Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Friday met with the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in his second attempt to broker peace with the Ethiopian government, even as Addis Ababa declared victory over a battlefield in Amhara region.
Obasanjo, the African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, has been tasked with convincing parties to accept a ceasefire and choose dialogue, but his latest trip to the northern city of Makelle, the capital of Tigray region, was only met with protagonists going about the war.
Obasanjo had arrived in Addis Ababa on Friday for scheduled meetings with warring parties: the representatives of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and those of the TPLF and allied armed groups.
But as he met with the TPLF President Debretsion GebreMichael, Ethiopia’s Federal Government Communication Service said its forces had won back Bati, in Oromia zone in Amhara region.
“Government forces have successfully overtaken Terrorist TPLF’s stronghold on the Bati Kassagita front, gaining a strategic foothold,” it announced.
In Makelle, TPLF officials say the meeting was a briefing for Obasanjo to understand why the group is keen on continuing with its war against the government.
“Chief Obasanjo was in town as part of his efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the war in Ethiopia. He had extensive discussions with President Debretsion on ways forward,” said Getchew Reda, TPLF’s senior advisor for Debretsion and the group’s spokesman.
“It’s our hope and expectation that there is now a clearer understanding of what the people and Army of Tigray are after in their advance on the Capital Addis Ababa,” he wrote on his Twitter page on Friday.
The group, once a ruling party but has since been proscribed for terrorism in Ethiopia, accused the PM of trying to “shoot his way out of the crisis he had landed the country in.”
The meeting ended without a way forward, although the TPLF, for the first time, say they are willing to engage Obasanjo for his efforts towards a lasting solution.
It was the second time for Obasanjo in Ethiopia to seek a solution. His last visit earlier this month also ended without a solution as parties openly declared they wanted the other eliminated first. He issued a statement accusing warring parties of failing the country’s politics.
“Dialogue remains the only reliable and sustainable avenue to sustainable peace,” he said on November 13. “There is no military solution to the conflict and battlefield victory cannot guarantee political stability in Ethiopia.”
Dr Abiy who came to power in April 2018, after the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn, has since consolidated his power, including winning an election this year in June under his Prosperity Party.
But the TPLF, which refused to dissolve and join the Prosperity Party in 2019 has had a long running animosity with Addis Ababa. Last year in November, the government authorised a “law enforcement operation’ after the TPLF reportedly attacked a northern army command.
The resulting fighting has seen the battle victories swing between the sides with a rising humanitarian crisis. It has since attracted the Oromo Liberation Army, a group in the southern region opposed to Abiy, as well as allied militia in Afar and Amhara regions who support Abiy.
The international community, including regional leaders in the Horn, have been calling for a ceasefire first, as a step to ensure humanitarian access and to build trust between parties.