MR PRICE:  Good morning, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us, especially today, for this very important topic.  We wanted to offer another opportunity for you to hear an update from, in this case, our Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeff Feltman on the situation in Ethiopia.  The special envoy will have some opening remarks at the top, after which he will look forward to taking your questions.

This call is on the record.  Its contents are embargoed until the conclusion of the call.  But with that, I will turn it over to Special Envoy Feltman.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  Thanks, Ned, and good morning to everybody.  I returned from Ethiopia yesterday, and this was my second trip there in just a couple of weeks.  And there is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process, but what concerns us is that this fragile progress risks being outpaced by the alarming developments on the ground that threaten Ethiopia’s overall stability and unity.

I want to be clear:  The basis for talks to lead to de-escalation and a negotiated ceasefire exists.  Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy told me again on Sunday that his top priority is to get the Tigrayan Defense Forces and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, the TDF and the TPLF, out of the lands that they have occupied in the states of Amhara and Afar and get them back into Tigray.  We share that objective.  The TDF and TPLF leaders that we have engaged tell us that their top priority is to break the de facto humanitarian siege that the Government of Ethiopia has imposed on Tigray since July.  We share that objective as well.  And the two sides have given the same message to a number of other diplomats and leaders, including former Nigerian President Obasanjo, who, as you all know, serves as the African Union’s high representative for the Horn of Africa.

The basic point is that these two objectives are not mutually exclusive.  With political will, one can achieve both.  Unfortunately, each side is trying to achieve its goal by military force, and each side seems to believe that it’s on the cusp of winning.  After more than a year of fighting and hundreds of thousands of casualties and people displaced by fighting, it should be clear that there is no military solution.  The government must remove the shackles that are hindering humanitarian relief and stop offensive military actions, and the TDF must halt its advance on Addis.  All those in need, regardless of ethnicity or geography, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance, and we call for an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations.

Our goal is to support diplomacy as the first, as the last, and as the only approach to address the underlying causes of this conflict.  We are not taking sides here.  Rumors that we are supporting one side are simply false.  We have no intention of any engagement except diplomatic engagement on behalf of international efforts to promote a political process.  Ethiopia’s neighbors, the African Union, the United Nations, and the international community all agree:  There is no time to waste in pivoting to diplomacy.

Ethiopian Americans, too, have an important responsibility to create a conducive atmosphere for de-escalation.  For decades, Ethiopian Americans have been instrumental in advocating for reforms that would ensure that all Ethiopians live in dignity with their basic human rights and freedoms respected.  Now is the time for Ethiopian Americans to play a similar leadership role in advocating for an end to incitement and fanning the flames of war.

Continued war risks unraveling Africa’s second-most-populous country, the home of the African Union, and the traditional linchpin of security and stability in the strategic Horn of Africa/Red Sea area.  We’re putting our collective – we’re putting our diplomatic tools behind the collective efforts to promote de-escalation and a negotiated ceasefire.  It is time for the Ethiopians to pursue their objectives not on the battlefield, but at the negotiating table.

And one final note is I want to reiterate that the Department of State has been urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart now using commercially available options.  The U.S. embassy has been issuing daily messages to U.S. citizens since early November with this message.

With that, I look forward to your questions.

MR PRICE:  Terrific, thanks.  Operator, would you mind repeating the instructions for putting yourself in the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.

MR PRICE:  We’ll start with the line of Francesco Fontemaggi from AFP.

OPERATOR:  Francesco, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you both.  I was wondering if you can elaborate on how you’re so confident that there has been progress on the diplomatic front at the same time the TPLF claims being just 130 miles northeast of Addis and the prime minister said he would go himself on the battlefield to fight against the rebels.  The – all this doesn’t really sound very optimistic.  So is there a discrepancy between your progress and what’s going on on the battlefield?  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  Francesco, thanks for the question.  And I hope I didn’t come across as excessively optimistic.  I think I made it clear that what worries us is that while there’s some nascent progress, that it’s highly at risk of being outpaced by the military escalation on the two sides.

But I’ve been having a series of trips to Addis and elsewhere in the region.  Of course, the Secretary has engaged the Ethiopian officials by phone.  We had Senator Coons back in March go out.  There’s been a number of U.S. engagements with the Ethiopians, and what I sense is a much greater willingness to brainstorm with us about how you would put together the pieces of a de-escalation and negotiated ceasefire process.  There’s no longer just a refusal to talk about how you would move into a negotiating process.  There’s more of a sense of realism that after a year of this horror, that there might be other approaches to consider in order to achieve goals.

What I find interesting is when you talk to the two sides separately – and of course, we’re talking to them separately, of course – when you talk to the two sides, the elements that they describe as being essential to get to de-escalation, negotiated ceasefire overlap: end to incitement, end to offensive military operations, opening of humanitarian corridors to whoever – wherever the needs are, having the TPLF withdraw back to Tigray, a – removing the TPLF from the terrorist designation that the Ethiopian parliament put in place.  They’re willing to discuss these issues now.  That’s not the same as saying that they’re moving forward in putting together some kind of program, but I think that there is the potential for President Obasanjo with the support of the international community to take these elements that both sides agree have to be part of a political process and start sequencing them, start deciding how does the reciprocity work between the sides.

But again, what I worry about is that the military developments on the ground are moving more rapidly than we’ve been able to get the diplomatic process to move.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go the line of Daphne Psaledakis from Reuters.

OPERATOR:  Daphne, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Oh, sorry.  Thank you for doing this.  I was wondering if you could give some details on the rough estimates of the number of people that have been detained in Ethiopia, as well as on the front line.  Do you have any sense of where the front line is in Afar and Amhara?

And if the TPLF can secure the road to Djibouti, would aid convoys move down it?  If so, would that involve a no-fly zone?  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  Thanks, Daphne.  Our information on the detainees is not at all – I mean, it’s not at all clear to us how many have been detained.  We’re alarmed by the numbers of people who’ve been picked up, by the reports of people being sort of put in camps where COVID may be rampant, where they have – where they’re not having access to due process.  But the numbers we simply don’t know.

In terms of the lines of – the battle lines on the ground, it seems to us that in terms of the TDF/TPLF’s moves toward Mile, which is the road to Djibouti, it looks to us as though for whatever reason that they’ve not advanced as much, that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and their partners – the regional militias and stuff – have been able to more or less stem the TDF’s advances toward Mile and keep the major access roads between Djibouti and Addis open, whereas the – it looks as though the TDF/TPLF in the information we have has been able to move past some of the defensive lines on the road to Addis – the defensive line that was Ataye, the defensive line at Shewa Robit, down toward Debre Sina.

So the – for a while the lines were static, and then about a week ago, the TDF/TPLF started to move again.  And this alarms us.  It alarms us for several reasons.  It alarms us because more – the more that you have the military conflict expand, the more people are affected.  The closer that the TDF is able to move to Addis, its own demands may increase and what it would expect in the negotiating process.  And I want to make it clear we are absolutely opposed to the TDF threatening Addis by cutting off the road to Djibouti or threatening Addis by actually entering Addis.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Jennifer Hansler from CNN.

OPERATOR:  Jennifer, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you so much for doing this.  I just wanted to confirm that you met with Prime Minister Abiy, and did he give any indication in your meeting that he would put out this call that he would go to the front lines to direct the war effort from there?  Did you discourage him from taking this step?  And if this military campaign continues to outpace the diplomatic efforts, is the U.S. prepared to take more punitive actions, perhaps under the sanctions regime or another step?  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  Thanks, Jennifer.  I mean, what the prime minister and I mostly discussed was how his goals could be achieved through the negotiating table rather than on the military battlefield.  He has – he is confident that he will be able to push back the TDF northward back into Tigray.  I question that confidence.  I’m just looking at a map over the – of what’s happened since the Ethiopian National Defense Forces withdrew from Tigray at the end of June.  Just looking at a map makes me question his confidence.

