Protection Implications of the Drought in the Horn of Africa region, September 2022

Background

The Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia) is experiencing severe drought following four consecutive seasons with low rainfall. Figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) present a concerning estimate of at least 18.4 million people who are acutely food insecure (IPC 3+).1 According to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, an estimated 18.6-21.1 million people are at risk of acute food insecurity. 2 Many drought-affected communities are struggling to cope with the cumulative consequences of other shocks, including conflict and insecurity, climate change (flooding, drought, and food insecurity), COVID-19, ongoing impacts of desert locusts on agropastoral communities, and economic factors affecting supply chain and inflation increasing the costs of basic goods and services.

The impact of the Ukraine crisis continues to compound all these shocks with global wheat prices at a record high in June 2022 and the international community redirecting its financial and humanitarian support to the Ukraine emergency. Internally Displaced People (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, returnees, stateless persons and migrants are at a heightened risk of food insecurity as many have left behind assets, lost their social capital, and livelihoods.
A recent UNHCR Standardised Expanded Nutrition Survey (SENS) reported “Critical” levels of child malnutrition (wasting, stunting and anemia) amongst refugee children, specifically in refugee sites in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda.3 This situation comes in the wake of humanitarian funding shortfalls that have contributed to food ration cuts4 and amplified the cross-sectional protection needs of the most vulnerable.

 

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

East and Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region: UNHCR Drought Situation Response Update #1 – August 2022

Situation Overview

On 28 June 2022, UNHCR launched a regional Drought Response Emergency Appeal for the Horn of Africa appealing for urgent support to help displaced people and local host communities affected by the catastrophic drought. To deliver life-saving assistance and protection to some 1.5 million refugees, internally displaced people and host communities affected by the drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, UNHCR requires US$ 42.6 million to cover critical humanitarian needs in IDP and refugee settlements including water, sanitation facilities, nutrition, healthcare, and protection until the end of 2022. UNHCR is targeting 943,000 IDPs in Ethiopia and Somalia and 576,000 refugees along with their host communities in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Inside Somalia, more than 758,000 people have been internally displaced due to drought in 2022, bringing the total figure to more than 1 million people since January 2021 when the drought began. Water sources have dried up and crops and livestock have died, stripping people of their livelihoods and the ability to support themselves. The catastrophic drought is putting communities on the brink of famine as underscored by humanitarian leaders including High Commissioner Grandi in a recent joint statement warning that the window for preventing a famine in Somalia is closing, calling for action and additional resources to provide urgent assistance and avert a worst case scenario.. The situation is likely to worsen as a fifth failed rainy season is expected.

In Ethiopia, new internal displacements due to both conflict and drought – particularly in the drought affected Somali and Oromia regions – have put a strain on the already limited resources available to support UNHCR’s people of concern in Ethiopia. Over 16,000 Somalis had crossed into Dollo Ado, Ethiopia from the end of 2021 to June 2022. The effects of the drought are compounded by a 50% cut in food assistance to refugees throughout the country. The rise in the price of fuel, fertilizers, construction materials, labour cost, and overall cost of living is making the life of refugees, IDPs and host communities unbearable, while also increasing the cost of humanitarian operations. In Kenya, 19 of the 23 arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) counties are experiencing the effects of drought.

Turkana and Garissa, each of which hosts over 220,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, are particularly affected by the ongoing drought, and are among the 14 counties that are in a crisis state of food insecurity. Garissa is also among the counties experiencing high rates of acute malnutrition. Over 10,000 Somali refugees have also arrived in Kenya this year, fleeing a complex mix of conflict and drought. Another 8,000 mainly South Sudanese refugees have arrived to the drought affected Kakuma camp.

