Tigrayans Fleeing the TPLF: Their Opinions Ignored within Today’s Most Misunderstood War


Image credit: Jemal Countess - used with permission


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.

Showing 24 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Iain Robertson
    commented 2022-05-17 07:34:55 -0400
    Thank you for this. I spent a few years in Woldia, and some friends and colleagues suffered greatly in the fighting. The role of the MSM, as directed by the State Department, needs to be investigated. The highest reaches of the US administration, especially the State Department are being manipulated by the high-ranking officials, Susan Rice and Gayle Smith (the former mistress of a TPLF leader) to provide unqualified support to the TPLF and demonise the Federal Government. As well as receiving instructions from the State Department, the MSM are being bribed from the very large war chest stolen by the TPLF during their 27 years in power.

    I am told by people in Woldia, that a second invasion is likely, and very soon, particularly since the TPLF seem to be losing support in Tigray.

    I am concerned that the President has announced troop deployments to Somalia, which the TPLF may see as support for a second insurrection.
  • Tilay Guliba
    commented 2022-05-06 22:39:41 -0400
    Well-researched outstanding work by Prof. Ann Fitz-Gerald and Hugh Segal. They documented TPLF-initiated horror stories as told by thousands of Tigrayans fleeing their home region for the nearby Amhara and Afar regional states. They tell horror stories about their so-called TPLF liberators. This is in stark contrast to biased pro-TPLF reporting by most western media. The cause of the war? A well-planned unprovoked TPLF lightening attack on the northern command of the Ethiopian federal forces. They massacred thousands of federal troops in their sleep. Ample evidence clearly show that the people of Tigray are held hostage by TPLF. The solution? As soon as TPLF disarms or is disarmed, peace will come to all regions of Ethiopia including Tigray, Amhara, and Afar. Let us work to that end!
  • Aberra Molla
    commented 2022-05-05 17:52:24 -0400
    Thank you Prof.
  • Abebe Yirga Ayenalem
    commented 2022-05-03 12:41:39 -0400
    Thank you CGAI for publishing such an informative and well-researched article t
    which is based on primary sources and field-works. When international (mainly the West’s) public space is controlled by a small biased circles(TPLF-terrorist clique’s supporters and sympathizers) at the expense of voices of wider Ethiopian public(in most case the people of Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions), Prof. Ann and Hugh contributed a well-balanced, true and scholarly work which will help the international public to get the right information on the ground. I hope more and more scholars will join Prof. Ann’s lead to unveil the truth to the international public.

    Thank you, Prof. Ann and Hugh
  • Fisseha Bezza
    commented 2022-05-02 04:39:58 -0400
    What a great author, serving truth and reality on the ground, rather than fake news like Human rights watch and Amnesty international, who are serving their ego and personal motives
  • Albasa Dagaga
    commented 2022-05-01 16:19:47 -0400
    Interviewing starving people in search of food and prisoners of war about their government and representing the findings as the voice of the silent majority is statistical manipulation for a certain political end. When you use such conclusion to prescribe policy issues, it’s blasphemy for that could cost thousands more lives.
  • Albasa Dagaga
    commented 2022-05-01 16:05:16 -0400
    I really don’t have the time to statistically show you why the entire research and findings are based on selection of wrong samples which makes the entire findings useless. The research is politically motivated and the findings are forgone conclusion prior to the fake research.
  • Lulu G 🇪🇹❤🇪🇹
    commented 2022-05-01 14:12:10 -0400
    Many blessings to Prof. Ann and Huge for publishing this truth telling article about the suffering of many Ethiopians by TPLF terrorist group.
  • Mohammad Teklo
    commented 2022-05-01 11:38:11 -0400
    Tplf is terrest group
  • Ezra Musa
    commented 2022-04-30 19:46:38 -0400
    Dear Prof. Ann, Thank you for reporting and analyzing facts on the ground. Reporting truth nowadays is a rare act. Than you for digging up the truth and reporting on TPLF’s crimes.
  • Assefa Nigussie
    commented 2022-04-30 17:52:19 -0400
    Dear Prof Ann,
    Thank you so much for the article that you published last week. You are always a voice for voiceless Ethiopians. Much appreciations!
  • Mulu geletu
    commented 2022-04-30 17:26:00 -0400
    Dear Prof Ann,
    Thank you so much for the article that you published recently. I appreciate your research work.
    This article is research-based and professionally written. It is well organized and very informative. You do a nice job of incorporating the real data and including relevant arguments to substantiate your research. It is eye-opening for most individual who has biased thinking or opinion about the conflict in Ethiopia. The truth always wins. Please keep up digging out the truth.
    Thank you!
  • Fisseha Belay
    commented 2022-04-30 14:40:29 -0400
    Ann, this wonderful and ground-breaking article! It incorporates and amplify the voice of voiceless Tigrayans IDPs who have been subjected to TPLF’s brutal oppression and subjugation. I really appreciate the methodological rigor, ethic, and evidence-based analysis you employed in your research. Above all, I commend your consistency, objectivity, and integrity you have shown amidst the relentless disinformation. I hope that the MSM and policy makers review this outstanding work.
    Thank you!
  • Professor Yonas Geda
    commented 2022-04-30 14:11:10 -0400
    I am impressed by the methodological rigor of Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald’s work. She actually interviewed internally displaced Tigrayans that fled from TPLF occupied region. In my opinion, this is actually the First research based report that shed light on the conflict in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of Ethiopia. Anyone who does not like her publication needs to come up with an evidence backed anti-thesis to her work. Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald has set the bar high. So her opponents need to rise up to the challenge and work hard to back their statements with sound research methodology.
  • Blen Mamo Diriba
    commented 2022-04-30 13:35:25 -0400
    This is a ground breaking research. The media and TPLF affiliated western “scholars” & organisations misled the world with a politicised and one sided reporting that only takes in to account the interest of their governments and their proxy ally the TPLF. All have done nothing but disregard the real suffering of the people, the very people they try to sell their stories on by fabricating lies and producing deceptive papers and reports.

