African intellectuals call for urgent action in Ethiopia

We write this letter as concerned African intellectuals on the continent and in the Diaspora. Many of us have dedicated our professional lives to understanding the causes and potential solutions to intra-and inter-African conflicts.

We are appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia – so tragically illustrative of the continued lack of uptake of the abundant commentary produced by African intellectuals on how to resolve African conflicts.

We are deeply disturbed by the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia – which some refer to as a regionalised internal conflict, given Eritrea’s role within it.

We note with dismay that protagonists to the conflict no longer include just the Tigray Defense Force (TDF) and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) together with the special forces from Amhara, but now also include the Oromo Liberation Army on one side, and on the other side, special forces from several other regions, as well as numerous conscripts.

We note, too, the advance of the TDF into Amhara and Afar regions which, despite the TDF’s claims to be seeking to enable humanitarian and other supply access chains, is contributing to the expansion of the conflict across Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is of continental significance, not only for its record of successful resistance to European imperial expansionism, but also for its being the home of the African Union (AU), our inter-governmental institution, whose lack of effective engagement on the situation in Ethiopia we also find deplorable.

The AU, its member states – particularly Ethiopia’s neighbouring states – must not allow Ethiopia to dictate the terms of their engagement in seeking resolution to this conflict.

We condemn the fact that the conflict is affecting ever-increasing numbers of civilians — the deaths, the sexual violence, the refugee outflows, the documented hunger and unmet medical and psychosocial needs, the reports of widespread and targeted illegal detentions (especially because of ethnicity), the enforced disappearances and torture in captivity.

We also condemn the destruction of hard-earned physical and metaphysical infrastructure across Tigray, as well as other regions of Ethiopia, including institutions of higher learning, houses of worship and cultural heritage. Ethiopia and its peoples have suffered enough. Ethiopia cannot afford any further destruction.

All Ethiopians must recognise that a political rather than military solution is what is now called for, regardless of the claims and counterclaims, legitimate and otherwise, as to how Ethiopia has come to this place.

Retributive justice, including the seizure and counter-seizures of contested land, and the detention of family members of recently outlawed political groups heightens tensions, leading to generational cycles of violence.

Ethiopia is on the precipice; we must take action. We therefore call on:

The Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to respond positively to the repeated calls for political dialogue, including with the affected and implicated groups in the Amhara and Oromia regions;

The Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to make positive use, in such dialogue, of the numerous African intellectuals who have put forward their views on pathways out of conflict;

Neighbouring countries to exercise maximum pressure on the Ethiopian government and the national regional government of Tigray to – under the framework of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the AU – submit to external mediation of this conflict;

The IGAD and the AU to proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict – including providing all possible political support to the soon to be announced AU Special Envoy for the Horn;

The rest of the international community to continue to support such IGAD and AU action with the carrots and sticks needed to get the protagonists and all other stakeholders to the table, keep them there and determine a political solution leading to more broad-based national dialogue on the future of the Ethiopian state.

We urge all Ethiopian leaders and civic groups to demonstrate the magnanimity and vision needed to reconstruct a country that has suffered far too long already.

We call on any negotiated political settlement to include a process of public accountability for mass atrocities committed across Ethiopia.

The history of the African state attests to the efficacy of an alternate path committed to truth, peace, justice and reconciliation.


Souleymane Bachir Diagne, professor of French and philosophy, director of the Institute of African Studies, Columbia University;

Mamadou Diouf, Leitner Family professor of African studies, department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies, Columbia University;

Elleni Centime Zeleke, assistant professor, department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African studies, Columbia University;

Godwin Murunga, the executive secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA);

Boubacar Boris Diop, award-winning author of Murambi, The Book of Bones and many other novels, essays and journalistic works;

Achille Mbembe, a research professor in history and politics, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand;

Jimi O Adesina, professor and chair in the social policy college of graduate studies, University of South Africa;

Ato Sekyi-Out, professor emeritus, department of social science and the graduate programme in social and political thought, York University;

Felwine Sarr, the Anne-Marie Bryan Distinguished Professor of romance studies, Duke University;

Imraan Coovadia, writer, essayist and novelist and the director of the creative writing programme, University of Cape Town;