 

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Ethiopia-Tigray: Belgium’s contribution through the Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities (SFERA)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Belgium support the timely delivery of agricultural inputs in the Tigray region

Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region continues to face a precarious humanitarian situation. Ongoing conflict, recurring environmental shocks and the residual impacts of a desert locust upsurge and the COVID-19 pandemic have led to widespread disruption of markets and agricultural activities, loss of livestock and inconsistent access to humanitarian assistance, negatively impacting the food security and livelihoods of people living in a ected areas. As a result, the region is currently classified to be in an Emergency (IPC Phase 4) level of acute food insecurity, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

Agriculture remains the main source of livelihood for nearly 80 percent of Tigray’s population, especially farmers living in rural areas, whose production feeds the nation. Rural families in Tigray, including about 1.8 million internally displaced people, nearly 60 percent of whom reside with host communities, have relied on rainfed production and irrigated vegetables for their survival in the face of access constraints to humanitarian assistance and commercial supplies. In 2021, Tigray’s farmers produced 900 000 tonnes of staple food – only 40 percent of their normal production – equivalent to 7-8 months of annual cereal needs for the region, despite challenges. Farmers were able to access 27 000 tonnes of staple crop seeds, of which 7 600 tonnes was improved seeds, and 54 000 tonnes of fertilizers thanks to the Government of Ethiopia and Agriculture Cluster partners, making production possible. But without access to both improved seeds and fertilizers at similar amounts to 2021, farmers will likely see a considerable drop in production this year, placing them at risk of losing any gains achieved and further exacerbating acute food insecurity.

In 2022, FAO and Agriculture Cluster partners have placed a particular focus on procuring and distributing fertilizer and seeds for the Meher season, which is the most important agricultural season for most farmers in Tigray. With a favourable rainfall outlook (normal to above-normal), the 2022 Meher season and subsequent irrigation and Belg seasons o er a critical and cost-e ective opportunity to improve food availability across the region. However, limited access to seeds, fertilizer and other agricultural inputs is a major threat to agricultural production. If farmers receive the inputs they need, they will be able to harvest and begin consuming their own produce from October 2022.

Thanks to its resource partners, FAO has procured more than 19 300 tonnes of basal fertilizer (NPS) and Urea fertilizer (approximately 40 percent of the total requirement), which is enough to meet the needs of about 300 000 households. Of this total, approximately 11 000 tonnes have reached farmers in Tigray to date for use during the Meher season.
Though increased humanitarian access constraints since late August have disrupted the movement of additional fertilizer into Tigray, FAO is working closely with its partners to ensure the remaining quantity of fertilizer can be delivered as soon as possible, as well as exploring other contingency plans that can be pursued as required.

Through SFERA, the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium contributed USD 510 000 to FAO to help ensure the timely provision of fertilizers to meet the input needs of farmers. Belgium’s generous support will help cover transportation-related costs for delivering approximately 1 896 tonnes of Urea fertilizers to assist 37 926 crisis-a ected households (189 639 people). This is in turn expected to have a positive e ect on the food security and resilience of crisis-a ected populations by increasing local food production and food availability. Complementing these e orts, FAO also continues to support a variety of other interventions in Tigray, Afar and Amhara, including the distribution of seeds, provision of supplemental feed for livestock, and support for animal health services and livestock vaccination.

 

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Ethiopia Peace Observatory Weekly: 17 – 23 September 2022

By the Numbers: Ethiopia, 2 April 2018-23 September 2022

Total number of organized violence events: 3,380

Total number of reported fatalities from organized violence: 19,518

Total number of reported fatalities from civilian targeting: 8,475

By the Numbers: Ethiopia, 17-23 September 2022

Total number of organized violence events: 29

Total number of reported fatalities from organized violence: 259

Total number of reported fatalities from civilian targeting: 39

Situation Summary

Armed clashes between Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and government forces continued in northern Ethiopia last week. Five armed clash events were reported in Zela Ambesa in Eastern Tigray zone; close to Rama in Central Tigray zone; and in Ziban Gedena town, May Kuhili, and around Adi Awala in North Western Tigray zone in Tigray region. Clashes in all these places involved the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), and TPLF forces. Reports indicate that Eritrea is mobilizing its armed forces and “reservists” under the age of 60 to fight in the conflict in northern Ethiopia (Reuters, 17 September 2022).

Drone attacks by the ENDF in Tigray region continued last week. On 17 September, drones hit military centers in Mekele, Shire, and Wukro in Tigray region. According to the TPLF, 12 civilians were killed due to these drone strikes (EMS, 17 September 2022). A few days later, on 23 September, the ENDF conducted another drone strike near Desta Hotel in Mekele, killing one person.

