July 21, 2024

Biden dispatches Michael Hammer to Ethiopia to help stop renewed war in Tigray as White House condemns Eritrea, Ethiopia and TPLF

President Joe Biden disembarks Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, after a trip to South Korea and Japan. (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)

The White House announced on Friday that President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Michael Hammer, will travel to Ethiopia starting at the weekend to engage on the crisis in northern Ethiopia. 

Special Envoy Hammer will convey that all parties should halt military operations and engage in peace talks, White House Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference in Washington D.C.
“We condemn Eritrea’s reentry into the conflict, the continuing TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, and the Ethiopian government’s airstrikes. There is no military solution to the conflict,” she said.

Jean-Pierre added, “Prior to renewed hostilities, we were encouraged by five months of humanitarian truce, and are now deeply concerned about the seizure of humanitarian assistance of military use. All parties should exercise restraint.  And we urge de-escalation by all actors, particularly so that there can be a resumption of humanitarian relief and basic services to all parties in need.”

In a media note, the U.S. State Department said that Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa (SEHOA) Mike Hammer will travel to Ethiopia and the region September 4-15 where he will press for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the start of peace talks.

“In addition to meetings with Ethiopian government and African Union officials, Special Envoy Hammer will meet with civil society and political actors representing different regions of the country to discuss how best to promote efforts towards a lasting peace, security, and prosperity for all people in Ethiopia. The United States is committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia,” read the note.

On August 24, Secretary Antony Blinken condemned the renewed war in Tigray, saying that the United States government was concerned by reports of renewed hostilities in Ethiopia, adding that it is calling on all sides to advance peace talks.

“We are concerned by reports of renewed hostilities in Ethiopia.  We call on the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to redouble efforts to advance talks to achieve a durable ceasefire without preconditions and ultimately bring a permanent end to the conflict,” United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement.

Blinken added, “Over the past five months, the March 24 humanitarian truce declared by the Government of Ethiopia and reciprocated by the TPLF reduced violence and cleared the way for delivery of humanitarian assistance in the Afar, Amhara, and Tigray regions of Ethiopia.  Respect for this truce over the past five months has saved countless lives and enabled assistance to reach tens of thousands.  Recent provocations on the battlefield, bellicose rhetoric, and the lack of a durable ceasefire now threaten this progress. 

“They also delay the establishment of an inclusive political process to achieve progress towards common security and prosperity for all Ethiopians.  A return to active conflict would result in widespread suffering, human rights abuses, and further economic hardships, while playing into the hands of those that seek to undermine Ethiopia’s peace and security.

“We note the Government of Ethiopia’s establishment of a negotiating team and its stated willingness to go to talks.  We ask all parties to respect the provision of food and fuel by humanitarian actors and refrain from militarizing humanitarian relief and to work towards restoration of basic services for those in need.

“The United States remains fully committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and seeks peace and stability in Ethiopia.  We stand ready to work with all Ethiopians to navigate the full range of challenges the country faces, which include overcoming an historic drought and promoting regional security. 

“The United States is the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, reflecting our commitment to reach all regions and people of Ethiopia in need.  Last year, the United States provided nearly $1.2 billion in development and humanitarian support for the Ethiopian people, including not only northern Ethiopia but every corner of the country, in support of drought relief, food security, peace-building, health, education, technology transfers, and training.”

On August 11, the Biden administration insisted that it remains committed to resolving Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis and that the African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, may soon announce a new date and place for direct talks between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the government of Ethiopia.

Mary Catherine Phee, who is the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, was speaking from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where she had traveled along with Judd Devermont, the U.S. Special Assistant to President Biden and Senior Director for African Affairs at the White House National Security Council, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken during Blinken’s second in-person visit to the continent earlier this month.

Blinken along with other officials traveled across three African nations to win hearts and minds, strengthen ties with African nations and counter Russia and China on the continent, although officially they continue to say that their diplomatic moves have very little to do with China or Russia, but are mainly focused on how the United States intends to engage with African partners from now onward.

Blinken first traveled to South Africa August 7-9, the Democratic Republic of the Congo August 9-10, and was in Rwanda on August 11 for high level engagement with President Paul Kagame, when Phee spoke with reporters.

