The African Union pledged in 2016 to “silence the guns” by the end of 2020, an ambitious agenda of ending armed conflicts on the continent. Just two months before that deadline, the deadliest war in years erupted in Ethiopia. On 3 November 2020, the armies of the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea attacked the region of Tigray. Since then, the guns have not been silent. Instead, it is the African Union that has been silent.

That war is now two years old. Crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed during this time. Some estimates show that over 500,000 civilians have been killed. Rape, displacement, and starvation have been prevalent. Tigray has been under a complete siege with no access to land and air transport, telephone and internet access, banks, and all kinds of humanitarian supplies.

Reported conflict incidents in the first seven months of the Tigray War, including battles, ambushes, airstrikes, drone attacks and shelling. Map showing the Ethiopian-allied forces Tigray offensive, November 4–28, 2020. (Source: Wikimedia)

The AU has shown itself to be of no use or consequence since the conflict started. During the first year of conflict, it failed to even acknowledge that there was a war. Instead, it adopted the Ethiopian government’s narrative of a “law enforcement operation” by a legitimate government against a rebellious entity. It was not until August 2021 that the AU took the first steps at mediating.

The chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki, appointed the former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, as his “high representative” to promote peace, security, stability, and political dialogue all over the Horn of Africa region. This was a welcome development. But it soon became evident that the AU was not impartial. And the peace initiative was a non-starter.

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One year on from Obasanjo’s appointment, the AU’s failures are as evident as they’ve been from the start. The AU Peace and Security Council – which is charged with prevention, management and resolution of conflicts – has never had any substantive agenda on Tigray. The two times it sat to discuss the war on Tigray were only to hear the briefings of Obasanjo as envoy.

The war has intensified to alarming levels. And another attempt by the AU to convene peace talks in South Africa has met delays.

The AU has failed in applying its norms and principles to the conflict in Ethiopia. Its institutions were not activated and best practices were not utilised. The AU chairperson and his special envoy have put themselves at the service of the Ethiopian government.

The AU needs to launch a credible and robust peace process with mediators mutually agreed by the conflicting parties. The guns can only be silenced by engaging genuine peace processes guided by the norms and principles of the AU.