The Ethiopian government continues to insist that the military offensive against renegades in its Tigray region is an internal affair, snubbing mediation efforts by the African Union.When three former African presidents trooped to Addis Ababa over the weekend to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad in a bid to convince him to halt the offensive, reach for the negotiating table and sue for peace, he harped on a familiar line.
Ethiopian forces he said, are engaged in an internal law and order drive in Tigray and would see through the operation to its conclusion.
The message was clear: the AU will not prevent Ethiopian forces from marching on Mekele the Tigreyan capital and seize it from insurgents of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
A belligerent PM Abiy had used the non-interference charter of the African Union to blunt the effort of Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa.
Thus the three eminent personalities left Addis Ababa empty-handed with fighting still raging in the Tigrayan capital Mekele.
But where does this diplomatic faux pas leave Ethiopia’s relations with the African Union, a continental body synonymous with Addis Ababa’s reputation as a champion of continental peace and security.
The horn of Africa country played a pivotal role in the formation of the AU’s forerunner, the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
Like its predecessor, Addis Ababa is playing host to the current headquarters of the AU but snubbing efforts by it to end the conflict in Tigray appears to contradict the very principles which inform the objective of the organization.
Ethiopia had played a central role in crafting the African Union’s Constitutive Act which expressly makes mention of respecting member countries inviolability as sovereign nations.
It dissuades AU members from interfering directly in the internal affairs of another country. a principle Abiy appeared to have used to effectively thwart the bloc’s bid for a truce.
However with the idea of preventing a repeat of the Rwandan genocide clearly in mind, Article 4(h) of the same Act in exceptional cases backs intervention in a member state where war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed.
Some observers say the very Act Ethiopia had championed and became a signatory to is being tossed aside by Addis Ababa when it appears inconvenient to respect it.
Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie had paraded himself as a champion of peace not only in his country but across Africa and the wider world.
Addis Ababa owes a lot to Selassie’s “peace offensive” for eventually earning the distinction of hosting the OAU/AU headquarters.
After Abiy’s brazen snub. it is not clear what the AU’s next move will be.
But its diplomats will feel they have to apply pressure especially with the worsening humanitarian situation for civilians trapped in the fighting and persistent reports about atrocities being committed on non-combatants.
Beereft of hard power many suspect that true to form, the AU is just bound to expose itself as a toothless bulldog when it comes to applying African solutions to African problems.
Some say it’s potency lies in its soft power.