When President Biden was sworn into office last year, he declared that America was back and diplomacy was back. He said that the United States will re-engage with the world and he moved swiftly to restore the U.S. membership to the World Health Organization, and rescinded other policies he deemed to be toxic for the United States.

His first major crisis in Africa was in Ethiopia. The same month that the election was taking place in the United States, even as he was beating Trump with over seven million votes, a devastating war was exploding between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front also known as TPLF and the Ethiopian armed forces.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali had just won a Nobel Peace Prize a year earlier in 2019 for making peace with Eritrea where President Isaias Afwerki has been in power for 31 years since he led the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front to victory in May 1991, ending the 30-year-old war for independence from Ethiopia.

With the old enemies now friends, and with Tigray standing between Eritrea and Southern Ethiopia where Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia is located, forces from the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments attacked Tigray from all sides. The war raged for months, left thousands of people dead, hundreds of thousands more on the brink of a devastating famine and displaced millions more.

As the world watched, President Biden moved quickly to appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa. Jeffrey Feltman, a seasoned diplomat tried all that he could for months to bring all parties to the negotiation table with little success. People continued to die, atrocities continued to multiply, the Ethiopian government accused the West, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations of backing the TPLF, whom they labeled terrorists, and of working against the Ethiopian people. These accusations were promptly rejected by the United States and others.

In June of last year, the Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew their troops from Tigray, but the TPLF accused the government of establishing a blockade that kept about 7 million people inaccessible. The UN also said the Ethiopian government was preventing humanitarian assistance from reaching the people of Tigray. The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Samantha Power took to Twitter and raged against the cruelty of the Ethiopian government for starving Tigrayans to death. The World Health Organization, which is led by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tigrayan who used to be minister of health when the TPLF was in power for nearly 30 years, lambasted the government of Ethiopia from Geneva, Switzerland, where the WHO is headquartered. Everyone called for the humanitarian blockade to be lifted.

However, as months passed, it seemed as though peace will never return. The TPLF led an offensive towards Addis Ababa and the Amhara region. At some point, it appeared as though they were determined to capture the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and sack Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but the Chinese, the Russians and other allies in the Middle East stepped in and the Ethiopian government recovered and sent TPLF troops back to their bases in the north.

As all that went on, Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa announced that he was leaving his position. The U.S. government moved fast and in January 2022, Ambassador David Satterfield was named the new United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa to tackle the lingering crises in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere. He replaced Jeffrey Feltman who was appointed in early 2021.

For months, Satterfield tried to bring all parties together but there was little movement on the ground. Even the assistance of former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was appointed the African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, did little to bring about peace and stability in Tigray. After months, Satterfield himself announced that he was leaving his position and he was replaced by Michael Hammer, another seasoned diplomat.

Just months before Hammer took over, the war in Ukraine had exploded in Europe, and as the headlines and the attention shifted from the Horn of Africa to Ukraine and the atrocities that Russian forces were committing there and claims that they were contributing to a global food crisis affecting Africa, the war in Tigray was pushed to the background. Since then, it has seemed as though nothing was taking place in Ethiopia.

At a teleconference on Thursday from Kigali, the United States Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Mary Catherine Phee was asked by a reporter what the Biden administration was still doing to resolve the crisis in Ethiopia. Phee said the United States was first concerned by the death toll and the gross human rights violations in Ethiopia and that since March there has been an effective cessation of hostility, what is also known as a humanitarian ceasefire in Ethiopia between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF.

She said what the U.S. government is doing now is to first ensure that the people in need of humanitarian assistance are reached and helped. She said there is now a regular flow of humanitarian assistance and fuel needed to move that assistance around into Tigray and elsewhere across Ethiopia.

She said that Ethiopia like any other nation in the Horn of Africa is also experiencing a devastating drought, which is exacerbating food insecurity in the region. She said Samantha Power, who recently visited the region to assess things for herself, recently announced one billion dollars in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the drought.

Marry Catherine Phee said the United States is also encouraging talks between all parties and that the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been acting as the African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa will soon announce a location and a time for those talks.

“We remain very committed to helping Ethiopia recover its stability, so it is in a position to develop its economy the way that we think it can, to resume its role as a strategic player in all spheres in the Horn and on the continent,” Phee said.

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