[Rough translation of an article by Borgia Kobri published on Agence Ecofin]

For the Rwandan president, Ethiopia is no longer a source of stability in the Horn of Africa, mainly due to the conflict in Tigray, to which are added growing security tensions with its neighbors. This situation requires urgent action by the Security Council.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (pictured) recently called on the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and the UN Security Council to take charge of the Tigray issue in order to resolve the violence and the worrying humanitarian situation prevailing in this region of northern Ethiopia. 

It was on the 3rd of February during an interview conducted as part of a periodic exchange forum organized by the Hoover Institution, an American library and think tank close to the Republican Party and based at Stanford University.

On the theme “Rwand and the African Union: The Promise of and Increased Engagement between the United States and Africa,” this edition of the forum, called Battlegrounds with Paul Kagame, aimed to discuss the African Union, security in the Great Lakes region and the future of US diplomatic and economic relations with Rwanda and Africa.

Speaking on the Tigray issue, the Rwandan President said that the situation in this region of Ethiopia was worrying, and the death toll was too high for the conflict to be left to Ethiopia or the African Union (AU).

Five reasons to intervene in Tigray

For Mehari Taddele Maru, an assistant professor at the Migration Policy Center of the Robert Schuman Center, there are five reasons why the UN Security Council needs action in Tigray.

First, the likely presence of the Eritrean armed forces in Tigray makes the war both a civil and international conflict, and therefore within the purview of the United Nations. Eritrean troops are said to be involved in killings and the forced return of Eritrean refugees, including the burning of the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Eritrean refugees are missing, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Second, the Tigray region is now facing a possible famine, with 2.3 million people in need of emergency assistance. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 4.5 million people, or 67% of the region’s population, are in need of assistance. Ethiopian federal government forces are reportedly blocking access to aid and clean water. There are also reports of the deliberate destruction of UN stores and food markets.

Third, with up to two million people now internally displaced, Tigray represents a significant burden on global humanitarian resources at a time when the need in East Africa has never been greater, due to covid-19, locust infestation and food insecurity. The Ethiopian government’s apparent reluctance to allow the international community to provide rapid, unconditional, unhindered and sustainable humanitarian access to all regions of Tigray has exacerbated a dire situation.

Fourth, some UN reports and those of other organizations in Tigray indicate possible serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and other aspects of international humanitarian law which prohibit the starvation of civilians and collective punishment. There are also reports of what could constitute state-led ethnic cleansing and genocide, as well as a “high number of alleged rapes.” Tens of thousands of Tigrayans serving in the Ethiopian peacekeeping, security, military, police and intelligence spheres have been fired from their jobs and sometimes detained.

Fifth, Ethiopia is so consumed in the fighting in Tigray that it is no longer a source of regional stability and appears to to be relinquishing its role as a regional peacekeeper. Security tensions and border disputes are on the rise in the region, mainly between Ethiopia and Sudan, Kenya and Somalia, with an election-related crisis in Somalia and negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam increasing the risk of proxy wars. Sudan’s fragile political transition can also be destabilized.

To make matters worse, the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from peacekeeping missions in Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan will certainly increase instability. In particular, the departure of AMISOM Ethiopian troops in Somalia could pave the way for the rise of Shabaab terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda.

Security Council resolution needed

Continuing, the Rwandan President argued that when a state fails to prevent or mitigate atrocities on its territory, such as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or where the state itself is the main perpetrator of such acts, the United Nations must not stand idly by. Moreover, only the Security Council can successfully challenge a government’s deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid, he insisted.

These are all reasons that, according to the Rwandan President, should prompt the UN Security Council to immediately address the situation in Tigray by adopting a resolution aimed at alleviating suffering in the region through determined international action and to convince the Ethiopian government to restore peace.

In concrete terms, the resolution should set up a monitoring and verification commission with a mandate to negotiate, observe, monitor, verify and report on the situation in Tigray. The objectives should be an immediate and definitive cessation of hostilities; the rapid, unconditional, unfettered and sustained distribution of aid to all areas of Tigray; the complete withdrawal of all external forces and armed groups; a ceasefire agreement that can lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Tigray.

Paul Kagame’s position on the conflict in Tigray is in line with that of the new US administration. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate, the new US Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Antony Blinken, announced the appointment of a special envoy for the Horn of Africa region. The objective being for the United States to be more active on issues like that of Tigray.

“There must be better access to the [Tigray] region, more responsibilities, a restoration of communication, humanitarian aid, and an effort to establish a dialogue to solve key problems,” he said.

While the federal authorities in Ethiopia have always opposed the involvement of the international community in the resolution of the conflict in Tigray and have remained deaf to calls for dialogue with the TPLF (the former ruling party in this regional state), the voice of Paul Kagame who is the head of a country that experienced genocide in 1994 and which still retains the after-effects, could count to achieve a pacification of tensions in this regional state.

Borgia Kobri