Ethiopia could fracture amid ‘famine-like conditions’, Coveney says

Minister unsure if it will be possible to visit Addis Ababa in two weeks

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned of the possible break up of Ethiopia because of war in the province of Tigray which has resulted in "famine-like conditions" for more than 6.5 million people in the region.

The Minister is due to visit the capital Addis Ababa in two weeks but is unsure if that will be possible in current circumstances, a year after the start of the conflict.

But he told the Dáil it is possible that Ethiopia, with a population of 115 million people “could fracture causing enormous instability in the Horn of Africa, not least to its closest neighbours”.

Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest independent country, is the single largest recipient of Irish Aid and because Ireland has been “very vocal on the issue” it has created “some tension” with the Ethiopian authorities.


“Ireland has made it its business on the Security Council to raise concern and to shine a spotlight on this issue. We are very concerned about the future of Ethiopia.”

The Government has provided approximately €4.5 million in humanitarian aid for refugees in Tigray, the Amhara region and for neighbouring Sudan where many Tigrayans have fled.

Mr Coveney was responding during Dáil questions to Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman John Brady who highlighted the "mass arrests of Tigrayan people, including the arrest this week of 16 UN employees".

He said these detainees are being left without food or bedding and have been subjected to mistreatment by Ethiopian forces.

Mr Brady noted that the United States had recently imposed sanctions on neighbouring Eritrea over its involvement in the conflict and asked if the European Union had similar plans.

Mr Coveney, who raised the issue at the meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday said he supported the US imposition of targeted sanctions on individuals.

He added, however, that “the EU does not have a collective position on that yet, but is looking at its options”.

The EU “spends an enormous amount of money there, with the Ethiopian government”. It is looking at using its influence in every way it can to bring about a ceasefire, “a political negotiation and, perhaps most important, humanitarian access for people who need it”.

He supported the efforts of African Union envoy, the former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo to mediate a way forward.

Security Council

Mr Coveney said Ireland secured agreement in early November at the UN Security Council in the first council statement in six months on the situation, calling for a cessation of hostilities and safe and unhindered humanitarian access.

Mr Brady expressed deep concern at report that Ethiopia had closed its embassy in Ireland in October. It is understood Ireland is among a number of countries where Ethiopia closed down its diplomatic operation.

The war erupted a year ago when the prime minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray as a response, he said, to an attack on a military base there, housing government troops.

It has resulted in thousands of deaths and millions placed with 400,000 directly affected by famine and more than 6.5 million in famine-like conditions.

Mr Coveney said the EU wants the country to stay together, adding that “there is no military solution to the current conflict”.

Calling for dialogue he also demanded “humanitarian access” to Tigray “for people who desperately need it from the international community.

“That has been blocked by what is effectively a blockade for many months.” He stressed that it was not about taking sides “but about calling out breaches of international law and international humanitarian law, and doing what we were elected to the UN Security Council to do for conflicts such as this”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times