2021年6月18日 星期五

The Daily: The Human Toll of the War in Tigray

Plus, a spotlight on a superfan.

Hey everyone, Happy Friday, and Happy Almost-Summer to those in the Northern Hemisphere. While the normal celebrations at Stonehenge won't be happening this year, we hope your solstice is still sunny and maybe a bit bewitched.

We covered a lot of ground this week on The Daily, and that included continuing our ongoing coverage of Big Tech by looking at Apple's privacy compromises in China and examining why billionaires pay so little tax (and why that's legal).

Today in the newsletter, we wanted to give a bit more context on one of the most complicated topics of the week: the war in Tigray. It's a conflict that might not be familiar to many of our listeners, so we had to cover a lot of ground in the episode. "It was a challenge for us to figure out how to best tell a clear, concise story from start to finish of how this conflict came to be, the history that drove it and how it might affect Ethiopia's future," Sydney Harper, a Daily producer, said.

Below, we share more about our reporting on the crisis, and invite you to engage more deeply with the human toll of the war. Then, we pass the mic to a Daily fan who produced a song about one of our shows.


Telling the Story of Tigray

By the end of last year, almost 50,000 Ethiopian refugees had crossed in to Sudan from Ethiopia since the beginning of the Tigray conflict. Many children have been separated from their parents as more families flee the war.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

It's a story our team had heard before: A Nobel Peace Prize winner is heralded by international media as a democratic visionary for a country mired in conflict. And then, a shocking and violent turn toward authoritarianism.

Over the past few years, our team has covered how Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto civilian leader, lost her halo, becoming a jailer of critics and an apologist for the slaughter of minorities.


"This week, we told the story of another once-beloved Nobel recipient who also fell from grace," Sydney said. The leader is Abiy Ahmed, who won the prize in 2019, and just two years later, his country is at war with itself.

"It's a dramatic shift in the narrative," Sydney said. "Abiy has said that when he was 7 years old, his mother took him aside on his first day in school and told him that she expected he would one day be in the palace. It makes for a great story — a guy who's young, dynamic and feels that reaching the post of leader of the country is something that he was destined for from a very young age. Unfortunately, the reality is much darker."

Abiy once promised to lead Ethiopia into a more peaceful future. Instead, last November, he launched a military offensive in Tigray, a mountainous region in northern Ethiopia, against his political foe: the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been declared a terrorist group by his government. But behind the veneer of a political offensive, Abiy's forces have killed thousands of people, displaced millions and are facing allegations of a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tigrayan people.

"It's almost impossible to appreciate the scale of the crisis in Tigray — and what it might portend for the future of Ethiopia," said Declan Walsh, our Chief Africa correspondent and guest on the show. "A civil war, serial atrocities and the world's worst famine in at least a decade would be bad enough. But now experts worry that the many crises, driven by ethnic tensions, might combine to tear the country apart."


And while we tried to share the scale of this crisis in our episode, capturing its impact on those living through it proved harder.

"Our team has been watching the story out of Tigray for a while now, but with the difficulty in getting access to stories on the ground during the early months of the conflict," Sydney said, "it was a challenge for us to figure out how to best cover the deeply human toll of this war."

Accessing the region is logistically difficult as a baseline, but it's nearly impossible now that Abiy has instituted military checkpoints along roads, cut telephone and internet service and expelled journalists, including one working for The New York Times.

Still, our colleagues are finding ways to report the story. Declan has reported on how women in the region have been sexually assaulted by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers using rape as a weapon of war. And Lynsey Addario, a photographer for The Times, recently put herself at risk to enter the country and photograph some of these women.

"Thanks to our colleagues' reporting on the subject and the Tigrayan refugees who have spoken out about the atrocities they witnessed, we were able to put together a deep dive into this country's current situation," Sydney said. "Even though it was difficult to listen to the painful testimonies of violence and displacement, it felt important to keep listening and including their stories for our audience to hear."

We will continue to cover this story as it develops, and will be checking in with Declan as he covers the country's election, set for June 21.

"The authorities gave me a visa at the last minute, so I've just arrived in Addis Ababa to cover Monday's vote," Declan said today. "The city is calm, but there's not much sign of electoral excitement here. The country feels tense. People are really preoccupied by events in Tigray, and in other regions. They're worried about what's coming next."

Spotlight on a Superfan

One listener's song for Genie Chance.

This week, Laura Kiernan, a longtime fan based in Minneapolis, sent us an email with a link to a song she wrote about an episode from last May: "Genie Chance and the Great Alaska Earthquake." The show told the story of an extraordinary radio broadcaster, Genie Chance. Jon Mooallem, the episode's host, charted how Genie's radio transmissions became integral to the rescue and reunification efforts in the hours after the devastating 1964 Alaska earthquake.

Laura, a recent graduate of Carleton College in Minnesota who performs under the name Kiernan, first heard the episode when we re-aired it over the holidays last year, while she was driving to her hometown of Madison, Wis. While the episode was primarily focused on how the Anchorage community came together after the earthquake, Laura was also curious about the tension in Genie's personal life.

"I was struck by the dichotomy of Genie Chance's public heroic persona of someone who really brought the town together during this really big crisis," she said, a perception that hid "the trauma and abuse that she faced in her home life with her husband."

So as soon as Laura got home, she picked up her banjo — a graduation gift from her parents — and started writing and playing a song about Genie.

"I sat down after listening to the episode and the lyrics kind of just started flowing. That doesn't usually happen," she said. "Usually I will use a bunch of different songwriting techniques to kind of come up with the song."

Laura played all of the instruments in the song and also got in touch with staff at the University of Alaska archives so she could use clips of Genie's radio broadcasts.

You can listen to Laura's song "Genie" here.

Laura Kiernan with her banjo.Gabrielle Kolb

On The Daily This Week

Monday: Apple claims to prioritize privacy. But how does that square with its relationship with China?

Tuesday: Why are billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk taxed differently from those who earn far less?

Wednesday: We look at the catalysts for and the context surrounding Ethiopia's civil war.

Thursday: Just two years ago, Gov. Ralph Northam was embroiled in a blackface scandal. How did he become the most racially progressive leader in Virginia's history?

That's it for The Daily newsletter. See you next week.

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