The Ethiopian government continues to restrict media reporting of the conflict in the country. A day before the new round of armed conflict erupted, the ENDF warned reporters against reporting the movements of its forces (FDRE Defense Force, 23 August 2022). It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to verify reports on the northern conflict. The government released some details on the locations where fighting took place from 24 to 31 August but has not released any information recently. The TPLF, however, continues to release information on the locations of armed clashes and drone strikes by the ENDF, but as mentioned, it is challenging to triangulate and verify these reports. Both the government and the TPLF remain reticent to release information about their acts of conflict.

After a brief respite, fighting between Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)-Shane and government forces re-erupted in Oromia region last week. OLF-Shane and government forces — assumedly ENDF and Oromia regional special forces — clashed in South West Shewa, West Shewa, Guji, Arsi, East Wollega, and Horo Guduru Wollega zones (see map below). The OLF-Shane reportedly attacked an ENDF military camp in Melka Guba in Guji zone; ambushed convoys carrying government forces — again presumedly ENDF and Oromia regional special forces — near Aanole Statue in Merti woreda in Arsi zone and Chali Jima kebele in Bila Seyo woreda in East Wollega zone (OMN, 22 September 2022).

Similarly, attacks against civilians continued in Oromia region, with six events recorded last week: three of the six attacks were conducted by the OLF-Shane. On 20 September, an unidentified armed group — suspected to be the OLF-Shane — shot and killed the chairperson of Alge kebele in Fentale woreda in East Shewa zone. From 22 to 23 September, the OLF-Shane and kebele militias clashed in kebele 01 in Jardega Jarte town in Horo Guduru Wollega zone after the OLF-Shane began attacking civilians in the area. The government released a press statement indicating that the OLF-Shane attacked civilians and kebele militias in Horo Guduru Wollega zone after government forces killed one of the rebel group’s commanders on 23 September (FDRE Government Communication Service, 24 September 2022). The press statement, however, failed to provide more details. Typically, the government releases information on such events when the number of civilian fatalities is high. Thus far, no other detailed report has been released on these attacks, as all communication networks are reportedly down in this area (DW Amharic, 23 September 2022). The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission issued a statement this week indicating that in the past three weeks more than 100 civilians had been killed due to attacks by “the OLF-Shane, ethnic Amhara militias and individuals” in Amuru, Horo Bulk, and Jardega Jarte in Horo Guduru Wollega zone (Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, 26 September 2022).

Extrajudicial killings also continued in Oromia region. Last week, killings by government forces were reported in West Shewa and West Hararge zones.

OLF-Shane forces were also involved in events that occurred in Amhara and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples regions (SNNPR). Last week, in Amhara region, the OLF-Shane clashed with Amhara regional special forces, Amhara regional state police, and ethnic Amhara militias in Burka, Warsamet, and Kara Daka areas in Dewa Harewa woreda in Oromia special zone. In SNNPR, on 18 September, members of the OLF-Shane opened gunfire on farmers looking after their cattle in Awranje kebele in Burji Special woreda, killing two farmers and injuring another. The group also killed around 30 cattle.

Further, in SNNPR, on 21 September, an unidentified armed group from West Guji in Oromia region — suspected to be the OLF-Shane — opened fire on civilians who were waiting for nine visiting members of the House of Representatives. These representatives were assigned to investigate identity-based attacks on members of the Kore ethnic group in Melka Oda village in Dorbale kebele in Amaro special woreda (DW Amharic, 22 September 2022). Due to this attack, five civilians were killed, while four others were injured. Members of the House of Representatives were forced to return to Addis Ababa following the attack.

Lastly, on the same day, an unidentified armed group from South Sudan opened fire from Maluwal Gaot area on the South Sudanese side of the border targeting a motorboat transporting civilians from Jakawo bridge to Metehar town on Baro river in Nuer zone in Gambela region. The armed group reportedly opened fire over disputes related to tax payments. One person was killed and seven others were injured as a result of this attack. Two more people were also reported missing.

