The ongoing civil conflict in Ethiopia, centred around the Tigray region, not only threatens to escalate within the country itself but to spill over into the surrounding region as well. But while there are international efforts to help resolve the situation and halt the fighting, experience shows that lasting solutions will only come from African initiatives, say Kenya’s Ambassador Macharia Kamau and Ambassador Martin Kimani
Member countries in both the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) are entrusted with finding credible, timely and durable solutions to the peace and security challenges in Africa.
Over 75% of the business of the UNSC and all of the AUPSC’s work revolve around managing and generating solutions to peace and security challenges within Africa. The fundamental reason for this is the deep legacy of governance and administrative dysfunction and incited inter-ethnic strife brought on by the legacy of colonialism.
In many cases, this is made worse by post-colonial poor governance and administration as well as unresolved border disputes. Furthermore, inadequate conflict resolution mechanisms of African governments also add to the situation.
Climate change is a threat multiplier and in some parts of the continent, it is compounding existing risks and vulnerabilities. This is worsening conflict and severely undermining human security.
Be that as it may, key lessons in promoting peace and security have been learnt in the recent past. Among these is that solutions to regional conflicts are best resolved with the deep involvement of countries and institutions in the region. Whenever possible, these solutions should involve the leadership of the countries in conflict.
In this regard, Africa is no exception. The mantra of ‘African Solutions to African Problems’ is not a cliché. It is a profound statement asserting the determination of African leadership and peoples to address the challenges that face them while working with Africa’s many partners in this regard.
However, owing to the intractable character of some of Africa’s political and social problems, a certain measure of cynicism and frustration has permeated the dialogue whenever African countries and their leaders endeavour to find lasting solutions to these problems.
This is despite the fact that Africa has achieved significant success in resolving enormous problems within the continent in the past 50 years. The need to respect Africa’s position in managing challenges within the continent cannot be over emphasised.
An abdication of Africa’s role undermines the legitimacy, ownership and sustainability of responses to the challenges the continent faces. It further fails to leverage and benefit from Africa’s agency, knowledge and experience.
The Ethiopian crisis
Of late, the emerging crisis in Ethiopia is of mounting concern to the continent as a whole. This is because of the possibility of a protracted, full-blown crisis of a political, military and humanitarian character that could potentially unfold in Ethiopia.
It is also important to underscore that this crisis is taking place amidst the Covid-19 global pandemic. This conflict-pandemic nexus compounds the impact of the situation and undermines humanitarian efforts aimed at addressing issues blown up by the fighting.
The conflict in the Tigray region has taken on a multidimensional character. Millions are facing hunger and starvation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced into internal displacement and tens of thousands have been forced to seek refuge outside their own homeland.
In addition, the crisis has a worrying inter-country military dimension that has the potential of igniting cross-border wars across the Eritrea and Sudan frontiers. Equally concerning for neighbouring countries, the situation in Tigray has the potential of seeping into and disrupting the administration and governance of the rest of Ethiopia. This would upset the delicate balance of Federal States that constitute modern Ethiopia. All these factors have caused great concern across the peace and security fraternity throughout the world.
Since the beginning of the fighting in Tigray, regional leaders as well as African Ambassadors at the UNSC and the AUPSC have worked hard to cooperate with the international community to stop the fighting and prevent it from worsening in order to help stabilise and bring back normalcy to Ethiopia.
In doing so, the African leadership and their Ambassadors have focused on promoting key solutions. Unfortunately owing to the character of the crisis, these solutions have yet to be fully enacted. These include:
- The promotion of quiet but determined diplomacy. This is to drive the message home to the protagonists that war and violence-driven law enforcement are not viable solutions to responding to the original challenge that was faced by the Ethiopian government to law and order in the country. The salient point has been made, that the burden of responsibility to resolving this crisis falls squarely on the leadership in Addis Ababa.
- The consistent message from AU Member States on the continent insists on promoting the cessation of hostilities in order to ensure full and unfettered humanitarian access by road, rail or air into the affected areas. This point has been echoed by many partner governments, institutions and the UN. Protagonists should also comply with international humanitarian law and desist from all forms of human rights abuses.
