US urges Kenya to address crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

Ethiopian refugees gather to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Tigray People's Liberation Front at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on February 19, 2021. 

Photo credit: AFP

The United States has urged Kenya to take a leading role in ending atrocities reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, suggesting the use of an independent investigation into claims of human rights violations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Nairobi to use its position as Chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council to help end the crisis in Ethiopia, where massacres were reported.


Women mourn the victims of a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Eritrean Soldiers in the village of Dengolat, north of Mekele.

Photo credit: Eduardo Soteras | AFP

In a phone conversation with Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, Mr Blinken said Nairobi could be useful in using its regional influence to address the humanitarian concerns in Tigray.

“Secretary Blinken noted Kenya’s strong and durable multilateral engagement and welcomed the opportunity to cooperate closely with Kenya on the UN Security Council on matters of international concern,” Ned Price, the State Department Spokesperson, said on Tuesday.

“He urged Kenyan leadership, in working with the United States on the UN Security Council and in other venues, to address the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, particularly in light of recent reports of atrocities and a worsening humanitarian situation.”

The call came nearly a week after President Joe Biden spoke with President Kenyatta, where he emphasised on “continued commitment to working closely with Kenya to support regional peace and security, including at the United Nations Security Council”. 

End violent conflicts

On Monday, Kenya took over the rotational chairmanship of the AU Peace and Security Council. A tentative agenda tabled by Kenya did not name the Ethiopian situation, but said AU’s Silencing Guns programme, meant to end violent conflicts, climate change and sustainable peacekeeping will be key on the agenda.

Ms Omamo had on Sunday said Kenya will use its experience in helping resolve past conflicts to steer the agenda of the AU.

“Kenya will seek to leverage her experiences, ethos and philosophy during her chairmanship of the AUPSC on the following issues; reinvigorating the role of the A3 in the UN Security Council; securing sustainable peace in Africa, especially in the context of silencing the guns; 

“(And) peacekeeping in Africa with regard to emerging challenges and critical lessons for sustainable operations, as well as on women peace, culture and gender inclusivity,” Omamo said. 

The A3 is a group of African countries sitting on the UN Security Council. Kenya is chairing the AU body at a time it is also a non-permanent member of the UNSC, alongside Tunisia and Niger.

Non-permanent members may have no vote on substantive matters, but they may sometimes present proposals and prevailing upon veto-holding members to vote in a certain way.
Ireland and Estonia have proposed to have a session on Tigray this coming Thursday at the UN Security Council and it is expected the A3 will stick with the African Union stand of resisting external interference. 

An earlier proposal by then AU Chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, to send a panel of eminent persons to help mediate the conflict in Ethiopia, was turned down by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who argued that it could give the TPLF undue legitimacy.

It is also unclear how far Kenya can go to influence decisions at the AU Peace and Security Council, since Ethiopia had already told the body that Tigray “is an internal affair”. 

'Acted legitimately' 

In December last year, the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said Ethiopia had acted “legitimately” in Tigray.

Ethiopia opened the war on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on November 3, accusing the once ruling party of massacring non-Tigray soldiers, days earlier.  Addis Ababa, which calls it a law enforcement operation, had actually announced end of the war at the end of November but fighting has continued.

Ethiopian refugees gather to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Tigray People's Liberation Front at Um Raquba refugee camp in Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on February 19, 2021. 

Photo credit: AFP

Last week, rights watchdog Amnesty International published a report accusing Eritrean troops – who have been fighting alongside Ethiopians against TPLF – of raping and killing civilians. Eritrea dismissed the allegations as a fabrication, while Ethiopia said it will investigate the allegations.

The US has pressured Ethiopia to have Eritrean troops leave the country. 

In a phone call with the Ethiopian PM, Mr Blinken asked Addis Ababa to “take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees and prevent further violence” and work with the international community for an independent investigation.

“Secretary Blinken pressed for the immediate end to hostilities and the withdrawal of outside forces from Tigray, including Amhara regional security forces and Eritrean troops.”