/ 2 September 2021

Open Letter: Ethiopia needs a political — not a military — solution to end the devastating civil war

Ethiopia Tigray Conflict Food Aid
Members of the Amhara Special Forces seat on the top of a truck in the city of Alamata, Ethiopia, on December 11, 2020. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

We write this letter as concerned African intellectuals on the continent and in the diaspora. Many of us have dedicated our professional lives to understanding the causes and potential solutions to intra-and inter-African conflicts. We are appalled by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia.

We are deeply disturbed by the country’s ongoing civil war, which some refer to as a regionalised internal conflict, given Eritrea‘s role in it. We note with dismay that protagonists to the conflict no longer include just the Tigray Defence Force (TDF) and the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) together with the special forces from Amhara, but now also include the Oromo Liberation Army on one side, and on the other side, special forces from several other regions, as well as numerous conscripts. We note too, the advance of the TDF into Amhara and Afar regions, which, despite the TDF’s claims to be seeking to enable humanitarian and other supply access chains, is contributing to the expansion of the conflict across Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is of continental significance, not only for its record of successful resistance to European imperial expansionism, but also for its being the home of the African Union), our inter-governmental institution whose lack of effective engagement on the situation in Ethiopia we also find deplorable. The AU, its member states — particularly Ethiopia’s neighbouring states — must not allow Ethiopia to dictate the terms of their engagement in seeking resolution to this conflict.

We condemn the fact that the conflict is affecting ever-increasing numbers of civilians — the deaths, the sexual violence, the refugee outflows, the documented hunger and unmet medical and psychosocial needs, the reports of widespread and targeted illegal detentions (especially because of ethnicity), the enforced disappearances and torture in captivity. We also condemn the destruction of hard-earned physical and metaphysical infrastructure across Tigray, as well as other regions of Ethiopia, including institutions of higher learning, houses of worship and cultural heritage. 

Ethiopia and its peoples have suffered enough. Ethiopia cannot afford any further destruction.

All Ethiopians must recognise that a political rather than military solution is what is now called for, regardless of the claims and counterclaims, legitimate and otherwise, as to how Ethiopia has come to this place. Retributive justice, including the seizure and counter-seizures of contested land, and the detention of family members of recently outlawed political groups heightens tensions, leading to generational cycles of violence.

Ethiopia is on the precipice; we must take action. We therefore call on:

  • The Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to respond positively to the repeated calls for political dialogue, including with the affected and implicated groups in the Amhara and Oromia regions;
  • The Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to make positive use, in such dialogue, of the numerous African intellectuals who have put forward their views on pathways out of conflict;
  • Neighbouring countries to exercise maximum pressure on the Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to — under the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the AU — submit to external mediation of this conflict;
  • The IGAD and the AU to proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict—including providing all possible political support to the soon to be announced AU Special Envoy for the Horn; and
  • The rest of the international community to continue to support such IGAD and AU action with the carrots and sticks needed to get the protagonists and all other stakeholders to the table, keep them there and determine a political solution leading to more broad-based national dialogue on the future of the Ethiopian state.

We urge all Ethiopian leaders and civic groups to demonstrate the magnanimity and vision needed to reconstruct a country that has suffered far too long already. We call on any negotiated political settlement to include a process of public accountability for mass atrocities committed across Ethiopia. The history of the African state attests to the efficacy of an alternate path committed to truth, peace, justice and reconciliation.


Souleymane Bachir Diagne

Professor of French and Philosophy, director of the Institute of African Studies, Columbia University

Mamadou Diouf

Leitner Family Professor of African Studies, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University

Elleni Centime Zeleke

Assistant Professor, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University

Godwin Murunga

Executive Secretary, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa

Boubacar Boris Diop

Award winning author of Murambi, The Book of Bones and many other novels, essays and journalistic works

Achille Mbembe

Research Professor in History and Politics, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand

Jimi O Adesina

Professor and Chair in Social Policy, College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa

Ato Sekyi-Otu

Professor Emeritus, Department of Social Science and the Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought, York University

