Jump to navigation

Ethiopia

Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo takes on mediating role in war as brickbats fly on both sides

As fighting spreads and alliances come under strain, neither side expects a diplomatic breakthrough for peace talks

So many regional diplomats and officials have been criticising the African Union for its failure to highlight horrific abuses in the 10-month war between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Tigray People's Liberation Front that its appointment of a mediator might have been expected to win plaudits.

But the regional reception for their choice of retired general and former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, has been lukewarm with officials on both sides expressing unhappiness. Neither side has expressed much confidence in Obasanjo's neutrality.

TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda immediately denounced the appointment, saying it would be 'naive to expect this mission to work' because of the AU's inherent bias towards Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (AC Vol 62 No 15, No good options on the table). 'Solving a crisis at the very least requires acknowledging the existence, let alone the magnitude of the problem', he added on Twitter.

Obasanjo's defenders say he fought in his country's own civil war and was part of the government that negotiated a successful peace treaty to help end it. As its high representative for the Horn of Africa, Obasanjo headed the AU's election observer mission to Ethiopia's parliamentary elections in June (AC Vol 62 No 13, War casts shadow over Abiy's election plan).

Certainly, the AU faces mounting pressure to step up efforts to end the conflict and prevent it drawing in more regional forces on either side. The AU will be largely on its own, with the UN system, the United States and the EU preoccupied with the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

The location of the AU's headquarters in Addis Ababa has raised obvious and tricky questions about the organisation's impartiality. Top officials in the AU have been accused by the TPLF and its supporters of being far too close to Abiy. Late last year, the AU Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, told a meeting of regional leaders that the federal government's military campaign in Tigray was 'legitimate for all states'.

Nor is the AU's African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), which includes a 15- member Peace and Security Council (PSC), well equipped for a leading role. Countries scramble to stay in it, partly as an insurance policy. Peer solidarity is far commoner than informed criticism of governments.

Between November 2020 and March 2021, the PSC held 19 meetings on other issues, with a proposal tabled by Abiy for an investigation into human rights violations relegated to 'other business' on the agenda.

Two developments might offer a route towards credible negotiations between Addis and Tigray. With about a million people in northern Ethiopia facing famine caused by the conflict, this looming catastrophe might spur more determined international action.

At the same time, the conflict has quickly undone Ethiopia's carefully constructed image as a model for rapid economic development. Growth has stalled and interest rates on its foreign debt are rising. Most worrying for Prime Minister Abiy's government, the dislocation caused by the war is costing tens of thousands of productive jobs.



Related Articles

No good options on the table

With a lack of credible mediators and both sides ruling out political negotiations, the likeliest outcome is an intensifying conflict

All sides have to make some tough decisions on strategy as the eight-month fight for control of Tigray escalates, dragging in surrounding regions. Judging by the declarations of Pr...


War casts shadow over Abiy's election plan

Communal clashes in five regions and all-out conflict in Tigray will undermine the legitimacy of the new government

It was meant to be a landmark election, a critical stage in Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's proclaimed agenda for democratic transition after decades of authoritarian rule. Ahead of vo...

READ FOR FREE

An Oromo rebellion constrains Abiy

Under international pressure, the federal government promised a truce in Tigray but is now losing ground to the Oromo insurgency

Just weeks after its 24 March announcement of an 'indefinite humanitarian truce' in the civil war in northern Ethiopia centred around the defiant Tigray region, the federal governm...


Addis calling

The race is on to snap up the two new telecom licences Ethiopia plans to award by the end of March. Kenyan SafariCom is teaming up with parent group Vodacom, while other multinatio...


Dam fine

In a little-noticed action, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has fined the Ethiopian government for failing to observe the law regarding its fund-raising ...