October 10, 2022 (NAIROBI) – The African Union (AU) sponsored peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which are in control of the northern Tigray region have been called off in silence.
This has put the African Union’s credibility and impartiality under question.
The AU-led peace talks were scheduled to take place this weekend in South Africa.
Both Ethiopia’s government and forces from the country’s Tigray region on Wednesday announced that they have accepted the AU’s invitation for talks in South Africa.
One day later, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, welcomed the avowed commitment of the two parties in the Ethiopian conflict, to the restoration of peace and stability in Ethiopia.
However, diplomatic sources on Friday – one day prior to the planned talks – said that the talks were postponed and will not take place as planned for the weekend due to logistics and other issues.
Earlier on Friday, in a response letter to AU, Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s peace envoy to the Horn and Great Lakes’ region, said he will skip the scheduled peace talks citing to conflicts in his schedule.
According to sources, the former Kenyan President was caught unaware of the AU invitation made on short notice.
For any future planned talks, Uhuru stressed that the AU should clearly communicate with him on the structure and modalities of the talks, including but not limited to the rules of engagement for all the interlocutors invited.
This clarification, Uhuru said would greatly help in preparations for his engagement and participation in the Ethiopian peace talks.
Kenyatta further sought that, for the Ethiopian peace talks to continue, priority must first be placed on the need for both warring parties to ceasefire.
“Furthermore, as we discuss the agenda for the talks, it is my hope that among the most urgent issues high on that agenda will be the immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities,” he stated.
“This silencing of the guns is particularly important in order to avail the right conditions for the consultations and negotiations while alleviating human suffering and allowing for continued access to humanitarian assistance” Uhuru added.
Speaking to Sudan Tribune, Metta-Alem Sinishaw, a senior political analyst on Ethiopia and the East African region said “Kenyatta’s delayed response, about one day prior to the scheduled date of the peace talks, shatters his sincerity of his excuses. His request for details for future engagement signals some level of displeasure”
“His invitation to serve as a ‘mediation panellist’ may have fallen short of his ambition to play a mediator role”
“Issuance of his statement one day following Kenya’s president’s official visit to Ethiopia may suggest national or other strategic motivation than mere conflict of schedule” he said.
AU’s invitation to the conflicting parties was also made on such short notice without any prior consultation, which prompted Tigray leaders to seek “clarification” on logistics, security arrangements and the role of international observers.
In a statement, Tigray leaders who are highly critical of African Union-led efforts to bring peace to Ethiopia said on Wednesday that they were “ready” to send negotiators to South Africa, but raised questions about invited participants, observers and guarantors.
“Considering we were not consulted prior to the issuance of this invitation, we need clarification on some of the following issues to establish an auspicious start for the peace talks,” read a statement signed by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) leader Debretsion Gebremichael.
However, the concerns raised by Tigray leaders remain unanswered for undisclosed reasons.
In an interview with Sudan Tribune, Mr Million Gebremedhin, a Tigrayan activist, questions the continental bloc’s ability to bring a durable resolution to the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict.
“Failure of the African Union to promptly address the queries and concerns of the Tigray government indicates the AU’s lack of commitment to mediation, and its poor specialist expertise in the mediation process,” said Mr Million.
He added that the AU should have communicated with the parties their consent before finalizing a date and venue.
Metta-Alem on his part says the AU’s invitation of interlocutors without prior consultation signals not only AU’s tactless approach to handling conflicts but also its vulnerability to power manipulation and the internationalization of the Ethiopian conflict.
Furthermore, the AU invitation letter sent by Moussa Faki Mahamat to Tigray actually requests Debretsion Gebremichael, President of Tigray – instead of the selected negotiators – to participate in the proposed talks in a way that looks like an order.
“AU’s designation of Debretsion to represent TPLF in the proposed talks meeting could proliferate suspension among the Tigray leadership,” said Metta-Alem.
He added that a statement issued from a prominent ex-US diplomat that the Ethiopian government could only offer amnesty and safe exit for TPLF leadership may have exacerbated the confusion and urged the postponement of the proposed peace talks.
“The African Union arranged sudden and urgent peace talks which caught every stakeholder in surprise including the Tigray government, the guarantors and Mr Uhuru Kenyatta himself,” said Mr Million.
“The AU did not inform the guarantors about the planned talks. By doing so the AU has undermined them and all other international peace partners” he added.
The postponement of the much-awaited peace talks is raising lots of questions about AU’s overall capacity and genuineness in the peace process.
AU has always been criticized for its poor governance and inability to promote credible peace and security.
Lack of resources and diverse national and international interests across the Horn region increase AU’s vulnerability to foreign meddling.
“If uncorrected, lack of collaboration in facilitating the meeting and much less clarity on the guiding principles, agenda items, and modalities that will govern the engagement casts doubts on AU’s capability in achieving a negotiated settlement to the Ethiopian conflict,” said Metta-Alem.
The AU hasn’t yet officially announced the postponement of the talks or on reasons why.
According to some unconfirmed rumours, Mr Olusegun Obasanjo was summoned by the AU security council to give a briefing on the process and preparation of the peace talks scheduled to take place in South Africa, but he failed to show up.
“If true, this shows how the AU bodies have differences in taking a unified position on the matter,” said Million Gebremedhin.
“The Government of Tigray and Mr Kenyatta’s response letters to the AU demonstrate how the AU was trying to poorly handle the issue, given the seriousness and magnitude of the war and its spillover effect to the region,” the Tigrayan activist said.
“The Government of Tigray in its response letter to the AU did not mention the name of the chief negotiator Mr Obasanjo, but rather the name of the two others working under Obasanjo and Ambassador Hammer. This tells a lot about how Tigray has serious discontent on AU’s neutral position to the peace process”.
“I think in any mediation even between spouses, the mediator must first be acknowledged by the two for the mediation to work, so, the AU has failed from the start and I don’t think it will work out even in the future with Mr Obasanjo in the team”
“The peace talks led by AU can only move forward if Mr Kenyatta is given the chance because he has a better understanding of the issue since he was following it from the start. Otherwise, the AU will be another party to the conflict let alone to be a solution” added Million.
It remains to be seen if the AU would soon issue an official statement to explain why the talks were postponed, and if it will announce another date and venue for the peace talks.