tigray malnutrition
A four-year-old refugee girl from Tigray at a malnutrion center in Sudan on December 2, 2020 (Getty Images).

Italian Tigrayans: «Financing and military agreement between Rome and Addis Ababa»

The dangerous relations between Italy and Ethiopia. «During the genocide, the Italian government has more than once clashed with the line of EU and US» denounce the young activists.

The Young Italian-Tigrayans are very disappointed. «Mario Draghi's silence on the genocide in Tigray coincides with the role of the Italian government in this humanitarian catastrophe» they denounce. «In 10 months of massacres, looting and mass rape, Rome has more than once clashed with the line of Brussels and Washington, as in the case of the financing of the sham elections of Abiy Ahmed. Italy is the closest western country to the genocidal administration of Addis Ababa».

The Young Italian-Tigrayans is a group of Italians of Tigrayan origin that fights to inform public opinion of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Ethiopian region. Regarding this conflict, that could soon lead to millions of people starving to death, President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on September 17.

When, last November, «Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean dictator Isaias Afewerki invaded the Ethiopian region», these young activists picked up the baton from their relatives, «silenced in Tigray because of the telecommunications blockade». And, armed with their degrees and Master's degrees, they mobilized to «stop the genocide». Their strengths? A great accuracy and the wise use of Twitter.

Panorama met them through the social media. After the publication of an interview with Professor Mulugeta Gebregziabher, who asked Draghi to «take a stand on the genocide in Tigray», their account @TigrayItalia tweeted: «Palazzo Chigi should explain why he financed the election of @AbiyAhmed Ali in the middle of #TigrayGenocide».

What? Rome has given money to the Ethiopian premier who, as accused by former U.S. representative at the UN Samantha Power, is «preventing humanitarian aid from reaching quickly» hundreds of thousands of people who risk starvation? A Prime minister that already in May was not able to guarantee the independence of the elections, to the point that the European Union had cancelled its mission of electoral observers? The news was incredible. Yet, as Panorama has ascertained, it is true.

«It is a fact for us that Luigi Di Maio's Farnesina is politically close to the genocidal administration of Abiy Ahmed» denounce the Young Italian-Tigrayans, who in order to protect their relatives in Ethiopia prefer not to appear with name and surname. «The Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni was the only Western political figure who hastened to blame the Tplf (Tigray People's Liberation Front) for the beginning of the conflict. Heedless of the fact that for months the Ethiopian federal army, the Eritrean army and the Amhara militias were carrying out massacres, mass rapes, total blocks of food, medicine, electricity and telecommunications».

But another point indignates the Italian Tigrayans: «What left us stunned was the financing of the sham elections of Abiy Ahmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an amount of 400,000 euros. Elections in which all of Abiy's political opponents were either in prison or forced to defend themselves in the trenches. An electoral farce, in which tens of millions of Ethiopians of all ethnicities, including all Tigrayans, could not participate. The same elections that the Ethiopian dictator had postponed for months. First for political convenience and then for lack of funds».

Funds that also arrived from Italy. Actually, the 400,000 euros for the elections (held on June 21) did not go directly into the coffers of the Ethiopian State. As the Italian Embassy in Addis Ababa wrote on June 3, 2021, the Italian Government «grants to the United Nations Agency an amount of 400.000 Euro for the implementation of its project "Supporting Elections for Ethiopia Democracy Strengthening – SEEDS ». And specified that «the Italy-UNDP collaboration will be managed by the Office of the Italian Development Cooperation Agency in Addis Ababa (AICS)».

In short, Italian money, managed by Italians, for elections considered opaque by the European Union. To tell the truth, not even Brussels has shone. In the statement with which Josep Borrell announced the cancellation of the Election Observation Mission, the High Representative admitted that: «The EU has supported the National Electoral Commission of Ethiopia (NEBE) in the preparation of these elections with more than 20 million euros».

The distinction, however, is the timing. While the EU subsidized Abiy when he was freshly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Italy financed him less than 20 days before the elections, when it had been evident for months (even in the EU eyes) that those elections would not have been «free and fair». Young Italian-Tigrayans add: «Italy was the only Western country to have supported, out of maximum time, those elections».

