The approaches of the international actors in the Ethiopian file to the new round of fighting


Some dramatic developments may push the external parties to intensify pressures on the conflicting forces inside Ethiopia to avoid some catastrophic scenarios such as the possibility of a large-scale genocide, or the conflict seriously threatening the continuity of the entity of the Ethiopian state, or the security and stability of the region in general.
In an extremely critical and tense international moment, a new round of fighting erupted in northern Ethiopia on August 24, and quickly escalated in pace and exacerbated its catastrophic humanitarian effects. This called into question the approaches taken by the international actors in the Ethiopian file to curb the escalation and mitigate its effects.

The paper attempts to shed light by analyzing the behavior of a group of external actors in the Ethiopian conflict; It addressed three main parties: the African Union, which is mediating between the federal government and the Tigrayan leadership, the United States of America, and China.

It was clear that international preoccupations with the Ukrainian crisis, the energy crisis, and tension in the South China Sea had affected the importance that the aforementioned parties attached to the Ethiopian conflict, which was reflected in the nature of their movements, which witnessed a clear difference, in some aspects, from what we witnessed during the previous rounds of fighting.

First: the African Union

The African Union is one of the main parties concerned with the Ethiopian file for many reasons, perhaps the most important of which is its mediation between the two parties to the conflict, and the Ethiopian government’s giving its role a great deal (1) through its adherence to the slogan “African solutions to African problems” and its adherence to the exclusivity of African mediation (2) , besides that its success In quelling one of the most important conflicts in the world today, it will give it credibility as a continental institution responsible for settling disputes on the brown continent, and international support for resolving less important and dangerous African crises.

In this context, it can be said: The African Union’s envoy for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olison Obasanjo, who is charged with mediating in Ethiopia reflects how the African continental organization deals with the Ethiopian file, and despite what was mentioned above the importance of this mediation for the Union, contrary to what was expected, the mediator’s performance was young The African Union, after the outbreak of the Hodeidah round of conflict in Ethiopia, has many negatives.

The mediation dynamic was marked by a noticeable slowness in dealing with the event (3) . In addition, the African initiative to hold negotiations in South Africa, which received the approval of the Federal Government and the leadership of the Tigrayans, revealed striking weaknesses in the way the mediation works, even in some procedural matters. With two examples:

Misalignment: The former president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was appointed as his country’s envoy for peace in the Horn of Africa and the Lakes region, on September 15, as the Tigrayans had previously demanded it, which was supported by the United States of America (4) . Although the African Union announced in a statement on October 6 that the negotiation rounds in South Africa will be led by three personalities, one of whom is Kenyatta (5) ; This appointment lacked practical measures as it was not coordinated by the African mediator and his team, which led to Kenyatta’s apology for participating in the South African negotiations because of a conflict in his agenda, asking for clarifications related to it! (6)

A flaw in the preliminary arrangements for negotiations: On 11 September, the Tigrayan leadership announced its agreement to participate in a “credible” AU-led process as it identified members of its negotiating team (7) , and about a month later the AU announced the holding of negotiating rounds in South Africa without consulting Throughout that period with the Tigray leadership about many items such as the presence of new international observers or guarantors, as well as about logistical and security matters related to the safety of its negotiating team! (8)

These are two models that draw a lot of question marks about the performance of African mediation. Therefore, what can be put on top of the factors leading to the outbreak of this new round of fighting is the obstruction of the negotiating horizon as a result of Obasango’s apparent failure to penetrate the wall of the Ethiopian crisis.

The inability of the African mediator to apply balanced and parallel pressures on the two sides of the conflict led to him losing the confidence of the Tigray leadership, which described the African Union and Obasango as “integrity and impartiality” (9) , which ultimately complicates the mediator’s task, as the satisfaction of the parties involved in the conflict with the mediator is a major factor To confirm his credibility and support his efforts.

Opinions vary to explain the performance of the African mediator, as some see that Obasanjo lacks sufficient knowledge of the complexities of the Ethiopian conflict and its various dimensions, while Professor Alex de Waal attributes this to the experience of the Nigerian army in imposing siege and starvation on the Biafra region in the sixties, which led to its surrender in 1970, when Obasanjo was a colonel in his country’s army at the time; Where “that circle shaped him and a generation of Nigerians”, according to de Waal (10) .

