(Source: DAILY MAVERICK, By Peter Fabricius) –
Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, has mobilised the church and reached out to the South African government in an attempt to halt the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia.
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
With both Pretoria and the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa largely turning a blind eye to the bloody conflict in Tigray, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba has taken up the cudgels, demanding action to prevent another Rwanda-like genocide.
This week, Makgoba wrote to International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, urging her government to put pressure on the AU to take a stronger stand.
Makgoba – who is the Anglican Church’s most senior archbishop in Africa – has also urged the South African Council of Churches and the Council Of Anglican Provinces of Africa to take up the cause, a church spokesperson said.
“He’s also urging an “African solution” – that the AU should broker talks involving all parties in Ethiopia to sit down, as we did in South Africa, and work out a long-term solution which balances federal and regional interests in Ethiopia,” the spokesperson said.
Makgoba launched his appeal for intervention in the conflict last week, calling for SA faith groups and civil society to intervene.
“A quarter of a century ago, the genocide in Rwanda occurred under our noses, with the world failing to stop it. What is happening in Tigray must not be allowed to deteriorate even further,” he said.
“Access should be allowed to all parts of Tigray to enable aid to flow. Journalists and independent human rights experts need to be allowed in.
“Foreign troops should leave Ethiopian soil and the tensions between Sudan and Addis Ababa [should be] defused. And the Ethiopian people need to sit down with one another and work out a broadly acceptable resolution which balances regional autonomy and federal power.”
There has been no sign of any response yet from Pretoria or Addis Ababa to Makgoba’s heartfelt appeal and this week, he followed it up with a letter to Pandor.
The war, which began on 4 November when the disaffected Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked the Ethiopian federal army’s headquarters in Tigray province, is still raging, with no signs of letting up.
The federal army invaded Tigray and was soon joined by forces of neighbouring Tigray, as well as militias from the neighbouring Ethiopian province of Amhara, which has occupied parts of western Tigray which it has long coveted.
Eritrean forces have been accused by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of massacring civilian Tigrayans, particularly in the ancient city of Axum, while Ethiopian federal forces have also been accused of atrocities against civilians, including indiscriminate artillery shelling of Axum and other towns. Amhara militia have been accused of ethnic cleansing in western Tigray and the TPLF has also been accused of massacres against civilians while on retreat from a battle it lost against the federal forces in November.
Addis Ababa has imposed an internet blackout on Tigray and restricted almost all media access, making it difficult to verify claims of atrocities or any other reports from the frontline. Humanitarian agencies also claim humanitarian access is extremely restricted – which the Ethiopian government denies.
The responses by South Africa and the AU to the continuing conflict in Tigray have been rather muted or ambivalent – despite a growing international outcry about alleged atrocities committed by all sides and an expanding humanitarian crisis.
The AU’s Peace and Security Council, which has the express mandate of tackling conflicts on the continent, has not yet addressed the Tigray fighting.
As the AU’s chairperson last year, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa did despatch three peace envoys, former presidents Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, to meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa in November.
But Abiy essentially brushed them off by telling them that no external mediation of peace negotiations was necessary, as his government forces were legitimately putting down a rebellion.
That seemed to put an end to the AU peace mission and nothing more has been heard of the three envoys. In an interview with Newzroom Afrika last week, Makgoba chided the envoys by saying, “I don’t think that just going and keeping quiet is good enough”.
“Over … approximately [24 hours] on 28 [and] 29 November 2020, Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys. The massacre was carried out in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by local residents armed with sticks and stones.”
AU chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat has also said very little. In January, Paulos Tesfagiorgis, a constitutional and human rights law expert at International IDEA, sharply criticised Faki, in Daily Maverick, for stating the following at an Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) conference in November: “In Ethiopia, the federal government took bold steps to preserve the unity, stability and respect for the constitutional order of the country, which is legitimate for all states.”
Tesfagiorgis said with this statement – “a blatantly partisan endorsement of one side to the conflict” – Faki had undermined both Ramaphosa’s and IGAD’s peace efforts by endorsing Abiy’s purely military solution to the conflict in Tigray.
Faki’s spokesperson, Ebba Kalondo, dismissed Tesfagiorgis’s criticism in a response, also in Daily Maverick, defending Faki’s statement as being consistent with both the AU’s Constitutive Act and the UN Charter.
She said the AU act upheld the right of African states to defend their “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence”, while the UN charter stipulated that the UN was not authorised “to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State…”
Kalondo also noted that on 9 November 2020, Faki had issued an appeal “for the immediate cessation of hostilities and calls all parties to respect human rights and ensure the protection of civilians. He further urged the parties to engage in dialogue to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the country.”
Makgoba said the Ethiopian Red Cross had reported that more than half of the Tigray province’s six million people need humanitarian assistance – but that it doesn’t have the means to reach 80% of them.
“Human Rights Watch has accused federal troops of indiscriminate shelling of urban areas, striking homes, hospitals, schools and markets, killing at least 83 civilians, including children, and wounding [more than] 300.”
Amnesty International has just issued a report on a massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Axum by invading Eritrean troops allied to the Ethiopian federal army.
“Over … approximately [24 hours] on 28 [and] 29 November 2020, Eritrean soldiers deliberately shot civilians on the street and carried out systematic house-to-house searches, extrajudicially executing men and boys. The massacre was carried out in retaliation for an earlier attack by a small number of local militiamen, joined by local residents armed with sticks and stones,” Amnesty said.
And a confidential internal US government report has accused Ethiopian troops and allied Amhara militia of conducting “a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing” of ethnic Tigrayans from the region of Tigray adjoining Amhara province.
The New York Times reported that the Washington report said the Ethiopians and Amhara militias are “deliberately and efficiently rendering western Tigray ethnically homogeneous through the organised use of force and intimidation”.
On 27 February 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called on the AU and other regional and international bodies to work with the US to address the crisis.
The US “has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent, international investigation into all reports of human rights violations, abuses and atrocities,” Blinken said, adding that those responsible for them “must be held accountable”.