Getting to understand guerrilla mothering

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People know very little about women combatants, their numbers, and, particularly, their mothering experiences in military camps and on the battlefield (Geisler). Similar to other countries, the experiences of wartime motherhood of Ethiopian women guerrilla fighters have been insufficiently researched (Negewo). There is a lack of published materials in academic literature on this topic. By way of what I refer to as “getting to understand,” I provide an autoethnographic account of how my perceptions of motherhood and motherwork changed after interacting with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) guerilla fighters and particularly with Hagosa (a pseudonym), a mother of a two-month-old baby girl. I met Hagosa approximately two months after the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, when the TPLF division quartered at one of the hostel compounds located on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, where I worked as a general medical practitioner.

Finally, although this chapter was written prior to the current Ethiopia-Tigray conflict, I want to make some contrasts between the situation when TPLF came to Addis Ababa and the current situation in the Tigray region. TPLF fighters who led Ethiopia to victory over the Derg and who changed the face of the country—growing its economy, improving its infrastructure, and achieving its health-related millennium development goals (Assefa et al.)—are now becoming victims of genocide and crimes against humanity (Ghebrehiwet). When TPLF fighters came to Addis Ababa in 1991, they shared their limited provisions with the impoverished neighbours—orphans, domestic workers, and property guards. Conversely, the Ethiopian government under the current leadership of unelected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed blocks humanitarian access into the Tigray region for aid organizations (Zelalem), as civilian people die of starvation, their crops are destroyed, their livestock are slaughtered, and their houses are looted (Annys et al).

As a mother, Hagosa was against war. However, I now also realize that she had foreseen the future, deciding to raise her daughter as a liberation fighter. However, there are deep concerns about the masculinity of the current leader of the country, who said: “The youth should not die, mothers should not cry, homes should not be destroyed, and people should not be displaced to bring politicians to power” (Ethiopia Insight)—given the current situation, his promise has not been kept. Internationally, people are now outraged by how quickly the Nobel Peace Prize winner has turned out to be a war criminal (The Washington Post Editorial Board). And Tigrayan, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somali mothers are crying.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Perspectives on Motherhood, Mothering and Masculinities
EditorsTola Olu Pearce, Andrea Moraes
Place of PublicationCanada
PublisherDemeter Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781772583373
ISBN (Print)9781772583375
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2021

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