Source: Die Welt

“We expect prompt economic cooperation”

Status: 01/13/2023 | Reading time: 6 minutes [Computer translation from German]

By Christian Putsch

Annalena Baerbock (left) and Catherine Colonna (right) with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed


After Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Ethiopia. With her visit she not only wants to support the peace process in the Tigray conflict – because the West is watching with concern the growing influence of Russia in the region.

The week could hardly have been more contrasting for Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens). On Monday she traveled by train to Kharkiv , one of the eastern Ukrainian cities most devastated by Russia in the war. She experienced the suffering there at first hand, meeting patients and their parents in a children’s hospital.

The very next day she left for Ethiopia, where the people in the north of the country in the Tigray region have also experienced enormous suffering over the past two years. The Belgian University of Ghent has calculated that the war there could have cost 60 times as many lives as in Ukraine.

Researchers’ estimates put the number at 600,000, largely due to the aftermath of the Ethiopian government’s scandalously prolonged blockade of humanitarian aid shipments. Other observers, such as the think tank International Crisis Group, assume tens of thousands of victims.

Baerbock’s Ethiopia Dilemma

But unlike her trips to the Ukraine, Baerbock stayed almost 1000 kilometers away from the crisis area, in the capital Addis Ababa and the periphery. As expected, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and several of his ministers assured her there that they would continue to push ahead with the implementation of the November peace agreement.

Baerbock flew home Friday without speaking to a single member of the Tigray ethnic group, one of whom may have been killed. This does not exactly lend any weight to the German demand for an all-encompassing and inclusive investigation of the enormous war crimes.

The minister justified the travel waiver with the shortness of her stay and the dynamics of the recent positive development after the agreement, which “slightly overlapped” with the travel planning. “It was important for us that we continue intensive talks here in Addis Ababa, especially on the peace process, which is the basis for dealing with human rights violations,” said Baerbock.

According to Baerbock, in the event of a Tigray trip, she would not only have wanted to travel to Mekelle, but also to the rural regions. The regional capital was spared from the war compared to many villages in the area. But there are also many refugees in Mekelle, and the few remaining doctors in the hospitals tell of atrocities.

Ethiopia’s government is giving mixed signals on its willingness to accept such travel requests to Tigray . The German government apparently decided not to pursue the issue vigorously, probably also because for diplomatic reasons it would have had to visit one of the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar, where fighters from Tigray have been accused of atrocities.

Nothing should jeopardize the Ethiopian government’s readiness for peace and its rapprochement with the West, not even an encounter between Baerbock and Abiy’s archrival from the People’s Liberation Front of Tigray

Ethiopia has been spreading the narrative of normalization in the region for weeks. Two weeks ago, several European diplomats, including those from the German embassy, ​​were allowed to travel to Mekelle. In the meantime, there are even some civilian flights there again – on which, mind you, no journalists are allowed. Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen assured Baerbock and her French counterpart Catherine Colonna of “openness and transparency” in ending this conflict.

It would have been revealing to put these words to a practical test with an official travel application. Especially since Ethiopia urgently needs help from the international community. With 120 million inhabitants, the second most populous country in Africa, which until the Tigray War was considered the continent’s beacon of hope and anchor of stability, is virtually bankrupt, drained by the economic crisis, military costs and inflation.

Ethiopia is dependent on financial aid

As things stand at present, the last foreign exchange reserves will be used up by the end of January, and then the import of petrol could fail. The 100 million euros in budget support that Germany froze during the war are of little consequence. Its resumption is currently in the air, as is the increase in the funds for development policy funds, which have also been significantly reduced, to the pre-war level of around 340 million euros per year.

The expenditures of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which promised billions in loans after the November peace agreement, are decisive. But even that will not be enough in the long run. Mekonnen also made this clear to Baerbock with few diplomatic words about help with reconstruction in the war regions: “We expect prompt economic cooperation.”

The fact that Ethiopia only allows observers in Tigray to a very limited extent does not really fit in with this. East African countries were allowed to send ten representatives, the European Union is undesirable in this role. “African solutions to African problems” is an inflationary slogan used by the African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa.

At least Mekonnen assured Baerbock and Colonna that a commission with UN participation should be formed to deal with human rights violations in Tigray – a small concession. The brutal crimes include the use of systematic rape as a weapon of war, a topic that is known to have special priority in Baerbock ‘s feminist foreign policy .

Despite the missed opportunity to also hear a voice from the main victims of this conflict, namely the civilian population of Tigray, the trip was important. The West cannot afford to give up hope in Abiy.

One observes with concern the growing influence of Russia in the region, especially in the neighboring country Eritrea, where the Kremlin would like to expand its military presence as well as in Sudan – i.e. on the Red Sea, through which 25 percent of German economic flows to Asia take place, and that because of the transport of liquid gas towards Europe has become even more important geopolitically.

How Russia’s loyal partner is destabilizing the Horn of Africa

Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, had allied with longtime Ethiopian enemy Eritrea in the fight against the TPLF . Relations with the USA, long Ethiopia’s most important military ally, were in crisis. Washington insisted more vehemently than Europe on the lifting of the humanitarian blockade, Turkey helped Abiy’s government at the time with controversial arms deliveries.

From mid-2022, Ethiopia gave in more strongly, and since August Eritrea in particular has been a warmonger. After the peace agreement and the end of the blockade, pressure is also increasing from the Ethiopian side for Eritrea to finally withdraw its troops from the country. They are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses of this war.

It is doubtful whether they will ever be held accountable for this. However, this also applies to many representatives of the other warring parties – despite Ethiopian considerations for setting up a special court.