After the stalemate following the government’s counter-offensive in Tigray and after the numerous appeals for a peaceful solution, it seems that a solution is on the horizon, although many fear it could be yet another move to muddy the waters.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on January 19 that there is “a demonstrable effort to make peace” after hearing the report of the African Union envoy in charge of monitoring relations between the two sides. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president, has had numerous meetings with both TPLF leaders and government forces in recent months, but it appears that this is where his reconciliation efforts are having the more results: Obasanjo, according to Guterres, “expressed optimism that there is now a real opportunity for political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict.”
On the same day, the U.S. government’s new special envoy for the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, and Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee were on their way to Ethiopia with the same intent, according to Alex de Waal. President Abiy Ahmed, with whom they will meet, has in fact shown some signs of openness: he had his first phone call with President Biden since the beginning of the conflict but, above all, he has freed numerous political prisoners.
Abiy’s idea is in fact to create a “national dialogue” to settle the many disputes that have emerged since the outbreak of the conflict: mainly the uprising of the Oromo, the ethnic group of origin of the president, who also recently had strong clashes with the federal police in Addis Ababa during the religious celebrations for the Epiphany (in which at least two protesters were killed). In fact, the main question is no longer the Tigrinya issue, but how much support, and consequently legitimacy, Abiy has after a year of conflict. The prime minister has even stated that “I am ready for the forthcoming national consultation if my resignation is seen as a solution” and that he “will not hesitate if the country’s problems are resolved”. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been acting “behind the scenes,” is also optimistic about the start of negotiations, according to de Waal.
Meanwhile, as reported last week, the situation on the ground in Tigray is more than critical: 5 million people are on the brink of famine. Estimates are now totally theoretical, in fact it is more than six months that about 400,000 people should be hit by famine but since only 12% of food aid has managed to enter the region it is reasonable to say that the entire population of Tigray is suffering from food deprivation of some kind.
Meanwhile, the Eritrean president, Isaias Afewerki, expressed his dissatisfaction for Abiy’s position by giving one of his rare interviews, saying he was determined to crush Tigray.
At the same time Getachew Reda, spokesman of the TPLF, says he is satisfied with the possibility of a peaceful solution but in the meantime warns that Abebew Tadesse, the Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Republic, has declared that his forces are ready to attack Tigray, fueling the confusion in an already chaotic situation.
The next few weeks will be crucial both for the political figure of Abiy Ahmed and for the continuation of the conflict, but, in particular, they will be decisive for Tigray which, with the opening of a possible negotiation, could receive the much-needed aid to mitigate a famine so much announced as little supported by both the federal government and the international community.