Ethiopia: After meeting with Tigrayan leaders, Abiy comes to Europe for support

By The Africa Report

Posted on Thursday, 9 February 2023 11:11
French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali prior to their meeting at the Presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, France on February 7, 2023. (Photo by Umit Donmez / ANADOLU AGENCY / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed toured European capitals this week as he seeks to rehabilitate his government’s international image and raise funds for reconstruction following November's ceasefire with Tigray.

On Monday Abiy was in Rome, where he signed a two-year cooperation agreement with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni worth €180m ($193m) in grants and soft loans. After that, he travelled to Malta and then met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, with whom he discussed private sector investment.

While in Paris, State Minister for Finance Eyob Tekalign and Ethiopia’s new central bank governor, Mamo Mithreu, held discussions with French treasury officials on development support and the process of restructuring Ethiopia’s debt under the G20’s Common Framework.

Praise for ceasefire

International donors have praised the ceasefire and offered to support its implementation. After two years of bloody conflict and allegations of human rights abuses, they are keen to re-engage with Ethiopia, which is seen as a key strategic partner in the turbulent Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia, for its part, wants to bring back foreign investors and restore relations with partners such as the EU and the US, who cut budgetary support during the war out of concern for human rights abuses. It is facing a reconstruction bill of close to $20bn and attempting to revive an economy battered by high inflation.

This meeting is another significant moment in the peace process because it shows again that both leaderships are strongly committed to it.

“The government is preparing a comprehensive reconstruction and rehabilitation plan for conflict-affected areas,” said Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonen last month, during a visit by his French and German counterparts. “We need the international community and our partners to assist us in mobilising resources”.

So far, donors have focused on extending humanitarian support following the deal. American and European diplomats say their governments will not fully normalise relations until there is progress on accountability for human rights abuses, particularly the widespread sexual violence that characterised much of the conflict.

This will take time.

The ceasefire provisions for a transitional justice process, but a formal mechanism for this would need to be ratified by Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers and the federal parliament, a process that could take several months.

Meeting with Tigray’s leaders

Meanwhile, the federal government and Tigray’s leaders have taken major progress in implementing other parts of the deal. Last week, Abiy met with senior Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leaders for the first time since it was struck, including the region’s chief negotiator, Getachew Reda, and the commander of Tigray’s fighting force, General Tadesse Worede.

Getachew told reporters that they discussed the formation of a transitional government in Tigray, which would replace the current administration of the TPLF, a key part of the deal. Getachew said they also agreed on a plan for the demobilisation of Tigray’s fighters and discussed the restoration of commercial traffic and the release of federal funds to the region.

“This meeting is another significant moment in the peace process because it shows again that both leaderships are strongly committed to it,” says William Davison, an analyst at the International Crisis Group. “In addition to its positive political symbolism, the two sides also seem to have made some tangible agreements on how to proceed with implementation.”

On Saturday, Abiy’s government said the central bank was sending cash worth Br5bn ($93m) to banks in Mekelle, Tigray capital, following the meeting with Tigray’s leadership. This move would ease the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where 90% of the six million population need humanitarian help, partly due to the closure of banking services in the region. It would also build on the restoration of Tigray’s phone lines and mobile interest in December after a two-year blackout.

Eritrea’s role in all of this

One of the biggest steps towards implementation came last month when Eritrean forces allied to Ethiopia’s federal military pulled out of major towns in control. They have been accused of serious atrocities in Tigray and their withdrawal is key to the success of the ceasefire, although they remain in some border areas.

Tigray’s fighters have also handed over heavy weapons to the federal military, including several tanks and artillery pieces. Davison says he expects international engagement with Ethiopia to step up as the implementation of the ceasefire progresses.

“There are serious outstanding issues, particularly regarding justice and accountability, but there is widespread international support for the peace process and a recognition of the need for reconstruction funds, on top of humanitarian assistance,” he adds.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options