Turning to Kenya to try to end the Tigray war

With the war in Tigray now in its fifth month and – as President Isaias Afwerki rightly observed – nowhere near resolution, some actors are looking to Kenya to try to end the conflict.

As the Kenyan Nation newspaper reported, Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde travelled to Kenya on Monday for a one-day official tour that will see her hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“Mr Kenyatta hosted her at State House in Nairobi, where discussions took place on matters of mutual interest and others touching on the region.

It was not immediately clear what the two leaders discussed on Monday but President Zewde’s visit comes days after the United States urged Kenya to take a leading role in ending atrocities reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Nairobi to use its position as Chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council to help end the crisis in Ethiopia, where massacres were reported.”

This is not the first time President Sahel-Work has attempted to find a mediated path away from this war.

She struck a deal with South Africa’s President Ramaphosa, who was the chair of the African Union, at the start of this conflict. Within a day her work and the African Union initiative were dismissed by Prime Minister Abiy.

Will her current initiative fare any better?

President Biden turns to Kenyatta

President Joe Biden – despite being extremely busy putting together his administration and getting his package of Covid recovery measures through Congress – found time to speak to President Kenyatta.

“In what may be President Biden’s first major test in Africa, a key U.S. ally stands accused of undertaking a campaign of ethnic cleansing, massacring hundreds of unarmed civilians and threatening the fragile stability of the region.

President Joe Biden, confronting the scenario linked to U.S. ally Ethiopia, shared his concerns in a telephone call this week to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta…But thus far Biden and other American officials have been reluctant to openly criticize Abiy’s conduct of the war, while European leaders and United Nations officials, worried about reports of widespread atrocities, have been increasingly outspoken…

It is hoped that Kenyatta will use his bully pulpit to address this and other major crises when he takes the chair of the African Union Security Council this month.”

Can President Sahle-Work’s visit be productive?

President Sahle-Work was previously Special Representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union at the level of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

So she has the diplomatic skills. But will PM Abiy allow her the room to act? Or will she be blocked as she was last year?

The other interesting question is what President Kenyatta will tell her for her to report back to PM Abiyi.

There have been rumours that the personal relationship between PM Abiyi and President Kenyatta are tense, which explains why it was better to send somebody the Kenyan Government is familiar with.

This tension is partly explained by differences between Kenya and Ethiopia over Somalia.

It is not clear what will come of these initiatives, but at the moment all paths seem to lead to President Kenyatta’s door.


  1. It is extremely easy to predict. Abiys whole body is tied, he is a vassal. He will not move an inch outside the will of Isaias his master. Forget Abiy, the question is what move does Isaias want at this moment.

  2. The notion of diplomats/diplomacy in Abiy’s Ethiopia is quite strange. Is it not normalizing a possible genocide?

  3. Ethiopia does not have any diplomatic clout that can match that of President Biden’s. Obviously, President Kenyatta will try to please America than try to side with Abiy whose future hangs in the balance.

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