‘Dismayed’ African intellectuals call for end to Ethiopian conflict

Friday August 27 2021
Ethiopian soldiers.

Ethiopian soldiers carry a colleague on a makeshift stretcher as they arrive at the Mekele Rehabilitation Center in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on July 2, 2021. PHOTO | AFP


A group of more than 55 African intellectuals have added their call for peace in Ethiopia, demanding the country’s warring parties to lay down arms for dialogue.

The intellectuals include Kenya’s former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Prof Makau Mutua of the SUNY Buffalo Law School, former Chair of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights and economist David Ndii.

They say the Ethiopian conflict is causing unnecessary loss of life and livelihood and must be stopped immediately.

In an open letter Thursday, the group of experts from cross the continent said that Ethiopia’s role both as an example of Africa’s resilience and a host to the African Union demands urgent intervention. A delay in intervention has encouraged protagonists to fight on, they added.

“The AU, its member states—particularly Ethiopia’s neighbouring states—must not allow Ethiopia to dictate the terms of their engagement in seeking resolution to this conflict,” the letter said.

“We therefore call on the Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to respond positively to the repeated calls for political dialogue, including with the affected and implicated groups in the Amhara and Oromia regions.”


The intellectuals, who include academics, legal practitioners, politicians, scientists, economists, writers and civil society activists, were referring to the main protagonists in Ethiopia’s war.


Since November last year, the government in Addis has been fighting the Tigray people’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the erstwhile ruling party that had been in charge of Tigray region before the Ethiopian government proscribed it as a terrorist group.

No longer a formal political party, however, the TPLF have fought on including raiding neighbouring Amhara and Afar regional states whose militia are allied with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.

The war initially included just Eritrea as a third fighting party, supporting the side of Ethiopia.

However, regional militia opposed to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership have also cropped up in southern parts of the country.

The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) announced a ‘pact’ with the TPLF, complicating matters. New information also showed that Afar militia had attacked Somali region, killing nearly 30 people two weeks ago.

Ethiopian Prime’s Minister’s Spokesperson Billene Seyoum said on Thursday that at least 500,000 people in Afar had been displaced “due to TPLF incursion” in addition to the humanitarian crisis seen in Tigray earlier.

“The assessment of damage by the TPLF in these communities is still being assessed,” she said at an online press conference from Addis Ababa, and accused TPLF of “siphoning humanitarian aid away from those in need.”

The TPLF have denied the charge and USAid on Wednesday also rejected claims that it had supplied humanitarian aid to fighters.

In the meantime, next month, Ethiopia plans to host what it calls a national dialogue, but this will exclude TPLF and other proscribed groups.

On Thursday, the intellectuals condemned the destruction of important cultural sites and institutions such as mosques and churches built more than a century ago.

Mediation efforts

They urged Ethiopia’s warring partners to agree to dialogue so as to reach an amicable solution.

“All Ethiopians must recognise that a political rather than military solution is what is now called for, regardless of the claims and counterclaims, legitimate and otherwise, as to how Ethiopia has come to this place.

“Retributive justice, including the seizure and counter-seizures of contested land, and the detention of family members of recently outlawed political groups heightens tensions, leading to generational cycles of violence,” they said.

Ethiopia has in the past rebuffed efforts to have the government sit down with TPLF for dialogue, accusing the group of rejecting all previous offers before the war. The African Union had earlier appointed a panel of eminent personalities, including Liberia’s former President Ellen Jonson-Sirleaf, Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano and South Africa’s Kgalema Motlanthe to help in mediation efforts. Prime Minister Abiy argued the conflict in Tigray was an internal law enforcement operation.

Earlier this month, Sudan offered to mediate in the conflict, but Ms Billene said the relationship with Khartoum had reached “tricky” levels as the two countries bickered over a border demarcation, and over the filling of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) that has been built on the Nile.

The intellectuals said Ethiopia can draw benefits from the knowledge of African intellectuals willing to make useful proposals for a lasting solution.

Michael Woldemariam, from Boston University’s Director of the African Studies Center, and one of those who signed the letter, said Ethiopia has lost so much in the past 10 years of war and should draw lessons from it.

Now is the time for the parties to this tragic conflict to prioritise the suffering of their people and pursue negotiations. The idea that this metastasizing crisis can be resolved through force of arms is a mirage,” he said.

The group wants Ethiopia’s neighbours to pressure parties to talk under the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the AU, or at the least accept external mediation.

“The Igad and the AU to proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict—including providing all possible political support to the...AU Special Envoy for the Horn,” they added.