They know how to feed on your raw emotion. But once they are able to carve out a territory with your blood and sweats they are guaranteed to be another Debre sitting and pissing on your backs. No Amhara will come to your rescue! No Oromo, Afar, Somali, Gambela, Sidama, Beni Shangul or folks from southern regions will come to your rescue. To maintain their despotic rules they will pitch you against one or all of these harmonious groups of people. You have to keep this truth in your mind and you can take it home. My Oromos will never be free without the participation and freedom of Amharas. Amharas will never be free people without the participation and freedom of my Oromos. The same goes to Afars, Somalis, Sidamas, Gambelas, Beni Shanguls and the good folks in the southern regions. You are forewarned!!!!

  5. QUOTE: “Tigrayans Fleeing the TPLF. Their Opinions Ignored within Today’s Most Misunderstood War, ,
    by Ann Fitz-Gerald and Hugh Segal,
    May 1, 2022” Unquote

    Humble Commentary, 2 May 2022
    Hopeful Trend. Perhaps it is the resurrection of the PEOPLE of TIGRAY — for their own benefit.
    Ask the Tigrayan Nobility and Heroes >>> Emperor Yohannes and Ras Allula. >>>> NOT today’s smart aleck, in love with their own selves, for their own benefit. No doubt about it. THE END

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