It’s been almost a year since conflict in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray began; a civil violence that has left millions of people displaced, and hundreds of thousands of people experiencing severe hunger. As such, world leaders, activists, and celebrities have used their status and platforms to call for peace in the region, and for the lives of vulnerable citizens to be protected.
The ongoing civil war has seen the Ethiopian national government at odds with its northern regional government in Tigray. It began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called out Tigrayans for allegedly attacking the Ethiopian national military base. Ahmed responded to the alleged attack by sending troops to the region, and announcing that the military had bombed Tigray and destroyed weaponry near the regional capital of Mekelle.
Violence escalated from this point, and civilians have been caught in the middle in what the United Nations has called a “full scale humanitarian crisis”. Famine was declared in the region in June 2021; increased violence against women and girls has been reported by medics on the ground; humanitarian aid consisting of food and medical supplies for civilians caught in the crossfire has been blocked by soldiers and rebels; and schools have been taken over for the use of the military.
World leaders including President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron, and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have expressed the need for peace in Tigray, and have called for access to humanitarian aid in the region. Dr. Tedros, himself from Tigray, called the situation in his home country “horrific,” adding that he had family members still living in the region.
“In addition to COVID-19, 2020 has been very difficult for me because my country is in trouble,” he said at a press conference in December 2020. “As if COVID-19 is not enough, I have that personal pain also… I worry about the whole country.”
The WHO chief has continued to use his platform to highlight the ongoing situation in Tigray, especially on social media, and specifically for the lack of access to humanitarian aid for those in need.
Some of the world’s big-name celebrities have also joined with activists in the call for peace in Tigray, using their voices to help amplify the needs of the most vulnerable in the region. Here are nine activists and celebrities who’ve spoken up against Tigray’s ongoing humanitarian crisis:
1. Hopewell Chin'ono
Zimbabwean journalist and activist Hopewell Chin’ono is known for bringing awareness to injustices and human rights violations on the African continent. Most recently, he called out his home government for perpetrating corruption and, despite facing harsh consequences, he stood by his truth and continued speaking out.
The systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in the Ethiopian region of Tigray is heartbreaking & a throwback to that country’s dark past!— Hopewell Chin’ono (@daddyhope) March 19, 2021
It is unbelievable that hardly 2 years ago the whole world was celebrating Ethiopia’s giant leaps & its leader even won a Nobel Peace Prize pic.twitter.com/qEzALxRwkK
In support of those caught in conflict and crisis in Ethiopia, he took to Twitter to share a news report on Tigray’s violence, highlighting in his tweet that the country was taking steps backwards.
“The systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in the Ethiopian region of Tigray is heartbreaking and a throwback to that country’s dark past,” he said. “It is unbelievable that hardly two years ago the whole world was celebrating Ethiopia’s giant leaps and its leader even won a Nobel Peace Prize.”
2. Tsedale Lemma
Tsedale Lemma is the editor-in-chief of Ethiopia’s Addis Standard newspaper, and an advocate for freedom of speech and access to information. Lemma has used her platforms to inform the public about the ongoing situation in Tigray, and has also written for and featured in international publications highlighting the conflict, including the New York Times and Al Jazeera.
The civil conflict in Tigray has resulted in a communications blackout and strict media restrictions in the region, with authorities cracking down on media organisations and limiting what they can report. This crackdown led to the suspension of Lemma’s own newspaper. She spoke up against this on her Twitter account, directing her message to the government.
Dear gov’t: You’ve chosen to intimidate & silence local journalists from reporting the facts about the ongoings in #Tigray, #Afar & #Amhara states. That’s okay;but the least you can do is tell the #Eth n people what’s happening. You owe it to the mass you are mobilising.— Tsedale Lemma (@TsedaleLemma) August 5, 2021
“You’ve chosen to intimidate and silence local journalists from reporting the facts about the ongoings in Tigray, Afar, and Amhara states,” she said. "That’s okay, but the least you can do is tell the Ethiopian people what’s happening. You owe it to the masses you are mobilising."
