Since November 2020, Ethiopian federal and allied military forces have carried out a genocidal campaign of political repression in the Tigray region. Indiscriminate bombings, mass executions, rape as a tool of war. Food supplies devastated adding starvation to the arsenal. Refugees are prevented from fleeing these horrors. Communications and outside aid have been cut off.
Outside the region, Tigrayan people have faced escalating discrimination and violence due to their ethnicity. They have lost jobs and had passports canceled. Social media is filled with a cocktail of propaganda standard for modern genocidal regimes: open government hate propaganda mixes cleanly with legions of unquestioning supporters and puppet account networks.
Responding to calls from Tigrayans and other groups facing violent repression from the Ethiopian state, a decentralized, global effort is underway to stop this genocidal conflict. This means building real solidarity, beyond borders and nations.
We must also dismantle the Ethiopian state’s ability to wage this war. One way is to cut into the state’s biggest source of direct funding and foreign currency revenue: coffee. A major buyer around the globe is Starbucks. The corporation regularly engages in direct negotiations with the Ethiopian state, whose direct control of trademark licensing and access to markets puts millions into the government’s coffers. Those in solidarity around the world must take action to cut off this flow while the genocide continues.
A History of Empire
Tigrayan people are not the first to face intense repression within Ethiopia’s empire. The borders of modern Ethiopia are home to dozens of indigenous groups. The formation of central states over thousands of years has brought conflict as the Empires dominant groups have sought to impose their culture more widely. The Ethiopian Empire which resisted most European colonial encroachment in the 19th and 20th century was itself dominated by an ethnic Amharic elite.
The last Emperor Haile Selassie oversaw sometimes brutal attempts to forge an Ethiopian nationalism based on Amharic culture. When he was overthrown in the 1970s, these policies continued and reached new horrors under the following Marxist-Leninist military Derg government.
National Liberation oriented parties and military organizations based in Tigray, Eritrea, Oromia and other regions united to overthrew the Derg by 1991 and established a system of “ethnic federalism.”
Nine states were established on the basis of ethnic self-determination. But a degree of greater equality between ethnic groups did not end ethnic conflict. The inability to represent the messy and overlapping geography of various groups, as well as the numerous groups too small to receive their own region, provided fuel for further conflict. Ethnic conflict became intimately intertwined with political disputes.
The Oromo, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, have faced systemic discrimination for decades. An Oromo-based party central to overthrowing the Derg was pushed out of the new governing coalition early on. Despite some new autonomy within the ethnic federalist system, discrimination remains widespread, and massive protests have been met with violent reprisals as recently as last year. Many politicized Oromo are today advocate ending the Ethiopian Empire altogether.
Recently, a new governing coalition was formed when the largest Tigrayan party (TPLF) exited the government. The rest of the former coalition merged to form the new Prosperity Party under Abiy Ahmed. The present government seeks to dismantle “ethnic federalism” in favor of a centralized state promoting a unified “Ethiopian” identity. Powerful ethnic-based political parties are a significant obstacle to this goal. To secure victory in its political agenda, Abiy’s government has made all Tigrayan people synonymous with the TPLF political party in the view of the country’s mass media and war machine, launching an all-out struggle against both.
Abiy’s construction of a nationalist base at home has been complimented by his efforts to secure support abroad. In a piece of bitter irony, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing a decades long conflict with the totalitarian government of neighboring Eritrea to an end. Violent struggle had simmered since Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia following the collapse of the Derg. The presence of Eritrean political refugees in Tigray and ongoing resentment over the previous war made Abiy’s peace partners an ideal collaborator in genocide. Eritrean ground forces have been responsible for some of the most horrific massacres, plundering, and destruction of the countryside.
Coffee Grows Empire
Any present-day empire building project in Ethiopia needs a fervent nationalist base. Yet in the modern global system, Ethiopia’s empire is but a small and sometimes exploited player. Projecting necessitates extensive foreign capital and support. Drones bombing civilian towns, bullets digging mass graves, media infrastructure to justify it all. This requires cash.
Some of this may come in the form of foreign aid, or the loans neocolonial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are currently trying to approve. For the Ethiopian state, though, much of their cash comes from commodity export. King of Ethiopia’s exports is a crop it originated: coffee. A billion US dollars, 30% of the country’s total exports, sent to eighty countries around the world.
The central state has a heavy, lucrative hand in the trade. It manages commodity exchange markets. It carries out direct diplomacy and negotiations with major buyers. The Ethiopian state even holds several international trademarks on the names of notable Ethiopian coffee. Companies selling specialty coffee using these names must pay the government a licensing fee.
Securing this funding pipeline is vital to the Ethiopian state’s functioning.
Campaigners against the ongoing genocide in Tigray have called for a boycott of Ethiopian coffee in order to cut into Abiy Ahmed’s war chest. Among the largest and most visible buyers globally is Starbucks. The company purchases tens of millions USD of Ethiopian coffee annually, only a fraction of which makes it directly to farmers. During an ongoing genocide, this money fuels death.
We are calling for a global action against Starbucks to demand they cease purchase of Ethiopian coffee while the military occupation of Tigray continues.
We encourage solidarity in the form of a diversity of tactics from comrades around the world.
What can you do to spread the message about stopping the genocide in Tigray and take direct action against Starbucks?
- Get a few friends to do some flyering, wheatpasting, graffiti, and/or banner drops.
- Hold picket lines of stores, perhaps collaborating with workers.
- Can you organize a large march locally, or small autonomous action against a Starbucks store at night.
- Is your city home to an Ethiopian or Eritrean embassy or consulate? Consider whether you might include it in your action.
If you live in one of many areas around the world with Tigray, Oromo, and other diaspora communities, please reach out. Many major cities have a local community center and have been holding their own protests against the current government’s actions. Look for these events, often on social media, and join in solidarity.
An Ethiopian Anarchist Perspective on Tigray (https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/2021/03/14/an-ethiopian-anarchist-perspective-on-the-warin-tigray/)
Omna Tigray (https://omnatigray.org/)
Ethiopia Map (https://twitter.com/mapethiopia)
Deforestation crisis: https://bit.ly/3sDs39N
Tigray is Being Deliberately Starved
Health facilities targeted in Tigray region, Ethiopia https://bit.ly/3sFJUgq