But in my estimation, the inability of the African Union is due to a set of factors that vary between subjectivity related to the continental institution, and objectiveness related to the nature of the conflict in Ethiopia and the parties involved in it.

subjective factors

1- The African Union’s lack of sufficient resources and tools to pressure Addis Ababa affects its ability to effectively exercise its role in everything related to Ethiopia, which is what prompts the latter to adhere to it as an exclusive mediator (11) under the slogan “African solutions to African problems,” whether in the Renaissance Dam crisis Or in the Tigray crisis.

2- The current mediation is characterized by its enjoyment of international support, as the United States, the European Union and the United Nations have reiterated their support for Obasango’s efforts, which gave him important cards to pressure the parties to the conflict in the interest of moving towards a negotiated solution, but it seems that the mediation’s lack of will, or desire , to employ the tools of its power through coordination with the aforementioned forces led to a state of obstruction that prompted the outbreak of fighting again.

objective factors

1- The complex nature of the conflict and the overlapping of issues in it between the political, the ethnic, and even the personal (12) .

2- The regional dimension of the conflict represented by the Eritrean role that rejects any reconciliation with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF ) , a stalemate that Obasanjo tried to overcome previously through his recommendation, two weeks before the outbreak of the fighting, to invite Eritrea to be part of the negotiation process (14) , which is As much as it reveals the importance of the Eritrean role in the Ethiopian war, it reveals a deep flaw in understanding the positions of the parties to the conflict, as Asmara has expressed its radical rejection of any negotiation with the Tigrayan leadership, while the latter refuses Eritrea to play any role in the political process in Ethiopia with the exception of withdrawing its forces from the territory as a precondition for negotiation. 

3- The deep lack of trust between the two parties, which complicates the building of confidence procedures between them, especially given the sensitivity of the demands that each of them places on the negotiating table, as the Tigrayans demand the lifting of the siege and the restoration of control over the western Tigray region, which the government considers an attempt to open a logistical corridor from Sudan, while demanding The government should disarm the Tigrayans, which will not be acceptable to them after the experience of the past two years.

4- In light of what has been mentioned, it seems natural for the two sides to resort to arms as a preferred tool for resolving this conflict, as their field situation determines the extent of their response to negotiated solutions.

In view of all of the above, the prospects do not seem promising for the African Union’s ability to push the parties to the conflict to negotiate satisfactory solutions for all in the peace talks expected on October 24 in South Africa. Persuading the main parties to the conflict to turn towards a peaceful solution, insofar as it can be traced back to the conditions on the ground related to the balances of power on the ground and the progress being made by the federal forces and their allies at the expense of the Tigray Defense Forces.

Second: the United States of America

It seems difficult to compare the momentum of the American interest in the course of the previous rounds of the Ethiopian war and the statements and moves issued by Washington after the outbreak of fighting last August. (15) , an interest that went beyond the official circles to the major media organizations that made the war in Tigray a major item in their news coverage, whether they were seen or written.

A different picture reflected by the performance of the American circles concerned with the region, which was characterized by a conciliatory language and quiet work under the cover of African mediation to support efforts to push the two parties to negotiate, which can be attributed to the fact that the United States, in its approach to the current crisis, is in a delicate and critical situation, besides being deeply absorbed in the consequences of And the developments of the Ukrainian war, we can talk about the following considerations: 

1- Ethiopia’s unity and sovereignty is a pillar of the American strategy towards Ethiopia, which is repeated in the various statements issued by the concerned American circles, which is represented by the project of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abi Ahmed, on Ethiopia as one central, while the separatist ambitions of Tigray represent a worrying indicator for Washington, While Abi Ahmed’s support, based on this, seems logical, the latter’s policies of rapprochement with Russia and China and alliance with the Eritrean regime hostile to Washington make Washington’s position more critical.

2- The US policy towards Ethiopia is in a state of confusion as a result of the failure during the past two years to push the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table in a serious and honest manner. The United States changed its envoy to the Horn of Africa three times during this period, without tangible results.

3- The beginning of this year witnessed a dispute over who is entrusted with drawing the features of the American strategy towards Africa between the former US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, and the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly V. A less harsh policy towards Addis Ababa (16) , which is in the interest of relieving the supposed pressure on the federal government for the mediation to succeed.

