Ethiopia expands shuttle diplomacy on Tigray as leaders call for peace

Thursday November 19 2020
Ethiopian refugee.

An Ethiopian refugee who fled fighting in Tigray province listens to a radio at the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref province on November 18, 2020. PHOTO | EBRAHIM HAMID | AFP


Ethiopian officials on Wednesday continued to insist they were in control of the Tigray situation.

Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, arrived in DR Congo's capital Kinshasa on his latest shuttle diplomacy tour, telling his hosts why Ethiopia must crush the Tigray People’s Liberation Movement.

At a meeting with Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, the current vice-chairperson of the African Union, Demeke said Ethiopia will return to normalcy as soon as the ‘junta’ is crushed.

He repeated the same message he had told other regional leaders — that Ethiopia can handle the situation without outside help and that it is seeking to restore order, peace and the authority of the state as quickly as possible.

“As was in the Second World War during the battle of Assosa and Gambela, the DRC is ready to help take back control Ethiopian lands if necessary," suggested the office of President Felix Tshisekedi, using a historical metaphor on DRC’s readiness to help the country.

Assosa (in Benishangul regional state) and Gambela (Gambela region) are towns in Ethiopia which were battlegrounds during the WWII. Soldiers from the then Belgian-Congo helped capture an estimated 1,500 Italian fighters and destroyed their fort. It was part of an Allied Forces campaign against the Italians who later surrendered. Some 6,000 Italian fighters are said to have surrendered after five months of resisting.


In control

In Kinshasa, a spokesperson of the presidency, however, indicated “the Ethiopian government says it has control of the situation and will manage the conflict in Tigray on its own."

Demeke, who had toured Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, said “constitutional order will be restored quickly”.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on November 4, arguing the fighters of the TPLF which rules Tigray region had attacked a military camp manned by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, killed soldiers and looted artillery.

TPLF deny the attack, but Abiy has also accused its chiefs of impunity. The party ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades and while it may have helped improve the economy, critics charge that it left behind atrocities and marginalised communities not in power.

Demek’s shuttle diplomacy, however, came as regional leaders continued their plea for a peaceful solution.