Felwine Sarr

Anne-Marie Bryan Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies, Duke University

Imraan Coovadia

Writer, essayist and novelist, Director of the creative writing programme, University of Cape Town

Ebrima Sall

Director, Trust Africa

Koulsy Lamko

Chadian playwright, poet, novelist and university lecturer

Willy Mutunga

Former chief justice, Supreme Court of Kenya

Maina Kiai

Former chair, Kenya National Human Rights Commission, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Rashida Manjoo

Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Law, University of Cape Town, Former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women

Siba N Grovogui

Professor of international relations theory and law, Africana Studies and Research Centre, Cornell University

Nadia Nurhussein

Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Martha Kuwee Kumsa

Professor of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University

Mekonnen Firew Ayano

Associate Professor, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Dagmawi Woubshet

Ahuja Family Presidential Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

Awet T Weldemichael

Professor and Queen’s National Scholar, Queen’s University

Abadir Ibrahim

Ethiopian Human Rights Activist and Lawyer

Michael Woldemariam

Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Director of the African Studies Center, Boston University

Safia Aidid

Arts and Science Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of History, University of Toronto

Abdoulaye Bathily

Professor of History, University Cheikh Anta Diop

David Ndii

Kenyan Economist

Siphokazi Magadla

Senior Lecturer in Political and International Studies, Rhodes University

Fred Hendricks

Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Humanities, Rhodes University

Pablo Idahosa

Professor of African Studies and International Development Studies, York University

Ibrahim Abdullah

Department of History and African Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone

Seye Abimbola

Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health, University of Sydney

Makau Mutua

SUNY Distinguished Professor, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Salim Vally
Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Director, Centre for Education Rights and Transformation

L. Muthoni Wanyeki

Kenya Political Scientist

Dominic Brown

Activist and Economic Justice Programme Manager

Alternative Information and Documentation Centre

Michael Neocosmos

Emeritus Professor in Humanities

Rhodes University

Zubairu Wai

Associate Professor

Department of Political Science and Department of Global Development Studies

University of Toronto

Alden Young

Assistant Professor

African American Studies

University of California

Benjamin Talton

Professor of History

Department of History

Temple University

G Ugo Nwokeji

Associate Professor of African History and African Diaspora Studies

Department of African-American Studies

University of California

Lionel Zevounou

Associate Professor of Public Law

University of Paris Nanterre. 

Amy Niang

Professeur associé

L’Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique

Sean Jacobs

Associate Professor of international Affairs

Julien J Studley Graduate Programmes in International Affairs

The New School

Founder and Editor of Africa is a Country

Abosede George

Associate Professor of African History

Barnard College

Dr Abdourahmane Seck

Senior Lecturer

Université Gaston Berger

Nimi Hoffmann


Centre for International Education

University of Sussex

Research Associate

Centre for International Teacher Education

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Maria Paula Meneses


Conselho Científico do CES

Centro de Estudos Sociais

Universidade de Coimbra

Ibrahima Drame

Director of Education

Henry George School of Social Science

Cesaltina Abreu


Laboratory of Social Sciences and Humanities

Angolan Catholic University

Lina Benabdallah

Assistant Professor of Politics

Wake Forest University

Oumar Ba

Assistant Professor of International Relations

Department of Government

Cornell University

Samar Al-Bulushi

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of California

Nisrin Elamin

Assistant Professor of International Studies

Bryn Mawr College

Marie-Jolie Rwigema

Incoming Assistant Professor

Applied Human Sciences

Concordia University

Eddie Cottle

Postdoctoral Fellow

Society, Work and Politics Institute

University of the Witwatersrand

Amira Ahmed

School of Humanities and Social Science

American University of Cairo

Convenors’ Forum of The C19 People’s Coalition

Ibrahim Abdullah

Department of History and African Studies

Fourah Bay College 

University of Sierra Leone

Jok Madut Jok

Professor of Anthropology

Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Syracuse University

We stand in solidarity with all Ethiopian intellectuals in-country who want to speak out against the war but feel unable to do so due to fear of retaliation.