By John Young
In his 29 November 2021 Al-Jazeera article titled ‘Can Ethiopia avert deepening turmoil and prioritize peace?’ Ahmed Soliman of Chatham House wrote, ‘A road map to sustainable peace in Ethiopia can only be drawn after a ceasefire is achieved’ and the road map would involve a ‘national dialogue and an inclusive transitional process’. This is not a novel proposal and versions of it have been made by dozens of diplomats who usually go on to repeat the view that there is no military solution to the problem.
At the core of the Ethiopian crisis is the government blockade of humanitarian aid to the starving people in Tigray. But Ahmed fails to understand that if enacted his proposals would place Abiy in a position where he could drag out the national dialogue so that his objective of inflicting starvation on the Tigrayans could continue and thus increase the pressure on the TPLF to surrender. According to the UN, 90 truck loads of humanitarian relief are needed every day in Tigray and for most of the past few months only 10 trucks a day have arrived. Would Ahmed’s proposed negotiations focus on humanitarian aid delivery with the TPLF presumably arguing for 90+ trucks a day and Abiy wanting 0 trucks? Should mediators be brought in to reach a compromise so that 45 trucks a day could reach Tigray and thus only half as many people die of starvation?
I am not being entirely facetious because it was recently reported that there was an indirect agreement between Abiy and the TPLF whereby Abiy would permit 350 trucks of humanitarian aid to be sent to Tigray in return for the TPLF agreeing to flight deliveries of aid to Front controlled urban centres in the Amhara region. In the event the agreement, if there was one, was not implemented. Negotiating with a government using food as a weapon of war is beyond the pale, and nor is it acceptable if there is any evidence that the TPLF is pursuing such policies in its occupied territories.
Ahmed is also anxious to have the belligerents accept a ceasefire which would take away the only pressure point the TPLF has to compel the Ethiopian government to end the humanitarian aid blockade. If the international community had managed to end the blockade a ceasefire would be a reasonable proposal, but it has not stopped the blockade, and Ahmed’s proposal involves the TPLF accepting the mass starvation of their people. It need hardly be said that the TPLF will not give up its only means to pressure the government in the hope that this will lead at some point to negotiations that at a future date may lead to a compromise on the delivery of humanitarian aid to Tigray.
These are liberal solutions, versions of them are thrown up for every conflict, unless of course the conflicts involve the Western powers because as they never tire of telling us, their wars are always based on humanitarian principles, and ceasefires and negotiations can be dispensed with.
Since at the core of the crisis is an Ethiopian government orchestrated campaign to starve the people of Tigray, the international community must demand that Abiy and his government end the blockade. The international community should also make clear to Abiy and his government that their crimes have not gone unnoticed – indeed they have been documented by the UN – and they will have to answer for them at the International Criminal Court.