3. The Weeknd
Over the last year the Weeknd has been consistently showing up for those in need, whether it’s donating to Global Aid Lebanon in response to the explosions in Beirut last year, or staging a fundraiser on TikTok for the Equal Justice Initiative that raised $350,000, the artist has made sure to support the world’s most vulnerable.
With that said, it’s no surprise that he took to social media in April 2021, to announce the donation of $1 million to the United Nations’ World Food Programme to provide 2 million meals for citizens in Tigray.
“My heart breaks for my people of Ethiopia as innocent civilians ranging from small children to the elderly are being senselessly murdered and entire villages are being displaced out of fear and destruction,” he said.
4. Kat Graham
Actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Kat Graham used her social media to amplify the need for global support for those who have been displaced as a result of the war in Tigray.
Graham shared a video in partnership with the UN agency, describing the situation on the ground in Ethiopia, and calling for assistance and donations.
“Tens of thousands of refugees have fled months of clashes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, arriving in neighbouring Sudan exhausted and scared, with little more than the clothes on their backs,” she said in the video.
“But UNHCR urgently needs to scale up this support so these men, women, and children who’ve lost so much can begin to rebuild their lives,” she continued.
The UNHCR is still taking donations to help drive much needed aid in Tigray.
5. Naomi Campbell
Supermodel Naomi Campbell is never one to remain quiet when there is need in Africa. She’s often taken to social media to show support for vulnerable communities and to call on world leaders for change.
In March this year, Campbell joined US supermodel Christy Turlington for an International Women’s Day Instagram livestream, put together by fashion house Marc Jacobs, that highlighted the impact the war in Tigray is having on women and girls in the region.
“I’m very concerned about what’s going on in Ethiopia,” Campbell said. “The civil war is one thing, but to see women suffering this way, and to be raped, and every violation? It’s too much. We have to speak out on it, and we have to do something.”
“I know this goes way way back, and I know that it’s tribal, but there has to be another way. Women do not have to be victimised and raped,” she continued.
6. Haben Girma
Harvard Law graduate, activist, and disability rights advocate Haben Girma, who is also part Eritrean, always uses her platform to highlight the need to protect the most vulnerable people facing injustices around the world. She took to Twitter to raise awareness about the violence in Tigray.
I’m not Tigrayan, but my heart is big enough to care for all the ethnic groups of #Ethiopia, #Eritrea & beyond. Right now the 6 million people of #Tigray are facing genocide. #StopWarOnTigray#AllowAccessToTigray— Haben Girma👩🏿🦯 (@HabenGirma) March 7, 2021
“I’m not Tigrayan, but my heart is big enough to care for all the ethnic groups of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and beyond,” she said in one tweet.
“The extreme suffering in Tigray is hard to imagine,” she said in another. “Weaponised hunger and systemic violence for eleven months and counting. The very least we can do is acknowledge what’s happening.”
7. Amandla Stenberg
Actress and activist Amandla Stenberg has consistently raised her voice to stand up against human rights violations, most notably crimes against Black people and racial injustice. She was also named a "Next Generation Leader” by Time Magazine for her persistent activism.
The 22-year-old posted a video on Instagram on behalf of a friend, Syena, whose family has been affected by the crisis, to help educate her audience on what is happening in Tigray and went on to call on her followers to help raise awareness.
“Did you know there’s a genocide happening in Tigray, Ethiopia? I’m advocating on behalf of my dear friend Syena whose family has been greatly affected by the unspeakable violence of the Tigray Genocide,” she said.
8. Liya Kebede
When supermodel Liya Kebede made the cover of travel magazine Holiday’s Ethiopia issue, she dedicated the issue to her home country.
In a short message on social media accompanied by a picture of the cover, the model said: “It saddens me to see what is happening there at the moment, I pray for peace.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article included Tiffany Haddish, who has spoken to media about the need to end violence in the region, but has also made controversialstatements regarding the crisis. In light of this, we've removed her from this list to focus on the other voices included.
This article is a part of OkayAfrica's Crossroads, a special series supported by Global Citizen examining Global Africa at critical moments. For the first part of the Crossroads series, Global Citizen is joining OkayAfrica in four weeks of coverage examining Ethiopia through a deep dive into music, politics, and culture.