By Inwalomhe Donald
THE Tigray-Ethiopia face-off is turning into a regional crisis with the involvement of Eritrea and the movement of refugees into Sudan. If African Union, AU, cannot mediate in a conflict in Ethiopia, I doubt if it has capacity to do so in any part of Africa.
This latest conflict in Tigray is destabilising the entire Horn of Africa. African Union headquarters is located in Addis Ababa and faces a dilemma over the latest crisis in Ethiopia which will affect other parts of the Horn of Africa. The humanitarian crisis will affect Sudan and Ethiopia. A protracted conflict in Tigray will not only affect Ethiopia but the entire Horn of Africa.
From Sahel of Africa, Western Sahara, Mali, Burkina Faso, CAR and South Sudan, to North Eastern Nigeria and Cameroon, the AU and regional bodies have either failed to act or dawdled until the situation reached a tipping point. Many countries are facing persistent and seemingly intractable crises and determined not to allow non-African powers to project their agenda to the continent. The AU has been searching for ways to better address issues of peace and security.
Africans, especially those affected by brutal crackdowns by their governments, are watching and wondering whether the AU will continue with business as usual in Tigray or truly address these crises. Based on past experience, there is little reason for optimism.
Despite commitments, obligations and progress in establishing structures and mechanisms such as the Peace and Security Council, PSC; and Continental Early Warning Systems, CEWS; the AU remains interested in treating symptoms of conflicts and violence as opposed to addressing the real underlying causes behind them – persistent human rights violations and perpetual cycles of impunity.
The formation of the African Union was precisely aimed at finding African solutions for African problems. The AU’s institutions, powers and objectives were meant to bring about fundamental shifts away from the constraints imposed on actions under the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, charter.
When the crises in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya began, it was hoped that the AU would be the one to find solutions under its much-cherished notion of ‘African solutions to African problems’. However, the organisation has sometimes taken half-hearted measures, and suffered from internal divisions among its members on how to react to the crises and their consequences, which rendered the notion of ‘African solutions to African problems’ moot.
The ongoing conflict between the regional forces of Tigray and the Ethiopian national forces has reportedly led to the death of hundreds of people. Like all wars, the escalation of the conflict will lead to more deaths, starvation as well as a deluge of refugees pouring into Sudan. F
or a continent that has had relative peace for some years, and a rising Ethiopian economic growth, a war between Ethiopia and its northern province of Tigray, is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. But the inability of the African Union to pre-empt the war because the signs of trouble were glaring for months and its inaction since hostilities began, show a condemnable dereliction of duty. The AU certainly needs a new security system and an early warning mechanism for the maintenance of international peace and security on the continent.
I believe that the AU Commission, with its headquarters in Addis Ababa, is in a good position to stop the raging conflict. The silence of the current AU chairman and South African President, Cyril Raphamosa, is even more baffling, given his ability to be proactive in the past.
I think that the continent’s leaders should wake up and condemn in the most unequivocal terms the Tigray war. The conflict is a huge setback for Africa, and all efforts must be made to stop it now. The AU Commission must get the two sides to dialogue and sort out their differences.
Tigray’s leaders have not unequivocally declared for secession. They have regional autonomy and “unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession,” which must be respected by the federal authorities in Addis Ababa since such autonomy is constitutionally determined.
2020 already bears ugly scars of violent repression, in Ugandan, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Cameroon, as well as older wounds from persistent crises in places like the Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia or South Sudan. A question I pose is whether the African Union is up to the task of dealing with these challenges.
The AU should summon an emergency summit of AU heads of state and government to get the two sides to reach a ceasefire and a machinery set up to resolve the differences between both sides. Tigrayans must not be discriminated against and they must respect the federal government of Ethiopia. There must be mutual respect between the autonomous region of Tigray and the federal government of Ethiopia for peace to prevail.
The African Union, an international organisation comprising all 54 independent states in Africa and Western Sahara, was established in May 2001 to, among other things, promote regional integration, interstate solidarity, peace, good governance and to enhance the African voice in the global system. Pan-African organisation is like the proverbial forest that has bad trees dotted around its many good trees.
The AU has been very successful in addressing the needs of the African political class but it is yet to make a significant difference in the lives of many ordinary Africans. The importance of the pan-African organisation to African political elite is such that they would have created it today if it did not already exist.
The AU has socialised African leaders to accept liberal values as the foundation of international cooperation in Africa; enhanced the agency of African political class on the world stage; and established progressive and innovative rules and norms for the African continent. It has also created many useful decision-making structures that have contributed to the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in Africa.
The AU has, however, been less successful in connecting its activities and programmes to many ordinary Africans; providing common public goods and services valued by commoners in Africa; giving voice to the majority of young people in Africa; promoting intra-Africa trade, good governance, and financial independence of the African continent as well as struggled to address the expressed material needs and quotidian concerns of ordinary Africans.
The latter has frequently resulted in gross violations of human rights across the globe. In many African states (such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Apartheid South Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia and Rwanda), these violations intensified following political independence and the development of the unwritten rule of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states by the moribund Organisation of African Unity, OAU. Intrastate conflicts, especially the Rwandan genocide, awakened Africans and their leaders to a central norm across the continent: the inviolable essence of human life.
Many of the states experiencing this awakening are currently ravaged by violence, disease, poor public policies and, in many instances, state incapacity to carry out the basic function of maintaining law and order to protect the citizens. Consequently, Africans and members of the international community continue to advocate for the human rights of individuals trapped within the boundaries of corrupt and inefficient states – states that are unwilling or unable to carry out their basic security functions to protect their citizens.
However, both groups have largely failed to implement viable and sustainable solutions to the intractable crises in many African states. The problem is not whether some Africans and their external supporters see human rights protections, stable political systems with free market economy, and constitutional liberalism as positive variables for ending endemic crises like those in southern Sudan, Darfur, but rather the lack of sustainable and institutionalised strategies for effective governance.
Donald, a public affairs analyst, wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org