 

Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

Flash update #2 – UNHCR Northern Ethiopia Emergency Situation, 15 September 2022

ETHIOPIA

Recent developments

The security situation in northern Ethiopia is becoming more complex following the resumption of hostilities on 24 August between the Ethiopia National Defence Forces (ENDF) forces and Tigrayan Forces (TF). Intensive clashes have since continued at the towns along the borders between the Tigray region and the Amhara and Afar regions.
Three aerial attacks were reported in Mekelle and Shire on 13 September. The first drone strike was reported on the outskirts of Endabaguna town, situated 22 km south of Shire, according to aid agencies operating in the area. One air strike hit Mekelle University business campus in Adi-Haki and a second one hit Dimtsi Weyane (DW) TV station located about 300 meters from Planet hotel, where UNHCR staff are accommodated. All staff are safe and accounted for.

On 11 September, the Tigray regional government announced that it is “ready to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union and is ready to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities in order to create a conducive atmosphere.” The statement also added that it “expects a credible AU-led process to also include mutually acceptable mediators; international observers who will help the parties build mutual trust, instill confidence in the peace process, and support and oversee the implementation of commitments; and international experts to provide necessary guidance and advice on the integrity of the peace process.” The Tigray government has also set up a negotiation team to be deployed without delay and to represent the regional authorities in future negotiations.

In a statement issued on 11 September, the UN Secretary General said he “welcomes the announcement by the Regional Government of Tigray of its readiness to abide by an immediate cessation of hostilities and to peacefully resolve the conflict in northern Ethiopia.” In addition, he said that he is encouraged by the stated willingness of the Regional Government of Tigray to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union (AU).” The SG also “calls on the parties to seize this opportunity for peace and to take steps to end the violence definitively and opt for dialogue. He encourages the parties to engage actively with the AU-led process in good faith and without delay and to create conducive conditions for the talks to take place.” On 14 September, the Ethiopian government said it is “committed” to the AU-led peace process aimed at ending the near two-year conflict in the north, its first public comment after the Tigrayan authorities said they were ready to negotiate. The Foreign Affairs ministry quoted Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen as saying at a meeting with an EU envoy, “The Ethiopian government is committed to the AU-led peace process and expressed hope that the EU would support efforts to end the conflict peacefully.” The lack of fuel is seriously hindering humanitarian agencies from delivering some emergency items. UN agencies are working on the details of the fuel needs for advocacy purposes.

UNHCR response

In Tigray, the situation in the two refugee camps of Mai Aini and Adi Harush remains calm. Authorities in Shire have advised humanitarian agencies to suspend all movements from and to Mai Tsebri town and the two camps due to the worsening security situation in the area. UNHCR staff based in Field Office Embamadrie (responsible for the two Mai Tsebri camps – Mai Aini and Adi Harush) have been relocated to Shire but continue to monitor the situation remotely and to receive direct reports from our partners that are still present in the camps.

UNHCR and partners are continuing with IDP response activities wherever possible and have completed the maintenance of 120 emergency shelters out of the 159 planned in Sebacare IDP site in Mekelle while 30 family tents have been pitched in Quiha site to support IDPs displaced from Afar. The IDP return exercise from Mekelle to various locations in the central zone that started on 20 August has resumed after it was interrupted. In the last week, UNHCR, partners and the local authorities have facilitated the voluntary return of 361 households comprising 689 individuals from Mekelle to their areas of origin. IDP returnees were provided with cash assistance for transportation, core relief items (CRIs), and dignity kits were distributed to 238 women and girls.

In Amhara, on 7 September, a joint assessment mission – WFP, UNHCR, IOM, OHCHR, UNDSS and OCHA-was conducted in four new collective IDP sites in Mersa in North Wollo. The priority needs identified were shelter, food, CRIs, family tracing, GBV, and dignity kits. UNHCR will undertake protection monitoring activities,
GBV and legal protection services, distribution of CRIs and construction of emergency shelter as well as CCCM activities for the newly displaced populations.

UNHCR plans to distribute CRIs to 2,000 households and dignity kits to 2,300 girls and women in the Mersa collective sites. However, transporting these items has been met with resistance from truck drivers concerned about commandeering of their trucks by the military.

