President Biden called Abiy Ahmed today to discuss the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia and opportunities to advance peace and reconciliation. The readout of the call is very broad and short on details; however, it is fair to say that the discussion centered mainly on three issues, namely, accelerating dialogue toward a negotiated settlement, the urgency of improving humanitarian access, and the need to address the human rights concerns of all of those affected, including concerns about detentions under the state of emergency. In addition, President Biden commended Abiy for the release of several political prisoners, but also expressed concern that air strikes continue to cause civilian casualties. Finally, President Biden reaffirmed US commitment to work with the AU and regional partners to help Ethiopians peacefully resolve the conflict.
Generally speaking, there is really nothing new about the contents of the discussion between the US President and Abiy. All of the issues raised during the discussion have been raised time and again with the now ex-US Special Envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, the AU Envoy, Obasanjo, and others. However, nothing has changed on the ground except the recent release of a few political prisoners and Abiy’s announcement that he has ordered his forces not to advance to Tigray. Fighting continues on several fronts, Eritrean forces have intensified their attack inside Tigray territory, and the Abiy regime continues to use drones to kill scores of civilians, including internally displaced people and refugees. Further, we do not see any let-up in the vicious rhetoric by Abiy himself and his propaganda machine. In short, there is nothing concrete on the ground that would make you believe that things are heading towards a peaceful resolution.
Given this background, I would say that President Biden’s call today was prompted by and intended to express US disappointment with Abiy’s continued blockade of Tigray, cruel and senseless killing of civilians by drones in Tigray and Oromia, and Abiy’s dragging of his feet on the issue of a negotiated ceasefire and an all-inclusive dialogue for peace. Remember that you cannot get a call from the US President unless there is something serious. I would therefore believe that President Biden must have demanded urgent action on the issues he raised. Will Abiy act on them? That remains to be seen, but it will not be unreasonable to think that the seriousness of the US government’s position is not lost on Abiy. He must do something very soon, or else. Abiy can no longer kick the can down the road.
Zemenay Bahta, Lawyer and Analyst.