JUST over a year ago, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, was the toast of the international community.
His peacemaking efforts with neighbouring Eritrea had been recognised with a Nobel peace prize and his domestic reforms were winning plaudits. This month, however, it is a different story.
Abiy Ahmed has launched a major military operation in the northern region of Tigray and imposed a state of emergency. He said he was responding to an attack on an army base by the region’s ruling party, the TPLF, which it has denied.
Ethiopia on November 4 launched a military offensive on the TPLF, once Ethiopia’s ruling party but now ruling the northern region of Tigray, after Abiy accused the Front of attacking a camp run by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.
While both sides have claimed victory in the battlefront, the fight has seen at least 40,000 people flee Tigray into neighbouring Sudan.
On Friday, African Union chairperson President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a team of ‘Distinguished Statespersons’ to help end the conflict that has raged for the last two weeks as Ethiopian forces battle the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He appointed former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, Liberia’s ex-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe as AU’s special envoys to Ethiopia.
A statement from the Chairperson’s Office on Friday night indicated that the three leaders will try to have the TPLF and the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed discuss the issues rather than fight, as part of the AU’s initiative to ‘silence the guns.’
Ramaphosa announced the move after meeting with Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde who toured Pretoria as Premier Abiy’s Special envoy on Friday. Her message was to deliver an update on the operation in Tigray, she said.
Ahmed on Saturday rejected the African Union’s offer for mediation in the Tigray crisis, hours after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU Chairperson, appointed three ex-presidents to mediate in the Tigray conflict.
Abiy said the reporting on the mediation was fake news.
“PM Abiy Ahmed will be meeting the Chairperson’s special envoys to speak with them one on one,” said a statement posted on the Prime Minister’s official Twitter page on Saturday.
“News circulating that the envoys will be traveling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake.”
On Saturday, government forces declared victory in the offensive after claiming to have entered the regional capital, Mekelle.
It’s a crisis that has deep roots in Ethiopia’s history, argues Yohannes Woldemariam, an academic specialising in the horn of Africa. He says that with its complex mosaic of ethnic groups, Ethiopia is an extremely difficult country to run and many placed too much hope in the new prime minister.
The crisis has led to thousands of refugees moving within the Tigray region and across the Ethiopian border with Sudan.
Abdullah Fadil, an aid worker with Unicef, says the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps is already dire.
Leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, Sudan and Djibouti have all called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, but refrained from directly calling for dialogue. On Thursday, Tibor Nagy, the US Assistant Secretary for Africa, said the international community would push for peace rather than immediate dialogue given the strong stances by parties to the conflict.
“Our goal is a quick end to the conflict, restoration of peace, protection of civilians. At a point where mediation will become useful, i.e. that the two parties indicate an interest in mediation, you can bet that the United States would be there in an instant,” Nagy told journalists on Thursday.
“Anybody who has worked with these two sides I think can appreciate the fact that they have very, very strong opinions on what they want to do and when they want to do it. Mediation is not the goal. Resumption of peace is the goal.” – Agencies ■