Just this afternoon our colleague, Haile Andualem, in Addis Ababa has reported that a State of Emergency has been declared nationwide throughout Ethiopia, in response to the ongoing civil war in the northern Tigray region. In particular, the Amhara region directly to the south of Tigray is especially impacted.
While it is not yet clear what this means in terms of curfews or new regulations, it is clear that the unrest is getting worse and not better. Reuters is reporting for the first time that the TPLF rebel group is considering a march on Addis Ababa, around 235 miles to the south of their forward positions. For the past six months, this has seemed inconceivable to anyone that we have spoken to, but the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed yesterday urged citizens to “take up arms to defend themselves.” Likewise, the Minister for Justice has announced sweeping new laws including harsh sentencing guidelines intended to curb financial support for the separatists, saying “our country is facing a grave danger to its existence.” International news organizations such as The Economist have reported food shortages in Tigray due to Government blockades, and atrocities being carried out by fighters on both sides. The new emergency declaration and seeming panic from Ethiopian government officials underscores the severity of the conflict. In some cases, global aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross have been barred from accessing the frontier zones, as have journalists. Our hearts go out to the under-resourced people of Ethiopia, who as always will bear the brunt of this conflict. We recommend doing additional research as this is not an easy situation to summate in a single article.
While it may seem callous to think about coffee in the wake of this news, the reality is that coffee revenue is the lifeblood of the Ethiopian economy and by far their largest source of foreign exchange. While the coffee regions are far from the fighting zones, the escalation of the conflict threatens to endanger all aspects of Ethiopian society and commerce. We have heard sporadic reports of coffee shipments being threatened on the road from Addis to Djibouti, and there was an attempt several weeks ago by the TPLF separatists to block the rail line along the route temporarily; however, for the most part coffee moved relatively smoothly during the 2021 shipping season. As harvest gets under way for the 2021-22 crop, there will be increased pressure on logistics networks, and sourcing difficulties seem unavoidable. We will continue to update you as we learn more from our partners in Ethiopia.