Anxiety in university city as conflict returns to Tigray

The safety of the university community who form part of the civilian population in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is in doubt following reports of airstrikes by Ethiopia’s air force on the regional capital, Mekelle, which caused deaths and injuries.

The airstrikes come amid the resumption of fighting between Ethiopian government forces and forces from Tigray on 24 August, thereby undoing a five-month truce and dealing a blow to peace efforts.

Professor Kindeya Gebrehiwot, the former president of Mekelle University, said the aerial assault from Addis is killing people and is also placing university professors at risk.

Professor Jan Nyssen of Ghent University in Belgium and a guest professor at Mekelle University, told University World News that the flaring up of the war has brought about anxiety in the university community, which is worried about the staff’s survival as well as that of their relatives.

“Everybody is worried. We are even not able to contact our colleagues through e-mail or telephone and to ask for their whereabouts,” Nyssen said, referring to what appears to be a communication blackout.

Teklehaymanot Weldemichel, a research fellow in conservation politics in Africa, based at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, told University World News that Mekelle is a university city, which is why the air strike could put the safety and security of university communities at risk.

Mekelle University is one of the largest public universities in Ethiopia with capacity for about 31,000 students, 10% of Mekelle’s population.

But, in the divisive conflict, the Global Ethiopian Scholars Initiative (GESI), an independent association of scholars and professionals, has warned against propaganda, misinformation and any group that is attempting “to advance a biased and one-sided political agenda under the guise of concern for human rights”.

The GESI board, in a statement to University World News, has also condemned “in the strongest terms, any violence and atrocities perpetrated against innocent civilians, without regard to their ethnic, religious or political affiliations”.

The group said it was deeply saddened by the plight of the people of Ethiopia, “including those of Tigray, who have suffered for over five decades under successive dictatorships, devastating wars and persistent famines.”

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