At a makeshift shelter in a school in Mekelle, capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Gezae Wolderaphael, an aquiline-featured young sesame farmer, shows what he says are rifle butt and knife wounds on his face and shoulder. The injuries, he says, were inflicted by members of an assortment of forces who surrounded him in the western Tigrayan town of Mai Kadra last November after Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, ordered federal troops to take control of the region.
“They put a gun in my mouth,” he adds, before stabbing him and leaving him for dead in the street.
The aim of the deployment was to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front from power in the region. The government in Addis Ababa had branded the TPLF, long the dominant party in Tigray, a “criminal clique”. As the leading member of the four-party coalition that ran Ethiopia for almost three decades until 2018, the TPLF had played a decisive role in national politics. But last November, after TPLF loyalists attacked federal troops stationed in Tigray, Abiy ordered the arrest of its leadership.