4- In the context of the new cold war that has begun to loom on the horizon (17) , Washington fears that the pressure on Addis Ababa will lead to the loss of the efforts made in the past period to restore relations with Ethiopia, Abi Ahmed, and prevent its full integration into the Sino-Russian axis. Like its neighbor, Eritrea, for example.

5- Fear that the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia will lead to an organized genocide against the Tigrayans, as happened in Rwanda in the early nineties of the last century, which puts pressure on the US government, which has placed at the heart of its foreign policy agenda the promotion and defense of human rights.

6- Working to expand African mediation or build a parallel track to it led by former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, where he joined the team leading the supposed negotiations between the federal government and the Tigrayan leadership, but this is faced with obstacles as previously mentioned.  

Despite all of the above, the American position, backed by the European Union, remains the most active and effective. President Joe Biden issued a decision to extend the state of emergency for Ethiopia (18) in conjunction with the visit of his envoy to the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, to the region; As these visits resulted in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front leadership declaring, on September 11, its readiness to start a ceasefire, and its acceptance of a “credible process” led by the African Union and including international mediators and observers agreed to by the two parties (19) , which paved the way for the meeting. The two parties were brought together in Djibouti under the umbrella of the African Union (20) , then for negotiations supposed to take place in South Africa.

Apparently, there is a mutual desire to reform the course of relations between Addis Ababa and Washington; As the former was negatively affected by Western sanctions on its economy, which was already damaged by the consequences of the war in Tigray, while Washington hopes that Addis Ababa will return to exercising its traditional role as one of America’s most important allies in East Africa, especially given the increasing security threats both in Somalia through the escalation of the movement’s activity. Youth (21) , or the instability that Sudan is experiencing as a result of the faltering of the transitional phase.

This desire will be reflected in the American approach to the solution in Ethiopia less pressure on Addis Ababa, Hammer described his country’s relationship with Ethiopia as a “strategic partnership” (22) , while the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abi Ahmed, confirmed in an interview with The New Yorker that his disagreement is with the policies of the administration of Joe Biden explaining his deep admiration for the United States (23) ; This means that Washington’s change of its policies towards his government may open the door to a shift away from the state of tension in the relationship between them during the last stage. In the same context, the Ethiopian government expressed its willingness to issue a license to an American company to start producing gas and oil from the Somali region in the country (24) . 

Third: China

Beijing is one of the most important and influential forces present in the Horn of Africa, and this importance increases in the Ethiopian context given that Beijing is the largest foreign investor in the country (25) , and therefore many considerations were pushing to expect a large Chinese involvement in resolving the Ethiopian crisis, perhaps the most important of which is In the following:

1- The partnership that Beijing developed with the government of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, which moved the relationship between them from the economic level related to Chinese investments in Ethiopia to a political one.

2- The Chinese initiative launched by Beijing for peace in the Horn of Africa, which held its first conference under the chairmanship of Beijing’s envoy to the Horn of Africa in Addis Ababa, late last March; This round of conflict represented an opportunity for Chinese diplomacy to highlight the effectiveness of its vision and achieve a diplomatic success that Washington failed to achieve.

3- Ethiopia’s geostrategic importance in eastern Africa and the southern Red Sea; China has a lot of investment and economic and military presence in Djibouti and Eritrea, for example.

4- The sensitivity of the location of the Horn of Africa, with Ethiopia at its heart, in the context of the global Cold War, whose features have begun to become clear recently; Where the area turned into one of its important squares (26) . 

But the irony is that Beijing’s steps in this file were characterized by a lot of slow and ineffectiveness, which can be attributed to the following:

1- The Chinese policy of non-interference and considering what is happening in Ethiopia an internal affair.

2- Despite the fierceness of the clashes, so far there is no serious threat to the position of Beijing’s allies in the region. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

3- The great complexities of the Ethiopian file and its local, regional and international entanglements. 

4- Preserving the entity of the Ethiopian state remains a goal of the Chinese strategy in the region, as confirmed by Jeffrey Feltman, the former American envoy to the Horn of Africa, that it is in the interest of both America and China that the state in Ethiopia does not collapse under the weight of war (27) , and therefore as long as The Ethiopian entity was not exposed to serious risks, as the Chinese move will remain at a low pace.  

