African Union schedules Ethiopian peace talks in South Africa

African Union schedules Ethiopian peace talks in South Africa
From left: Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. (Photo: EPA / Sven Hoppe) | Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat. (Photo: Luke Dray / Getty Images) | President of the National Regional State of Tigray and head of the TPLF Debretsion Gebremichael. (Photo: Wikimedia)

It is far from certain that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which is fighting the federal government, will attend.

The African Union (AU) is planning to host peace talks in South Africa — starting on Sunday — to try to end the civil war that has been raging in Ethiopia for almost two years.

But the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been fighting the federal government of Ethiopia, has apparently not yet responded to an invitation to participate in the talks. 

AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat is sending out invitations to the talks, which he says will be chaired by the African Union’s chief mediator, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, supported by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Daily Maverick has seen a copy of the invitation letter Faki sent on 1 October to Debretsion Gebremichael, the president of the National Regional State of Tigray and head of the TPLF. 

In the letter, Faki says the peace talks in South Africa between the federal government and TPLF are “expected to deliberate on the guiding principles, agenda issues, modalities, format and timelines for the negotiated settlement aimed at laying the foundation for a structured and sustained mediation between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF towards durable resolution of the conflict”.

This suggests the South African talks, if they happen, will in fact at first be “talks about talks”, setting the agenda and ground rules for the negotiations proper. 

Diplomatic efforts to broker peace in Ethiopia swamped by surge in fighting

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Faki ends by saying he looks forward to Gebremichael’s “timely response and constructive engagement at the talks”. But some observers say the TPLF has not yet accepted the invitation and is unlikely to until Ethiopia’s ally, Eritrea, stops launching attacks on it from across the border. The TPLF has also insisted in the past that it will not enter peace negotiations until Addis Ababa restores vital services to Tigray such as banking, telecommunications and electricity, which it has suspended.

Mike Hammer, the US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, seems to have been instrumental in getting the arrangements for the peace talks this far and is still working hard to try to ensure they happen. The US State Department announced he would be travelling to Kenya, South Africa, and Ethiopia this week “as part of ongoing US diplomatic efforts to achieve an immediate cessation of hostilities in northern Ethiopia and support the launch of African Union-led peace talks”.

The statement said that in Pretoria Hammer would meet with South African officials “to advance efforts in support of the African Union-led mediation effort”. This would be a follow-up to discussions about Ethiopia between the US and South Africa held in Washington on September 27.

It is understood that Hammer will meet with South African officials on Thursday. It is not quite clear why South Africa was chosen as the venue, but one official said it might have been because both sides trust that South Africa will remain neutral whereas Ethiopia’s neighbours all have some interest in the conflict.

The official stressed, though, that South Africa was not organising the peace talks and would just be providing the venue — apart from the supporting role of Mlambo-Ngcuka. According to one source, Faki first approached his predecessor, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, to participate in the proposed peace talks in support of Obasanjo. But she declined and so Faki asked Mlambo-Ngcuka instead. 

South African officials expressed concern that Faki might have jumped the gun by inviting participants to the talks before South Africa had confirmed a venue. This is quite apart from the question of securing the TPLF’s participation. 

Hammer managed to bring the federal government and the TPLF together in a meeting in Djibouti in early September but a full-scale invasion from Eritrea later in the month seemed to upset whatever chance there might have been for a ceasefire. 

According to the State Department statement, Hammer is also meeting this week with Kenyan government officials, international partners, NGOs, and others involved in regional efforts to build peace and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need.

“In Addis Ababa, Special Envoy Hammer will meet with Ethiopian government and African Union officials. He will also meet with UN officials and other partners delivering humanitarian assistance in response to the northern Ethiopia conflict and providing drought relief. 

“Special Envoy Hammer will stress the importance of accountability on human rights issues in resolving the conflict and achieving national reconciliation. He will also engage on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in support of efforts under the AU’s auspices to reach an agreement that addresses the interests of all parties and contributes to a more peaceful and prosperous region.”

Ethiopia has a protracted dispute with both Egypt and Sudan over the huge dam, which is being constructed on the Blue Nile just before it flows into Sudan. The two downstream countries say it will restrict or disturb their vital water supply from the Nile. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Yes let them swan around here so that the imposter ANC can play the peacemaker and forget its problems for a few days of eating and drinking on the tax payer.

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