Can the African Union clear up Ethiopia’s year-long battle?

More than a yr into Ethiopia’s battle, shuttle diplomacy by leaders from far and near has did not yield any tangible consequence for the hundreds of thousands within the nation and past ready for the weapons to fall silent.

In latest weeks, the African Union (AU) has been main a renewed worldwide push to convey an finish to hostilities and stop the descent right into a “widening civil war” that would additional destabilise the broader area.

The continental bloc, whose headquarters are primarily based in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, had early on appointed three former presidents – Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia and South Africa’s Kgalema Motlanthe – as envoys to mediate the battle that erupted in November 2020 between the federal authorities and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) within the northern Tigray area.

The appointment of the high-profile officers was welcomed on the time by United Nations chief Antonio Guterres who referred to as it an “initiative for peace”. The trio, nevertheless, after months of talks, had been unable to make a breakthrough.

In August, the AU appointed former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo as particular envoy for the Horn of Africa within the hope he would have higher luck in placing a deal between the warring sides.

On Sunday, after holding quite a few conferences with authorities and Tigrayan leaders, Obasanjo stated he was hopeful dialogue may finish the violence that in latest months has unfold past Tigray, with the Tigrayan forces and their allies now threatening a march in direction of Addis Ababa.

“There is no military solution to the conflict and battlefield victory cannot guarantee political stability in Ethiopia,” Obasanjo stated in an announcement, interesting to all sides to halt their navy offensives. “This will allow an opportunity for dialogue to continue to progress. Such talks cannot deliver in an environment of escalated military hostilities,” he added.

Ahmed Soliman, Horn of Africa analysis fellow at Chatham House, informed Al Jazeera each the AU and Ethiopia’s neighbours “have an important role to play in mediating between the conflict parties and moving them towards a ceasefire and dialogue”.

He famous, nevertheless, that the pan-African bloc “is in a delicate position given it’s headquartered in Addis Ababa, and that decision making requires a coalition of the willing”.

Soliman stated the regional physique, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), has additionally referred to as for a ceasefire however “is hamstrung in its ability to act”.

“This is because the current chair, Sudan, is in turmoil due to the recent military coup, while its bilateral relations with Addis Ababa have deteriorated significantly – both of which mean it is not able to intervene,” Soliman added.

Sudan has been at odds with Ethiopia over a large hydroelectric dam constructed by the latter on the Blue Nile, with the 2 nations additionally locked in a dispute over using fertile farmland near their border.

“Furthermore, IGAD’s Executive Secretary, Dr Workneh, is a former foreign minister in Ethiopia, and close ally of the Prime Minister [Abiy Ahmed] – so would not be seen as a neutral interlocutor,” Soliman stated.

Emmanuel Kwesi Aning, director of analysis at Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, agreed with Soliman, and harassed the AU should do all it may to resolve the battle.

“It [AU] is in a tight corner between a rock and a hard place. It is a guest to the people of Ethiopia and it needs to walk this tightrope to bring the parties together. I know earlier efforts have been rejected. There are suspicions around the present initiative. But I think the African Union must, by all means, become one of the critical holders in trying to bring the warring factions together,” Aning informed Al Jazeera.

“There isn’t much time. The opposing forces have laid down the gauntlet,” he stated. “The forces seeking to come into Addis think that they have the momentum on their side. The rhetoric from Addis shows increasing desperation. And I think there will be a lot of hardcore forces within the Tigrayan and Oromia forces who will want a quick and decisive entry into Addis.”

The Tigrayan forces and allied Oromo fighters have introduced numerous battleground victories in latest weeks, however the central authorities accuses them of exaggerating their territorial good points and insists the battle “is not coming to the capital”.

A communications blackout and restrictions in journalists’ entry for a lot of northern Ethiopia have made claims from either side laborious to confirm.

Rights teams have accused either side of atrocities in a battle that has displaced hundreds of thousands of individuals and left lots of of hundreds in famine-like situations, in keeping with the UN. This week, UN officers additionally warned that lots of of individuals have been rounded up in a crackdown because the authorities introduced a state of emergency earlier in November, with hundreds of thousands in northern Ethiopia living “on a knife-edge” because the humanitarian disaster deepens.

The warnings got here two days after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has additionally participated in regional mediation efforts for a ceasefire and has decried “the lack of meaningful dialogue”, visited Addis Ababa on Sunday and held talks with Abiy.

His go to got here as United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is because of arrive in Kenya this week throughout his first journey to sub-Saharan Africa. It will comply with a number of journeys to each Nairobi and Addis Ababa by the US particular envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, which appear to have had little impact.

Blinken informed reporters on Friday that he was very involved “about the potential for Ethiopia to implode” and threatened to impose sanctions in opposition to the Ethiopian authorities and their Tigrayan rivals except they moved ahead on talks.

The menace of sanctions may assist pressure the warring sides to compromise and strike a deal, in keeping with Hassan Khannenje, director of Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“They [Uhuru and Obasanjo] can communicate potential incentives but also sanctions if the conflict continues … If this message is loud enough, it is going to have an impact,” Khannenje informed Al Jazeera.

“In the absence of some sort of pressure and of course incentives, it is going to be difficult to reach a resolution to the conflict,” he stated. “Sanctions are always one aspect of forcing parties to behave responsibly but it is not enough. It is not sufficient to bring parties to the negotiating table. That is why it is important to consider incentives for the parties who are willing to strike a deal.”

Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa