Ethiopia hails Turkish role in region, grain corridor mediation

ANKARA, TURKEY - AUGUST 18: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (L) hold a joint press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on August 18, 2021. (Photo by Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - AUGUST 18: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (L) hold a joint press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on August 18, 2021. (Photo by Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)


thiopia is appreciating the role Türkiye is playing in the region as well as its efforts in having brokered a grain export deal between warring Ukraine and Russia that alleviated a possible global food crisis, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Türkiye Adem Mohammed said.

“The role of Türkiye in this challenging region as well as in the Ukraine-Russia war is increasing positively,” Mohammed told Daily Sabah in an interview, saying that this is not only the case for the African people but that Türkiye is working for world peace.

“We appreciate Türkiye’s efforts a lot,” the ambassador said referring to Ankara facilitating the grain deal.

A U.N.-chartered ship loaded with 23,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat destined for millions of people in need of assistance in Ethiopia docked in neighboring Djibouti on Tuesday.

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, was forced to halt almost all deliveries after Russia’s invasion in February, raising fears of a global food crisis.

But exports of grain, food and fertilizers from three Black Sea ports resumed at the start of this month under a deal between Kyiv and Moscow, brokered by the U.N. and Türkiye in July.

Saying that the food crisis is affecting the African continent, Mohammed explained that Ethiopia tries to produce more cereals and grain, which means the country is not largely dependent on Ukrainian or Russian grain but he also pointed out that the supplies would still provide relief.

On bilateral ties with Türkiye, Mohammed said that the two countries enjoy “excellent relations in all domains.”

He pointed out that last year, several agreements, including in the sectors of defense, water and justice, were signed between Ankara and Addis Ababa. “These advanced our ties further.”

Describing ties as “century-old relations without ups and downs,” the ambassador said he hoped they would continue to grow in the future.

Ethiopia and Türkiye enjoy friendship and all-around cooperation. Türkiye opened its first embassy in sub-Saharan Africa in 1926 in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Over the years, the two governments have extended numerous high-level visits that produced very important outcomes that helped expedite the development of joint cooperation on both sides. The landlocked country in the Horn of Africa has become a primary destination for Turkish investors on the continent.

Regarding the Tigray conflict, Turkey has frequently voiced it is supporting every path that leads to peace and stability in Ethiopia and that Ankara is in touch with all sides in the country to urge negotiations.

“The peace, tranquility and integrity of Ethiopia, which has a strategic location and importance in Africa, is important to us,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last year during a visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Humanitarian aid

Asked whether the grain would also reach northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which was deprived of humanitarian aid due to an ongoing conflict prior to the signing of a truce, Mohammed said that aid had been reaching the region until the rebels in the area broke the truce and relaunched attacks.

“It will be difficult for aid to reach Tigray unless they stop their fighting, get back to their positions and get ready for peace talks without preconditions,” the ambassador said, adding that unless the rebels stop the war it will be difficult to provide humanitarian aid to the region.

Mohammed also urged the international community to pressure them to sit at the negotiating table.

To give an example of the dangers and misconduct that humanitarian agencies face in the region controlled by the rebels, Mohammed said that they recently stole 570,000 liters of fuel belonging to the World Food Programme (WFP), which was to be used for aid efforts.

Fighting resumes after truce

Fighting on the ground resumed between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) last week.

The clashes have shattered a five-month-old truce and dimmed efforts to end the nearly two-year conflict in Africa’s second most populous country.

The March truce had allowed the resumption of international aid convoys to Tigray after a three-month break, but the stricken region still faces severe food shortages.

Speaking on the roots of the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, Mohammed elaborated that the group, which had been in power prior to current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, is once again vying for power.

The country eyes transformation and democracy, Mohammed said, indicating that the TPLF on the other hand declared an ethnically based conflict in the country.

On Wednesday, the government communications service said that the TPLF “has launched an invasion in the direction of Wag, Wolqait and our border areas with Sudan (Amhara region).”

Wolqait, also spelled Wolkait, lies in a disputed region claimed by Tigrayans and Amharas, and is currently under the administration of the federal government. The TPLF has repeatedly said the region is a “non-negotiable” part of Tigray.

Residents, diplomatic and humanitarian sources have said that in recent days TPLF fighters have pushed about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south from Tigray into Amhara and to the southeast into Afar, two bordering regions.

Mohammed also underlined that the TPLF is pursuing “digital warfare” with fake reports and anti-government propaganda.

Ethiopia’s war broke out when the TPLF attacked army camps of the North Command defence forces in November 2020 after which Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray to restrain the attack and carry out law and enforcement.

“These forces have been there for 20 years to defend the local people,” Mohammed highlighted, saying that through these attacks the TPLF tries to pressure the government while inciting a humanitarian crisis.

The TPLF recaptured most of Tigray after the federal government withdraw from the region in June 2021, expanding into Afar and Amhara, before the fighting reached a stalemate.

The grinding conflict has left thousands dead and forced many others to flee their homes with hundreds of thousands driven to the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.

“The government decided not to enter Tigray to avoid escalating the conflict further. The troops were ordered to stop. The government has since tried to solve the conflict through peaceful negotiations and has moved towards this goal created a peace committee,” Mohammed elaborated.

“The TPLF, however, did not reciprocate and listed preconditions which included the claiming of some areas. The TPLF does not cooperate. It warns that if their conditions are not met, they will restart a war.”

Mohammed said that the government, on the other side, is working toward an inclusive nation-wide dialogue that would also include representatives of the TPLF and that would not only aim for the resolution of the Tigray conflict but all challenges that the country is facing with the inclusion of all its diverse voices, citizens and political parties.

“This is the country’s primary road map,” Mohammed added and indicated that this has already been declared by the government. “Work has already begun for the national dialogue. This is the best way to lasting peace. The government is also giving special attention to Tigray within this scope.”

Peace talks

On the other side, as efforts for peace are ongoing, the two sides have been at odds over who should lead negotiations.

“The African Union (AU) is the only framework we have nearby for the crisis,” Mohammed said. “It is a platform for African problems,” he added and said that although the government is not ruling out other players including Western ones, the main platform for peace talks should be the AU, which the TPLF however does not want.

Asked which platform or institution the TPLF preferred for negotiations, Mohammed said that the group also did not propose any alternative, further aggravating the stalemate in the crisis.


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