But be that as it may, even if it’s true, what I was trying to tell him was that the cost to Ethiopia’s stability, the cost to the civilians, the dignity of Ethiopians being damaged by this war, the costs are too high; that you can achieve the same thing through a diplomatic process that has the support of the African Union, the immediate neighbors of Ethiopia, and the international community; you can achieve what it is that you say you’re trying to achieve militarily, which is to get the TDF/TPLF back into Tigray.  That’s what we discussed.

But again, I was encouraged that he was willing to talk to me in detail about what a diplomatic process could look like.  This is not something that would be a U.S.-led.  It would be something where the U.S. would be one of many actors supporting it, supporting a process.  But at the same time, he also expressed confidence that militarily he would be able to achieve his goals, which is – but no, in terms of did he preview the statement that he released yesterday, no.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Rosiland Jordan from Al Jazeera.

OPERATOR:  To whom was that again?  Rosiland, yes.  Your line is open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) much for the call.  I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s call from a couple of senior department officials strongly encouraging Americans and legal residents to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible.  Is that a pragmatic bit of advice given how tenuous the political and security situations are inside Ethiopia, or is this because there is a real fear within the U.S. Government that the country is about to collapse into civil war and the U.S. does – would not be able to assist Americans in that case?

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  Thanks for the question.  I mean, it’s basically a reflection of the reality that we view travel to Ethiopia right now as being unsafe due to the ongoing armed conflict and that the situation may – and I emphasize may – escalate further and cause supply chain shortages, communications blackouts, and travel disruptions.

Right now, the airport in Addis is operating normally.  I flew – as I said, I flew back overnight Sunday/Monday morning, and there were empty flights on the – empty flights on the Ethiopian Airlines plane that I was on.  And so what we’re saying is that since the U.S. embassy would be unlikely to be able to assist U.S. citizens in Ethiopia with departure if commercial options became unavailable, take the available seats on the commercial flights now since we can’t predict if demand would eventually exceed capacity.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Ali Rogan from PBS NewsHour.

OPERATOR:  Ali, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi there.  Thank you so much for doing the call.  I have a very specific question regarding reports out of Kenya that a Tigrayan businessman was abducted.  There has been a social media campaign that appears to be linking his abduction to the Abiy government, and so I wanted to know if you have any comment on this particular abduction.  And in general, are you concerned about any other instances of individuals who are Tigrayan descent or are Tigrayan being detained outside of Ethiopia?

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  I hadn’t heard that – I had not heard that report, to be honest, so we’ll have to look into that.  I mean, what we are concerned about are the levels of incitement by the various actors or those who support the various actors in this fight, the incitement against the Tigrayans, the Tigrayan incitement against others, the possibility of Amhara-Oromo violence, the two largest ethnic groups.

And we really have been calling on all sides to dial back the incitement that’s sort of exacerbating the ethnic aspects of this conflict.  And as I said earlier, we are alarmed by the roundup, what seems to be a systematic roundup, of Tigrayans in Addis and house-to-house searches looking for Tigrayans in Addis.  It’s time to dial back the incitement and roll up the sleeves and work on diplomacy rather than trying to exacerbate the conflict through ethnic polarization.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.

OPERATOR:  Nick, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks very much.  Ambassador Feltman, I just wanted to try to clarify something, because at the beginning you said essentially that you see some progress on getting the sides to move from a military-political process, but everything you’ve said since that initial comment seems to go exactly the other way.  So could you elaborate a little bit more on what positive signals you actually see that makes you think either side wants to move to a political process?  Because your description of the conversation you’re having with the Ethiopian leadership suggests that they don’t have any desire or have shown any indication that they would be willing to do that.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  As I said, what’s different, what has – I’ve gone out to Ethiopia and had a number of conversations with the same people.  We have met with – we’ve met with TPLF leaders in Nairobi and discussed with them elsewhere.  And what has changed is the willingness to engage.

Now, this is still – I put this in the premediation or sort of intellectual discussion part.  I don’t want to overstate the case.  This is not the – that there’s no sign that there would be direct talks on the horizon between the two sides, and nor is that necessary, frankly.

As you know, I was at at the UN for six years, and I have learned that there’s a whole different – a whole lot of different ways to have political processes.  You don’t have to go to the Palais des Nations in Geneva with international spotlight and journalists and lots of hoopla in order to be able to have – to have processes back and forth.  Look at how the Colombia peace process got started when you had the representatives of the FARC and representatives of the Government of Colombia having proximity talks via some intermediaries in Havana before they moved to direct talks.

There’s a lot of different ways you can do a peace process that is discreet, and that’s the sort of things the two sides are now talking to us about, that there’s a – it would be politically costly for the Government of Ethiopia right now to sit down with TPLF leaders across the table when parts of Amhara and Afar, the constituents of the government, are under occupation.  They don’t have to.

And the fact that they were talking to us about how processes might work politically for them I found encouraging.  That wasn’t possible a few weeks ago.  The fact that both sides were talking to us about the elements that they would expect to see on the table if they’re in an active proximity talks encouraged me, the sorts of things I said earlier.  The fact that the – that what they’ve – that what both sides have defined as their primary objectives can be made compatible, I found encouraging.

Now, I don’t want to overstate this case.  What I want to say is that we are using our diplomatic channels along with the political support of the neighbors, of the African Union, of the international community more generally, to try to encourage this.  I mean, what I would say that what you’re seeing now is that the two sides are starting to think about whether or not they can really achieve their goals only on the battlefield.

When we talk – there’s politics on both sides.  When we talk with the Tigrayan leaders, there are some who recognize that entering Addis could be catastrophic for themselves and catastrophic for the country, and they don’t want to be responsible for the collapse of Ethiopia.  But they do want to see the siege that’s been imposed on Tigray since the end of June lifted.

So are there ways that they can get the humanitarian relief that they need that would strengthen the more moderate voices inside the Tigrayan camp to refute this idea that they need to move – try to move on to Addis?  These are the sorts of things that we’re trying to encourage now.  There was a little bit of humanitarian relief that we believe reached Tigray today, but not nearly enough to be able to strengthen those voices inside the Tigrayan leadership that, as we would think, as we believe, moving on Addis is just unacceptable and catastrophic.

So right now, both sides are still pursuing military options, but they are also engaged on the idea that there may be other ways to pursue their objectives.  That’s – and they’re engaged not only with us but with others.  And that’s what I find, again, marginally encouraging, but I don’t want to overstate the case.

MR PRICE:  Time for a couple final questions.  We’ll go to Simon Ateba from Today News Africa.

OPERATOR:  Simon, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you for doing this.  It is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington.  On the administration call for U.S. citizen to leave Ethiopia now while commercial flights remain available, to your assessment, how much time do they still have?  Do they have to leave now, this month, this week?  And on the American citizen being detained in Ethiopia, how many are currently being detained, U.S. citizen?  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  We are urging and we have been urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart now.  As I said, there are commercially available options now.  And the U.S. embassy has been giving that message daily to U.S. citizens since early November.  So it’s simply a reflection of the fact that the situation on the ground is changing, that the U.S. embassy would be unlikely to assist U.S. citizens in Ethiopia with departure if the commercial options would become unavailable.  And so now is the time for them to leave.

Whenever we have information on detained U.S. citizens, the embassy asks for consular access to them so that we can perform the consular services that are such an important part of our overseas diplomatic presence.  There’s obviously a very large Ethiopian American community in Ethiopia as, of course there’s a large Ethiopian American community that has enriched the United States on this side of the Atlantic.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to a Pearl Matibe.

