REGIONAL REPORT

To negotiate with Tigray or not? PM Abiy's dilemma

Regional leaders have stuck with the AU and the IGAD call for negotiations.

In Summary

• Soon after announcing the operation in the north would continue against calls for dialogue, Abiy dispatched his deputy, Demeke Hassen to the region for support

•  Regional leaders have, however, stuck with the AU and the IGAD calls for negotiations.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference at his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 1, 2019
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference at his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 1, 2019
Image: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed this week deployed envoys to the region to seek political and diplomatic support against the Tigray People's Liberation Front.

The federal government is fighting with the Tigray region, an offensive that started on November 4. Abiy blames Tigray forces of attacking an army base in the northern region.

Soon after announcing the operation in the north would continue against calls for dialogue, Abiy on November 16 dispatched his deputy, Demeke Hassen to Uganda to meet President Yoweri Museveni.

 

After the meeting, which President Museveni said focused on the peace and security in Ethiopia, Hassen flew to Nairobi where he met President Uhuru Kenyatta before proceeding to Rwanda the following day.

On November 18, Hassen crossed over to the DRC to meet President Félix Tshisekedi. President Tshisekedi confirmed the delegation sought his diplomatic and political support in his capacity as AU first Vice-President.

Abiy’s security adviser Gedu Andargachew and former Foreign Affairs minister was in Djibouti, where he met President Ismaïl Guelleh, and to Somalia.

Regional leaders have, however, stuck with the AU's and the IGAD's calls for negotiations.

In a statement on November 20, AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki said he is concerned about the escalation of the military confrontation in Ethiopia. He urged the parties to dialogue to seek a peaceful solution in the interest of the country.

IGAD on November 7 called on the Ethiopia and Tigray leadership to resolve their differences through dialogue and reconciliation.

President Kenyatta, for instance, urged the parties to find peaceful means to end the crisis. He further cautioned against a full-blown conflict, saying Kenya and Ethiopia have for long served as anchor states for regional peace and stability.

 

Museveni called for negotiations to end the ongoing conflict between the federal government and Tigray region, saying the war paints a bad image of the continent.

Ethiopia State of Emergency Task Force rejected claims its officials were in Uganda for talks with TPLF.

President Paul Kagame urged “a rapid restoration of peace and stability”.

Djibouti also called for peaceful resolution of the conflict, saying it was ready to support such efforts. It, however, said it fully supports the unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and that it recognises Abiy’s government as the sole guarantor of that unity and integrity.

Former Nation foreign affairs editor John Gachie says regional leaders are cautious not to get caught up and stand accused of interfering with Ethiopia's domestic politics.

“Although the conflict has a regional impact, it has been projected as domestic. Ethiopia’s Constitution allows for secession. So they dare not push on this one,” Gachie said on Thursday.

He also noted that Horn states are caught up in a conflict affecting Eritrea, which had severed relations with Ethiopia for long.

He also notes countries in the region — Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan — also have internal problems, some not very different from Ethiopia’s.

Abiy has previously said his government will not negotiate with Tigray government until what he called the junta is defeated. Why wouldn’t he want to negotiate?

Ethiopian Ambassador to Eritrea Redwan Hussien Rameto said the state is not averse to dialogue.

“Rather, mediation at this point will only incentivise impunity. No government in the world would sit and negotiate with a sub-national entity that has openly attacked the constitution and vowed to attack its capital,” Ambassador Redwan said.

Gachie notes that PM Abiy is in a “ damned if you do and damned if you don't” situation.

“But probably he made a mistake by falling for the TPLF that wanted the issue solved militarily,” Gachie says.