Ethiopia was this past week fighting off pressure from the African Union to hear grievances of the proscribed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) legitimised – if they lay down arms.
That proposal, sources told The EastAfrican, involves prevailing upon the Abiy Ahmed administration to remove the terrorist group tag on the TPLF, force the group to sue for peace, and compel them to allow elections in the Tigray region.
In the coming week, the new African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo is expected to start his tour of the region with Ethiopia on his mind.
The proposal came up this week after Ethiopia’s top diplomat Demeke Mekonnen hosted Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo in Addis Ababa on Thursday. The dispatch from the meeting confirmed the talks had centred on the issue of restive Tigray region, as well as the dispute over the Nile dam and the ongoing border tiff between Ethiopia and Sudan.
The Thursday meeting was preceded by Kenya’s call to Ethiopia to make a “painful compromise” to end the war in the north. Ms Omamo told the media in Addis that Kenya was committed to see Ethiopia through the crisis and would offer its support.
Lower risk of war
Diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican that Kenya thinks the other two issues — the border dispute and the dispute over the dam — have a lower risk of war, compared to the atrocities the war in the north have brought the country.
“The problem is internal. Which means Ethiopians themselves have to accept they have a problem and choose dialogue,” said a diplomat familiar with Kenya’s proposal. “Until that happens, they won’t resolve the other issues.”
Last week, Kenya led Africa’s representatives at the UN Security Council in asking Ethiopia and the TPLF to choose dialogue as soon as possible, warning that war will be costly for both sides.
Leading the group known as A3 Plus 1, Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, said Ethiopia should consider retaking the TPLF as a political movement, on condition they pull out of regions they invaded, and stop fighting to allow rebuilding of livelihoods crashed in the region.
“We urge the government of Ethiopia to remove all legal, administrative and security barriers to the political dialogue,” said Dr Kimani, in a joint statement endorsed by Tunisia, Niger and St Vincent and Grenadines, the countries that form the A3 Plus 1.
“Peace cannot be made with a political movement that has been labelled a terrorist group. Parliament should prepare to lift this designation to allow for direct contact and negotiation with armed actors opposing the government,” he said.
The group says Ethiopia must acknowledge grievances from the armed groups and “understand that they must be resolved peacefully.”
One way for that, Dr Kimani argued, is for Ethiopia to lift the proscription and agree on an electoral plan that will establish a legitimate regional government.
Tigray did not participate in the elections held in June, with Addis citing security threats. But the TPLF had last year defied a national postponement and held elections in Tigray. They later reportedly attacked a northern command of the Ethiopia National Defence Forces, starting a war that has lasted to date.
“Democracy, above all, is a mechanism for the resolution of serious political differences. The democratic mandate awarded by the millions of voters must include every Ethiopian citizen. Even, and perhaps especially, in Tigray, and other parts of the country where the vote was not held due to insecurity,” the A3 Plus 1, which is a group of non-permanent members of the Council from Africa and the Caribbean said.
“To the armed actors in Tigray, the TPLF or the TDF, we urge the withdrawal from neighbouring regions, and a halt to the rallying of other armed actors. The further they advance outside Tigray, the greater the danger to the people on whose behalf they claim to be acting,” they further warned.
The conflict in Tigray has left more than 400,000 people at the risk of starvation and the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia, Grant Leaity, warned the food stocks available to the region were running out due to humanitarian blockades on three of the four corridors initially used.
On Friday, Bankole Adeoye, the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security said the African Union endorsed the proposals of the A3 Plus 1, as the continental bloc sees the conflict as an unnecessary cost to Ethiopia.
“A military solution, for us as in the African Union, is not realistic. It is not achievable,” Mr Adeoye told journalists in a virtual press conference on his plan for the next year for Africa.
“As long as dialogue is inclusive and includes all armed groups that have renounced violence, the groups should be encouraged to join. We do not see any meaningful solution to this dispute. The only way out is a negotiated settlement,” Mr Adeoye added.
Reconciliation and rehabilitation
The continental bloc says in the next six months it is targeting reconciliation and rehabilitation of the warring communities. But that will depend on how both sides build confidence. While the AU wants dialogue to be “comprehensive and inclusive,” it was demanding that the TPLF reciprocates by stopping the fighting.
“We hope that the TPLF side will also reciprocate the good gesture and accept the ceasefire. The elections in Ethiopia (last June) showed that the people of Ethiopia are ready to unite,” he said.
Mr Obasanjo’s immediate task will involve pushing for a permanent and inclusive ceasefire in Tigray and push for a political solution to the conflict. That solution will involve a national reconciliation, a dialogue conference that will also plan for an election in Tigray.
“We hope that the TPLF as proscribed or its representatives and the federal government, will realise the only way out of this is to come around the table. Even in the cold war, the US and the USSR were always talking and signing agreements,” Mr Adeoye said.
This past week, though, Ethiopia protested efforts to legitimise a group it says has killed thousands and committed atrocities, including attacks in neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.
Taye Atske Selassie, Ethiopia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, argued the world had “misunderstood” the conflict by treating TPLF as victims.
“TPLF is not the victim; it is the culprit! The people of Ethiopia, especially those in Afar, Amhara and Tigray, are living under undeserved and insufferable conditions,” he said. “We are startled by everyone who appears to have been calling for peace and pressure the government for suspension of its law enforcement operation to later on tolerate and ratify through their reticence, the expansion of violence and mayhem by the TPLF.”
Getachew Reda, the TPLF Spokesman claimed the AU had been biased against it. While it welcomed the appointment of President Obasanjo, TPLF said the AU must show there will be impartiality.
“What we are hard pressed to know is how people would reasonably expect a constructive role from an institution that has given partiality a very bad name,” he said. “There is hardly any record of the AUC ever discussing the war on Tigray in earnest. I know it is a luxury they can ill afford. Have they ever tried to reach out to the people of Tigray or its leaders?”