Koulsy Lamko, Chadian playwright, poet, novelist and university lecturer;

Willy Mutunga, a former chief justice in the Supreme Court of Kenya;

Maina Kiai, a former chair of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and a former United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;

Rashida Manjoo, professor emeritus, department of public law, University of Cape Town and a former United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women;

Siba N Grovogui, professor of international relations theory and law, Africana Studies and Research Centre, Cornell University;

Nadia Nurhussein, associate professor of English and Africana studies, Johns Hopkins University;

Martha Kuwee Kumsa, professor of social work, Wilfrid Laurier University;

Mekonnen Firew Ayano, associate professor, SUNY Buffalo Law School;

Dagmawi Woubshet, Ahuja Family presidential associate professor of English, University of Pennsylvania;

Awet T Weldemichael, professor and Queen’s National Scholar, Queen’s University;

Abadir Ibrahim, Ethiopian human rights activist and lawyer;

Michael Woldemariam, associate professor of international relations and political science, director of the African Studies Centre, Boston University;

Safia Aidid, arts and science postdoctoral fellow, department of history, University of Toronto;

Abdoulaye Bathily, professor of history, University Cheikh Anta Diop;

David Ndii, Kenyan economist;

Siphokazi Magadla, senior lecturer in political and international studies, Rhodes University;

Fred Hendricks, emeritus professor, faculty of humanities, Rhodes University;

Pablo Idahosa, professor of African studies and international development studies, York University;

Ibrahim Abdullah, department of history and African studies, Fourah Bay college, University of Sierra Leone;

Seye Abimbola, senior lecturer, school of public health, University of Sydney;

Makau Mutua, SUNY Distinguished Professor, SUNY Buffalo law school;

Salim Vally, professor, faculty of education, University of Johannesburg;

Muthoni Wanyeki, political scientist, Kenya;

Dominic Brown, activist and economic justice programme manager, Alternative Information and Documentation Centre, South Africa;

Michael Neocosmos, emeritus professor in humanities, Rhodes University;

Zubairu Wai, associate professor, department of political science and department of global development studies, University of Toronto;

Alden Young, assistant professor, African American studies, University of California;

Benjamin Talton, professor of history, department of history, Temple University;

G Ugo Nwokeji, associate professor of African history and African diaspora studies, department of African-American studies, University of California;

Lionel Zevounou, associate professor of public law, University of Paris Nanterre;

Amy Niang, professeur associé, L’Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique;

Sean Jacobs, associate professor of international affairs, Julien J Studley graduate programmes in international affairs, The New School, founder and editor of the online publication Africa is a country;

Abosede George, associate professor of African history, Barnard College;

Dr Abdourahmane Seck, senior lecturer, Université Gaston Berger;

Nimi Hoffmann, lecturer, Centre for International Education, University of Sussex; research associate, Centre for International Teacher Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology;

Maria Paula Meneses, vice-presidente, Conselho Científico do CES, Centro de Estudos Sociais, Universidade de Coimbra;

Ibrahima Drame, director of education, Henry George school of social science;

Cesaltina Abreu, co-director, Laboratory of Social Sciences and Humanities, Angolan Catholic University;

Lina Benabdallah, assistant professor of politics, Wake Forest University;

Oumar Ba, assistant professor of international relations, department of government, Cornell University;

Samar Al-Bulushi, assistant professor, department of anthropology, University of California;

Nisrin Elamin, assistant professor of international studies, Bryn Mawr College;

Marie-Jolie Rwigema, incoming assistant professor, applied human sciences, Concordia University;

Eddie Cottle, postdoctoral fellow, Society, Work and Politics Institute, University of the Witwatersrand;

Amira Ahmed, school of humanities and social science, American University of Cairo;

Convenors’ Forum of The C19 People’s Coalition;

Ibrahim Abdullah, department of history and African studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone;

Jok Madut Jok, professor of anthropology, Maxwell school of citizenship and public affairs, Syracuse University.

We stand in solidarity with all Ethiopian intellectuals in-country who want to speak out against the war but feel unable to do so due to fear of retaliation.

This letter has been published by several news organisations. This version is republished from Ethiopia Insight.