AU’s Ethiopia peace talk attempt in South Africa.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Reneging by the Tigray rebel group leaders cast doubt on peace efforts.

On October 1, 2022 Moussa Faki Mohamat, chairperson of the African Union, sent a written invitation to the federal Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa and to Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgency, welcoming them to the peace talks in South Africa commencing on October 8. According to the letter, AU’s special envoy, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, would lead the mediation assisted by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, and the former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

While the Ethiopian government accepted the AU’s invitation immediately, the TPLF leader procrastinated and replied four days later. In a prevaricating response to the AU, spokesman for the rebel group said they are “ready to send out their negotiating team to South Africa” but expressed their disappointment for not being consulted prior to the invitation. In addition, he requested to know more about the participants in the peace talks, the role the international community would play, and logistics such as travel and security arrangements for the TPLF negotiating team.

Ethiopia’s National Security Advisor to the Prime Minster, Redwan Hussien response on twitter followed a formal acceptance to talks the government.

According to a report by the Daily Maverick, “others involved in the peace process were also not consulted”. On the 7th of October, Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta wrote to the AU stating his withdrawal from the talks. While asking for further clarifications regarding the details, Kenyatta said he could not make it on 8 October because of a scheduling conflict. After these exchanges, talks were cancelled. South African officials stated talks would probably take place later this month.  

Ethiopian officials accuse the rebels of reneging on peace efforts. They say, “this is more evidence of TPLF’s cautious obfuscation to avoid negotiations”. Diplomats are now scrambling to get Ethiopian peace talks in South Africa back on track, after a false start.

However, TPLF seem unwilling to negotiate formally without some guarantees.  The group’s paranoia about logistical and security concerns for its delegation belie another factor, which is of major importance for the rebels. They are unwilling to engage without a ceasefire first. Rebels leaders will be acutely aware their forces need respite from recent successive losses on the battlefield. In the past lulls in fighting were used to re-group and reorganize by TPLF forces. Nonetheless, so far, as in the last round of negotiations, the Ethiopian government has stated it will not accept any preconditions to the talks.

For their part, the rebels have been vocal about Eritrea’s involvement in recent fighting, for which scant evidence has been provided. A recently published satellite imagery provided by Maxar technologies, and published on the New York Times, claimed to show “unidentified military forces mobilized in the town of Sheraro, a small town in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, 25km from the Eritrean border. However, Ethiopian officials indicated these were Ethiopian National Defense Forces.

These talks in South Africa would have been the first publicly acknowledged peace talks since the Ethiopian government and the TPLF began fighting in November 2020.  Prior to this, the parties met secretly in Seychelles as well as in Djibouti. According to the New York Times, “since March, the United States has held three secret meetings outside Ethiopia — in Djibouti and in the Seychelles — bringing together warring leaders for the first time since the war erupted in November 2020”.

But whether the organizers of the AU-led peace talks would be able to address the concerns of the TPLF is unclear. The group’s leaders have recently been decrying an Eritrean offensive in the northeast part of the Tigray region. These fears have yet to be confirmed independently; they could be Ethiopian troops operating from forward deployed bases, of course with the tacit support of Eritrea. Recent withdrawal of significant TPLF forces from Kobo, which lies farther south, and their re-deployment father north, came as a surprise to many.

Satellite images taken last month showing heavy weaponry and military forces on the move in Serha and Sheraro in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.Credit…Maxar Technologies

In keeping with its long-kept position, the TPLF has been vociferously accusing the Eritreans of war crimes targeting civilians. Still, the Ethiopian government maintains Eritrea is not actively involved in the fighting. Furthermore, Addis Ababa claims TPLF desperately seeks to internationalize the conflict by wrongly citing Eritrean involvement. These claims are bolstered by TPLF’s adamant opposition to having Eritrea join the peace talks. If indeed Eritrea were a party to the fighting, as claimed by TPLF, it should be invited to the negotiating table.

Related Posts