In Afar, registration of newborns is ongoing in both Aysaita and Serdo refugee camps, despite challenges such as unstable internet connection and registration books for the issuance of birth certificates. Also, the construction of the weather-friendly shelters in Serdo has resumed after months of interruption due to funding shortfalls.

SUDAN

The resumption of fighting between the ENDF and TF on 24 August prompted a review of emergency preparedness measures for a potential influx in Gedaref and Kassala states. All three UNHCR office locations in Eastern Sudan (Gedaref, Blue Nile, Kasala) have reports of new arrivals, though the numbers are not yet significant.

Emergency preparedness measures such as border monitoring and the prepositioning of emergency relief items remain in place to ensure readiness to receive additional numbers. On 3 September, UNHCR and the Commissioner for Refugees (COR) visited Al Asera border entry point located in Al Qureisha locality and met with local authorities to discuss the situation at the border and identify potential locations for setting up a reception centre. The establishment of a reception centre in Al Asera was agreed upon; UNHCR will set up basic shelters. Another mission will be conducted to determine the location of a transit centre in Al Qureisha locality.

Efforts are underway to create additional space for new arrivals in Tunaydbah and Um Rakuba. On 11 September, UNHCR and partners began the assessment of vacant plots in Tunaydbah to determine the capacity for accommodating new arrivals. In Um Rakuba, COR has committed to demarcate new plots in Zone 4 to accommodate an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 new arrivals.

 

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Situational Analysis of Antipersonnel Mine and Explosive Remnants of War Contamination in the Afar and Amhara Regions of Ethiopia: 2020-2022, September 2022

Executive Summary

The northern Ethiopia conflict has affected people living across the region, displacing millions, and leaving behind UXO and other ERW. Since November 2020, the ERW killed 185 people in the Afar and 267 in the Amhara region, mostly children. The purpose of this report is to determine the scope of contamination in the respective regions, and assess the implications of the contamination and risks to those living in the affected woredas.

Based on the geospatial and remote sensing analysis, 122 woredas, 33 in the Afar and 89 in Amhara region are within the 20km radius of the battlefield. 68% of theses woredas are food insecure. An estimated of more than 8.3 million host community members (49% female and 51% male), 205 thousand IDPs, and 1.5 million returnees are living within the 20km buffer distance.

In addition to this, the ERW are threatening access to basic services, including education, agriculture, road, water, and health services. 37% of the water structures,

2.2 million hectares of crop land, and 19,000km of road are found within the buffer distance of the battlefield.
School representatives in the Amhara region have reported the presence UXO and explosion incidents that have resulted in the injury and death of students. This creates fear among students and affects the teaching learning process. Moreover, the UXO and other ERW are seen to be collected and sold to metal factory as a raw material and to individuals, for example to be used as a domestic coffee grinder.
As of July 2022, UNMAS Ethiopia has conducted 195 sessions of EORE TOTs in the Afar and Amhara regions, training 28,200 people, of whom 60% are women.

 

Source: UN Mine Action Service

Is there a path to peace in the Tigray conflict?

A month ago, there was hope for a peaceful resolution to Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict. A truce in place since March had allowed sorely needed aid to reach the region’s beleaguered population, and both sides were indicating their willingness to negotiate.

That truce now lies in tatters. On 24 August, fresh fighting erupted between forces led by the outlawed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopia’s federal military in the Raya Kobo area of the Amhara region, south of Tigray.

Since then, the fighting has spread to other fronts. There have been clashes in Amhara’s Wag Hemra zone and battles along the Tekeze river that separates western Tigray from the rest of the region.

The most significant escalation came last week, when neighbouring Eritrea launched a full-scale offensive into north Tigray after mobilising its reserves and massing its troops for weeks. In response, the TPLF called on “every single Tigrayan” to make themselves “fully available for the all-round war we are waging”.

Earlier this month, Eritrean and Ethiopian forces captured Sheraro, in northwestern Tigray, although a Tigrayan counterattack to reclaim the town appears to be underway, with heavy fighting reported in the area. According to diplomats in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Eritrean troops are also present in the Afar region, near Berhale, east of Tigray. And there is a build-up of federal Ethiopian units in the Afar-Tigray border town of Abala. Both Berhale and Abala are within striking distance of Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital, which has been pounded by air attacks.