OPERATOR:  Pearl, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Good morning, Ambassador Feltman, and thank you for your availability.  Ambassador Feltman, I have a three-part question here for you.  In 1991 Mengistu Haile Mariam fled from Ethiopia and was granted asylum in Zimbabwe.  He’s now an official guest of Zimbabwe, as he was under Mugabe – he is under the current President Emmerson Mnangagwa – and he blamed the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev for his policies and the ending of his regime.  From your assessment, who do you believe Prime Minister Abiy blames for this crisis?  Photos are circulated him being real friendly with President Uhuru Kenyatta.  Do you see in your evaluation any indication that Abiy may be making private plans to seek asylum from some leaders on the continent?

And I also just wanted to say I appreciate your sharing your diplomatic efforts, but might be – you are being overtaken by events on the ground.  So I’d like to press you further:  Could you be more precise on what is it exactly that is demonstrating to you that you – about what’s happening on the ground – what has happened faster, and why is diplomacy not happening faster?  What would it take for the diplomatic effort to move faster?  What is the – what are the barriers?  What are the hurdles?  Help my audiences understand why diplomacy is not moving faster?

And if you say you spoke to Abiy on Tuesday, are we days away from the diplomatic effort succeeding?  Are we weeks away from a siege on Addis?  How far away are we from either track?  Thank you so much, Ambassador Feltman, for all of your sharing.

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  That’s a rather expansive list of questions there, Pearl.  I mean, first of all, let me – you raised 1991.  And this is a message that we have said to the Tigrayan leaders, to the TPLF, to the TDF leaders: that they need to remember this is not 1991.  In 1991, as you know, the TPLF led a popular entry into Addis with the fall of the Mengistu regime.  The TPLF would be met with unrelenting hostility if it entered Addis today.  This is not the same as 1991, and we believe that the Tigrayan leaders understand that.

In terms of Prime Minister Abiy, I – again, I have spoken with him repeatedly in our meetings over the months since I’ve had the honor of serving this administration in this capacity.  And he is very concerned that the United States and others did not properly credit him for things like the June 28th unilateral humanitarian ceasefire, or properly attribute blame for what happened back in November with the assault on the Northern Command.  But there’s a larger narrative that I want to really refute, which is that somehow the United States is nostalgic for the TPLF’s return to government, for a return of that EPRDF, TPLF-dominated regime that was under Meles Zenawi for 27 years.

That is not what we’re after here.  We are not taking sides in this conflict.  We’re not trying to tip the scales in favor of the TPLF.  Prime Minister Abiy emerged – his party emerged successful in elections that took place in June and additional elections in September for other districts.  He has a parliament that backs him.  Whatever the imperfections are in the elections, I think that they – in general his premiership reflects a popular mandate that we recognize.  And so this idea that we’re taking sides on behalf the TPLF is pure fantasy, but it persists.

You mention President Kenyatta of Kenya.  President Kenyatta is very concerned about the stability in Ethiopia.  He shares the same concern we have about Ethiopia’s overall stability, but he shares it as a neighbor.  So I think that he’s playing an extremely important role in being able to talk to Prime Minister Abiy, sort of peer-to-peer, about the need for stability in the Horn of Africa with stability in the Horn of Africa not being possible if there’s destabilization in Ethiopia.

The main hurdle to moving decisively to a diplomatic negotiating track isn’t the United States; it’s not the African Union; it’s not the international community.  It’s the political will of the parties themselves.  One would think that at this point, given the suffering, given the loss of dignity to too many Ethiopians and northern Ethiopia, that the two sides would recognize that the cost of continuing this conflict militarily is far too high for Ethiopia.  And that’s the case that we’re trying to make.  But in the end, they’re going to have to muster the political will.

And as I said, I was encouraged that they’re at least willing now to talk to us, to talk to President Obasanjo, to talk to others about the elements that they would see as essential to get to de-escalation and negotiated ceasefire.  The – I think the tragedy is, the sadness is, that both sides have in mind the same type of elements.  They may have different views on sequencing – who goes first, how far does the TPLF withdraw before something happens on the government side, et cetera, et cetera – but the elements, they agree upon.  The primary goals, as I said earlier, of each side are not mutually irreconcilable.  So they just need to muster the political will in order to pivot from the military to the – to negotiations.  And we’re not the only ones encouraging them to do so, but we can’t force them to the table.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take one final question from Conor Finnegan from ABC.

OPERATOR:  And Conor, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hey.  Thank you, Ambassador.  I just wanted to follow on the blockade of Tigray.  You spoke about the small amount of aid that was able to enter the region.  Do you take that as sort of a first gesture here?  Do you expect more in the coming days?  And you said that the prime minister seemed open to other means of achieving his objectives, but did you get a sense that he would be willing to end the blockade, that he understands the situation on the ground there, as opposed to continuing to deny the reality?

AMBASSADOR FELTMAN:  The – I mean, I should say that the aid that we understood – understand reached Mekelle and Tigray today was quite modest, so I don’t want to – we hope it’s the beginning of sustained, expanded assistance, because the amount of assistance that has reached Tigray since the beginning of July is something like 12 percent of the needs that should have reached Tigray.  But I also want to note that there are needs in Afar and Amhara as well, in the areas that the TDF now occupies, where you have civilians under TDF occupation outside of Tigray.

So our goal is to be able to deliver assistance to wherever it’s needed across the military frontlines.  And that’s been the conversation that we have had with the TDF/TPLF leaders, and with the Government of Ethiopia, is that we need to find mechanisms, channels, corridors to reach the – to have the assistance reach those in need wherever they happen to be in Ethiopia.  And I think that there’s – again, there’s a greater understanding.  I mean, it’s no longer just the Tigrayans who are suffering from deprivation under this conflict that you have – as I said, you have people in Amhara and Afar now, so there’s a collective need for assistance to flow.  And we’ve been looking at a number of ways with the government, with the UN, of how you would do that.

But in terms of Tigray itself, the restrictions are largely imposed by the government and there’s layers of restrictions.  We have this – I have the sense that there’s a seriousness on the part of the government to start to strip away some of the restrictions that have been put in place since June.  But I’m not even sure that the government recognizes how many layers of restrictions have been imposed since June and how difficult it’s going to be to dial all of this back.

The other thing is the commercial siege of Tigray, that the banking services, the utilities, electricity, telecom, et cetera have been cut off also since the end of June, and fuel supplies, et cetera.  And simply having trucks drop off food in Mekelle is not going to be sufficient to address the needs.  There needs to be cash, telecom, fuel, et cetera to be able to do this.  And it’s a struggle, still, even if there’s a stated willingness of the government to work with us on releasing it.

We see this as essential.  It’s essential not only to save people’s lives wherever the people’s needs happen to be, but it’s essential in order to make that argument as strongly as possible with the Tigrayan leaders that they cannot enter Addis under the guise of trying to break the humanitarian siege, that there are other ways to achieve those goals without tipping Addis into a bloodbath situation or chaos.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, Special Envoy Feltman.  Thank you all for tuning in.  Again, this call was on the record, attributable to the special envoy.  The embargo is now lifted, and we look forward to speaking with many of you very soon.  Thanks, all, very much.


Britain’s upper house (the House of Lords) has debated the Tigray war. The government accepts evidence of widespread rape and sexual abuse by Eritrean troops and: “the UK will consider the full range of policy tools at our disposal to protect human rights and deter violations of international humanitarian law.”

Source: Hansard

Column 583is located here


“We are following the arrests of hundreds of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa,” Daniel Bekele, head of the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission head, told Reuters

Source: Reuters

NEW YORK, Nov 9 (Reuters) – At lease nine United Nations staff and dependents have been detained in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a U.N. spokesperson said on Tuesday.

U.N. security officials have visited the detained staff and the United Nations has asked the Ethiopian foreign ministry to release them immediately, the U.N. spokesperson said in New York.

