Over 50 African intellectuals call for end to Ethiopia strife

Ethiopian soldiers

Ethiopian soldiers rest in front of the entrance to the 5th Battalion of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Army in Dansha, Ethiopia, on November 25, 2020. 

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP

A group of more than 55 African intellectuals have added their call for peace in Ethiopia, demanding the country’s warring parties lay down arms for dialogue.

The intellectuals including Kenya’s former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Prof Makau Mutua of the SUNY Buffalo Law School, former Chair of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights and economist David Ndii; say Ethiopian conflict is causing unnecessary loss of life and livelihood and must be stopped immediately.

The group of experts from across the continent said in an open letter on Thursday that Ethiopia’s role both as an example of Africa’s resilience, and as a host to the African Union demands urgent intervention, whose delay they argue has encouraged protagonists to fight on.

“The AU, its member states -- particularly Ethiopia’s neighbouring states -- must not allow Ethiopia to dictate the terms of their engagement in seeking a resolution to this conflict,” the 55 intellectuals said in a joint open letter.

“We, therefore, call on the Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to respond positively to the repeated calls for political dialogue, including with the affected and implicated groups in the Amhara and Oromia regions.”

The intellectuals who include academics, legal practitioners, politicians, scientists, economists, writers and civil society activists were referring to the main protagonists in Ethiopia’s war. Since November last year, the government in Addis has been fighting the Tigray people’s Liberation Front[TPLF], an erstwhile ruling party that had been in charge of Tigray region before Addis Ababa proscribed it as a terrorist group.

No longer in a formal political party, however, the TPLF has fought on including raiding neighbouring Amhara and Afar regional states whose militia are allied with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces. The war initially included just Eritrea as a third fighting party, one on the side of Ethiopia. But the country’s regional militia opposed to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leadership has also cropped up in southern parts of the country. The Oromo Liberation Army [OLA], for example, announced a ‘pact’ with TPLF, complicating matters, as new details showed Afar militia had attacked the Somali region, killing nearly 30 people two weeks ago. Ethiopian Prime’s Minister’s Spokesperson Billene Seyoum said on Thursday at least 500,000 people in Afar had been displaced “due to TPLF incursion” in addition to the humanitarian crisis seen in Tigray earlier.

“The assessment of damage by the TPLF in these communities is still being assessed,” she said at an online press conference from Addis Ababa, and accused TPLF of “siphoning humanitarian aid away from those in need.” The TPLF have denied the charge and USAID on Wednesday also rejected claims it had supplied humanitarian aid to fighters.

In the meantime, next month, Ethiopia plans to host what it calls a national dialogue, but this will exclude TPLF and other proscribed groups. On Thursday, the intellectuals condemned the destruction of important cultural sites and institutions such as mosques and churches built more than a century ago. They asked Ethiopia’s warring partners must agree to dialogue which they argue will help provide a proper political solution.

“All Ethiopians must recognise that a political rather than military solution is what is now called for, regardless of the claims and counterclaims, legitimate and otherwise, as to how Ethiopia has come to this place.

“Retributive justice, including the seizure and counter-seizures of contested land, and the detention of family members of recently outlawed political groups heightens tensions, leading to generational cycles of violence,” they said.

Ethiopia has in the past rebuffed efforts to have the government sit down with TPLF for dialogue, accusing the group of rejecting all previous offers before the war. The African Union had earlier appointed a panel of eminent personalities including Liberia’s former President Ellen Jonson-Sirleaf, Mozambique’s Joachim Chissano and South Africa’s Kgalema Motlanthe. Prime Minister Abiy argued the conflict in Tigray was an internal law enforcement operation.

Earlier this month, Sudan offered to mediate in the conflict, but Ms Billene said the relationship with Khartoum had reached “tricky” levels as two sides bickered over border demarcation, and over the filling of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam [GERD] being erected on the Nile.

The intellectuals said Ethiopia can draw benefits from the knowledge of African intellectuals willing to make useful proposals for a lasting solution.

Michael Woldemariam, from Boston University’s Director of the African Studies Center, and one of those who signed the letter said Ethiopia had already lost so much on the past ten years of war and must draw lessons from it.

“Now is the time for the parties to this tragic conflict to prioritize the suffering of their people and pursue negotiations. The idea that this metastasizing crisis can be resolved through force of arms is a mirage.”

The group wants Ethiopia’s neighbours to pressure parties to talk under the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the AU or at least accept external mediation.

“The IGAD and the AU to proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict—including providing all possible political support to the soon to be announced AU Special Envoy for the Horn,” they added, saying world powers could provide incentive or punishment to spoilers.