    Prof Ann has presented herself with principle and professional integrity with this and other researches she has worked on. She is and has been a voice of reason through out this controversial conflict. A sobber analyst that tried to reasonably and professionally outline the fault lines, the correct strategies and the proper manner to approach the conflict in Northern Ethiopia. A very great academic asset to Canada & the Western powers, if only they listen to bold, courageous & ethical scholars like her.

    Well done, Prof Ann. And thank you CGAI for publishing this remarkable research.
  • Marcus
    commented 2022-04-30 12:40:23 -0400
    Professor Ann took on the world to tell the truth about what’s really happening in Ethiopia in particular North Ethiopia. Her meticulous research left no doubt about the accuracy of what is happening in the ground. Thanks to Professor Ann the Tigray people finally have a voice to tell the world about the living hell under TPLFISATERRORISTGROUP. As much as the TPLF supporters are threatening and undermining Professor Ann’s work the sun, moon and TRUTH can never be hidden. Thank you to Ann for shedding the light to the travesty of what the TPLF are doing to its own people. The people of Tigray are held hostage by TPLF and Western powers. They risked their lives to escape and manage to share their dangerous journey. Likewise, Professor Ann risked a lot to tell these helpless people story. She should be commended for an extraordinary work. It’s my hope we encourage and support Professor Ann’s work and as she continues to search for the truth.

    Thank you Professor Ann!
  • Neamin Zeleke
    commented 2022-04-30 12:21:30 -0400
    Dear Prof. Ann,
    Your evidence-based and scholarly finding is causing a major nervous meltdown. Please continues to strike major nerves in the #TPLF fascists camp, their cyber army of deception and disinformation. Paid foreign mercenaries are screaming ever louder to cover up their over-year-long campaign of disinformation to hoodwink the international community. You are a hero, unlike your detractors, allied with #TPLF, the face of terror & horror that has committed untold atrocities and agony in Ethiopia for 27 long years, not to mention the terror it unleashed against the Northern Command in Tigray in order to reimpose Tigrayan ethnic minority domination of state and economy of Ethiopia.
  • Shawel Betru
    commented 2022-04-30 11:48:40 -0400
    Thank you Prof Ann for your meticulously done on the ground investigation that shades light in to what was virtually tightly sealed info. There are hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians of Tigray origin living in all parts of Ethiopia. They have different opinion but are affraid of intimidation to speak out. Some who did lost their lives and others are in constant fear for their lives. In light of these and perinneal nature of TPLF’s lies and authoritarian nature, her findings are not a surprise for most Ethiopians. Tigrayans who fled to neighboring Amhara region and how they were treated is a testimony of hope for future Ethiopia. Please do more research in other parts of Ethiopia and help all of us find a lasting solution to a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Thank you once more.
  • Ethio Canadian Network for Advocacy and Support
    commented 2022-04-30 09:27:41 -0400
    This OP-ED is an eye opener that sheds light on the suffering of Tigrayans under TPLF repressive rule that MSM has neglected to mention for far too long! I can see why most of them are defensive and antagonistic. If there has ever been a ‘must read’ during the last 18 months, it is this one!
  • Dereje Melaku
    commented 2022-04-30 08:20:58 -0400
    No matter the pressure might as stiff and harsh as it should be, TRUTH, has never missed a way out of avalanche traches. those who side with truth are always go against the wave, face much noises, and biting of home pets who have been served from the very killers of that Truth. This commentary article is all about that. The authors exhibited their principled stand to side with the truth of innocent Tigreans in particular and Ethiopians in general. For those especially know the current situation of the Ethiopian war read each and every line of the article with feeling of mixture_ joy as the truth are revealing, sadness_ why all the messes and lies of the #TPLFTerroristGroup ring leaders and why all the unethical, undiplomatic and uncivilized- for that matter- alliances of US officials and EU with this criminal entities. One thin we can say is that even if so much have been damaged due to the wrong track these people have been walking on, it is not too late to halt the wrong walk and re fix into the right and sublime journey of TRUTH. People matters, not dirty politics, nor elicited $s, nor few abusers and criminals.