The year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia between the government and Tigrayan forces loyal to Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has intensified in recent weeks. The TPLF and its allies have threatened to march on the capital.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on Nov 2. That proclamation permits the government to arbitrarily arrest, without a court order, anyone suspected of collaborating with a terrorist group. Parliament designated the TPLF as a terrorist group earlier this year.

Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“We are following the arrests of hundreds of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa,” Daniel Bekele, head of the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission head, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Addis Ababa police spokesperson said on Monday that the police are only arresting “followers” of the TPLF. “So this is not ethnically motivated at all.”

The U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Monday reports that people of Tigrayan ethnicity were being harrassed are concerning.


The war that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afwerki have been waging against Tigray for over a year has been fuelled by drones provided by Turkey, China and Iran. Arming by these states has been openly discussed – but not the airlift of the weapons themselves.
  • China has been reportedly provided Wing Loong drone to Addis.[1]
  • Turkey has supplied drones to Ethiopia after a visit to Ankara on 18 August 2021 by Prime Minister Abiy.[2]
  • In August 2021 it was reported that “Ethiopia has managed to secure a hasty contract with Iran for the delivery of a number of Mohajer-6 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).”[3]
  • Israel is apparently one of the outside powers that has refused to provide military drones to Ethiopia.[4]

The drone airlift

One of those who has tracked the flights bringing in the drones is a Tweeter who calls himself Gerjon_. @Gerjon

He has kindly supplied these statistics, which cover 114 flights since he began tracking the flights in August 2021. Flights prior to this date are not included.

“97 flights from the UAE (mainly Sweihan Air Base and Abu Dhabi International Airport).

9 flights from Iran (origin unknown). Besides this, I know of the following suspicious Ethiopian Airlines flights: 3 cargo flights by Ethiopian from Tekirdag Corlu in Turkey, 3 cargo flights from Abu Dhabi, 1 from Dalian, China (the one for which freight papers were leaked).

Finally, I know of 1 flight from Chengdu, China by Abakan Air (for Aviacon Zitotrans).”

The confidential newsletter, African Intelligence has this to add:

“In addition to the Turkish UAVs, Addis Ababa has also procured Chinese combat drones. At least three units of the Wing Loong model were delivered to the EAF in September from factories in Chengdu. This acquisition follows the purchase of Iranian – Mohajer 6 – and Emirati UAVs, the latter of which have been in service since late last year.”[5]

International reaction and an assessment of their impact on the war

Jeffrey Feltman U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa publicly complained about the Ethiopians launching a “a bombing campaign while using drones from questionable sources, including reportedly from U.S. adversaries.”[6] By this one can assume Feltman means Iran.

The United States is not alone in making these complaints. Egypt has taken up the issue, with Turkey.[7]

I am not a military expert, but an interesting assessment of the effectiveness of the drones has been provided by Sajid Nadeem.[8]

His conclusion:

“Ethiopia will take some time for its newly purchased combat drones to make a difference on the battlefield. Ethiopian Mig 23 bombers and Su-27 interceptors lack precision striking capability, and that is why the airstrikes so far could not prove to be a game-changer in this conflict.”

Ethiopia Tigray War: Why drones are not proving effective


It is almost a year since the deadly war in Ethiopia began. The war entered a new phase in July 2021. While Tigray was still under siege from the Ethiopian government then, Tigray forces decided to enter Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar regions. Since July 2021, the Ethiopian government has made large weapon purchases. Most experts agree that Ethiopia has bought combat drones from more than one country. Despite the purchase of these UAVs, Ethiopian Federal and Regional Forces have not been able to push Tigray forces out of Amhara and Afar region. Let us analyse the reason behind that.

Some credible social media accounts and websites that monitor cargo and other planes have disclosed that from July till November, dozens of suspicious cargo flights were seen between UAE, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, China, and Ethiopia. Most of these flights were not registered in Ethiopian civil aviation records. It is being said that through these cargo flights, drones and other weapons were transported to Ethiopia from these countries. Several experts have confirmed the presence of Iranian Mohajer 6 and Chinese Wing Loong 1 drones in Ethiopia. In August 2021, Ethiopian state media shared pictures of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad from Semera airport in the Afar region of Ethiopia. In the pictures, at least one drone GCS (Ground Control Station) was spotted in the background, which most experts said was of Mohajer 6 Iranian drones. Some sources talk about the presence of Turkish drones in Ethiopia, too though it lacks credible evidence. Why is the Iranian Mohajer 6 and Chinese Wing Loong 1 drones could not deliver?

Iranian Mohajer 6 drones are not as widely battle-tested as other combat drones like Turkish Tb-2 or Chinese Wing Loong 1 and 2, and their low ceiling flight makes them vulnerable to strikes from the ground. That is why we did not see any effective use of these drones in the Ethiopian conflict so far. Considering that Tigray forces are in possession of short-range anti-aircraft weapons like IGLA MANPAD and ZU 23-2 anti-aircraft guns, Iranian Mohajer 6 drones could not be used extensively by the Ethiopian air force.

Chinese Wing Long 1 drone was spotted flying over Mekelle city of Tigray a few days ago. But reportedly, Wing Loong 1 was being used for target locating and helping SU-27 fighters to hit the target. Does the Ethiopian government have guided munitions for these newly purchased Wing Loong 1 drones? Ethiopia has reportedly received a shipment of TL-2 guided munitions for mounting them on Wing Loong 1 drones. But the delivery arrived only last week. Before that, Chinese Wing Loong 1 was mainly used to help Ethiopian air force bombers locate a target. In the coming days, the Ethiopian air force could intensify its Wing Loong 1 for precision strikes.

Effective use of combat drones depends on several factors, including the quality of the drone itself in terms of precisely locating and hitting the target, skilled operators, and guided munitions. Ethiopia is a new operator of combat UAVs, and it is in the process of improving its drone use capabilities. Ethiopia will take some time for its newly purchased combat drones to make a difference on the battlefield. Ethiopian Mig 23 bombers and Su-27 interceptors lack precision striking capability, and that is why the airstrikes so far could not prove to be a game-changer in this conflict.





[5] Africa Intelligence, Addis set to deploy Turkish combat drones against Tigray rebels’ offensive, 15 November 2021





Two reports on rape in Tigray are published today. One is by Amnesty International alleging rape by Tigrayan forces. The other, by Human Rights Watch, accuses all parties to the war of using rape but goes on to allege that the Ethiopian government is blocking aid to Tigray rape victims.

Both are carried in full below.

The allegations that Tigray Defence Forces raped Amhara women are very serious indeed. They need investigation.

But when contacted the Amnesty researcher was asked why the Tigray government (called the TPLF by Amnesty) had not been asked for their response, the researcher replied that he did not have their phone number.

It is a number any Nairobi journalist worth his or her salt could have provided.


Ethiopia: Blocking Tigray Aid Harms Rape Survivors

Source: Human Rights Watch

Urgently Allow Entry of Food, Medicine; Support International Investigations

  • · The Ethiopian government’s blocking of aid with health facilities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region destroyed is preventing sexual violence survivors from getting post-rape care.  
  • · The government’s effective siege of Tigray since June is doubly victimizing survivors by denying them critical medical and psychosocial – mental health – support. 
  • · The African Union, the UN, and international donors should support an international inquiry and press all parties to the Tigray conflict to halt abuses and allow rapid and unimpeded aid access. 
  • ·

(New York) – The Ethiopian government’s blocking of aid and essential services, with health facilities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region destroyed, is preventing survivors of sexual violence from obtaining essential post-rape care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Two women stand facing away from the camera

November 9, 2021

“I Always Remember That Day”

Access to Services for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

The 89-page report, “‘I Always Remember That Day’: Access to Services for Gender-Based Violence Survivors in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region,” documents the serious health impact, trauma, and stigma experienced by rape survivors ages 6 to 80 since the beginning of the armed conflict in Tigray in November 2020. Human Rights Watch highlighted the human cost of the Ethiopian government’s effective siege of the region, which has prevented an adequate and sustained response to survivors’ needs and the rehabilitation of the region’s shattered healthcare system.

