It’s not too late to silence the guns in Ethiopia

OPEN LETTER

Ethiopia’s deteriorating situation took a dangerous turn on 4 November when the tension between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and the Tigray Regional State erupted into an armed confrontation. This is a devastating and deeply troubling development for all Ethiopians, people in the Horn of Africa region and friends of Ethiopia and the region. 

Coming against the backdrop of deepening political tension and a spike in ethnic based violence as witnessed in the 1 November horrendous massacre of 54 people in West Wollega, this armed confrontation brings Ethiopia to the brink of a civil war, the bitterness of which could lead to the death and displacement of large numbers of civilians and threaten the territorial integrity of the country. 

The fears and concerns of many have been drowned out by events. Nearly 8 000 people have already fled their homes and crossed into neighbouring Sudan. According to a report by Amnesty International, “scores and likely hundreds” of people were hacked to death in Mai-Kadra town, highlighting a risk of deliberate acts of violence against civilians.  

It risks bringing to an end, if it has not already ended, the promise of a transition to a more inclusive, democratic and peaceful state.


Ethiopia is a country of more than 100-million people. It is at the heart of the Horn of Africa both literally and figuratively, having been an anchor of stability in an otherwise volatile region. 

The worry of Ethiopians and non-Ethiopian’s alike about the gravity of the situation is legitimate. Their worry comes not only from fear about the safety, security and well-being of civilians but also from an expression of solidarity with the people of Ethiopia. As Ethiopians have championed peace in many countries in the region through mediation and the deployment of peacekeepers in support of the countries and the peoples of the African continent, it is only natural that this is reciprocated by campaigning for peace in Ethiopia. 

This call for silencing the guns and for peace in Ethiopia is an expression of solidarity with all Ethiopians, and not intended to express support for or to campaign against any actor or category of actors.

It is not too late to end this conflict, avert the descent into a full-blown civil war. We appeal to all Ethiopians and Africans of good will and indeed the world community to join this call for peace. 

This call for action, published in full below, has been signed by 29 of Africa’s leading civil society organisations.

Silence guns in Ethiopia now. Say no to war in Ethiopia!

We, the undersigned, citizens of Africa, received with sadness the news of the outbreak of war in Ethiopia. The African Union set the year 2020 as the target date for silencing guns in Africa. A lot of time, effort and resources have been invested in ensuring the transformation of various conflict situations across Africa. These are ideals to which the AU member states, including Ethiopia, have committed themselves.

The news of war in Ethiopia is as unfortunate as it is unwelcome. It detracts from the AU vision and the phenomenal progress made towards Silencing the Guns in Africa. It has the potential of derailing progress on several other socioeconomic and political fronts in Africa. Ethiopia is the seat of the AU and war in Ethiopia affects much more than the host country. We wish to reiterate that no one in Ethiopia stands to benefit from the war. 

There are many stark lessons from previous wars in Ethiopia and other neighbouring African countries about the devastating consequences of armed conflict, not least the physical and psychological wounds on civilians who bear the brunt of war. Indeed, the AU has in several reports on Silencing the Guns documented the devastation to the life, personal security and wellbeing of war.  We have followed the mutually destructive political impasse leading to the outbreak of the current war in Ethiopia. We wish to reiterate that — in our view — this is not a war of the people of Ethiopia and the people should never be made to endure a war that emerged from the failure of Ethiopia’s political elites to achieve accommodation through rational dialogue and discourse.

The current war represents a mistake of historical proportions and risks putting the territorial integrity of Ethiopia as well as the peace and stability of the entire Horn of Africa and East Africa region in peril. The political impasse will create undue opportunity for manipulation and exploitation by external actors and this must be avoided. We wish to reiterate that war can never be the answer to the socioeconomic and political challenges facing the country. The challenges facing Ethiopia are not insurmountable if all stakeholders choose a path of dialogue and peace resolution of all disputes without any condition. A negotiated political roadmap, in which the interest of all sectors of society is protected, remains the most viable and sustainable way forward for Ethiopia.

The people of Ethiopia can and the people of Ethiopia must end this war. We, as citizens of the continent and friends of Ethiopia, join them in urging all the parties in Ethiopia to halt unconditionally all acts of hostilities. We also urge them to desist from taking actions or making pronouncements that further compound the crisis.

We call upon the authorities in Ethiopia (Federal and Tigray) to exercise restraint and lead by example in living out the values implied by the AU motto of Silencing the Guns by the Year 2020. We urge that an inclusive national dialogue for charting a political roadmap for resolving the crisis is launched. To this end, we urge that conditions are created for the participation of not only the major rival actors involved in the armed confrontation but also all political forces including those imprisoned.

We urge that conditions are created for the convening of a peoples’ convention for peace in Ethiopia, in which the broadest cross-section of Ethiopian civic, socio-cultural, and political opinion, including civil society, media, trade unions, women’s organisations, youth groups, professional associations, representatives of the peasantry, pastoralist communities and persons with disabilities are represented, and co-create solutions through an inclusive national dialogue. 

We call on the AU to immediately deploy a high-level preventive diplomacy mission to Ethiopia and urge all countries in the region to support efforts for the immediate end of hostilities and avoid any manoeuvres near regions affected by the conflict that erupted in Ethiopia. We call upon the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the AU to act immediately and decisively to ensure that this “senseless” war is stopped before its contagion effect drags in the entire region.

We urge all Africans of goodwill, including the African intelligentsia, artists, media, business and civil society organisations to join this urgent call by saying #NoToWar in Ethiopia.

Signatories

Organisations:

  • AfricanDefenders (Pan-Africa Human Rights Defenders Network)
  • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Defenders Project)
  • African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  • The Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa (CIDH)
  • African Leadership Centre
  • Justice Access Point — Uganda
  • Youth Forum for Social Justice
  • IDEAL
  • Association of Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  • Digital Shelter
  • Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)
  • Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  • Ethiopia Human Rights Defenders Coalition
  • International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  • Africa Judges and Jurists Forum (AJJF)
  • Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
  • EmpowerGirlsNow
  • East African Initiative for Change (I4C)
  • Alliances for Africa
  • Open Bar Initiative, Nigeria
  • Shalupe Foundation (DRC)
  • FEMNET — African Women’s Development and Communication Network
  • Smart Youth Network Initiative
  • Local Sustainable Communities Organisation (LOSCO)
  • Strategic Forecast (Stratfor) Uganda
  • Twerwaneho Listeners Club
  • WITNESS
  • Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

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Open Letter
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