    Thank you Ann and colleague for your bravely unearth the truth and only the truth of the innocent people. This may hopefully show and provoke those concerned to re fix the wrong path they follow and will enable them to their sublime personality.
  • Iyoba 
    commented 2022-04-30 03:52:11 -0400
    We, Ethiopia’ns, highly appreciate the Canadian Global Affairs Institute’s commitment for publishing this timely commentary article exposing the TPLF Atrocities & War Crimes in Tigray Region of Ethiopia, that is committed on the people of Tigray & the country as a whole. The International Community and mainstream media have deliberately ignored, gave deaf ears or twisted the crimes that has made the country, Ethiopia, and people to pay a heavy price.

    Having said that I thank the writer, Ann Fitz-Gerald, for her extraordinary commentary article in the name of peace loving Ethiopians.

    She has exposed the sidelined crimes of the TPLF to the World, not doing it remotely but by travelling all the way to Ethiopia to voice for the voiceless that many knowingly couldn’t do it or twisted the reality.

    Thank you
  • KEsate Berhan
    commented 2022-04-29 22:55:39 -0400
    Once known for making BlackBerrys Waterloo is now known for helping kill black Mary.

    Accusations Ann Fitzgerald has been acting as a paid lobbyist,
    propagating a defense for the PM Abiy who is in the midst of a power struggle with his former comrades that once all pledged loyalty to the same political party is a bit scandalous.
    There is no evidence of sincere conflict resolution from Ann Fitzgerald but instead efforts to undermine the
    credibility and legitimacy of the EU, the UN, Amnesty International, Human RIghts Watch, and the United States to protect the survival of two government leaders now under sanctions, and facing a serious UIN war crimes investigation.
    Madame Fitzgerald doesn’t even acknowledge how PM Abiy tried to use a UN resolution to prevent that UN war crimes investigation, which Canada voted against the motion.

    The story you present seems to avoid informing the readers that PM Abiy came to power in 2018 following four years of Oromo protests, which he may have had a role in orchestrating.
    PM Abiy seemed less committed to the transfer to democracy but consolidating power in a manner where nothing actually changed with the exception PM Abiy renamed
    that ethnic-based coalition from EPRDF to Prosperity Party, but excluded the TPLF, which held much of the military and economic power.
    Nobody denies TPLF was corrupt. But to suggest everybody else in that former EPRDF coalition escaped justice is quite absurd.
    You also fail to mention that two months before declaring war PM Abiy had stop giving Tigray badly needed tax revenues; and announced a new currency to begin in December, that would
    ensure all hoarded currency become worthless.
    Among he worse crimes commented were:

    1. Enabling human right violations by sending an Amhara citizen militia, driven by revenge fantasies and unable to speak the Tigrinya language, into the Tigray province to enforce law and order, with no accountability.
    2. Lied to the UNSC of the present of Eritreans troops.
    3. Hindered the UN from delivery food adding meaningless buraeacy, depriving UN from equipping vehicles with GPS, and refusing to provide security to protect those aid conveys.
    4. Deliberately make unfounded accusations NGOs and the UN were arming rebels, which has contributed to the 33 deaths of AID workers.
    4. And when PM Abiy’s three week law and order failed to achieve its original objectives; all , blame was directed at western Media and the SUA, which PM would be quoted calling up on the diaspora and Africans worldwide to join in ’An African War against neocoilonalism" and to obstruct justice.

    Now the University of Waterloo has attained the reputation
    its campus is the go to place for war criminals. And that
    the placed that helped create Blackberry are nor destroying black people, as well.
  • Addis Alem
    commented 2022-04-29 07:37:27 -0400
    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!
  • Cgai Staff
    published this page in Commentary 2022-04-27 19:50:34 -0400

Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 2720, 700–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3V4


Calgary Office Phone: (587) 574-4757


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Ottawa Office Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


©2002-2024 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email