Business Day on Africa Union’s role to broker peace in Ethiopia

After months of high-level diplomatic talks to end a deadly conflict in Ethiopia, the US’s patience ran out a week ago when it hit several people accused of responsibility for the ongoing fighting with visa travel restrictions.

“The time for action from the international community is now,” secretary of state Antony Blinken said. “The parties to the conflict in Tigray have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.”

The conflict began in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered military action in the northern Tigray region in retaliation to what he described as an attack on an army base by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the state and has pulled out of a coalition of ethnically based political parties that has governed the country since 1991.

Since then thousands of people have been killed, 2-million have been forced from their homes and 91% of the population of nearly 6-million are in need of aid, says the latest report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. ...

... There are also credible accounts of human rights abuses, including mass killings of civilians and gang rapes of Tigrayan women. Almost all medical facilities in the region have been deliberately looted, vandalised or destroyed, while schools have been occupied by fighters.

It’s a situation that behooves the international community, including the AU, to protect civilians from the atrocities perpetrated by Ethiopian troops, which are fighting alongside soldiers from the neighbouring country of Eritrea, and guerrilla fighters from TPLF.

Just as the US, at the risk of straining relations with an important ally in a volatile region, especially against Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants Al-Shabaab in Somalia, rightly acknowledges that Abiy has failed to figure out the road to a ceasefire, it is time for the AU to do the same.

In November, just after the conflict erupted, the AU sent envoys to quell the conflict that threatens to spill over to neighbouring countries.

Late in 2020, Abiy, a Nobel peace prize winner for ending what seemed to be an intractable military standoff with Eritrea, met former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of SA, during which he laid all blame for the crisis on the TPLF leadership.

Abiy was not contemplating a ceasefire then, nor is he now given that his government characterised the US move to hit those responsible for inflaming the conflict with sanctions as an unwelcome interference in Ethiopian internal affairs. ...

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