The World Health Organization lamented on Friday that a month after a well celebrated peace agreement between the federal government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan authorities was reached in South Africa on November 2, and several weeks after the Nairobi declaration was made public in Kenya on November 12, the people in Tigray are still battling the same ills: Massacres, starvation, and isolation.
At a global health press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, the Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tigrayan himself, welcomed the peace accord, but noted that implementation is lagging far behind.
Tedros agreed with Dr. Michael Joseph Ryan, an Irish epidemiologist and former trauma surgeon, who is the executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, that “there is no evidence of unfettered access to Tigray.”
Asked to give an update on the situation in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia where a devastating war between federal government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions displaced and sealed off others from the rest of the world, Dr. Ryan, who specializes in infectious disease and public health, said it’s a mixed bag.
He said that the peace agreement was the right step forward, but access to banking, communication and to the region has not changed that much since the agreement was reached.
He said that Ethiopian authorities have not allowed the WHO for instance to send in all the resources needed, including cash, for a good public health response.
“Unfettered access is what we expect,” Dr. Ghebreyesus backed him up, noting that the “ongoing massacres” by Eritrean forces, including looting and the destruction of infrastructure could undermine the peace process.
Dr. Ghebreyesus asserted that access to food and medicine should not be denied to people in Tigray with or without any war.
As peace takes time to return to Ethiopia and nearly 50 African heads of state meet in Washington D.C. December 13-15 to discuss the future of the continent and ties with the United States, Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed Ali will not be in attendance because President Joseph R. Biden did not invite him. 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 last 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 spokesperson clarified 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).
On November 22, United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Abiy on the phone and both leaders discussed efforts to bring about lasting peace in northern Ethiopia.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that during their phone call, 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.”
While the decision not to invite Abiy Ahmed may be very controversial, the snub comes as Amnesty International on Thursday criticized the November 2 peace accord signed in South Africa by the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) over war crimes in Tigray and elsewhere.
The human rights organization said that the agreement “fails to offer a clear roadmap on how to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and overlooks rampant impunity in the country, which could lead to violations being repeated.”
It called on the African Union to “put pressure” on the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to fully cooperate with local and international human rights experts.
“The African Union must urgently pressure the Ethiopian government to fully cooperate with both regional and international investigative mechanisms on human rights to ensure justice for victims and survivors of violations — especially sexual violence,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region.
“The Ethiopian authorities must urgently allow unfettered access to the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to enable investigations to take place, and ultimately to ensure those responsible for atrocities in Ethiopia’s two-year conflict face justice,” added Mwangovya.
In an opinion piece, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo acknowledged that although the peace deal was not perfect, implementation should go ahead for peace to return to Ethiopia.
“Any pessimist can dig holes in the agreement, undermine it and try to prevent it from being implemented. But no agreement between two belligerents for peace will ever be regarded as perfect by all because it must, necessarily, be based on compromise,” Obasanjo wrote.
He added, “We can, however, strive for perfection in the implementation of the agreement in order to achieve the objectives of peace, security, constitutionality, stability, welfare and well-being, development, and progress of all concerned, especially the ordinary people of Ethiopia no matter where they live.
“The agreement must be implemented in good faith, on the basis of peace with honor and dignity, constitutionality and stability. Peace deals function on building trust, and that trust has to be nurtured, layered and reinforced from inside and outside.
“All leaders of Ethiopia and all Ethiopians with their neighbors, partners and friends must join hands and accept the truth that there is ‘no victor, no vanquished’ if the possibility of peace, common security and shared prosperity, development and progress for all concerned is to be realized.
“The peace agreement and its implementation must be owned by the leaders and people of Ethiopia. The panel and the observers are mere facilitators, there to provide a guiding hand if needed.”