By Daniel Pelz (16.02.2021)

(Rough translation of an article by Daniel Pelz published on DW]

Germany needs good relations with Ethiopia, but the Tigray crisis is putting a lot of strain on the relationship between the two countries. The German government is relying on diplomacy, but there would be an even tougher means of exerting pressure.

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 resolution 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 chancellor’s call is the highlight Germany’s engagement so far. Just a few weeks after the Tigray crisis broke out, Foreign Minister Maas met his Ethiopian counterpart. Maas said at the time, “The suffering we see is startling: the crimes against the civilian population must be investigated, and the culprits held accountable.”

Humanitarian Catastrophe

So far, the appeals have had little effect. Instead, 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 flashpoint. Alice Nderitu, UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, accuses all parties to the conflict of serious human rights violations: Executions, sexual violence and looting. Some 60,000 people have fled to neighboring Sudan. According to the UN, more than two million people urgently need help, but the central government is not letting them through.

In 2018, PM Abiy was enthusiastically received in Germany

A beacon for the German government. After all, it had launched a veritable charm offensive after Abiy Ahmed became head of government in 2018. He released political prisoners, promised free elections and sought reconciliation with his arch-enemy Eritrea. That earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 – and much recognition from Germany. Foreign Minister Maas and German President Steinmeier came to visit, and in 2018 there was a glowing reception for Abiy in Berlin. Ethiopia became a member of the exclusive club of the German “Compact with Africa” initiative, which promotes private investment in selected countries.

The West Pushes for Peace

Now the enthusiasm is over for the time being. “The Ethiopian Red Cross has talked about 80 percent of the people in Tigray not being able to be supplied. This emergency, which results from the war and which the government is not dealing with as one might expect, has led to a clouding of relations,” says Annette Weber, Ethiopia expert at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin. The Ethiopian Red Cross says it does not have the resources to reach most people. In the meantime, the Ethiopian government had not allowed other aid organizations to become active in Tigray. In the meantime, the UN World Food Program has reached an agreement with the government to expand aid to the people in the region. But this has not yet resolved the conflict.

The German government is relying on diplomacy: According to its own statements, it supports the mediation attempts of the African Union. In addition, Chancellor Merkel is increasingly calling for an end to violence. Other European leaders and the U.S. are also putting pressure, at least verbally. Weber to DW: “There is a great deal of agreement within the western states as to what messages should be sent to Abiy. In such a union, Germany’s voice carries greater weight.”

In addition, Berlin would have further leverage: Ethiopia is an important recipient of German development cooperation. Almost 353 million euros have been newly pledged in 2019. Ethiopia is also one of the so-called “reform partners” – countries with which Germany cooperates particularly closely because they are considered to be especially reform-minded.

The EU already put budget support totaling almost 90 billion [million] euros on hold last December. Germany could take similar steps. In response to a DW inquiry, a spokesperson for the responsible development ministry (BMZ) says: “The BMZ is linking the disbursement of its reform funding to further political development in Ethiopia. This includes a political process to resolve the Tigray conflict and the holding of credible parliamentary elections.”

Ethiopia is an important partner in German development cooperation

“Discontinue economic cooperation”

For Eva-Maria Schreiber, a development politician from the Left Party, this does not go far enough. Germany should not stop development cooperation across the board, Schreiber told DW. But: “The German government must immediately remove Ethiopia’s title of reform partner country. Because the title of reform partner is also associated with demands for democratic governance and respect for human rights. Unfortunately, neither is currently the case under Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy.”

Around 60,000 people have fled to Sudan

Schreiber also calls for the suspension of economic cooperation. According to its homepage, the BMZ works with more than 100 Ethiopian companies in the textile sector alone, but also with international corporations. The goal, according to the ministry, is to improve working conditions and environmental protection and to create more jobs.

Pressure could therefore certainly be exerted through development cooperation. After all, Ethiopia, a giant country with a population of over 100 million people, urgently needs cooperation. According to SWP expert Weber, “The government in Addis Ababa also knows that without the Americans and, above all, without the Europeans, the planned economic development and further political reconstruction will not happen.