5- The current crisis revealed the limited ability of the Chinese Peace and Development Initiative in the Horn of Africa to achieve its goals, which it announced at its first conference in Addis Ababa last March 31, which focused on dismantling the crises of the Horn of Africa from a developmental approach. What made the Chinese initiative ineffective was its failure to persuade Eritrea to participate in the conference, so it was understandable that the belated visit of Beijing’s envoy to the Horn of Africa, Xue Ping, would begin on September 17, in Asmara and meet with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who holds some of the most important keys The conflict in its neighbour, Ethiopia (28) .

Based on what we mentioned above, it can be said that China’s approach after the outbreak of the new round of fighting is a continuation of its policy of supporting the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. Therefore, the low pace of Chinese action indicates Beijing’s confidence in the strength of the federal government’s position on the ground.

Fourth: summary

The above-mentioned reasons and considerations complicate the position of the international actors in the Ethiopian file regarding the latest round of war in the north of the country, and confuse them from taking serious measures to stop it. Perhaps the six-party statement signed by Australia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States is the clearest example of this impasse. Where the aforementioned countries contented themselves with calling for a cease-fire, giving priority to a peaceful solution, and calling on Eritrea to withdraw its forces (29) , nearly 50 days after the outbreak of a new round of tragic war.

In view of the movements witnessed in the last stage, it appears that there is a tendency to push one of the parties to the conflict, which is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to make some concessions, under the pressure of the field and humanitarian reality, in exchange for giving it a set of guarantees, which would enable the effective launch of the negotiating process.

This approach, in addition to its high human costs, is difficult to predict the extent of its efficacy, given that it is linked to the seriousness of the Ethiopian government to move forward in this path, and the desire of Asmara and the Amhara militias to liquidate the Tigrayan Front, in addition to the latter having the option to turn to guerrilla warfare in the event of its defeat in the current confrontations. 

On the other hand, some dramatic developments may push the external parties to intensify pressures on the conflicting forces in order to avoid some catastrophic scenarios, such as the possibility of a large-scale genocide, or the conflict seriously threatening the continuity of the entity of the Ethiopian state, or the security and stability of the region in general (30) .

About the author

Abdul Qadir Muhammad Ali

Eritrean journalist and researcher interested in issues of the Horn of Africa.REFERENCE

1-Tekle, Tesfa-Alem, Ethiopia committed to AU mediation to end Tigray conflict: official, The East African, 8 June 2022,(Seen:10 October 2022). https://cutt.us/NFoCo

2-The federal government has reiterated the exclusivity of African mediation on more than one occasion. See, for example, the statement issued by the Ethiopian Government Communication Service, on October 5, on the office’s Twitter account, (date of access: October 21, 2022): https://cutt.us/C7aHn

3-A statement was issued by the presidency of the African Union, on August 24, immediately after the outbreak of the fighting, while a similar statement was not issued by Obasango, for example, (date of entry: October 10, 2022): https://cutt.us/TuOpa

4-De Wall, Alex, Ethiopian civil war: Why fighting has resumed in Tigray and Amhara, BBC, 1 September 2022 , (Seen: 5 October 2022). https://cutt.us/LqJ7

5-A statement issued by the CAF Presidency on its Twitter account, (Accessed date: October 10, 2022):   https://cutt.us/kZ4u2

6-Mutambo, Aggrey, Ethiopian mediation: Uhuru Kenyatta to skip scheduled peace talks, The East African, 7 October 2022, (Retrieved: 21 October 2022). https://cutt.us/2YEFc

7-The statement was posted on the Twitter account of the Tigray Office of Foreign Affairs, (date of access: October 12, 2022):   https://cutt.us/HcjSP

8-The statement is posted on the Twitter account of the Tigray Office of Foreign Affairs, October 5, 2022 (accessed October 10, 2022):   https://cutt.us/hZxXH

9-Open letter from the leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on the Twitter account of the Tigray Office of Foreign Affairs, August 23, 2022, (accessed August 25, 2022): https://cutt.us/Me9eu

10- De Wall, Alex, US diplomacy failing at critical moment in Ethiopia war, Responsible Statecraft, 27 September 2022, https://cutt.us/Yxls8

