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Obasanjo’s Peace Deal In War-Torn Ethiopia – OpEd

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African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s unique role as a peacemaker has been further cemented with the peace deal he secured as the AU envoy for Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis. Obasanjo is the chief mediator between the Ethiopian government and Tigray’s People’s Liberation Front. Other members of the AU mediation team include former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

Indeed, Obasanjo has shown by his commitment and dedication to peace in Africa and beyond that, there’s life after the presidency. He has been busy ever since he relinquished power in 2007. He has served as a troubleshooter for both the United Nations and the African Union. Obasanjo’s numerous efforts towards brokering peace in conflict zones in Africa and other parts of the world qualify him as a global ambassador for peace. In a word, he’s a soldier of peace.

As it happens, Obasanjo got the two warring sides to sign the peace agreement in South Africa on Wednesday, November 2.

“Both sides also agreed on the restoration of law and order, restoration of services, and unhindered access to humanitarian supplies. The agreement marked a new dawn for Ethiopia,” he said.

In the first briefing on the peace talks, Obasanjo said that Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan authorities had agreed on an “orderly, smooth, and coordinated disarmament”.

The Tigrayan crisis erupted in November 2020 after months of tension with thousands of lives and livelihoods destroyed.

With the signing of the agreement, the parties in the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray have agreed on a “permanent cessation of hostilities’’ just more than a week after formal peace talks began in South Africa.

Already the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces have established a telephone hotline to help maintain a ceasefire struck last week, and both sides met in Kenya on Monday for a new round of talks on implementing the truce.

“The first sign for me of the progress after the signing of the agreement is the fact that between them they have exchanged a hotline,” AU chief mediator Olusegun Obasanjo told a news conference in Nairobi.

Observers believe that the truce has raised hopes humanitarian aid can start moving back into a region where hundreds of thousands face famine.

According to officials, the hotline will address any flare-up in fighting and coordinate disengagements, with both sides recognising “the challenge of fully communicating with all their units to stop fighting”.

Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, co-mediator at the talks, said he hoped the parties would work together to create a permanent resolution of the conflict.

“We started in Pretoria, we are inching our way closer. We are now in Nairobi, we are very hopeful next time we will be in Mekelle for our (next) meeting and ultimately celebrate together in Addis Ababa,” Kenyatta said, referring to the capitals of South Africa, the Tigray region, and Ethiopia respectively.

In a statement, the AU said that the expected outcomes of the talks included “modalities for silencing the guns, humanitarian access, and the restoration of services in the Tigray region”.

Obasanjo’s role as a peacemaker predates his current efforts. He was a member of the Eminent Persons Group that helped pave the way for the release of Nelson Mandela after spending 27 years in jail and the subsequent dismantling of apartheid South Africa. Back home Obasanjo had played a key role in the resolution of the Ile-Ife-Modakeke intra-ethnic crisis which pitted two communities in Osun State against each other. The Ife-Modakeke crisis had been on since the 19th century with more than twenty clashes in the past 100 years. After his election as president in 1999, he set up the Olabode George committee which helped defuse tension and brokered peace between the warring communities. That peace has lasted uptill today.

It is important to emphasize Obasanjo’s role in dousing tension over the Bakassi Peninsula which could have transformed into Africa’s Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan that has been a flash point of conflicts between the two countries for more than four decades, with Nigeria and Cameroon locked over the oil-rich territory. Obasanjo applied diplomacy instead of a military solution to a conflict that would make France take sides with Cameroon while naturally, Britain would have backed Nigeria, its former colony. At the end of the day, the two countries submitted to the judgement of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, which ruled in favor of Cameroon after which the Obasanjo administration handed over the disputed territory to Cameroon. 

Even as a young military officer, he was part of the 5th battalion deployed to the Congo on a peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in that troubled country shortly after it attained independence. He discharged the assignment in the Congo with characteristic efficiency and competence. In the Congo, Obasanjo and others were responsible for protecting civilians, including Belgian settlers, against soldiers who had mutinied against Patrice Lumumba’s government. According to reports, in February 1961, Obasanjo was captured by the mutineers while he was evacuating Roman Catholic missionaries from a station near Bukavu. The mutineers considered executing him but were ordered to release him. Obasanjo’s Pan-African fervour was strengthened during his tour of duty in the Congo. 

Since he relinquished power, Obasanjo has also worked on other trouble spots across the continent. He contributed to the peace efforts to end the civil war in Angola. He also encouraged Sudan towards negotiations to end the Second Sudanese Civil War. Between 1994 and 1995 he worked to calm tensions in Burundi between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. He supports closer integration across Africa, proposing the formation of six regional confederations.

Again, during the civil war, as soon as he took over as Commander of the 3rd Marine Command from the then Colonel Benjamin Adekunle, then Colonel Obasanjo conceived Operation Tail Wind, which helped bring the debilitating fratricidal civil war to a quick end. He later accepted the surrender of the Biafran forces in January 1970.

Based on his avowed commitment and dedication to the cause of Africa as well as his credentials as a peacemaker and statesman with vast experience and understanding of the political, socio-economic, and cultural landscape of Africa, Obasanjo was appointed as UN Special Envoy to broker peace among the conflicting parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC and the Great Lakes Region. His involvement has reunited the avowed enemies and brought peace to the region. Although today, the DRC and Rwandan-backed rebel forces in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo are back in the trenches and are locked in battle once again.

At any rate, with this Ethiopian diplomatic victory, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has given a special commendation to former President Obasanjo for successfully facilitating the signing of a peace deal between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Guterres, in a statement by his spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said the agreement signed last Wednesday in South Africa represented “a critical first step” towards ending the brutal two-year war.

The UN chief said:  “the Agreement for Lasting Peace“ through a Permanent Cessation of Hostilities brokered by the African Union and mediated by Obasanjo was a promising start. Therefore the secretary-general pledged his support to the parties in the implementation of the agreement.

The war, which broke out in November 2020, has pitted regional forces from Tigray against Ethiopia’s federal army and its allies, which include forces from other regions and from neighbouring Eritrea.

Most importantly African should not be turned into a theatre of conflicts, hence both sides of the conflict should be persuaded and encouraged to honour their commitments to peace and the resolution of the conflict in the interest of the vast majority of the Tigrayan people who have borne the pain and misery of war, and with millions turned to refugees and thousands killed due to the war.

Now Obasanjo and other members of the AU mediation team deserve all the accolades being heaped on them for the feat they have achieved by bringing the warring factions to the negotiating table and hammering a peace accord in the process. Without a doubt, peace is the irreducible minimum for the growth and development of Africa for without peace Africa will remain a hotbed of conflicts, and will remain mired in poverty, misery, and underdevelopment. Lastly, Africa owes a debt of gratitude to Obasanjo, a diplomatic soldier and members of the AU mediation team on Tigray.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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