Nov 24, 2021 - Podcasts

Escalating war in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — a Nobel Peace Prize-winning politician — has said he’ll lead troops who are fighting rebels from the Tigray region of the country in what he’s calling "the final fight" to save Ethopia. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is warning of a potential humanitarian crisis there that could destabilize the entire region.

  • Plus, the rise of vegan Thanksgiving.
  • And, the story of the first Thanksgiving - 1200 miles south of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Guests: Axios' Zach Basu, Ben Montgomery and Russell Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday November 24th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the rise of vegan Thanksgiving. And - there’s a theme here: the story of the first Thanksgiving - 1200 miles south of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: escalating war in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy - a Nobel Peace Prize winning politician - has said he’ll lead troops who are fighting rebels in the Tigray region of the country in what he’s calling the final fight to save Ethiopia. And the Biden administration is warning of a potential humanitarian crisis that could destabilize the entire region. Zach Basu covers National Security for Axios and is here to catch us up. Zach, can you explain what's led up to this point?

ZACH BASU: Yeah, so the civil war in Ethiopia has been going on since last November when Prime Minister Abiy launched this military offensive in the Northern region of Tigray, to drive out to the TPLF, which is a political party and rebel group that had ruled Ethiopia for nearly 30 years, until 2018. Abiy had initially promised a quick and easy operation in Tigray in November 2020, but the conflict has spiraled into this devastating year-long civil war, that has led to a massive humanitarian crisis with thousands killed, hundreds of thousands at risk of famine, incredible reports of ethnic cleansing and other atrocities on both sides.

NIALA: Yesterday the US Envoy to the region, Jeffrey Feltman, briefed reporters on his most recent visit. What's his assessment of the situation?

ZACH: Yeah, so the, the administration has been engaged in this very intensive diplomacy. Feltman has traveled to Ethiopia several times. They're adamant that they're not supporting one side of the civil war and the priority is to de-escalate the conflicts and reach a political solution away from the battlefield. Feltman told reporters yesterday that there's actually been some progress on getting both sides to the negotiating table, but he fears the alarming developments on the battlefield are outpacing that progress.

NIALA: And what is the Biden administration worried about how this may affect the rest of the region?

ZACH: Yeah, so Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa and a key strategic partner to the US. If the government collapsed, it would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences, send hundreds of thousands of refugees across the region, and could destabilize other countries. So, you know, this is very much something that President Biden is paying close attention to.

NIALA: What are you watching for now then, Zach?

ZACH: So publicly the priority for the administration has been getting all Americans out of the country now, while commercial flights are still available. The US embassy in Addis Ababa has been issuing daily security alerts, and the state department has been hammering the message that now is the time for Americans to get out. Do not wait for the situation to change. And do not expect the kind of military airlift that we saw in Kabul. So the next phase will really be, how the situation in Addis Ababa evolves, whether the Ethiopian forces are able to drive these rebels back to the north, or whether something more catastrophic occurs.

NIALA: Axios’ Zach Basu. Thanks, Zach.

ZACH: Thank you.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with how special diets are factoring into the big meal tomorrow.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. We talked about the turkey supply earlier this week. Well - for a growing number of Americans - there won’t be any meat on the Thanksgiving table. Axios Tampa Bay’s Ben Montgomery has been compiling reports from local reporters all across the country about the increasing requests for vegan holiday food.

BEN MONTGOMERY: Demand at vegan bakeries and restaurants is crazy right now. As households prepare to cater to a growing number of vegans, vegetarians, and “flexitarians” at Thanksgiving this year, America's most vegan-friendly Thanksgiving yet. This comes at a time when market analysis shows us a rise in the number of meat eaters who are opting for alt-meat products for health and environmental needs. So analysts are seeing more shopping baskets that contain both ground beef and impossible burger or chicken and “chickun”. Whole Foods shared the results of some interesting surveys with us. 58% of Americans have hosted guests with a special diet, and bigger still 56% of Americans think it's important to offer vegan options at holiday gatherings. So a vegan baker in DC tells us she got twice as many orders this year versus last year, and a vegan butcher in Minneapolis sold out of Turkey roasts in early November. That's a vegan butcher, a vegan baker. No word yet from the vegan candlestick-maker.

NIALA: Ben Montgomery writes the daily Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

As you gather with your family to eat your turkey - or that vegan roast, here’s a bit of lost history you can share no matter what you’re eating.

When we say the first Thanksgiving, we think of the 1621 feast between 91 Wampanoag

members and 53 Pilgrims in Massachusetts. But there were other similar feasts years before the Pilgrims landed, between early Spanish settlers and Indigenous people.

Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras -- who happens to also be our lost history correspondent -- has been writing about this... Hey, Russell.

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Great to be with you.

NIALA: Where did these early Thanksgiving meals take place?

RUSSELL: Well, the first one was in September, 1565. And this is after the explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles, an 800 Spanish settlers founded the city of St. Augustine, Florida and St. Augustine is still around. The landing party celebrated a massive Thanksgiving after landing safely ashore, and they invited a nearby tribe to join at the site. The tribe was living on the land, but the pasture of this group, father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza. He celebrated mass, and this is what the, this was really the first communal act of a Christian religion and Thanksgiving on a permanent European settlement in North America. This is an important, because we often think of Massachusetts and this founding and it moves west, but actually things were going on before this.

NIALA: How did the Spanish feast compare to the pilgrims' Thanksgiving dinner? I'm thinking if they were in Florida, they probably were not eating the same food.

RUSSELL: No, they were eating food that was indigenous to the region and they were eating food that was brought to them. The Spanish were very big in cattle and the same thing would happen in 1598 when Spanish Explorer Juan de Oñate led a expedition of about 500 people through the Chihuahuan desert in Northern Mexico. They were starving near death, and then they stumbled upon the Rio Grande, right there in present-day El Paso. After the people gathered their thoughts and survived and were able to come together for 10 days Oñate then ordered a Thanksgiving feast on April 30th, 1598 for the survivors, almost the same story. There was a religious component to this. They ate a feast and people today in El Paso say this is actually the first Thanksgiving because this is in the present day United.

NIALA: And do people in El Paso also still honor this first Thanksgiving?

RUSSELL: There are some, but most honor, the Thanksgiving that we all do. Look, I mean, these events are important because they really place the ancestors of US Latinos in the narrative of early American history. And this predates the English colonists in New England and in Virginia, but they do celebrate the same Thanksgiving as we all do, but it places us in a different time. On top of that, these events also show that early Spanish settlers were encroaching on indigenous lands. So the same issue that we would have with the pilgrims and first a very friendly encounter with native people eventually turned violent.

NIALA: Our lost history correspondent, Russell Contreras. Happy Thanksgiving, Russ.

RUSSELL: Good to be with you.

NIALA: Before we go - we asked you what you’re grateful for this Thanksgiving.

DARREN LONG: My name is Darren Long and I'm from Shelby, Ohio. I am thankful for the Cleveland clinic children's cancer clinic. They saved my daughter Jessica's life during the pandemic, when they cured her of stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma, I will be forever thankful and in their debt.

NIALA: We’ve got a little bonus episode with more of that tomorrow - so check your feeds for that!

Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird and David Toledo. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening! Have a safe - and happy - holiday.

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