“Warring parties in the first nine months of Tigray’s conflict committed widespread sexual violence while deliberately targeting healthcare facilities, leaving survivors and their communities reeling,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s effective siege of Tigray since June is doubly victimizing survivors by denying them critical medical and psychosocial – mental health – support.”

The African Union, the United Nations, and international donors should press the Ethiopian government and all parties to the Tigray conflict, including the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), to halt abuses, allow rapid and unimpeded access to aid throughout northern Ethiopia, and support international investigations into alleged abuses.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 health and aid workers, donors, and sexual violence survivors and witnesses. Human Rights Watch also reviewed 43 additional individual cases of sexual violence in Tigray, documented through anonymized medical and intake notes from service providers, and conducted telephone and written interviews with Tigray regional authorities. Human Rights Watch sent a summary of findings and requests for information to Ethiopian federal authorities, but did not receive replies.

The Tigray conflict has resulted in widespread reports of sexual violence in areas controlled by Ethiopian and Eritrean federal forces, and regional Amhara militias, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, and torture, often accompanied by killings of family members, beatings, and degrading, ethnic-based slurs. Tigrayan fighters have been implicated in rape, killings, and other abuses against Eritrean refugees in the region, and against Amhara civilians in the Amhara region.

Human Rights Watch found that the healthcare needs of sexual violence survivors have included termination of pregnancy, treatment for HIV and Hepatitis B, and care for broken bones, stab wounds, and traumatic fistula. Survivors also sought support for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.

“One day Ethiopian military men came to the hospital with a [teenage] girl,” said a doctor working in a hospital in an urban center. “We checked her and found that she was pregnant. She was one of the sex slaves in the Gereb Giba military camp [near Mekelle, the regional capital].”

The doctor said that she had hepatitis: “With her consent we terminated her pregnancy. Gave her anti-hepatitis drugs. After that quite a lot of women and girls were coming in, seeking medication, and to terminate their pregnancies, raped by conflict actors, mainly by Eritrean troops and Ethiopian forces.”

During the first nine months of the conflict, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces pillaged and destroyed health facilities in Tigray. This, along with the presence of soldiers at checkpoints on the roads and near or inside health facilities, prevented survivors, especially from outside urban areas, from getting treatment within the critical 72-hour window to prevent pregnancy and HIV. A humanitarian aid provider said that of the sexual violence cases handled by their agency, “more than 80 percent of victims and survivors didn’t present [themselves] within the 72-hour window.”

After Ethiopian authorities declared a unilateral ceasefire in late June, the government besieged the region, including blocking food, medicines, cash, and fuel, in violation of international humanitarian law, which has stymied the recovery of health services.

Two women stand facing away from the cameraA service provider supports a survivor of sexual violence in Tigray region, Ethiopia, February 27, 2021. © 2021 Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

Aid agencies have been unable to establish and scale-up a response that meets international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Any expanded response will need to fill the massive gaps including the need for community-level outreach and support, creation of “safe spaces” for women and girls, availability of clinical management of rape, mental health, and psychosocial support services, and access to specialized care. All services should be accessible and take into account the particular requirements and circumstances of people with disabilities, men, older people, and children. Healthcare providers, who have treated and worked with distressing cases with little support amid enormous challenges, should also receive mental health support.

The scale of sexual violence against women and girls in Tigray, ongoing abuses, and harm against survivors by federal government actions, as well as sexual violence by Tigrayan forces against Amhara civilians in the Amhara region, point to the need for the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into conflict-related abuses, including the obstruction of aid, Human Rights Watch said.

“One year since Tigray’s devastating conflict began, survivors of sexual violence – from gang rape to sexual slavery – remain in desperate need of health care and support services,” Varia said. “Not only have Tigrayan women and girls experienced horrific abuses, they are confronting shortages of food, medicine, and other desperately needed support to rebuild their lives.”


Embargoed for release until 00:01 GMT (03:01 EAT) on 10 November 2021

Ethiopia: Survivors of TPLF attack in Amhara describe gang rape, looting and physical assaults

  • · Women raped at gunpoint, robbed and assaulted
  • · Lack of medical care after TPLF fighters damaged and looted hospital
  • · Abuses committed as Tigray conflict has spilled over into Amhara region

Sixteen women from the town of Nifas Mewcha in Ethiopia’s Amhara region told Amnesty International they were raped by fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) during the group’s attack on the town in mid-August 2021.

Survivors described being raped at gunpoint, robbed, and subjected to physical and verbal assaults by TPLF fighters, who also destroyed and looted medical facilities in the town. Fourteen of the 16 women Amnesty International interviewed said they were gang raped.

The TPLF took control of Nifas Mewcha, in Amhara’s Gaint District, for nine days between 12 and 21 August 2021, as part of an ongoing offensive into parts of the Amhara and Afar regions. Regional government officials told Amnesty International that more than 70 women reported to authorities that they were raped in Nifas Mewcha during this period. 

“The testimonies we heard from survivors describe despicable acts by TPLF fighters that amount to war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity. They defy morality or any iota of humanity,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. 

“TPLF fighters must immediately stop all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including sexual and gender-based violence. The leadership must make clear that such abuses will not be tolerated and remove suspected perpetrators from their ranks.”

Gang rape and physical assaults

Amnesty International used secure video call applications to individually interview 16 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Nifas Mewcha. 

The organization also interviewed the head of Nifas Mewcha hospital, as well as local and regional government officials with knowledge of the assault and its aftermath. 

According to a local government desk officer for Women, Children and Youth Affairs, 71 women reported that they were raped by TPLF fighters during the period in question; the Federal Ministry of Justice puts the number at 73.

Survivors told Amnesty International that the attacks began as soon as the TPLF took control of the town on 12 August 2021. The women all identified the perpetrators as TPLF fighters based on their accents and the ethnic slurs they used against victims, as well as their overt announcements that they were TPLF.

Bemnet, a 45-year-old Nifas Mewcha resident, told Amnesty International that four TPLF fighters came to her house on the evening of 14 August and demanded she make them coffee, before three of them gang raped her. She said: 

“I suspected their intentions, and I sent away my daughters to stay away from the house. [The soldiers] told me to bring them home. I told them they won’t come. Then they started to insult me. They were saying ‘Amhara is donkey’, ‘Amhara is useless’. One of them told the others to stop insulting me. He said, ‘she is our mother; we don’t have to harm her’. They forced him to leave the house and three of them stayed back at my home. Then they raped me in turns.”

Gebeyanesh, a 30-year-old food seller in the town, told Amnesty International:  

“It is not easy to tell you what they did to me. They raped me. Three of them raped me while my children were crying. My elder son is 10 and the other is nine years, they were crying when [the TPLF fighters] raped me. [The fighters] did whatever they wanted and left. They also assaulted me physically and took shiro and berbere [local food items]. They slapped me [and] kicked me. They were cocking their guns as if they are going to shoot me.”

Hamelmal, 28, sells enjera in the town. She told Amnesty International that four TPLF fighters raped her during the night of 13 August at her home, while her daughter watched:  

“I have children, 10- and two-year-old girls. I was scared they might kill my daughter. I said, ‘don’t kill my children, do whatever you want to me.’ The youngest was asleep, but the older [one] was awake and saw what happened. I don’t have the strength to tell you what she saw.”

