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Ethiopia's war: UN adviser on genocide prevention weighs in

November 9, 2021

The UN's special adviser on genocide prevention, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, says the parties fighting in Ethiopia's war have few options but to negotiate.

Photo of Alice Wairimu Nderitu, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide
Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, is an experienced armed conflict mediatorImage: Tessa Walther/DW

Alice Wairimu Nderitu of Kenya is the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide. She is also an experienced mediator in the field of peacebuilding and violence prevention, having led as mediator and senior adviser in reconciliation processes.

DW: The situation in Ethiopia is deteriorating at an alarming rate and there have been calls for action from the United Nations, the United States and others. What needs to happen to alleviate the situation?

Alice Wairimu Nderitu: What needs to happen as a matter of urgency is that the African Union Peace and Security Council needs to convene a meeting on Ethiopia.

The other body that needs to do something is IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is made up of eight East African countries]. African countries are governed by colonial borders and these colonial borders split ethnic communities into two. For example, the Oromo [ethnic group] exists in both Kenya and in Ethiopia, the Somali exist in both Somalia and Ethiopia, and the Luo exist in both Ethiopia and South Sudan. So the danger of cross-border conflict, of spillover from the conflict is very, very huge right now. 

We need IGAD to step in. [Ethiopia's neighbors] need to work on ensuring that cross-border conflicts are prevented before they happen and not deal with it when they happen. I welcomed the statements by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, saying that they were now working around supporting Ethiopia. It is a very positive step.

What actions could we be seeing in the coming days to try to solve this conflict?

This violent conflict has been characterized by the refusal of the parties — and by parties I mean the leadership of the TPLF [Tigray People's Liberation Front], the OLA [Oromo Liberation Army] leadership, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy — to engage, to speak. So there is now no option. They have to engage. They have to dialogue. The world will not sit back and allow these transgressions of violence and killings to continue anymore in the name of sovereignty.

The key message that we are putting across, not just from the UN, but internationally, is that sovereignty means responsibility — that they should take responsibility for their actions.

What would be the best solution to the current conflict in the Tigray region?

This is an Ethiopian problem, it's not a Tigray problem. If we solve Tigray today and we don't solve what's happening in [the region of] Oromo, then we will have another issue. People talk about how the Tigray forces are threatening to overrun the capital Addis Ababa. The danger of that, at this moment, is more from the OLA than from the TPLF.

In all the wars that have been fought in the world, ultimately people end up sitting at a table making decisions. So what needs to happen right now to end this conflict? Ethiopian leaders, the Ethiopian prime minister, the TPLS — they must sit at the table now and talk. The Ethiopian prime minister has said over and over again that he cannot negotiate with [the TPLF because it has been designated as] a terrorist organization.

We have to ask Abiy to remember that he's a Nobel laureate for peace and that he needs to sit at the table and not think about sitting with terrorist organizations. He needs to think about which lives he can save next. No more Ethiopians should die because Abiy cannot sit at the table with his fellow Ethiopians.

I know that there has been violence perpetrated by both sides, but at this point in time, all parties must act in the best interests of the average Ethiopian who is sitting in his house cowering in fear, thinking about whether he could be killed or not.

Really for Prime Minister Abiy, I think that the Nobel Peace Prize put him at another level. Whether the Ethiopian comes from Tigray or comes from Amhara or comes from Oromo, we must have the prime minister stepping up and saying: "No more deaths. Nobody will die anymore in this country, and I will now sit at the table in dialogue."

Let him sit with [the African Union envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun] Obasanjo and with the TPLF and with the OLA and everyone else who is making demands of the state, let them sit together and find a solution. We are here to support that in every possible way.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.