FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS//File Photo
The EU resolution is an embarrassing document that does not take into account a whole range of facts on the ground regarding the war. It primarily shows a wish of EU parliamentarians (from left, right and centre) to score ‘moral points’: wanting to be seen as concerned about the civilian population in Tigray suffering for food scarcity. That is of course legitimate. But they stopped there and did not consider the equal if not much worse suffering from both mass displacement, food scarcity and gross violence that were seen in Afar and Amhara regions.
Those watching the debate in the EU Parliament on this resolution saw a level of ignorance hard to swallow, reflecting indeed a lingering neo-colonial mindset of Europeans towards an independent African country that ‘does not listen to the good-willing Europeans.’ On the third point, an inquiry into the facts behind this decision of expelling UN personnel makes it clear that it was justified: several UN officials were transgressing the mandate of their function (e.g., in their assisting the TPLF insurgent leaders with several kinds of services, allegedly including in getting them advanced radar communications equipment). They flouted the neutrality and professionalism that their job prescribes. The reactions from UN Secretary-General A. Guterres, the EU, and of course the ever-angry USA, were predictable.
The USA gave an unconsidered response on the same day that the expulsion was announced, contesting the legitimacy. But the USA has been expelling diplomats and UN staff left and right over the years. It is also to be noted that in 1998 when the TPLF-EPRDF government expelled 30 UN officials, there was protest from the UN but no sound from the U.S. or other foreign powers. The same in 2020 when Burundi expelled four UN functionaries. The indignation is also unproductive because Ethiopia or any other nation has the right to expel such officials under Article 9 of the ‘Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations’, the UN resolution 46/182 of 1991 (‘Strengthening the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance’; annex, articles 2 and 3), and the additional Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Federal Government and the UN. In any case, UN staff has no mandate under any law in any country to undermine the government, as these people have done.
So, in general, the responses of the ‘international community’, notably the ‘donor countries’ of the EU and the USA in the current conflict in Ethiopia have been a problem and have even prolonged the conflict. Although the war started with that surreptitious attack by the TPLF (and collaborating Tigray soldiers) on sleeping soldiers of the federal army and the theft of numerous heavy weaponries, the TPLF was labeled as the ‘underdog’. There is still a peculiar ‘positive bias’ towards the TPLF and the Tigray Region, related to the alleged and real abuses in the first phase of the war and perceptions of the so-called ‘humanitarian aid blockage’ – which is a TPLF propaganda point disproved by the recent joint report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. However, the war and the gross human rights abuses are no longer there in Tigray – apart from serious food shortages and TPLF repression – but to the south, due to the TPLF expanding its campaigns there.
When a unilateral ceasefire was offered by the Ethiopian Federal Government on June 28, 2021, followed by its troop withdrawal, the TPLF refused and mocked it. They took the opportunity to glorify their alleged military victory in Tigray and to extend the armed conflict into the Afar and northern Amhara regions outside Tigray – an unacceptable move endangering humanitarian aid routes and stabilisation. This conflict is often labelled in global media as a ‘civil war’, but it is not: a civil war would be an all-out protracted fight between big parts of the country’s population against each other. But here we have an elitist, authoritarian movement – TPLF – that fights to retain its elite material interests and impunity against an elected Federal Government that contested its armed insurrection.
Meanwhile, the devastation in Afar and northern Amhara has continued and led to ongoing gross abuse of the local population in campaigns that the TPLF knew would not yield them durable military success. The fighting was hardly against federal troops because these were not stationed there in the initial weeks. The TPLF campaigns seemed intended to inflict maximum damage on local society, infrastructure, public facilities and village communities, including religious and cultural institutions. They were allegedly motivated by TPLF wanting to ‘break the humanitarian blockade of Tigray’ and ‘stop Tigray genocide’. But these are memes that do not have a real basis in fact, although the food scarcity in Tigray is serious.
Many civilians in Amhara and Afar were arbitrarily killed by retreating TPLF units, churches and monasteries were attacked and looted, schools and clinics levelled, and all things of value taken by the TPLF troops and/or transported to Tigray. This is not the kind and scale of violence that happened in Tigray in the first phase of the war: indeed, there we saw transgressions and harsh suffering inflicted on the population but not purposeful destruction of communities and wanton mass killing of civilians. Serious incidents did occur in Tigray since the onset of the conflict – with people killed in the crossfire, abuse and gender-based violence, and food scarcity sharply increasing. But the Federal Government’s attorney general’s office undertook prosecution of soldiers’ transgressions and the government let in food aid to Tigray. The federal army also left huge supplies (including seeds for planting crops) when they left Meqele, the capital of Tigray. The army had neither pursued the scorched-earth tactics of destruction or massacres of civilians that we have seen perpetrated by TPLF in northern Amhara and Afar regions since June 28, 2021.
Ethiopia’s Federal Government should be nudged to accommodation and reconciliation with its Tigray region while the TPLF who led the Federal Government coalition for more than two decades should be persuaded to return to democratic politics and eschew militarism and stop being accessory to the open conduit of Ethiopia’s dismemberment and disintegration.
Dr. Ujumadu is international affairs analyst based in Abuja.