The signatories are:

Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of French and Philosophy

Director of the Institute of African Studies, Columbia University

Mamadou Diouf, Leitner Family Professor of African Studies

Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University

Elleni Centime Zeleke, Assistant Professor

Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University

 Godwin Murunga, Executive Secretary

Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa 

Boubacar Boris Diop, Author of Murambi, The Book of Bones and many other novels, essays and journalistic works

 Achille Mbembe, Research Professor in History and Politics

Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand

Jimi O Adesina, Professor and Chair in Social Policy

College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa

Ato Sekyi-Otu, Professor Emeritus

Department of Social Science and the Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought, York University

Felwine Sarr, Anne-Marie Bryan Distinguished Professor of Romance Studies

Duke University

Imraan Coovadia, Writer, essayist and novelist

Director of the creative writing programme, University of Cape Town

Koulsy Lamko, Chadian playwright, poet, novelist and university lecturer

Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice of Kenya

Maina Kiai, Former Chairperson of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Rashida Manjoo, Professor Emeritus

Department of Public Law, University of Cape Town

Former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women

 Siba N Grovogui

Professor of international relations theory and law

Africana Studies and Research Centre

Cornell University

Nadia Nurhussein

Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies

Johns Hopkins University

Martha Kuwee Kumsa

Professor of Social Work

Wilfrid Laurier University

Mekonnen Firew Ayano

Associate Professor

SUNY Buffalo Law School

Dagmawi Woubshet

Ahuja Family Presidential Associate Professor of English

University of Pennsylvania

Awet T Weldemichael

Professor and Queen's National Scholar

Queen's University

Abadir Ibrahim

Ethiopian Human Rights Activist and Lawyer

Michael Woldemariam

Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science

Director of the African Studies Center

Boston University

Safia Aidid

Arts and Science Postdoctoral Fellow

Department of History

University of Toronto

Abdoulaye Bathily

Professor of History

University Cheikh Anta Diop

David Ndii

Kenyan Economist

Siphokazi Magadla

Senior Lecturer in Political and International Studies

Rhodes University

Fred Hendricks

Emeritus Professor

Faculty of Humanities

Rhodes University

Pablo Idahosa

Professor of African Studies and International Development Studies

York University

Ibrahim Abdullah

Department of History and African Studies

Fourah Bay College

University of Sierra Leone

Seye Abimbola

Senior Lecturer

School of Public Health

University of Sydney

Makau Mutua

SUNY Distinguished Professor

SUNY Buffalo Law School

Salim Vally


Faculty of Education

University of Johannesburg


Centre for Education Rights and Transformation

L. Muthoni Wanyeki

Kenya Political Scientist

Dominic Brown

Activist and Economic Justice Programme Manager

Alternative Information and Documentation Centre

Michael Neocosmos

Emeritus Professor in Humanities

Rhodes University

Zubairu Wai

Associate Professor

Department of Political Science and Department of Global Development Studies

University of Toronto

Alden Young

Assistant Professor

African American Studies

University of California

Benjamin Talton

Professor of History

Department of History

Temple University

G Ugo Nwokeji

Associate Professor of African History and African Diaspora Studies

Department of African-American Studies

University of California

Lionel Zevounou

Associate Professor of Public Law

University of Paris Nanterre.

Amy Niang

Professeur associé

L'Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique

Sean Jacobs

Associate Professor of international Affairs

Julien J Studley Graduate Programmes in International Affairs

The New School

Founder and Editor of Africa is a Country

Abosede George

Associate Professor of African History

Barnard College

Dr Abdourahmane Seck

Senior Lecturer

Université Gaston Berger

Nimi Hoffmann


Centre for International Education

University of Sussex

Research Associate

Centre for International Teacher Education

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Maria Paula Meneses


Conselho Científico do CES

Centro de Estudos Sociais

Universidade de Coimbra

Ibrahima Drame

Director of Education

Henry George School of Social Science

Cesaltina Abreu


Laboratory of Social Sciences and Humanities

Angolan Catholic University

Lina Benabdallah

Assistant Professor of Politics

Wake Forest University

Oumar Ba

Assistant Professor of International Relations

Department of Government

Cornell University

Samar Al-Bulushi

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of California

Nisrin Elamin

Assistant Professor of International Studies

Bryn Mawr College

Marie-Jolie Rwigema

Incoming Assistant Professor

Applied Human Sciences

Concordia University

Eddie Cottle

Postdoctoral Fellow

Society, Work and Politics Institute

University of the Witwatersrand

Amira Ahmed

School of Humanities and Social Science

American University of Cairo

Convenors' Forum of The C19 People’s Coalition

Ibrahim Abdullah

Department of History and African Studies

Fourah Bay College

University of Sierra Leone

Jok Madut Jok

Professor of Anthropology

Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Syracuse University

Ebrima Sall

Director, Trust Africa just


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