11-The Citizen, AU extends Olusegun Obasanjo mission amid Ethiopian peace push, 11 September 2022, (Viewed: 21 October 2022). https://cutt.us/mdbij

12-Muhammad Ali, Abdul Qadir, A new round of fighting in Tigray.. Motives, strategies and future scenarios, Trends Center for Research and Consulting, October 12, 2022, (access date: October 21, 2022):   https://cutt. us/31TQ0

13-Mohamed Ali, Abdelkader, Indicators of Ethiopian Reconciliation: Local and Regional Beneficiaries and Affected by it , Al Jazeera Center for Studies, May 11, 2022, (accessed October 21, 2022):   https://cutt.us/SoKVE , and see Also: Muhammad Ali, Abdul Qadir, The current political and military developments in Ethiopia and their regional repercussions , Al Jazeera Center for Studies, June 9, 2022, (access date: October 21, 2022):   https://cutt.us/XUga6

14-This was stated in Obasango’s recommendation to a session of the African Peace and Security Council, (date of entry: October 21, 2022):   https://cutt.us/dIs0A

15-Muhammad Ali, Abdel Qader, Withdrawal of Eritrean and Amharic Forces: The American Vision for Resolving the Tigray Crisis , Al Jazeera Center for Studies, March 14, 2021, (date of entry: October 21, 2022):   https://cutt.us/whcfU

16-Muhammad Ali, Abdul Qadir, New US Envoy to the Horn of Africa.. What’s in Satterfield’s Package?, TRT Arabic, January 10, 2022, (access date: October 10, 2022):   https://cutt.us/ mCNLd

17-Muhammad Ali, Abdul Qadir, The Great Powers’ Militarization of Their Interests in the Horn of Africa at the Dawn of the Second Cold War, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, August 24, 2022, (accessed: October 10, 2022) https://cutt.us/l2DDU

18-Al-Shorouk, What does Biden’s declaration of extending the national emergency on Ethiopia mean?, September 10, 2022, (date of entry: October 10, 2022):   https://cutt.us/0EY41

19-The statement was received on the Twitter account of the Tigray Office of Foreign Affairs:   https://cutt.us/HcjSP

20-Saleh, Ibrahim, the Tigray Liberation Front’s announcement of its readiness to negotiate.. Will it result in a new armistice in Ethiopia?, Al Jazeera, September 13, 2022, (access date: October 10, 2022):   https://cutt.us/ZJp5y

21-Muhammad Ali, Abdul Qadir, The Geopolitical Context of the Return of US Forces to Somalia, African Follow-ups, Issue 28, August 2022, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, (Accessed date: October 21, 2022):    https://www. kfcris.com/en/view/post/393

22- U.S. Department of State, Digital Press Briefing U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, 20 September 2022, (Seen: 10 October 2022) https://cutt.us/tN2UX

23- Anderson, Jon Lee, Did a Nobel Peace Laureate Stoke a Civil War?, The New Yorker, 26 September 2022, (Seen: 10 October 2022) https://cutt.us/jUt1Y

24-Majdi, Mai, Ogaden field boosts gas reserves in Ethiopia by 7 trillion cubic feet, Energy, August 29, 2022, (entry date: October 15, 2022):   https://cutt.us/vgsTo

25-Al-Shafei, Heidi, China and Ethiopia.. Mutual interests, Al-Marsad Al-Masry, October 12, 2020, (entry date: October 21, 2022): https://cutt.us/jIaaZ

26-Muhammad Ali, Abdul Qadir, the militarization of the major powers for their interests, previous source.

27- Brookings, Challenges facing the Horn of Africa, 18 May 2022, (Seen: 21 October 2022), https://cutt.us/GIRla

28- MIE, President Isaias met and held talks with China’s Special Envoy, Shabiat, 17 September 2022, (Seen: 10 October 2022), https://cutt.us/8VU4L

29- U.S. Department of State, Joint Statement on Resumption of Hostilities in Northern Ethiopia, 12 October 2022, (Seen: 20 October 2022), https://cutt.us/rFWTZ

30-Significant was Washington’s announcement of sending its envoy to the Horn of Africa on a visit to Ethiopia after criticizing Eritrea and accusing it of interfering in the current round of war, which indicates Washington’s fears of the regional effects of the conflict.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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