Kenya's Permanent Representative to the UN spoke to Aggrey Mutambo on why the conflict in Ethiopia matters to Kenya and what the international community can do to de-escalate tensions
Why has it been so difficult to get the parties in Ethiopia moving towards a ceasefire?
The conflict in Ethiopia is perhaps the most urgent engagement for Kenya at the UN Security Council. Our overriding priority is to help Ethiopia get through this crisis without its sovereignty and territorial integrity disintegrating.
The major role we are playing in the Security Council is to push for it to approach the situation in a way that does not compromise the fundamental security of Ethiopia and that effectively nudges the parties to embrace a ceasefire and be willing for mediation.
African leadership is required if the actions undertaken to encourage peace are to be constructive. The African Union’s appointment of former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a High Representative for the Horn, charged with seeking to support peace in Ethiopia, is an important step.
While the mediation to achieve a ceasefire is underway, Kenya is pushing for full and unhindered humanitarian access. We have registered our strong concern of the hate speech and incitement on social media, and encouraged Ethiopia to make use of the continental and regional tools designed for mediating conflict that it played a crucial role in shaping at the African Union and IGAD.
Does President Kenyatta enjoy confidence with all the conflicting parties?
I think so. This is not the first time Kenya has engaged positively to encourage a stop to a conflict in our region. We have been an honest broker key to mediating ceasefires and supporting the peace that follows.
Our interests in Ethiopia is to seek a secure, peaceful and independent Africa. We do that as a matter of policy, and understanding that our peace depends on being part of a stable region whose countries are at peace.
To manifest this position in the Security Council requires we be independent minded and bold.
After all, the Security Council reflects the interests of the most powerful States in the world. Left to its devices and lacking an assertive Africa that leads in resolving its own problems, the Council can easily take actions contrary to the interests of African states and peoples.
Is it getting too late to get to the basics like humanitarian corridors and ceasefire?
There is intense worry within the Security Council about the flow of humanitarian aid to Tigray, Afar and Amhara. Every delegation has called for humanitarian access. The risks of famine have been potent, and there is little doubt that the people have suffered greatly.
The actors on the ground need to internalise that a major factor in how the international community will engage with their political positions will be influenced by the actions they take in regard to humanitarian access.
What else has been done to speed up a solution?
President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken a more central role working closely with the UN Secretary General and former President Obasanjo. The African Union Peace and Security Council has now also engaged in finding a solution. Other states and organisations are regarding these African interventions as critical.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, there is a growing awareness that the military situation cannot solve the underlying political conflict and lead to peace and stability.
How is the Council working with the local people to help deal with the crisis?
The violent conflict in Ethiopia is a militarised expression of a profound disagreement on the political and constitutional future of the country.
Kenya has had its fair share of political challenges. What Kenya has learnt is that you cannot impose a solution. What you can do is encourage the parties to find a solution.
The complex crisis that the Ethiopians are suffering did not begin recently. Through history, they may have returned repeatedly to the drawing board to determine their future.
Even the way the State is shaped today in terms of federalism is itself an attempt to deal with the problem and create an inclusive State.
What needs to happen now is for the fighting to stop; not necessarily to go back to a status quo, but for the country to have a national dialogue that will allow it to address what their State -- federal or centralised -- should look like.
When we as Kenya push for a ceasefire, it is not because we know what the future of Ethiopia should be but because we know that Ethiopians, at the end of the day, have to sit down and determine how their future constitutional and political status should be.
The UN Security Council has had more engagements on Africa than any other place yet there are no permanent members on the Council. Is this a concern?
In the mid-1940s when the UN was being created, Kenya as we know it today did not exist. We are a member of a UN whose formation we did not have a hand in and even us being on the Council (for two years) indicates to us how important the body is and how unacceptable it is that it should have 60-70 percent of its agenda on Africa without an African country being a permanent member.
Our membership to the Council has made us even more determined to push for reforms within the UN.
The debate on the future of Amisom has arisen recently. What is Kenya’s concern?
It is critical that the Amisom transition leads to a peaceful and secure Somalia, not a surge into greater prominence by a terrorist group such as Al Shabaab.
Kenya’s concern, beyond the future of Amisom, is that across the continent, the Security Council is not robustly enough dealing with terrorist groups. We think the Council is behind the curve.
Traditional peacekeeping is changing to stabilisation and countering terrorism.
The future needs joint African forces with the kind of military force multipliers and resources that it takes to actually overcome these groups.
From its reluctance to list Al Shabaab as an Al Qaeda affiliate, to its reticence to support the G5 Sahel with UN assessed contributions,
I think Kenyans need to better understand the work we do in the Security Council. During our Presidency in October, we took the Council to the Sahel, specifically to Mali and Niger. The reason was to offer the Council to assess firsthand the impact terrorist groups are having on populations and even the continuity of states. Al Shabaab, in its ideological and political aims mirrors the groups afflicting the Sahel, and other regions. It feeds off similar criminal economies, and radicalises and recruits in the same way. We wanted the Council to understand that the continent as a whole needs to take on these groups even more robustly, and that it needs the support of the international community.
We all witnessed the result of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
If this strategic insight is not understood and acted on, then expect a lot more serious crises that could even lead to a number of failed states.
Even when you are undertaking other aspects of peacebuilding, if we are not military capable of pushing back these groups, then we are going to find an increasing level of threats to the existence of our states.