Obasanjo, Kenyatta to facilitate AU-led Ethiopia/Tigray peace talks in South Africa

By Mwangi Maina
Posted on Monday, 24 October 2022 12:51

Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta meets Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia February 6, 2022. Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

Representatives from Ethiopia and from the Tigrayan government are both set to attend today’s peace talks in South Africa that will be mediated by the African Union. It's the second official call to peace talks after a first attempt fell apart at the start of the month.

The AU is seeking to end the civil war that has been raging in Ethiopia for nearly two years. Its efforts to lead the peace process have been “widely perceived as responding inadequately to the situation’’ in Ethiopia, according to Rashid Abdi, a Horn of Africa analyst.

US special envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer says it is urgent that talks happen now to stop the fighting, alleviate the suffering, and find a way forward for resolving outstanding issues through dialogue.

“As partners of the African Union, the United States is fully and actively engaged diplomatically in support of its effort, that is why I visited Kenya, South Africa, and Ethiopia. The parties must realise there is no military solution.

Eritrea’s re-entry into Ethiopia has made matters significantly worse, it need[s] to withdraw and respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty- as should others who are fuelling the conflict,’’ Hammer tells The Africa Report.

Fighting has intensified in Ethiopia’s northern region.

‘No military solution to the crisis’

The AU’s Peace and Security Council held a meeting Friday ahead of the UN Security Council meeting called by the bloc of three elected African states on the UNSC (known as the A3 countries: Gabon, Ghana, Kenya) and was briefed by its Horn of Africa envoy Olusegun Obasanjo, who will be mediating the talks.

It prioritised the need for unnamed foreign powers to respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

They [secret peace talks] did take place organised by the Americans in Seychelles and twice in Djibouti

The A3 also confirmed that there is no military solution to the crisis and called for a prompt cessation of hostilities.

“The conflicting parties should respect and uphold our instruments by participating in the AU-facilitated peace talks that will convene in South Africa next week. Ceasing hostilities and coming to the negotiating table in good faith will breathe life into our continental aspiration to deliver African Solutions to African Challenges,’’ said part of the statement issued by the A3 countries.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who sent Ethiopian forces into Tigray in November 2020, said on Thursday that the war “would end and peace will prevail”.

“Ethiopia will be peaceful. We will not continue fighting indefinitely. I hope the day when we will stand with our Tigrayan brothers to work together for development is near,’’ he said.

The African Union chairperson Moussa Faki sent out invitations to the talks, which will be led by the AU’s High Representative for the horn, former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo, supported by former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Through a tweet, Abiy’s national security advisor Redwan Hussein reconfirmed Ethiopia’s commitment to participating in Monday’s talks.

Getachew Reda, spokesperson of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and a member of the negotiating team, told The Africa Report on Friday that the TPLF was notified of Monday’s talks and is also ready and willing to attend.

Kenyatta, who had earlier declined to facilitate the talks with others, agreed to participate this time round.

Kenya’s former envoy to the UN, Macharia Kamau, who was recently appointed to a key advisory team for the UN Peacebuilding Fund, tells The Africa Report that all the issues that Kenyatta had raised, such as clarity on the structure of the talks, were addressed this time round by the AU, prompting him to accept request.

Secret meetings a failure

An earlier invitation sent on 1 October to both Ethiopia and Tigray leaders for peace talks in South Africa never took place due to logistical problems.

Though the warring parties had each confirmed their participation, the AU reportedly did not consult the key actors, including some of the facilitators.

You don’t just expect people to show up on a certain date as if this was some kind of a get together

Kenyatta is said to have been unaware of the planned meeting, with one of his handlers referring to the invitation letter from Moussa Faki as a “false alarm”.

Additionally, the South African government felt that the AU had “jumped ship” by inviting the warring parties to talks in the country before it had confirmed a venue, a diplomatic source tells The Africa Report.  

“You don’t just expect people to show up on a certain date as if this was some kind of a get together,” TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda tells The Africa Report.

A senior Western official also confirms to The Africa Report that the continental body hadn’t prepared all elements and caught off guard some of those who were named to be part of the discussions.

However, earlier secret peace talks were held, a Western official confirms to The Africa Report. “They did take place organised by the Americans in Seychelles and twice in Djibouti,” says the diplomatic source, adding that both warring parties from Ethiopia had attended.

International pressure

Although there is much relief that the warring parties will once again meet at the negotiating table, international pressure for a ceasefire has grown since the continental body failed earlier this month to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres this week said violence and destruction had reached alarming levels in Ethiopia.

“We need the urgent resumption of talks towards an effective, lasting political settlement,” Guterres told reporters in New York.

He further committed UN’s support to the African Union in every possible way to end “this nightmare for the Ethiopian people”.

There is a narrow window now to prevent genocide

WHO Director’s General Tedros Adhanom, a native of Tigray, on Thursday urged the international community to give the Ethiopian crisis the attention it deserves.

“There is no other situation in the world in which six million have been kept under siege for almost two years like in Tigray, Ethiopia. This is a health crisis. There is a narrow window now to prevent genocide,” said Tedros.

The UN Human Rights office has received reports of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects due to airstrikes and artillery strikes.

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