Kenya on high alert as Ethiopia war escalates

Thursday, November 4th, 2021 12:00 |
Ethiopian military personnel in an area near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions of Ethiopia in November 2020. Photo/PD/courtesy

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday called on the warring parties to stop fighting and engage in dialogue to avert further loss of lives even as Kenyan forces enhanced the Moyale border patrols.

 “I have lent the full weight of my office insisting that despite the pertaining circumstances surrounding the crisis, the fighting must stop,”  said Uhuru.

 “The lack of dialogue among the warring parties has been particularly disturbing to me today.

I once again call on the well-meaning men and women of Ethiopia to come together and find a lasting solution to help find peace at this critical time,” he said in a statement.

“Kenya, Africa and the world wants to see peace in Ethiopia,” said Uhuru who chairs the UN security Council.

 The ministry of Foreign Affairs also called for urgent action to ensure normalcy in Ethiopia, saying it was critical to its neighbours.

Political solution

“The primacy of a political solution to a problem of political and civilian character must be upheld. Human rights must be upheld,” the ministry advised. 

Kenyan security agencies have also heightened security on the border with Ethiopia as the unfolding crisis threatens to get out of control.

The agencies are concerned that an escalation of the fighting between the Ethiopian military and the Tigray forces could trigger movement of people across the border.

Kenya shares a long border with Ethiopia, covering 861 kilometres spread across the counties of Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir and Turkana.

Yesterday, police warned Kenyans living along the border to exercise vigilance and report to the nearest police station, suspected cases of undocumented foreigners and unprocessed immigrants.

Moyale sub-county commissioner William ole Kalimoni told People Daily that security on the border town was on high alert following intense fighting in Ethiopia.

He, however, assured that they had not noticed anything unusual along the border since Monday when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) started its march towards Addis Ababa.

“There is nothing unusual so far, but we are on high alert and closely monitoring the unfolding events in Ethiopia. We are ready for any eventuality should things worsen there and their nationals start crossing over the border to Kenya,” Ole Kalimoni said.

Sources within government intimated to People Daily that security had been reinforced in the region, with the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) personnel placed on standby.

“The government has increased the number of security officers in all towns bordering Ethiopia while members of KDF have been put on standby. We are not leaving anything to chance,” the source said. 

Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai confirmed the heightened surveillance, saying fighting in Ethiopia threatened peace in the entire region.

“The government of Kenya notes with concern recent and unfolding events that disturb the peace and stability in neighbouring countries and the greater Eastern African region,” Mutyambai said yesterday.

Sources within Kenya’s aviation industry also confided in People Daily that all flights to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa had been suspended.

 Flights suspended

“We do not have any flights to Addis because of the situation in the country, unless for evacuation purposes only. Even then, we have not received any requests for evacuation yet,” said a source at Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

An airline schedule showed dozens of flights departing Addis Ababa yesterday to various destinations within Ethiopia and other parts of the continent as diplomats, government officials, Ethiopian citizens and foreigners fled the capital as Tigrayan forces made advances.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has called on citizens in Addis to arm themselves and get ready to defend the capital. In his statement, Abiy said the rebels’ advance was “pushing the country to its demise”.

He urged citizens to “organise and march through [any] legal manner with every weapon and power... to prevent, reverse and bury the terrorist TPLF”.

The current war broke out in November last year when Abiy ordered an offensive against regional forces in the northern Tigray region.

“Ethiopia has been the anchor of peace in the region. It has been the exporter of peace and is probably facing the most perilous crisis for decades.  Its implications for Kenya are grave because we not only share a border but Ethiopians such as the Orma share kinship with Kenyans across the border.

“ Any instability in Ethiopia can spill over. Ethiopia has been Kenya’s strategic partner in the fight against Al-Shaabab,” warned Horn of Africa analyst Murithi Mutiga.

“There is going to be an escalation in the coming days with Tigray forces advancing to the capital while the government has called on every armed person to fight for its survival.  Ethiopia’s allies should push for a negotiated accommodation of the parties in the conflict,” he added.

Concerns by Kenyan authorities came as the UN secretary general António Guterres said he was “extremely concerned” by the escalation of violence in Ethiopia and the recent declaration of a state of emergency. 

In a statement released in New York, Guterres’s spokesperson said “the stability of Ethiopia and the wider region is at stake”.

He reiterated his call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and unrestricted humanitarian access to deliver urgent life-saving assistance to the restive northern regions; Tigray, Amhara and Afar. 

The UN chief also asked for “an inclusive national dialogue to resolve this crisis and create the foundation for peace and stability throughout the country”.

At the same time, the African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for cessation of hostilities by all parties.

He implored the government and the rebels to urge their supporters to refrain from hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness.

“I call for the immediate cessation of hostilities, the full respect for the life and property of civilians, as well as state infrastructure,” Mahamat said in a statement.

He told the Ethiopian government and the rebels to respect the international humanitarian and human rights law, with particular regard to the protection of civilians and ensuring access to humanitarian assistance by communities in need.

“I urge on the parties to engage with the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President, His Excellency Olusegun Obasanjo,” Mahamat said in his statement.

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