The White House has condemned last week’s resumption of conflict that threatens to fuel famine and destabilize the Horn of Africa, following the collapse of the five-month cease-fire in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
“We condemn Eritrea’s reentry into the conflict, the continuing TPLF offensive outside of Tigray and the Ethiopian government’s airstrikes,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday.
She urged the parties to cease hostilities. “There is no military solution to the conflict.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have blamed each other for the latest round of violence. The TPLF is an armed political movement that led the country as part of a ruling coalition for more than 20 years but has now been designated as a terrorist organization by Addis Ababa.
Jean-Pierre said U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer is set to travel to Ethiopia this weekend to urge parties to engage in negotiations to end the nearly two-year-old conflict. This would be Hammer’s second visit in a month — he was there August 2 with his European Union counterpart, Annette Weber, to facilitate the beginning of talks.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that a return to active conflict “would result in widespread suffering, human rights abuses, and further economic hardships.”
Nearly half a million Ethiopians may have died from violence and famine and more than 1.6 million people have been displaced by this conflict, according to researchers at the University of Ghent.
Washington can provide incentives for negotiations as it is the leading source of development assistance to Ethiopia and a key source of future investment that will be critical for rebuilding after the conflict, said Joseph Siegle, director of research at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University.
“The United States can also reaffirm its commitment to accelerating efforts to help address the acute humanitarian crisis generated by the conflict,” Siegle told VOA. “It will also be important to reinforce to both sides that this conflict revolves around a political dispute — how Tigray can be reintegrated as part of a federal Ethiopia while retaining meaningful autonomy.”
Siegle said Washington can also clearly convey to regional actors, including Sudan, Egypt and the Gulf states, the need to refrain from amplifying the conflict. “If the Tigray conflict were to be regionalized, it would become even more difficult to resolve and could become more destabilizing for the region,” he said.
It is unclear how much pressure the Biden administration can wield to bring parties to the table. Last year, the administration suspended Addis Ababa from the tariff-free African Growth and Opportunity Act, which provides tariff-free access to the U.S. market for African manufacturers.