- The facilitation of displaced people and refugees to return to their homeland to continue with their lives including their livelihoods.
- The enactment and respect of a cross-lines ceasefire that will provide an opportunity for all of the above to happen. The burden of responsibility of securing and enforcing this ceasefire lies with all the protagonists. The international community and the African Union must have a special role to play in monitoring this ceasefire.
- The promotion and facilitation of a national dialogue within Ethiopia that allows for transparent, democratic and participatory resolution of the conflict. This dialogue must be of an inter-regional and inter-ethnic character and managed by Ethiopians, with the leadership of the Ethiopian government, and the support of regional and international partners.
- Finally, the standing down and withdrawal of foreign forces from the conflict; and equally critically the avoidance of further burdening of the Ethiopian governance challenge by other demands that have nothing to do with the conflict but which create great political and administrative stress on the Ethiopian government. In most countries, it is the most vulnerable who bear the greatest brunt of financial pressure on governments. Economic relief and development packages from partners are crucial in alleviating the plight of civilians trapped in the conflict.
Crucial role of credible central governments
For regional partners such as Kenya, the fundamental imperative of sustaining a coherent and credible central government with the legitimacy and authority to exercise leadership and control is not only a critical component of the resolution of the crisis but is also a fundamental imperative. This is to avoid the situation in Ethiopia from unravelling and imploding in a devastating manner.
Experience in the Middle East and in North Africa provides important lessons. Central governments, despite their challenges and sometimes intransigence and / or resistance to proposed solutions, must be protected and maintained.
Where governments are decapitated or otherwise deeply disrupted, the net consequence to the country is a total collapse of law and order, the emergence of chaos and anarchy, the amplification and compounding of State fragility, the facilitation of radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism, the rise of intra-state conflict, the escalation of gender-based violence, an upsurge in food insecurity, hunger and starvation, intensification of transnational organised crime and the acceleration of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
This happens within the country and throughout the region thus metastasising the cancer of war and civil conflict everywhere.
African Ambassadors at the UNSC are charged with the responsibility of helping the world find solutions to this crisis. They have at the core of their strategy the six component African solutions mentioned above. It is important that the international community rallies around these six components and works together in finding and facilitating different tools for the different components in order to bring about lasting peace in Ethiopia.
African solutions to African problems do not in any way mean an abdication of the UN or the international community in helping bring to fruition solutions proposed by Africans.
We have witnessed the exemplary commitment from key international partners in trying to help Ethiopia find lasting solutions. This includes the direct, albeit quiet diplomacy of President Uhuru Kenyatta with the leadership of Ethiopia including with President Sahle-Work Zewde and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Other leaders in the region have intervened in a similar vein. The Special Envoy of President Joe Biden in the Horn of Africa Mr Jeffrey Feltman, partners within the European Union network of interlocutors and Ambassadors in the region, together with African leaders have continued to push Ethiopia to find a path to peace, security and stability.
As a sitting member of both the AUPSC and the UNSC, Kenya understands only too well the need for synergy and drawing linkages between the two bodies to address peace and security challenges in the continent.
Kenya is keen to leverage its immense knowledge of the region and its membership of the two Councils to ensure that decisions of the UNSC reflect the voice and collective aspirations of the people of Africa for peace, stability, unity, prosperity and freedom.
Kenya has a long-standing history, experience and strong credentials in promoting peace and conflict resolution in the region and beyond. Kenya has been a reliable, consistent, dependable and responsible member of the global peace and security fraternity.
For this reason, Kenya remains forthright and committed to supporting African solutions and to working hand-in-glove with the international community and Ethiopia to bring peace and stability to its Northern neighbour, a country with which Kenya has deep and lasting relations since independence. African solutions will remain a critical and central part of realising peace in Ethiopia.
Ambassador Macharia Kamau is Principal Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya
Ambassador Martin Kimani is Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations