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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 26th August 2021

African activists call for talks on Ethiopian war

Blue Lines

'Ethiopia is on the precipice' according to an open letter to be published this week from a pan-African group of intellectuals calling for a negotiated settlement to the country's nine-month conflict. Their timing is critical. All the signs point to another escalation: the Tigray Defence Force is forming a military alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army while United States and European officials warn that Eritrea has sent thousands more troops across the border to back Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government forces. After mounting diplomatic pressure, including UN reports of war crimes by its troops, Eritrea withdrew some of its contingent in June.

The authors of the open letter urge Abiy and the Tigrayans to resolve the 10-month conflict by political not military means. They argue for regional organisations such as the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to mediate.

Under heavy pressure from its host, the Addis Ababa-based AU has shied away from pronouncing on the conflict. Likewise, Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's offer to mediate in Ethiopia's war was quickly rebuffed. Despite aid cuts and visa bans (the US sanctioned Eritrea's army chief General Filipos Woldeyohannes this week), Western governments have been sidelined by Abiy. As Afghanistan looks set to dominate international diplomacy for several more weeks, few expect any practical initiatives from the West on Ethiopia. That gives the AU, with some discreet UN backing, a key role – if its leadership dares to seize it.