Dehumanizing verbal assaults

TPLF fighters also subjected the women to degrading ethnic slurs, such as ‘donkey Amhara’, and ‘greedy Amhara’. In some cases, the TPLF forces told women they were raping them in revenge for the rape of Tigrayan women by Federal government forces. Amnesty International previously documented widespread rape and sexual violence by government-allied troops and militias in Tigray.

Hamelmal, who said she was raped by four TPLF fighters, told Amnesty International: 

“The one who raped me first is their superior. He was saying ‘Amhara is a donkey, Amhara has massacred our people (Tigrayans), the Federal Defense forces have raped my wife, now we can rape you as we want’.”

Meskerem, age 30, who told Amnesty International that three TPLF fighters raped her and beat her with the butts of their guns, said: 

“They were insulting me, calling me ‘donkey Amhara, you are strong, you can carry much more than this’. I was unconscious for more than an hour.”

Stealing from rape victims

Amnesty International heard that, after raping the women, TPLF fighters then looted their homes. Survivors, many of whom live hand-to-mouth by working in low-paid and informal jobs, running small businesses or engaging in sex work, described fighters stealing food, jewelry, cash and mobile phones. 

Meskerem, who sells kollo [a local cereal-based food], told Amnesty International that: “Four of the soldiers came to my restaurant and they ate and drank whatever was in the house. Then two of them raped me. They also took my ring and necklace.”  

Frehiwot said she was gang raped several times by TPLF fighters between 12 and 20 August, and that one fighter stole her phone and cash.  

Tigist said the TPLF fighters who raped her on 12 August also destroyed her shop items and took her jewelry:

“They took my property. After they drank the beer, they broke the beer bottles in four caskets. They also broke the two caskets of soft drink and took my gold necklace. They also took my beddings. Now I am not able to [run] my business as before since I lost all I had. I am only selling coffee… I am also a sex worker. But it has become difficult for me to trust anyone after what they did to me.”

Health impact 

Fifteen of the 16 rape survivors Amnesty International interviewed described suffering physical and mental health problems as a result of the attacks. They described a variety of symptoms including back pain, bloody urine, difficulty walking, anxiety and depression. 

While two of the women have sought basic private medical treatment since the rape, damage and looting to the town’s hospital and health station by the TPLF attack has meant that none of the survivors interviewed has been able to access comprehensive post-rape care, including emergency contraception, post emergency prophylaxis for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, assessment and treatment of injuries, or focused therapy for mental health care. An NGO that normally provides such services told Amnesty International that it cannot access the area due to security concerns prompted by the government’s hostile public statements about international humanitarian organizations.

Bemnet, who has a pre-existing medical condition as well as back pain and other symptoms as a result of the rape, said: “I am just relying on God to save me.”

Selamawit, a 20-year-old domestic worker, told Amnesty International that three TPLF fighters raped her on 12 August. She said she is now pregnant due to the rape, but wasn’t able to access any medical services.

Many of the survivors told Amnesty International that they have developed anxiety and depression since the rape.

Amhara regional government officials told Amnesty International that Nifas Mewcha residents, including 54 rape survivors, had received livelihood support since the attack. They also said they are preparing to restock medical equipment and other supplies to looted hospitals and facilities in the region, and to provide counselling and psychosocial services for the survivors. 

“The Ethiopian government must speed up efforts to fully support the survivors of sexual violence and the conflict’s other victims. As an urgent first step, it must facilitate immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of northern Ethiopia impacted by the conflict,” said Agnès Callamard.

“The government must also ensure allegations of all sexual violence are promptly, effectively, independently and impartially investigated. They must bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in open, accessible civilian courts in full compliance with international standards for fair trial without recourse to the death penalty and reparations for the survivors.”

NOTE TO EDITORS: All the interviewees’ names have been changed to pseudonyms due to ongoing security concerns. 

Martin Plaut | November 10, 2021 at 8:03 am | Tags: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Tigray rape | Categories: Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa | URL:


Eritrea Focus

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14 November 2021

Eritrea Focus statement on the US sanctions and the Tigray war

The Tigray war that began on 4 November 2020 has resulted in terrible suffering for those involved in Ethiopia, particularly Tigray, Amhara and Afar, and the wider Horn of Africa, especially Eritrea.

This tragic conflict did not have its origins in the events of early November last year. The war is the result of plots hatched in Asmara, Addis Ababa and Mogadishu going back to 2018, when President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy negotiated what seemed to be a “peace deal”, and subsequently brought in the Somalis. There are reports of hundreds of thousands of deaths in the conflict as well as grotesque abuse, including systematic rape of women and girls.

The people of the Horn have been caught up in this relentless and unnecessary war for over a year. The Eritrean people have paid a heavy and terrible price for the decision taken by the unelected President who has never had a mandate to govern.

Conscripts caught up in “National Service”, or drafted in the sweeps of our towns and villages, have laid down their lives in their thousands or been dismembered and injured in a cause few understood, and none had the opportunity to consent to. The horrific tales of abuse inflicted on civilians in the current war, including systematic or wide spread rape goes against our core values, which are ingrained in the very fabric of our society. These atrocities will be a blot on our nation’s reputation that cannot be erased.

Eritrean refugees who had sought sanctuary in Ethiopia found their camps besieged by Eritrean forces and others. Thousands had to flee once more, deeper into Ethiopia, or were captured by Eritrean troops and sent back to Eritrea against their wills. Some were forced to join the Eritrean military to fight in this senseless war. There have also been reports of Eritrean refugees being attacked by Tigrayan forces, which warrants an investigation to bring those involved to justice.

Families across Eritrea have had to live with the misery of losing their children or living without information about their fates. Living standards – never high – have fallen still further and there are endemic shortages of basic necessities.

President Isaias and the elite that surround him in the military and the PFDJ are responsible for taking our country into this war and for the death of many of our people. It is not first time he has dragged our people into a senseless conflict since 1991. Previous conflicts have involved Eritrean troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti. Twice we have gone to war with Ethiopia. The President thrives on conflict and disorder in order to remain in power.

Eritrea Focus has been clear since its foundation that we stand with the people and against the dictatorial regime: but this stand has consequences. We know there is no easy path to freedom. We therefore support developments which hold out the prospect of renewal, peace, human rights and democracy for our people.

Pressure is mounting against President Isaias not only from within the country but internationally too. We welcome this, as a means of bringing about the democracy for which our people sacrificed hugely during the 30-year armed struggle to liberate the country from Ethiopian occupation and untold repression.

Eritrea Focus therefore strongly and unequivocally welcomes the decision by the United States government to impose sanctions against President Isaias’s closest associates and the ruling party as well as against the Hidri Trust and Red Sea Corporation, the PFDJ’s main instruments of war and exploitation. The decision highlights the fact that the PFDJ is a key partner in the Ethiopian war and an obstacle to peace.

These sanctions are targeted at weakening the regime’s economic organs, not our people who have been under their own government’s economic sanctions for three decades. The Eritrean people have lost everything at the hands of the regime, and have nothing more to lose.

The US sanction measure are, therefore, not designed to attack our people; rather they strengthen their ability and determination to rid themselves of the dictatorship. As the President said in his speech in February 2021, Eritrea has “no economy” and given that this is the case it is a fallacy for the regime to now complain the US sanctions will hurt the people.

We are grateful to the American government and its people for standing full square with our people in their hour of need by imposing these long overdue economic sanctions. We very much hope others, including the UK and the EU will follow America’s exemplary and bold action. Eritrea Focus will do its utmost to lobby for such an international action because money is the only thing the regime in Asmara understands.

As the war continues, we know there will be unavoidable suffering and loss of life.  We call for the end of the conflict and the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia. We also condemn all atrocities committed against the people of Tigray, Eritrean refugees and the people of Ethiopia. President Isaias and his elite bear sole responsibility for the suffering and tears of our people. They will be held to account.

