On August 19, 2022, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, announced that the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia was worse than that in Ukraine. But since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, the global community has scrambled to find solutions to this complex and violent conflict.
Some African Union (AU) leaders have also expressed serious concerns and have become active in trying to resolve the war in Ukraine. For example, AU chairperson President Macky Sall of Senegal paid a visit to Russia, while envoys from the two warring countries continued to seek support in Africa for their respective efforts.
As of August 14, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had recorded 13,212 civilian casualties in Ukraine (5,514 killed and 7,698 injured). In Tigray, on the other hand, The Globe and Mail in Canada reported in March that between 50,000 and 100,000 people had been killed, between 150,000 and 200,000 had died of starvation and more than 100,000 had died due to lack of access to health facilities.
Basic amenities such as schools, electricity and hospitals have been destroyed. More than two million people have fled their homes and another 2.5 million are in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance in war-affected areas. On top of that, the media also became victims due to their restricted access to the war zone – not thanks to the Ethiopian government.
As predicted at the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War, the conflict in Europe shifted the attention of the global community from conflict situations in Africa to those in Europe. In the pursuit of North-South relations, Africa continues to attract less attention from world powers.
For example, the United States, under President Joe Biden, allocated about $54 billion in aid and military equipment to Ukraine, while it sent about $488 million to help those who are suffering in Ethiopia’s 18-month conflict.
Similarly, the UK has offered an estimated £2.3 billion in military support to Ukraine. This is on top of the £1.5 billion in humanitarian and economic aid given to the country since the start of the war.
Between November 2020 and October 2021, the UK has donated around £75million to alleviate suffering in the war-torn area of Africa. While the situation between Russia and Ukraine is different from the war between Ethiopia and Tigray, Europe and the United States have shown less commitment to combating threats to lives in Africa.
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Racialization of migration
In addition, the war in Europe has also exposed the racialization of the European Union (EU) stance on migration, as Ukrainian migrants are happily welcomed by EU member states, while African migrants – fleeing violent conflicts – are regularly subjected to inhumane conditions.
Why is the world averting its eyes from the plight of Africans, including the ruthless killings in Tigray? Although this should not be a brutal shock, one would have expected more commitment from African leaders, the African Union and other regional groups to move forward and help prevent that hundreds of thousands of innocent lives are lost in Ethiopia, thus activating the long-forgotten slogan, “African solutions to African problems”.
Ironically, the distance between the Tigray war zone and the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa is less than 1,000 km.
In addition to this intentional or unintentional negligence on the part of the African Union, other segments of the continent – including the academic community and the mass media – are also guilty.
In Africa, the Russian-Ukrainian war received wider coverage in mass media, and research and think-tank communities continued to hold hundreds of webinars and in-person engagements on the crisis, while practitioners of peace and conflict in Africa have become so busy. Since November 2020, when the Ethiopian government launched its military operation in Tigray, the headquarters has not received this type of attention.
Many commentators have committed the sin of overlooking the financial and institutional inability of the AU to live up to its expectations. However, the African Union could have done better in terms of promoting peace and security on the continent – its peace and security architecture has performed less well.
The AU’s African Standby Force (ASF) has refused to “stand by” and be sent to conflict areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, where sub-regional forces operate.
The inability of the ASF to deal with conflicts in Africa is particularly bizarre because the 14th Extraordinary Assembly to Silence the Gunsheld in December 2020, declared the full operationalization of the ASF and tasked the AU Peace and Security Council to use its framework to mandate and authorize its peace support operations.
What happened to the AU’s Panel of the Wise, or its Continental Early Warning System (CEWS)? It is difficult to locate the main core of the warning system. While some have accused African actors of neglecting credible early warning reports of impending outbreaks of conflict or humanitarian crises, others have attributed its difficulties to institutional incapacity and the complex flow of information between different structures of the CEWS.
Incidentally, the last mandate of the Panel of the Wise ended before the siege of Tigray in 2020. The revitalization of the five-member group in March 2022 should give hope to troubled areas of Africa, starting with the urgency to resolve hostility between the ruling Tigrays and the Ethiopian government.
The Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation will organize a three-day symposium to reflect on the [email protected] in Pretoria from 2 to 4 November. In addition to engaging the performance of [email protected]High on the agenda will be how to ensure lasting peace and propose sustainable policy models to improve the AU’s regional approach to development.
No price is too high for peace and security. The continental body and other regional leaders have the responsibility to ensure that “All Lives Matter” on the continent. DM
Dr Adeoye O Akinola is Director of Research and Teaching at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.