Even in the case of the military agreement 20G00107, the problem is the timing. Concluded between our Ministry of Defense and the Ethiopian Ministry of Defense, it involves military education and training of the Ethiopian Federal Army (Article 3), support for commercial activities related to «Defense» products (Article 4), procurement of military equipment (Article 9) and the creation of a legal framework required to sign additional agreements (Article 12).

«The process started in 2019, but the actual agreement came into force on August 5, 2020, just before the genocide began. The climate was already very tense, so much that most of Tigrayans abroad had not set foot in Ethiopia for months» the activists explain. Indeed, as early as March 27, 2019, the Financial Times reported that Premier Abiy called his political opponents «daytime hyenas»: the reference to Tigrayans was so obvious that they accused him of uttering «ethnic insults».

Thereafter it has been a crescendo: on May 7, 2020, Abiy lashed out against Tigray's decision to hold regional elections, as required by the Ethiopian Constitution. Abiy issued grim threats that somehow anticipated imminent ethnic cleansing: «Politicians must be careful not to endanger the youth and mothers in order to seize power. Young people must not die, mothers must not cry or houses must not be destroyed or people must not leave their homes for politicians to take power». And on July 18, 2021, he went so far as to call his enemies «the cancer of Ethiopia».

The climax was reached by Daniel Kibret, his spiritual adviser as well as director of the Ethiopian News Agency. In mid-September, during an event held in the Amhara region, he said that Tigrayans must «be eradicated (...) from the historical archives. A person who wants to study them should not find anything about them. Maybe he could find them by digging underground».

Hate speeches that evoke in a disturbing way those made before the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when Tutsis were labeled as «cockroaches». A confirmation also comes from the European Union's envoy, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. Last June 18, he reported the words heard during his closed-door meetings in Addis Ababa, during his trip in February. On this occasion, Ethiopian leaders announced that «they were going to destroy Tigryans, they were going to wipe them out for 100 years and more».

In this poisoned climate, our government did not feel compelled to suspend the military agreement with Addis Ababa, as Paris did. «Although late, last August 13, the French government suspended an agreement similar to the Italian one» observe Young Italian-Tigrayans. «Rome, on the other hand, even refuses to talk about it».

The only politician to have made a sort of mea culpa was former Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta, who on April 10, 2019 had signed a bilateral agreement, expressing «the appreciation (...) of the Italian government to the path of reforms undertaken by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed». Last May 28, she admitted on Twitter, «we certainly would not have said those words if we could know the future». And referring to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, she pointed out: «It would be honest to say that he had deceived even those who gave him the Nobel Peace Prize».

Last April 1, on the other hand, the vice-minister Marina Sereni took the side of the Ethiopian Prime minister. «The basic idea of Abiy's government was to overcome "ethnic" federalism in the name of a democracy participated by all ethnic groups», she told the catholic newspaper Avvenire, «but the Tplf, Tigray's Popular Liberation Front, did not accept this approach and in November contributed to the outbreak of the conflict».

A few days earlier, Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini had gone to Djibouti and Somalia to reiterate Italian military support for the governments of the two countries in an anti-terrorism perspective. «An impeccable statement, if it weren't for the fact that Somali President Farmajohad already been accused of having sent soldiers and weapons to Tigray in support of Abiy Ahmed Ali» observe the Young Italian-Tigrayans. «The illegal weapons triangulation on the Djibouti City-Mogadishu-Addis Ababa axis is a problem that cannot be ignored. Moreover, reallocating Ethiopian and Somali soldiers from Somalia to Tigray was yet another ill-advised move. The created vacuum has allowed Al Shabaab militias to regain many territories in Somalia and further destabilize the Horn of Africa».

Financing, military agreements, inappropriate visits: the Young Italian-Tigrayans (and with them the entire diaspora of the Ethiopian region) launch many accusations against the Italian government. «We were born and raised in Italy. We study, work, vote like all our peers» they explain. «For 10 months, every day we wake up seeing atrocious images on Twitter and our friends and relatives in Tigray are being massacred, raped or even burned. We feel deeply betrayed. In front of so much suffering, there is no economic interest that holds. Italy cannot finance dictators who are committing a genocide».

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Elisabetta Burba