South Africa


Diplomats scramble to get Ethiopian peace talks in SA back on track

Diplomats scramble to get Ethiopian peace talks in SA back on track
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)

A new combined offensive against Tigray by Ethiopia and Eritrea has cast doubts on peace efforts.

Diplomats are scrambling to get Ethiopian peace talks in South Africa back on track, after a false start last week when the African Union Commission caught just about everyone off guard by announcing they would begin on October 8.  

But a major new attack by Ethiopian forces and their Eritrean allies at the weekend has cast doubt on the prospects of getting the enemies to the negotiating table.  

AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mohamat sent letters on October 1 to the federal Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa and to Debretsion Gebremichael, the president of the Tigray regional government and head of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), inviting them to the peace talks in South Africa starting on October 8. He said the talks would be chaired by the AU’s special envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria; assisted by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

These would have been the first significant peace talks since the Ethiopian government and the TPLF began fighting a bitter civil war in November 2020.  

The Ethiopian government accepted Faki’s invitation immediately but Gebremichael kept everyone guessing by taking four days to reply. He then said the Tigray government/TPLF was “ready to send out negotiating team to South Africa”, but added that since they had not been consulted before the invitation was issued, he requested additional information about additional actors in the peace talks, the role of the international community, and logistics such as travel and security arrangements for the Tigrayans negotiating at the talks. 

Others involved in the peace process were also not consulted, sources said. Kenyatta wrote to Faki on October 7 saying “my attention has been drawn” to the invitation Faki sent out to the talks. He requested further information but said he could not make it on 8 October because of a scheduling clash. The talks were then postponed and South African officials said last week they would probably take place later this month.  

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But it was not clear if the organisers would be able to address the concerns of the TPLF in particular. And since then, on October 9, combined Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have launched a new offensive from Eritrea into the northeast of Tigray, according to the Tigray regional government. It said in a statement on Monday that the offensive included “a barrage of indiscriminate artillery bombardments against Tigrayans living in Rama, Adigrat as well as other areas bordering Eritrea”.  

A Western official told Daily Maverick: “The African Union hadn’t prepared all elements in advance of sending out its invitation to the parties last week and caught even some of those that are named to be part of this process by surprise.” 

Other diplomatic sources said neither the US nor the European Union, which had both been involved in trying to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, had been invited to the talks. Some complained of an “unprofessional” approach by Faki.  

Nevertheless, the Western official noted on Monday that: “Both parties [the Ethiopian government and the TPLF] accepted the invitation, which is really an important, significant part. 

“We seem to be trending towards a launch of talks. Talks are essential to get to a cessation of hostilities. People are dying. This needs to get going. 

“The world needs to grasp that there is a devastating war happening in Tigray and adjoining regions and make clear that those committing horrific human rights abuses will be held accountable.”  

The US special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, told Daily Maverick: “It is urgent that talks happen to stop the fighting, alleviate the suffering, and find a way forward for resolving outstanding issues through dialogue.”

Hammer has been actively engaged in peace efforts for several weeks and managed to bring representatives of the Ethiopian government and the TPLF together for a brief meeting in Addis Ababa last month.  

“As partners of the African Union, the United States is fully and actively engaged diplomatically in support of its effort,” Hammer said. “That is why I went to Kenya and am in South Africa and will go to Ethiopia next. The parties must realise there is no military solution. Eritrea’s re-entry into Ethiopia has made matters significantly worse; it needs to withdraw and respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty — as should others who are fuelling the conflict.” 

Troops from neighbouring Eritrea have been fighting alongside Ethiopian government troops against the TPLF for most of the war. They withdrew recently but launched a new full-scale invasion of Tigray on September 20 which now seems to be intensifying. DM


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