There appears to be a consensus that talks can end the Tigray war. Everyone seems keen to say so.

On Thursday (yesterday) the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, told the Security Council that: “All parties must recognize a simple truth: there is no military solution.”

Many appear keen to help find a negotiated end to the conflict.

  • The Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok offered to mediate between the warring parties. The Ethiopian government turned down his offer, saying that the Sudanese position had been “eroded,” and accusing the Sudanese army of launching an “incursion” into Ethiopian territory for re-capturing the al-Fashaga triangle.
  • When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy went to Turkey earlier this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also offered to help mediate an end to the fighting in Tigray, vowing to protect Ethiopia’s “integrity.” It is an offere that is unlikely to win favour with the Tigrayans, since at the same time Erdogan apparently agreed to supply drones to the Ethiopian military to help them win the war.
  • On the eve of the Security Council debate Tigrayan leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, wrote to Mr Guterres with a commitment to a “negotiated end” to the war. Yet at the same time he rejected the African Union’s preferred mediator, former Nigerian President Olusegun. Mr Debretsion also warned that the African Union “cannot provide any solution to the war” since the continental body had “endorsed” the Ethiopian attack on Tigray early in the fighting. 

Are Ethiopia’s wars ended through mediation?

While everyone says they want to end the fighting by holding talks, the history of Ethiopia’s wars is not encouraging.

  • The war of liberation in Eritrea began in the 1960’s. Tigray’s fight for its freedom began in the 1970’s. Both ended in 1991 when Eritrean troops captured Asmara and Tigrayan troops, supported by Oromo and Eritrean forces, captured Addis Ababa. Many had tried to end the wars earlier through talks (including the East Germans) but to no avail.
  • The invasion of Ethiopia by Somalia in 1977 ended in their defeat the following year, after Castro and the Soviet Union airlifted arms and troops into Ethiopia.
  • The Eritrean-Ethiopian border war of 1998-2000, that cost over 100,000 lives, ended when Eritrean lines broke and the Ethiopian army was on the way to capturing Asmara.

The conclusion one has to reach is that the historic precedents are not good.

I wish negotiators and mediators every success, but the chances of peace talks behind the scenes appear to be very poor.

Both Prime Minister Abiy and Eritrea’s President Isaias know that their futures depend on an outright victory.

The Tigrayans, meanwhile, have their backs to the wall. Even if their enemies were able to re-capture Mekelle, the TDF is likely to retreat into the hills and mountains once more to reform and attack again.

So, Mr Guterres, the evidence suggests sadly that you are wrong. Far from there being “no military solution” there appears to be “only a military solution” to this war.