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Ethiopia: Kenyatta and Museveni try to broker peace to avoid regional fallout

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Monday, 15 November 2021 14:36

Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed posted photos of himself with Kenya's President Kenyatt after the latter's arrival in Addis Ababa on Sunday.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta held private talks with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Sahle Work Zewde on Sunday, as regional leaders scramble for a solution to the country’s year-long civil war.  

The Kenyan leader landed in Ethiopia’s capital on Sunday “in search of peace”, ahead of a flurry of regional and international diplomatic activity that has significantly increased over the last month.

Earlier this month, Kenyatta called on Ethiopia’s warring sides to negotiate an end to the conflict. At home, he ordered security agencies to intensify security, as the region braces itself for spillover effects of the conflict in Ethiopia and Sudan.

On Friday 12 November, Kenyatta instructed Kenya’s security agencies to “heighten vigilance and surveillance across the country following the unfolding security situation in the region,” State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena Mararo said in a statement.

  • Although the conflict is mainly centered in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions of northern Ethiopia, far from its southern border with Kenya, Kenyatta’s pre-planning is based on prior experiences.
  • Among his legacy projects that might be derailed is a controversial plan to close down refugee camps in the country by the end of his term. Some of the camps have been open for more than three decades and now host refugees from across the region. A continuing conflict, or even a military victory for either side, would mean a worsening refugee situation for Ethiopia’s neighbours.

Kenyatta’s visit to Ethiopia precedes a regional visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who starts his shuttle diplomacy in Nairobi on Monday, and a meeting of regional leaders called by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on 16 November.

Blinken will also visit Nigeria and Senegal, as the US ramps up pressure on Ethiopia and Eritrea to end the conflict. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have condemned a new raft of sanctions imposed by Washington on Eritrea’s ruling party, military, and two high-profile individuals.

 

Despite the ramped up diplomatic pressure, there has still been little meaningful engagement by Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) towards peace talks. The two sides have largely stuck to their bare minimums, even as the conflict escalates amidst a national state of emergency and an emerging political alliance among rebel groups.

On 11 November, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said its conditions for peace talks include cessation of attacks by the TPLF, a retreat from Amhara and Afar regions, and that the TPLF “recognise the legitimacy of this government.” The TPLF, on the other hand, has declined to retreat from Amhara and Afar before peace talks begin. The rebel group, which has had significant victories in the last five months, has also demanded an end to the siege on Mekelle, Tigray’s capital.

Neither side is willing to cede any ground, either militarily or politically. Regional leaders hope to push for a mediated end to the conflict, but face significant challenges in bringing the two sides to the table. Both sides have been accused of ongoing human rights abuses and probable international war crimes in the ongoing conflict.

The war has also worsened ethnic divisions that were already apparent before the conflict began in November 2020, and its end is unlikely to be meaningful, if it doesn’t include other significant issues affecting Ethiopia’s stability.

Ethiopia’s internal conflicts have often ended with military victories that have had long-lasting effects within the country and cascading spillover effects in the region.

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