Reversing the military coup in Sudan

Sunday, 14 November 2021 16:01 Written by


“The coup is a major setback for Sudan’s democratic transition and the freedom, peace, and justice dreamed of by its people. There are fears of an Islamist counter-revolution by stealth which could yet lead to a brutal crackdown and renewed conflict. But in carrying out the coup, Sudan’s military leaders may have inadvertently exposed their own fragile foundations both at home and abroad. With steadfast, unified diplomacy, pressure on those seeking to support the coup, and consistent messages to all parties on the necessity of compromise, Sudan’s external partners can still help its long-suffering and courageous people put the civilian transition back on track.”

Source: Chatham House

As an entrenched military elite tries to protect extensive economic and political interests despite no public support, parts of the old regime are reappearing.EXPERT COMMENT11 NOVEMBER 2021

Spraying next to a stencil painting of Sudan's top army general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan with a writing in Arabic that reads 'leave' during a protest in Khartoum against the 2021 military coup. Photo by AFP via Getty Images.

Ahmed Soliman

Research Fellow, Africa Programme

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The head of Sudan’s armed forces Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan claims the military coup of 25 October was to protect the transition to democracy because political infighting was stalling progress on establishing crucial institutions. But despite a clear determination to make the coup stick, the military is clearly under pressure and may have overestimated its chances of success.

The coup has been accompanied by arrests of politicians, activists, and leaders of local resistance committees, including some of Sudan’s most effective advocates for democratic transformation. Additionally, administrators appointed since the revolution have been dismissed while members of the old regime and Bashir’s feared intelligence service have reappeared.

Despite a communications blackout being used as cover for the security services forceful disruption of the resistance, with reports of 14 killed and hundreds injured, the Sudanese public – which removed Bashir’s Islamist regime with the most powerful protest movement in the country’s history – are demonstrating they will not accept a return to authoritarian rule.

Millions participated in coordinated pro-democracy protests across Sudan and beyond its borders on 30 October, and the non-violent resistance has continued, with large protests planned for 13 November and mass strikes paralyzing the country’s economy. This gives hope that the coup could still be reversed.

No effective leadership or support

The military failed to build an effective civilian coalition in advance of the coup, or to have an alternative government in place, relying instead on opportunistic allies among its patronage network, Darfuri armed movements, and the Islamists. It is proving much more difficult than expected to persuade reputable civilians to join a post-coup government.

It is still possible to build a more inclusive civilian-military partnership with determination and compromise on both sides

The generals also misjudged the strength of external reactions, with widespread international condemnation and calls for an immediate return to civilian rule from Sudan’s international donors and regional partners. The African Union (AU) has suspended Sudan while the US – clearly incensed the coup took place just hours after their regional envoy Jeff Feltman had been in Khartoum – reacted strongly and sought to coordinate with its allies.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi notably joined calls for the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government, encouraged by Washington and London. Despite their strong prior relationship with the Sudanese military establishment, the Gulf states have already shown that they will not cover the costs of propping up Sudan’s failing economy.

$56 bn of Sudan’s external debt which was on course to be cleared is now under threat.

Sudan’s generals are isolated, although geo-strategic interests do help them retain Russian and Israeli backing. Support is chiefly coming from Egypt which lobbied to soften the AU stance on suspension. Having quelled its own pro-democracy uprising in 2013, Cairo seeks Khartoum’s support in its dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

A major pressure point is Sudan’s ongoing economic crisis, further amplified by COVID-19. In July, inflation was more than 400 per cent worsening already dismal living conditions for many. Meaningful economic recovery is heavily reliant on international support which key donors have made clear is contingent on the political transition moving forward.

The US immediately paused its $700m assistance and the World Bank suspended $2 billion in development grants. Sudan had also been on course to write off much of its $56 billion external debt under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative, also now threatened.

The military have unlocked an ongoing economic blockade of Sudan’s eastern ports and flooded markets with cheaper foods in an attempt to soften resistance on the street. This further highlights its enduring control over key levers of the economy and is evidence of its previous efforts to sabotage the transition.

An emerging political settlement?

With the military under pressure, there remains a possibility that the coup could be reversed. But talks between representatives of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) and the generals remain precarious. The outline of a potential settlement has emerged which would see the prime minister Abdalla Hamdok resume his functions, all political detainees released, and the transitional constitutional order restored. Hamdok is the sole credible figure to lead a civilian transition and is understood to see these as minimum requirements for his return.

Shuttle diplomacy by the United Nations (UN), the Troika, AU, and other officials has yielded only glimmers of progress. Four civilian cabinet members have been released but other key figures remain in detention.

And the military continues to demonstrate a lack of good faith, arresting members of the FFC central council following a meeting with UN envoy Volker Perthes, and disbanding the committees that were recovering assets acquired corruptly by the former regime, detaining both their members and records. The concerning release of Islamist allies and appointments of officials from the Bashir era only further undermines Burhan’s claim to be acting in the interests of civilian rule.

These moves have hardened civilian demands for a full handover of power and for charges to be brought against the coup leaders, but Burhan remains under intense pressure not to back down from hardliners within Sudan’s powerful security apparatus. These forces are headed by generals who held senior posts in the Bashir regime and include Islamists and Bashir sympathisers determined to block the democratic transition so they can regain control of the state apparatus.

Meaningful economic recovery is heavily reliant on international support which key donors have made clear is contingent on the political transition moving forward

Without realistic means of removing the military from the political scene there are clear risks of escalating violence, but it is still possible to build a more inclusive civilian-military partnership with determination and compromise on both sides.

As a first step to de-escalate tensions, all those detained for political reasons since 25 October should immediately be released, and Sudan’s international and regional partners must maintain pressure on the military and its backers to accept a legitimate civilian transition is paramount for stability in Sudan.

The military has controlled Sudan for 52 of its 65 years of independence and is deeply entrenched in key aspects of the economy such as agriculture, industry, and mining, so civilian pro-democracy forces will have to accept a continued role for the military is unavoidable for some time yet.

And they may need to address the fears of the military leaders, perhaps through an amnesty programme, in return for concessions that reinforce the transition. Sudan’s international partners must likewise emphasise the need for compromise and realism to its civilian and civil society leaders.

Creating and strengthening institutions

Neither side finds these bitter pills easy to swallow, so it is imperative political and institutional spaces are created and protected to allow for debates and disagreements to be both aired and contained. This would also provide an opportunity to re-double efforts to create a set of strong civilian-led institutions which will put Sudan back on the path to a more stable future.52

of Sudan’s 65 years of independence have been under military control.

A joint civilian-military body should be established to discuss the military’s direct interests, such as unresolved issues of power-sharing, corruption, and security sector reform. Establishing an effective parliamentary security committee would apply crucial civilian oversight of reform and address the military’s role in key economic sectors. Tackling justice and accountability requires setting up the high judicial council, a constitutional court, and appointing a chief justice, as well as dealing with the issue of Bashir and others subject to ICC arrest warrants.

Creating a legislative assembly is vital to broadening political participation and ensuring checks and balances on the leadership. Decisions under the transition were taken by only 41 people in cabinet and the sovereign council, so representatives from Sudan’s political movements and civil society should be given places in the transitional institutions and parliament, with suitable experts chosen for the 11 independent commissions provided for in the constitution.

And there is no need to rush to early elections, but there should be an emphasis on creating a conducive environment to enable people all across Sudan, including in the peripheries, to fully participate rather than opening the door for the old regime to return through sham elections.

The coup is a major setback for Sudan’s democratic transition and the freedom, peace, and justice dreamed of by its people. There are fears of an Islamist counter-revolution by stealth which could yet lead to a brutal crackdown and renewed conflict. But in carrying out the coup, Sudan’s military leaders may have inadvertently exposed their own fragile foundations both at home and abroad.

