After weeks of speculation about the fast-eroding ties between the federal government of Ethiopia and Tigray regional authorities, the nightmare scenario that many analysts and regional watchers had been warning about finally materialised when the Ethiopian Prime Minister - a Noble Peace laureate - declared war on the Tigray region on November 4.
The military conflict that exploded on 4 November in the Tigray region of Ethiopia was a culmination of serious tensions between the TPLF and the Federal government led by PM Abiy Ahmed. The Ethiopian government has labelled it “Operation Enforcing Law and Order”, while the TPLF called it an invasion. The conflict was sparked by an attack on the federal army division based in Tigray.
The operation conducted by the Ethiopian Federal Army in the northern Tigray region threatens to trigger a further wave of instability in one of the most vulnerable areas of the world. Ethiopia is the keystone of a very fragile arc of instability that has Afghanistan on one side, and Libya on the other. Accordingly, it would be narrow-minded to consider the impact of the current crisis on the Horn of Africa alone. By examining it from a regional angle, it is possible to identify a variety of issues that render the context highly volatile.
The Ethiopian PM received the 2019 Nobel Prize for his peace agreement with Eritrea, breaking nearly 20 years of stalemate. After the Tigray conflict erupted last November many observers asked: “He got the Nobel Peace Prize, but starts a war the next year: why”?
While EU member states and citizens debate the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, it is clear that migration has been, is and will continue to be an integral part of the relations between African and European countries. A ‘strong external dimension’ takes a pride of place in the Pact and ‘migration diplomacy’ will most probably be deployed as a tool of first choice to persuade (sometimes coerce) governments to agree to keep people in countries of origin and transit.
The European Union’s (EU) security engagement in Africa must always be viewed against the backdrop of colonial and postcolonial ties between Africa and Europe. However, irrespective of historical factors, Africa has a complex relationship with the EU in terms of peace and security. For more than two decades, EU member states, particularly France, have attempted to move their security role in Africa from traditional security focused on direct military interventions in armed conflict towards a broader ‘human security’.
Since the AU-EU Summit held in Abidjan, Nov 20-30, 2017, a progressive shift in the political and policy approach to Africa occurred in the EU. This change was not only meant to respond to the increasing requests for more investments and job creation, coming from African leaders and stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society and youth; it was also driven by the geo-strategic changes occurring on the African continent.
Historically, EU relations with Africa have remained fragmented, based on relatively short-term arrangements, and with a weak capacity to command attention and political support. In an effort to inject new vigour into EU-Africa relations – and in line with a pledge to lead a ‘geopolitical Commission’ – early in her mandate president Ursula von der Leyen called for a ‘New comprehensive strategy with Africa’.
The most striking feature about Africa today is its geopolitical centrality. Predominantly because of the strong economic growth it experienced in the last decade, the technological innovations linked to the fourth industrial revolution, and heightened hopes for peaceful transitions, a new narrative of Africa as a “land of opportunity” has emerged in the international community.
What role can Italy play in today’s Africa? And what are our priorities?
Of course, our country cannot compete alone with the global giants either in size of funding or in impact on the continent. Yet, as a founding member of the European Union, it can certainly contribute significantly to forging EU policy and strategies beyond the Mediterranean, and indeed it is fulfilling this role quite effectively.