Tigray capital slowly emerging from shadow of war

Tigray's capital Mekele is slowly crawling back to normality 19 months after a peace deal ended one of the world's deadliest recent conflicts.


Cafes and markets are bustling, roads are being rebuilt and factories and banks are operating again.

Although Ethiopia’s northernmost region of Tigray is still gripped by a humanitarian crisis, the capital Mekele is slowly crawling back to normality 19 months after a peace deal ended one of the world’s deadliest recent conflicts.

“People are finally finding some relief after many hardships,” said Hailemikael Kidane, one of the countless construction labourers at work across the city.

“When there is peace like this, people can focus on their livelihoods,” the 48-year-old told AFP, voicing hope that jobless young people will now be able to find work here rather than hunt for opportunities elsewhere.

The two-year war between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigrayan rebel authorities killed as many as 600,000 people by some estimates, forced several million from their homes and unleashed widespread hunger.

ALSO READ: ‘Ethnic cleansing’ continues in Tigray despite truce – HRW

Across Africa’s second most populous country, Ethiopians still face rumbling internal conflicts, climate shocks and a dire food crisis.

In Tigray and neighbouring Amhara, eight million people are in need of food aid, according to a government assessment cited by the UN in April.

Tigray also has the highest number of people internally displaced by conflict within Ethiopia, at more than 831,000, according to an International Organization for Migration report published last month covering November-December.

Aside from the devastating human toll, the Tigray war destroyed homes, hospitals, schools and other vital infrastructure in the region of six million people, which was largely cut off from the outside world by what the UN called a de facto blockade.

The fighting finally came to an end under a peace deal signed by the warring sides in the South African capital Pretoria in November 2022.

Last year, the cash-strapped Ethiopian government calculated the bill for post-war reconstruction to be $20 billion.

ALSO READ: Blinken asks Ethiopia to strengthen peace on first post-war visit

Ex-fighters join post-war effort

Since the guns fell silent, access to key services including banking, electricity and internet has resumed in some parts of Tigray, although power is intermittent and internet outages occur — as they do across the entire country.

In Mekele, people are starting to rebuild their lives as reconstruction work gathers pace.

Hermon Gebremariam’s tailor’s shop is a hive of activity as workers swiftly run up men’s jackets and other garments on sewing machines, piles of shirts in clear plastic wrappers stacked behind them.

The 26-year-old Hermon, who runs the shop with several partners, says the post-war progress he is seeing in Mekele is “very encouraging”.

“Asphalt roads are being reconstructed, buildings are being constructed, and schools and factories that were disrupted by the war are now operational.”

The residents AFP spoke to in Mekele did not want to be drawn about their experiences from the war itself, preferring to focus on keeping the peace and the way forward.

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Across the city, earthmovers flatten huge mounds of dirt to make way for the new roads as labourers build walls made of concrete and metal bars.

Former fighters in the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who were to disarm and demobilise under the terms of the Pretoria accord, have been called up to join in the post-war effort.

“After receiving training, they are building the roads and generating income for themselves simultaneously,” said Mekele’s city administrator Weres Gebretsadkan.

Unpaid salaries

When the war ended, Weres said local leaders held consultations to tackle the vast task of repairing the wrecked infrastructure.

“Our planning was based on these discussions, adopting a bottom-up approach due to limited resources and extensive destruction,” he said.

City authorities reached out to local residents in every block, every district, to determine the most urgent priorities.

ALSO READ: Ethiopia starts dismantling regional military forces

“In some areas, roads were demolished; in others, the electricity grid was malfunctioning, or the drainage system was not working,” Weres told AFP.

But the rebuilding scheme swiftly ran into a hurdle.

“When we approved the plan, we had no budget. Our employees’ salaries were unpaid, we lacked vehicles, and we had no funds to buy fuel for the vehicles,” he said.

Local authorities reached out to construction companies as well as universities for help and managed to secure some long-term loans to help cover the cost of the work, he said without giving further details.

“We are building around 12 asphalt roads in the city, and we are nearing completion of three. We are also working on two hospitals that are currently in progress,” Weres said.

In October, a World Health Organization report said more than 90 percent of Tigray’s health facilities were damaged or destroyed in the war.

ALSO READ: Ethiopian Airlines makes first flight to Tigray in 18 months

Weres said progress was “not as planned” given the magnitude of the task, adding: “We still owe our employees 17 months of unpaid salary.”

But he added: “Despite the severe impact of the war on our city and region and the displacement of many people who have not yet returned home, we are pressing forward because we must.”

– By: © Agence France-Presse

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