JOHANNESBURG – Ethiopia’s prime minister has rejected calls for dialogue to end an internal conflict that has already killed hundreds and displaced more than 40,000 people in a key US ally in East Africa – a stance that has upset diplomats from Addis Ababa to Washington. the potential for escalating conflict.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abi Ahmed – who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his efforts to end the long-running conflict between his country and neighboring Eritrea – issued a statement to his real opponents, the Tigris People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), but on the international community.
“As a sovereign state, Ethiopia has every right to uphold and enforce its laws on its territory,” Abiy said of the conflict that began in early November when the TPLF attacked federal forces. “And that is exactly what we are doing.”
Also this week, Abijah’s predecessor wrote a provocative statement in Foreign policy magazine, rejecting regional and international calls for dialogue. Abij’s cabinet retweeted large parts of the article, entitled “The Ethiopian Government and the TPLF leadership are not morally equivalent.”
“I truly believe,” wrote former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, “that most people who recommend this approach” – meaning dialogue and negotiation – “are well-meaning outsiders who only repeat the conventional wisdom of how to resolve conflicts in Africa.” .
Diplomats are publicly calling for dialogue
The three-week crisis between the federal government and armed representatives in the Tigray region has already alarmed diplomats around the world, who have almost unanimously called on the young prime minister to resolve it peacefully. State Department officials – both current officials and those representing US policy under President-elect Biden – continue to publicly seek dialogue.
“I’m deeply concerned about the risk of violence against civilians, including potential war crimes, in the fights over Meckel in Ethiopia,” said Sullivan, Biden’s election as national security adviser.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission issued a preliminary report on Tuesday claiming that at least 600 people were killed in the town of May-Kadra in the Tigris region on November 9, echoing similar findings from an Amnesty International report on November 12.
The probe uncovered crimes that could be crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Samri group, aided and abetted by the then local administrator, police and militia. pic.twitter.com/IqMfmKzA7N
– Ethiopian Commission on Human Rights (@EthioHRC) November 24, 2020
“Both sides should immediately start a dialogue facilitated by the AU [African Union]”Sullivan said.
The headquarters of the organization with 55 bodies is in Addis Ababa. Last week, AU President Cyril Ramafosa, who is also South Africa’s president, named three former African heads of state as high-ranking officials who will try to mediate for the AU.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday reiterated support for mediation efforts at the AU.
“The Secretary-General reiterates the full support of the United Nations for the initiative of the President of the African Union, President Cyril Ramafosa of South Africa, to facilitate peace solutions,” said a spokesman for Farhan Haq. “He urges all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate tensions.”
Ben Rhodes, the longest-serving member of former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team, and Sullivan, co-chair of the National Security Action, a political NGO, agreed on the importance of dialogue.
“It is difficult to overestimate the danger of continued escalation in Ethiopia,” he said. “The coming weeks will be a huge consequence. “We hope the Ethiopians internalize this message and de-escalate it from the current course – dialogue is an available option.”
Their calls were echoed by US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy, who said last week: “At a time when mediation is becoming useful – ie. both sides to show interest in mediation – you can bet the United States would be there at some point. “At this moment, neither side, from what we hear, is interested in mediation.”
“A long and proud history”
But, as Abij and Hailemariam point out, Ethiopia’s history is long and complex, in which power has long been dominated by groups from the Amhara and Tigray regions. Abijah, a member of the Oromo majority group, and the first Oromo to occupy a position of this importance, sought to rectify that imbalance after taking office in 2018.
And so Abijah’s statement began, clearly, with the statement that “Ethiopia is a country with a long and proud history of statehood.” As the Ethiopian authorities are not accustomed to pointing out, the only African country has never been colonized and was a founding member of the AU and the UN
Both in recent and ancient history – from the Battle of Adva in 1896, in which Ethiopian forces undoubtedly defeated Italian forces, preventing them from making a colonial claim, to the strong feelings of former Prime Minister Meles Zenavi that Ethiopia “was not a whip to “West boy” – the East African nation stood firm and proud against foreign interference.
But the internal dynamics are more complex, says Ahmed Soliman, an analyst at Chatham House in London.
“Divisions in Ethiopia – political and ethnic – have deep roots,” he told VOA. “There are structural issues here that have not really been sufficiently addressed, while I acknowledge that so far there has not been enough time to address them, given the number of other competitive priorities over the last few years.”
Melesh himself was born in the Tigris city of Adva and has been a member of the forces since 1991 that entered the capital and ousted the military junta that ruled the country. His government established the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, which included key TPLF leaders. He served from 1991 until his death in 2012.
His long tenure has taught TPLF leadership how to place itself in the international community, Heilemariam argues in his Foreign policy article.
“The TPLF-dominated coalition has ruled Ethiopia sharply for 27 years,” Hailemariam wrote. “After being forced to relinquish power over the popular protests against our economic and political mismanagement – of which I was a part – the TPLF leadership designed and is now implementing a strategy designed to profit from the international community’s propensity to fall into its standard regime. on bilateralism and call for a negotiated solution. “TPLF leaders are sensible operators who know how vulnerable the international community is to such manipulations.”
“I think Hailemariam reiterates the position of the federal government,” Soliman said, “that they are not negotiating with the TPLF because they are a criminal element that needs to be removed to restore constitutional order.”
What TPLF thinks remains unclear. Communication blackouts and travel restrictions have made it difficult for anyone to verify their claims. Nagy, a former ambassador to Ethiopia who holds an honorary doctorate from Mekele University in the capital, Tigray, said: “Ethiopia’s top political spectrum in the last 27 years,” he said. “So, I hope, now I think their tactics have the opposite effect of what they planned.
“But again, I want to make it very clear that this is not about Tigre,” added Ambassador Nagy. “There is no equivalence here. These are not two sovereign states fighting each other. “This is a faction of the government that governs the region of Ethiopia, which decided to take hostilities against the central government, and it did not – in my opinion – have the effect that they thought it would.”
And what now? Soliman says there can only be one way to end the cycle.
“There should be association and discussion about the responsibilities of the opposing political forces moving forward and a real attempt to reach some form of consensus through a commitment to inclusive dialogue,” he said. “I do not see zero-sum conflict and thinking as a way forward in resolving these internal divisions and peace in Ethiopia in the region moving forward.”
Anita Powell was an Associated Press correspondent in Ethiopia from 2007 to 2009 and regularly returned to her job as a correspondent for the Voice of America for Africa based in Johannesburg.