The ongoing conflict between the regional forces of Tigray and the Ethiopian national forces has reportedly led to the death of hundreds of people. Like all wars, the escalation of the conflict will lead to more deaths, starvation as well as a deluge of refugees pouring into Sudan. For a continent that has had relative peace for some years, and a rising Ethiopian economic growth, a war between Ethiopia and its northern province of Tigray, is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
But the inability of the African Union (AU) to preempt the war because the signs of trouble were glaring for months and its inaction since hostilities began, show a condemnable dereliction of duty. The AU certainly needs a new security system and an early warning mechanism for the maintenance of international peace and security on the continent. We believe that the AU Commission, with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, is in a good position to stop the raging conflict. The silence of the current AU chairman and South African President, Cyril Raphamosa, is even more baffling, given his ability to be proactive in the past.
We think that the continent’s leaders should wake up and condemn in the most unequivocal terms the Tigray war. The conflict is a huge setback for Africa. And all efforts must be made to stop it now. The AU Commission must get the two sides to dialogue and sort out their differences. Tigray’s leaders have not unequivocally declared for secession. They have regional autonomy and “unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession,” which must be respected by the federal authorities in Addis Ababa since such autonomy is constitutionally determined.
Tigray is making an accusation that the federal government is turning the federal system into a unitary one. Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, should take a deep breath and do some reflection. It is often too easy to drift insensibly from the federal to the unitary. Nigeria is a rich example of both the harm and the ease of the drift. Nigeria’s drift occurred in 1966 and ever since it has been impossible to return to the original federal format. Those favoured by the unitary system tend to resist the return to federalism.
While it is probably anachronistic to maintain the original coalition of ethnic parties represented by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) through which Prime Minister Ahmed came to power, the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) should reserve its freedom to join Abiy Ahmed’s new Prosperity Party or keep its autonomy. Political associations must be entered as a matter of trust and mutual interest. Apparently, the Tigrays think they have no future in the Prosperity Party and have decided to stick with the one they know.
It was a deliberate act of defiance for Tigray to hold regional elections whereas the rest of the federation postponed their elections owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Acts of defiance when they serve no higher purpose except to denigrate Prime Minister Ahmed cannot be justified. If those elections were held according to the Tigray law, the government at Addis Ababa should let them stand since they are based on the autonomy of Tigray. However, if Tigray’s forces attacked the camp of the Northern Command of Ethiopian forces as Prime Minister Ahmed had said, that action cannot be described as anything short of armed aggression.
The massacre of Amharas in Tigray was a deplorable crime, and must be investigated and the culprits tried for acts against humanity. The relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the fate of Badme should be resolved by the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry in consultation with Tigrays on the ground. Since the UN Commission had ruled that the border town, which was at the centre of 1998-2000 war with Eritrea, should be handed back to Eritrea, Tigrayans must be persuaded in the interest of peace and good neighbourliness to give up the town and develop and strengthen relations with Eritrea.
The AU should summon an emergency summit of AU heads of state and government to get the two sides to reach a ceasefire and a machinery set up to resolve the differences between both sides. Tigrayans must not be discriminated against and they must respect the federal government of Ethiopia. They must be mutual respect between the autonomous region of Tigray and the federal government of Ethiopia for peace to prevail.