With steadfast, unified diplomacy, pressure on those seeking to support the coup, and consistent messages to all parties on the necessity of compromise, Sudan’s external partners can still help its long-suffering and courageous people put the civilian transition back on track.

This article was produced with support from the Cross-Border Conflict Evidence, Policy and Trends (XCEPT) project, funded by UK Aid from the UK government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.

Source=Imposing Sanctions in Connection with the Conflict in Ethiopia - United States Department of State

HomeOffice of the SpokespersonPress Releases 

The United States is designating six targets associated with the Eritrean government and ruling party pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14046, which the President signed in September in response to the conflict in Ethiopia.

Eritrea’s destabilizing presence in Ethiopia is prolonging the conflict, posing a significant obstacle to a cessation of hostilities, and threatening the integrity of the Ethiopian state. Credible accounts implicate Eritrean forces in serious human rights abuses, and the United States remains gravely concerned about the conduct of all parties to the conflict. Eritrean forces should immediately withdraw from Ethiopia.

We welcome the diplomatic efforts by AU High Representative Olusegun Obasanjo and urge the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to seize the opportunity to negotiate a cessation of hostilities without preconditions and commit to unhindered humanitarian access. Although today’s designations are directed at the Eritrean government and ruling party, the United States remains gravely concerned about the conduct of all parties to the conflict. We are not imposing sanctions at this time on elements aligned with the Government of Ethiopia and TPLF to allow time and space to see if these talks can make progress. If the parties fail to make meaningful progress, the United States stands ready to pursue additional sanctions, including against the Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF.

Today’s designations demonstrate that the United States will use all appropriate tools at our disposal to impose tangible costs on those prolonging the conflict and to promote an immediate end to the violence. These designations build upon the United States’ previous actions to press the parties to move toward a cessation of hostilities and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

These measures are not directed at the people of Eritrea, Ethiopia, or the greater Horn of Africa Region; they are calibrated to impose costs on those prolonging the crisis. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has taken a series of steps to permit the continued flow of food, medicine, and humanitarian support to Eritrea, including issuing three general licenses and guidance concurrently with the announcement of E.O. 14046 and additional guidance concurrent with this announcement.

For more information on today’s action, please see the Department of the Treasury’s press release.

Source: Bloomberg


Few Americans know much about Ethiopia. Yet it is the second largest country in Africa in terms of population, has been an independent country for centuries, and the capital, Addis Ababa, serves as the headquarters of the African Union. When I was military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we had a strong partnership with the African Union, focused on combating piracy off the eastern coast of the continent.

Unfortunately, the nation of 115 million is now in the grips of a vicious rebellion that resembles the fighting in the Balkans of the 1990s — racial and ethnic divisions, atrocities on both sides including ethnic cleansing and gang rapes, armies fighting over territorial control, millions of refugees.

A few years ago, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for settling a long-running war with Eritrea, it looked like Ethiopia had a bright future. But over the past year, thousands have been killed in a revolt in Tigray Province and by the government's efforts to suppress it. It is not yet a full civil war, one engulfing the entire population. But the combined military forces of the rebel groups are within a few of hundred miles of Addis Ababa, and the prime minister has called on all males to prepare for combat.

What are the U.S. interests in this conflict, and what should Washington be doing about it?

First, Ethiopia matters because of its size and potential. It occupies a huge landmass — more than 1.5 times the size of Texas — in the heart of the Horn of Africa. While landlocked, it is the economic and political center of the strategically important northeast coast of Africa. Addis Ababa is the diplomatic capital of Africa, hosting the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa as well as the African Union and large missions from other nations on the continent.

Second, Ethiopia is central to overall politics and security on the continent. I discussed this with a former U.S. ambassador to the African Union, Reuben Brigity, who said: "Ethiopia's stability affects the entire region, from oil-rich South Sudan to the commercial hub of Kenya. Instability in Ethiopia will impact myriad U.S. interests in the region and beyond — from counterterrorism and trade to countering China and promoting democracy."

East Africa and the Sahel region have become breeding grounds for terrorist groups, and President Donald Trump's administration withdrew most U.S. troops from training and security missions there.

Third, we are seeing a huge humanitarian crisis unfolding. The United Nations projects mass refugee movements, greater atrocities and a high level of hunger if a full civil war breaks out. Dr. Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said, "Nobody is winning this reckless war which is engulfing increasing parts of the country."

Finally, there is a large, activist Ethiopian population in the U.S.; many of those immigrants remain closely connected with family and friends in their homeland. Hence the large demonstrations lately in the Washington metropolitan area, which hosts an Ethiopian population estimated at 75,000 to 200,000 people.

For all these reasons, the U.S. has a strong national interest in helping with the crisis. The problem — much like in the Balkans in the 1990s — is the longstanding antipathies in the country. The heart of the opposition to the federal government is the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, which has cobbled together a coalition of other disenfranchised minorities and is marching on the capital. Large numbers of the Oromo and the Amhara peoples, along with smaller ethnic groups, have joined the antigovernment coalition.

The first step is negotiating a cease-fire leading to talks between the sides. International mediation efforts, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo under the aegis of the African Union, are attempting to create the conditions for pause in the fighting. U.S. diplomatic efforts are being led by special envoy Jeffrey Feltman, a highly regarded diplomat I've known for a decade — he's a fellow graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, where I served as dean — and he's a good choice for the job.

Washington needs to give Feltman freedom to use carrots and sticks: continuing to sanction the Ethiopian government for its human rights violations, while proffering aid and other assistance to the civilian population as an incentive for a cease-fire. Ethiopia should be considered for a new initiative by President Joe Biden's administration and Johnson & Johnson to rush doses of COVID-19 vaccine into conflict zones.

The U.S. should also be willing to participate in a UN-led peacekeeping effort to separate the warring parties, and use its logistical capabilities to ensure that aid can flow to every area. The military's U.S. Africa Command has deep knowledge of the region and the Ethiopians, and could help in structuring such a peacekeeping force.

Sending troops to East Africa may not play well in U.S. domestic politics. But three decades ago, the world stood by and watched a brutal civil war unfold in the small African nation of Rwanda. That was shameful. Ethiopia is far larger and more geopolitically important than Rwanda, and Africa is now the fastest-growing continent — it may flourish, or it could collapse into political chaos, starvation and terrorism. As the U.S. and its allies forge a strategy to engage the continent as whole, helping end Ethiopia's misery now makes a lot of sense.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

James Stavridis is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former supreme allied commander of NATO, and dean emeritus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is also chair of the board of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice chairman of Global Affairs at the Carlyle Group. His latest book is "2034: A Novel of the Next World War."

Martin Plaut | November 12, 2021 at 7:52 am | Tags: Tigray war, US Troops | Categories: Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa | URL:


Date: 12/11/2021

It is easy to forget just how critical the role of President Isaias Afwerki has been in the war on Tigray.

This is not surprising: he says nothing and allows no independent journalist to report from Eritrea. We have little clear understanding of how many troops Eritrea has in the war, and only sad references to the deaths of young men and women in large numbers.

Yet his role has been critical – with Eritrean troops still holding large parts of Tigray’s northern border and western Tigray along the border with Sudan.

Key points to remember:

  1. There was a lengthy buildup to the Tigray war, which has been clearly documented, as the relationship between President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy grew. You can find a timeline of this here.
  2. President Isaias hated Tigray for years: his motivation is little understood, but has been traced here.
  3. President Isaias laid out his war aims to his senior military leaders and political colleagues prior to the war. You can find this here.
  4. He planned for a possible federation with Ethiopia. You can find this here.

Ignoring this buildup to the war and the Eritrean war aims skews the understanding of how and why the war began.


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