February 6, 2023

Antony Blinken calls Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over peace in Tigray

Antony Blinken and Abiy Ahmed
Antony Blinken and Abiy Ahmed

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on Tuesday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali about efforts to bring about lasting peace in northern Ethiopia.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that during their phone call on Tuesday, Secretary Blinken “underscored the importance of immediately implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, including withdrawal of all foreign forces and concurrent disarmament of the Tigrayan forces.”

“Secretary Blinken recognized ongoing efforts by the Ethiopian government to work towards unhindered humanitarian assistance and restoration of basic services in the Tigray Region as well as in the neighboring Afar and Amhara Regions,” Price said. “He noted that the United States remains committed to supporting the African Union-led process, including the AU monitoring and verification mechanism.”

In a readout from their conversation, the State Department did not mention the invitation to the summit. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not invite the embattled Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali to the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit taking place in Washington D.C. December 13-15. Rather, the invitation was extended to the country’s ceremonial President, Sahle-Work Zewde.

A White House National Security spokesperson told Today News Africa in an email on Sunday that “President Biden invited the Ethiopian head of state,” not the Prime Minister who was elected by the Ethiopian people and is the person with real power.

A source told this publication that the Biden administration’s policy was to extend invitations to countries’ heads of state, and that in some cases, the heads of state passed their invitations to others who could represent them.

While in most African nations, the head of state is the leader of the country, in Ethiopia, the Prime Minister is the head of government, the person with real power who takes decisions and can send the country to war.

Today News Africa had first reported that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was invited by President Biden after multiple sources told us that the leader of Ethiopia received an invitation from the White House to attend the summit.

Following conflicting information on Sunday evening, a White House National Security Council confirmed that the leader who was invited from Ethiopia is President Sahle-Work Zewde, and not Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

Tigrayans who blame Abiy for the two-year war and the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Tigray and elsewhere would have greeted him with protests in Washington, although many other Ethiopians have put the blame squarely on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

President Biden has invited 49 African heads of state and the head of the AU to Washington for the three-day summit but as of Tuesday morning, four of those leaders had not confirmed attendance. It was not clear whether the embattled Ethiopian leader who may be greeted with massive protests was among those yet to confirm attendance.

The summit is meant to “really highlight how the U.S. and African nations are strengthening our partnerships to advance our shared priorities,” Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Advisor for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Dana Banks, told reporters on Tuesday.

Ms. Banks said that President Biden invited 49 African leaders, excluding those from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan, and Mali, four countries currently suspended by the African Union. All the four countries not invited are currently run by strong men who took power by the guns.

Banks and U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs, Robert Scott, briefed reporters via teleconference about the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit’s agenda to strengthen U.S.-Africa relations and highlight the U.S. commitment to the African continent.

Last week, the White House National Security Council disclosed to Today News Africa the process President Joseph R. Biden Jr. used to invite African governments to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

In an email to Today News Africa, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said that President Biden used three criteria to invite African governments to the Summit.

“President Biden invited all sub-Saharan and North African governments that 1) have not been suspended by the African Union, 2) of states the U.S. Government recognizes, and 3) of states with which we exchange Ambassadors,” the official said.

In a controversial opinion piece this week, Former Nigerian President and African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo blamed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for starting the nearly two-year war that has left about 600,000 Tigrayans dead.

Obasanjo detailed his role as a peacemaker and the difficulties he overcame to reach the November 2 peace agreement in South Africa and the Nairobi declaration in Kenya, and seemed to place the blame on the TPLF’s attack on Ethiopian Defence Forces garrison in Tigray on November 4, 2020.

He said, “On Nov. 4 2020, the TPLF attacked the Ethiopian Defence Forces garrison in Tigray. In response, Prime Minister Abiy ordered what was labeled “law and order action” to punish the alleged impunity of TPLF. The war raged for two years devastatingly and directly over four regions in Ethiopia – Tigray, Amhara Afar, Oromia. There was no part of the country that did not feel the effect of the war  in one way or the other.

Obasanjo added that “Some of the neighbors of Ethiopia such as Eritrea and Sudan had their part in the war directly and indirectly, and all countries in the Horn were impacted indirectly by the social, economic and political fallout.”

He said that with immense devastation, reconstruction in Ethiopia may cost about $25 billion. Obasanjo’s piece received mixed reactions with some praising him and many scolding him.

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