Abridged translation of leaked audio of a meeting between Mekelle University Staff and Dr. Mulu Nega Head of “Interim Government of Tigray ” held on January 15th, 2021.
Full transcription and translation of audio available upon request to Tghat. We are very grateful for the transcription and translation team that makes our work of chronicling possible.
Dr. Mulu: Good morning. Today, we have Dr. Mitiku Haile, renowned professor and the founding President of Mekelle University, with us. We also have Dr. Abdelkadir, Vice President of Mekelle University. To all honorable faculty and staff present here today, I’d first like to say welcome. Today’s agenda is to discuss the current situation in Tigray and to exchange ideas. It is also necessary to discuss what the role of the university community should be. The people of Tigray are always living under fear and stress. It has been preached to the people that they have many enemies, that so and so are their enemies, and that they are encircled on all sides. That is the turning point. This is far from the truth. I have been following it. It is false. “It is unitary. It is this. It is that,” it [presumably TPLF] says on Dimtsi Woyane even though it was part of the system. I am telling the truth. All of us were left surprised. The idea of a pre-emptive strategy started there. Therefore, when you look at the situation, all of that was unnecessary if it had been about the people but it was about power. One should respect what everybody else has agreed to…
[Disruption from Audience]
[Audience continues to make sounds of protest] Order!! This is the problem. This is a university. You have to believe in ideas. Let us listen to each other’s ideas. You will be given a chance. Go if you’d like, anyone who wants can leave. The rest of us will continue. Going back to where we were, what was it that happened? As someone who was part of it, I’m telling the truth …it may not sit well with some people …they defected and then the whole game changed …
There is looting. There are many different forces that have entered. In all directions [disturbance] …this is …by the way sorry to say, those of you here [disruption from audience] should leave. It is your right to leave. If you disturb or yell, no one will listen to you. This has to be clear. Aimless bravado …if you are brave, you should go there and fight. Go and fight.
[disruption from Audience] …
Speakers from the Audience:
Speaker A. Questions that we have repeatedly asked in similar meetings have not been answered. If one asks what is 10 plus 1, and gets 50 as a response, that’s an answer. Even if they were to say 90, that’s also an answer [but it doesn’t mean it’s the truth]. We will keep asking the question until you tell us the truth. It is laughable and indicative of their disrespect to the [Tigrayan] people when some high officials of the Prosperity Party tell us not to ask questions that have been asked before [without offering the truth], or to say that Eritrean forces entered Tigray to better their lives. The Federal Government stated that no civilian died. However, most of us here have a family member that has been killed.
Speaker B. Good morning. First, you did not show up to our meeting last time, for which I was expecting an apology. We thought we were having a meeting. We did not expect that you called us here to insult us. What I understand is, and this is my opinion, it looks like you invited us here to express one political party’s views and to criticize another political party. Not to discuss how we can go back to work or how to support the people of Tigray. The people of Tigray have not received any support thus far. Even the support that you speak of has been around Mekelle only. What we hear from family members who arrived here in Mekelle by foot or by other means, some of whom were shot at, is completely the opposite of what we hear from you or the Ethiopian media. We know what happened. Everyone here has been personally affected. How are we going to start work amidst what is happening? When we are disturbed internally, we are distracted by many different thoughts and worries, and we are living in an unstable country. Our conscience will not allow us to start work. How will those students that come, learn? And how will the teachers teach? Our minds are scattered. If you believe that university faculty and staff are better positioned within the community to have this conversation, I believe you also have to provide a better answer. I need to believe your answer in order to explain it to other people. This is not politics. The federal government [referring to Abiy’s speech] listed so many towns and cities and said that no civilians had died. However, most of us here have a family member that has been killed. This meeting should not be about instilling political thought. We should rather be discussing what we can do. Let’s leave the politics to the politicians. Since this is an academic institution, we would appreciate it if you do not talk to us about politics. Thank you!
Speaker C. Thank you. As the Professor said earlier, it is right and important to maintain order in a meeting. It is within our culture to conduct meetings with politeness. However, it is also important to express our thoughts, especially if they are accurate. Therefore, as mentioned by a brother earlier, the invasion by Eritrea is something that will not be forgotten even in a hundred years. Young civilians have either been killed or attacked. Everywhere Eritrean forces have entered, the youth have perished. Eritrean forces have committed atrocities that will not be forgotten for a hundred years. Who allowed them to enter? They have looted goods and property. Everything that we built and owned, even plates and mats woven by our mothers, has been taken. Who let Eritrea enter? Who can redress the atrocities? How will this issue be resolved? How will the people of Tigray be compensated? The most important question is “who allowed Eritrean forces in?”…
Speaker D. The thing that makes me really sad, is that it has been over a month and a half, when will what happened receive recognition? In Tigrinya, the media reports that 1.2 million people in Tigray do not have access to basic needs and that 4 million people are in need of immediate aid. They say a lot. In Amharic, however, the media reports nothing. The situation in Metekel makes the news every day. I think you were the one that prevented the Abba Gadaas from coming to our meeting the day before yesterday. Who told the Abba Gadaas? How did they know what happened? There is nothing happening in Tigray according to the news. When will it be reported? We are being told that Tigrayans should deal with the problem themselves. We’d be happy to start work. We work for our people. We regret that our work was disrupted until now. But if we as Tigrayans are the only ones working for Tigray, why did the Ethiopian army bring all this trouble to us? If the Ethiopian government is not concerned about Tigray, when will the Ethiopian media report that the government is not concerned about Tigray? How long has it been since the Prime Minister went on TV to address the situation [in Tigray]? Human beings have three basic needs. That we can offer. Human beings also have two psychological needs: to be respected and to be recognized. They have to be seen. Their problems deserve attention. I am known to you here at Mekelle University. I was raised here and I have never once spoken in fear. I have never seen the door of a prison. But now I am afraid. Each one of us is afraid. Not everything that is being said may be entirely true. The day will come when people will be held accountable for their mistakes. Yes, the day will come. Let’s learn from it. It will not remain hidden, Dr. Mulu, it will not remain hidden. The first thing is to name the cause and how the problem has unfolded. They tell us “if you’re going to cooperate with us.” I have said from the beginning that I’m willing to cooperate for the sake of my people. But if the media describes our cooperation as “people who are willing to fix the problem created by the ‘Junta’,” it becomes politics. [Applause from the audience]
Speaker E. Ok. I will try not to be repetitive. Thank you. Dr. Mulu, you said at the start that there is freedom of thought and expression. Thank you. You also said that we will not discuss politics but then you continued to discuss politics. As university faculty, we should have discussed how to build bridges between Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia. Because that is how the issue started. I’d like to express my opinion that we should gauge the audience – politics for those who need politics, and problem solving for those who can offer solutions. We should start here in this hall. As a matter of fact, this hall happily hosted problem solving sessions in which I had the opportunity to participate. Professor Mitiku, you are here. We have been through a lot together here as your students. Now this place has turned into a place where we wipe our tears and a place where death is knocking on all of our doors. I am very sad. I would not have wished to see this meeting hall in this way, but we are here. Dr. Mulu – to start from what has already been mentioned, and I want you to take this as a question, you said that it was ‘preached’ to the people of Tigray that they have enemies in all directions. Then who is killing us today in all corners of the region? I mean it. Is it UFOs that descended from the sky? I have lost 5 family members in the same house. Who killed them? How is it preaching? I’d like for you to apologize. No one preached to us that we had enemies, but we have seen the reality here in Mekelle. Why is that happening? That’s my first question. Second, I ask, “Where is Tigray today?” Tigray has been divided up [by invading forces] like Hambasha [A Tigrayan bread]. Now let me talk about my family; we are under four administrations. One of my younger brothers in Fatsi is in Eritrea as they are giving Eritrean ID cards until Kerseber. My parents are now in Afar. One of my other younger brothers is now in Amhara. I’m in Mekelle; I guess you can call me Tigraway. So where is Tigray? Which Tigray are we talking about, guys?
Speaker F. Dr. Mulu – thank you for asking this university community to provide solutions. However, to which Tigray are we providing solutions? If we go to Zalambessa, it’s now Eritrea and they are telling us to not approach them. If we go to Chercher, it’s now Afar. If we go to Humera, they’re now saying it is Amhara. Where should this community go to provide solutions? Have you considered this when you ask us to provide solutions? Have you created an environment that will allow that? In addition, this university has been serving students from all over Ethiopia and luckily from other countries in Africa. Now a student who lives in Zalambessa has become Eritrean. Will this university now have to sponsor a student from Zalambessa as it would students from other countries? If a student who was in Humera has entered Tigray, and that is if that student is still alive, do we also have to sponsor that student? What are you telling us to do? That is if the university is lucky enough to resume operations. While we are on this topic, I should also talk about Adigrat University. Let me add one more thing. Adigrat University has been destroyed. Do you know what has been done? Adigrat University students have been told that Adigrat University no longer exists and that they should go learn at Mekelle University. Media outlets such as ESAT were saying that Tigray does not need universities. Their wish has succeeded now with students being told that they will not learn at Adigrat University as well as other universities. This is being done to destroy Adigrat as well as Axum. We are saying that Adigrat University will no longer provide service. What should have been done, no matter the cost, is to have Adigrat University continue. They (students from Adigrat) came to Mekelle University and asked us to teach them. Why? They said they were told by officials. Dr. Mulu – you know how you were educated. I’m probably equal in age to your younger brother. I could even be your son. What is our destiny? I am a student, a Ph.D. student. But now I consider myself lucky and successful if I get to see another day. Forget the Ph.D. and conducting research in Tigray. This is our fate now. I will not discuss politics, but if what you claim to be the truth is indeed the truth, we have to think about this. If we ask who did this, it is the Eritrean army, which is one of our enemies. You have admitted this yourself – may God bless you.
What can the solution be? If this university is to serve the community, have Eritrean forces withdraw immediately! I’m giving you a solution now. Eritrean forces should withdraw! Then we can have Tigray from one end to the other back. Our parents say “When even the little that I had (with which I was dissatisfied) is taken from me.”
The Tigray we have been saying is not big enough has been taken away [by invaders]. If we say that the war is over, the national defense forces should also withdraw from Tigray! Our brothers in the federal police are enough to protect us. Then we can start helping if given the chance. I was helping at first. I hid at home after the jets started bombing us. I have been lucky to survive, but I have lost my family. So how can I go out and serve? When I go there, they catch me. When I go to another place they also catch me. Dr. Mulu, how can I go out and serve under this condition? I have a concern about something. Is the provisional government even capable of executing these solutions? And I only ask this because you always defer to the federal government. If you can, however, have the two forces withdraw! Let federal police protect us. They are our brothers and sisters. Federal police – I have respect for you. I have one question, however. Why are their snipers with you today? Why is that? We only have paper and pen, not bullets.