Germany in the Ethiopia dilemma

Ethiopia Tigray

(Source:, 16 February 2021 ) – 

Germany needs good relations with Ethiopia, but the Tigray crisis is putting a lot of pressure on the relationship between the two countries. The federal government is relying on diplomacy, but there is still tougher leverage.

When the Chancellor calls, it’s important. This also applies to her conversation with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the beginning of February. “The Chancellor underlined the importance of a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Tigray region and the humanitarian care of the people affected in the conflict area,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert afterwards.
The call to the Chancellor is the highlight of Germany’s engagement so far. Foreign Minister Maas met his Ethiopian counterpart just a few weeks after the Tigray crisis had died down. Maas said at the time: “The suffering we see is shocking: the crimes against the civilian population must be investigated and the guilty brought to justice.”

Humanitarian disaster

So far, the appeals have had little effect. The need in the crisis region continues to grow. What was intended as a short-term military operation against the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) has become a regional trouble spot. Alice Nderitu, UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, accuses all parties to the conflict with serious human rights violations: executions, sexual violence and looting. Around 60,000 people have fled to neighboring Sudan. According to the UN, over two million people urgently need help, but the central government is not letting them through.

In 2018, Premier Abiy was enthusiastically received in Germany

A beacon for the federal government. After all, she started a real charm offensive after Abiy Ahmed became head of government in 2018. He released political prisoners, promised free elections and sought reconciliation with the archenemy Eritrea. For this there was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 – and a lot of recognition from Germany. Foreign Minister Maas and Federal President Steinmeier came to visit, and in 2018 there was a radiant reception for Abiy in Berlin. Ethiopia became a member of the exclusive club of the German “Compact with Africa” ​​initiative, which promotes private investments in selected countries.

West urges peace

Now the enthusiasm is over for the time being. “The Ethiopian Red Cross has spoken of the fact that 80 percent of the people in Tigray cannot be taken care of. This emergency, which resulted from the war and which the government is not dealing with as one might expect, has clouded relations “, says Annette Weber, Ethiopia expert at the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) in Berlin.

The federal government relies on diplomacy: it supports the efforts of the African Union to mediate by its own account. In addition, Chancellor Merkel is increasingly calling for an end to violence. Other European heads of state and the USA are also putting pressure on, at least verbally. Weber to DW: “There is a great deal of agreement within the western community of states which messages should be sent to Abiy. In such a union, Germany’s voice has greater weight.”

In addition, Berlin would have another leverage: Ethiopia is an important recipient of German development cooperation. Almost 353 million euros were newly committed in 2019. Ethiopia is also one of the so-called “reform partners” – countries with which Germany works particularly closely because they are considered particularly willing to reform.

Ethiopia is an important partner in German development cooperation

Last December, the EU put budget support totaling almost 90 billion euros on hold. Germany could take similar steps. In response to a DW request, a spokesman for the responsible development ministry (BMZ) said: “The BMZ is linking the payment of its reform funding to further political developments in Ethiopia. This includes a political process to resolve the Tigray conflict and the holding of credible parliamentary elections. “

“Stop economic cooperation”

For left development politician Eva-Maria Schreiber, that doesn’t go far enough. Germany should not stop development cooperation across the board, Schreiber told DW. But: “The federal government must immediately remove Ethiopia from the title of reform partner country. The title reform partner also entails claims to democratic governance and the protection of human rights. Unfortunately, neither of these is currently given under Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy.”

Around 60,000 people have fled to Sudan

Schreiber also calls for economic cooperation to be suspended. According to the homepage, the BMZ works with over 100 Ethiopian companies in the textile sector alone, but also with international corporations. According to the ministry, the aim is to improve working conditions and environmental protection, create more jobs.

Pressure could therefore certainly be exerted through development cooperation. Because the gigantic country of Ethiopia with its population of over 100 million people urgently needs cooperation. SWP expert Weber: “It is also clear to the government in Addis Ababa: Without the Americans and, above all, without the Europeans, the planned economic development and further political development will not exist.”


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