Voices urging peace have been muzzled. A meeting of civil society groups calling for a truce was broken up this month by security forces, and journalists have been locked up for questioning the public’s appetite for more war.

The renewed conflict has also deepened Tigray’s humanitarian emergency. Half the 5.5 million population were already in “severe” need, and aid deliveries into the region have been halted since August.

On Monday, the World Food Programme said one of its trucks had been hit by shell debris while transporting aid supplies to newly displaced people in the Zana district of Tigray. A few hours later, the federal government, which has long accused the WFP of supplying the TPLF, issued a statement claiming that the rebel group has been transporting its fighters in trucks “illegally painted” with UN logos.

At least 300,0000 people have been newly displaced by the fighting, a UN official told The New Humanitarian. Aid workers have been able to carry out small-scale distributions in areas away from the battlezones, using food that was already in the region, but these supplies are close to depletion.

“The humanitarian situation was already dire before the resumption of hostilities,” said the UN official, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely. “It is hard to get information out, but now we assume it is only getting worse.”

This briefing explores what we know so far about the resumption of hostilities, and the chances of finding a way back to the negotiating table.

What was the status quo?

The Tigray conflict first broke out in November 2020, with federal Ethiopian and allied Eritrean troops quickly taking Mekelle and occupying the region. Faced with this offensive, the TPLF melted into the mountains and launched a hit-and-run guerrilla campaign that ground down the federal military. The group was eventually able to recapture most of Tigray in June 2021.

The TPLF then went on the offensive, pushing into the Afar and Amhara regions and coming within 200 kilometres of Addis Ababa late last year. But drone strikes against their overstretched supply lines, combined with a counterattack by the federal military and allied regional militias, forced the TPLF to withdraw to Tigray in late December.

Much of that fighting took place beneath the blanket of one of the world’s tightest communication blackouts. This round is no different. Phone lines and internet connections are down in the areas affected by the war, making it hard to track its course.

Despite this, it appears that the Tigray forces have so far largely been able to resist the offensives against them. “They have dug in and were ready for this,” said a diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. It is unclear, however, whether they have the arms, ammunition, and other supplies needed to sustain their efforts – and to beat back Eritrea’s new offensive.

On 11 September, the Tigray leadership issued a statement to mark Ethiopian new year that said they were ready to abide by an immediate ceasefire and enter peace talks under the African Union (AU). The federal government has yet to respond.

Why did the new fighting break out?

The truce in March was declared unilaterally by Ethiopia’s federal government at a time when the international community was distracted by the outbreak of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The TPLF reciprocated with a statement committing to abide by what it called a “cessation of hostilities”.

Crucially, however, no formal deal was ever struck. The truce existed as a gentleman’s agreement: nothing was written down; no monitoring mechanisms were put in place; and no venue was agreed for proper talks.

The federal government insisted on a process mediated by the AU’s Horn of Africa envoy, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. But the TPLF rejected Obasanjo as too close to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Instead, they called for talks in Nairobi, overseen by Kenya and the United States.

Obasanjo previously led the AU monitoring mission that certified the results of Ethiopia’s June 2021 election – which excluded Tigray – and gave Abiy’s newly formed Prosperity Party a landslide victory.

It’s an opportunity that has been squandered.

An analyst in Addis Ababa, who asked not to be named, blamed the international community for failing to exert enough pressure on the parties while they had the chance, saying diplomats scrambling to respond to events in Ukraine “took their eye off the ball” in Ethiopia.

“They didn’t do enough to get both parties to sit at the table and discuss substantive issues,” the analyst told The New Humanitarian. “It’s an opportunity that has been squandered.”

During the truce, the Tigray leadership was steadfast in its insistence that phone, banking, and internet links should be restored to their region before entering talks. These services have been mostly down since the beginning of the war, but the federal government wanted to settle the issue at a later date and rejected what it called the TPLF’s “preconditions”.

Several sources told The New Humanitarian that the Tigray leadership received assurances on the restoration of their services from mediators and grew frustrated when fresh connections never materialised.

For its part, the federal government was keen to rehabilitate its international image after coming under criticism for human rights abuses in northern Ethiopia. Yet, despite making peace overtures, it remains cut off from Western budgetary support and is still suspended from the African Growth and Opportunity Act – a US trade pact.

Federal officials may have believed they had little to lose diplomatically from renewing the war. But, economically, the price could be the suspension of ongoing development aid if donors choose to play that card to halt the fighting.

It is questionable whether either party was genuinely committed to peace. Both used the lull in fighting to regroup their forces. Thousands of federal troops were seen on Tigray’s southern border in late August and, just before the fighting resumed, the TPLF seized 12 fuel tankers carrying 570,000 litres of fuel from a WFP compound in Mekelle. The group later said it was reclaiming fuel it had previously “loaned” to the WFP for the distribution of humanitarian supplies within Tigray.

In the short term, both sides blamed the other for firing the first shots and breaking the fragile truce, amid reports of shelling exchanges along Tigray’s volatile frontiers in the weeks leading up to the renewed hostilities.

What are the opposing sides trying to achieve?

Tigray has been under what one top EU official has called a “partial blockade”, imposed by the federal government since June 2021, with its services cut, power down, and its road links tightly policed by federal and allied regional forces.

Last week, the UN’s commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia said in a report that they believe the denial of these services – and obstructions to food and healthcare – amount to “crimes against humanity”. They also said they believe Ethiopia’s federal government “is committing the war crime of using starvation as a method of warfare”.

The truce allowed some aid to flow into Tigray between April and August, under close government scrutiny, but there wasn’t enough fuel to distribute it. Thousands are thought to have died in the region from hunger and a lack of medicines.

For the TPLF, the holy grail remains securing access to Sudan. That would provide them with a supply line through which they could bring in arms, as well as food. They also want back western Tigray, a fertile area of land that Amhara forces say belongs to them and have occupied since November 2020.

“There’s no confidence on either side that the other can be trusted.”

The federal government’s aims are harder to discern. If it is forced into talks by the international community, it is likely they will try to inflict as much damage as possible on the Tigray forces while the fighting lasts.

It will also want to capture areas used by the TPLF to smuggle in arms and train fighters, diplomats in Addis Ababa suggest. This would achieve limited military objectives, score propaganda points, and give federal officials more leverage when talks start.

Yet the renewed entry of Eritrea into the conflict, and the massing of federal forces in Afar, suggest the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries may be preparing for a push on Mekelle, in a bid for a total military victory.

Relations had broken down between Abiy and Eritrea’s leader, Isaias Afwerki, whose forces waged a campaign of rape, killings, and enforced hunger in Tigray. But the new offensives on Tigray indicate relations have thawed.

Afwerki holds a personal grudge against the TPLF’s leaders, who were the dominant force in Ethiopian politics when the two countries went to war in 1998-2000, and has long been committed to wiping out the group.

Will mediation efforts succeed?

The international community has stepped up its mediation efforts during this round of fighting, with the US providing the main diplomatic muscle behind the scenes.

The United States, the EU, the AU, the UN, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) all welcomed Tigray’s call earlier this month for peace talks, and President William Ruto has tasked his predecessor as Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, with helping to find a deal between Tigray and Addis Ababa.

Talks brokered by the US’s envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, took place in Djibouti earlier this month, but they broke up without an agreement. Last week, Hammer said the major obstacle to getting a cessation of hostilities in place was “trust, trust, and trust”.

“There’s no confidence on either side that the other can be trusted,” said Hammer, adding: “But rest assured we, as the United States, and others, will continue our efforts to try to help the parties build some confidence.”

“We would enter a stalled and protracted situation.”

Eritrea is the wildcard. If it can capture major northern Tigrayan towns such as Shire and Adigrat, Ethiopia’s federal government may lose control over events.

Even if the Tigray forces repel the push from Eritrea and can be persuaded to sit down for talks, there remains the daunting task of hammering out intractable political issues. These include: agreeing to Tigray’s borders; its status within Ethiopia’s federal system; and coming to a settlement over its large armed force.

“We would enter a stalled and protracted situation,” said a diplomatic source. The parties “could agree to another short-term truce” that ducks these issues, and then this is simply “followed by yet more fighting in a few months’ time”.

 

Source: The New Humanitarian