December 4, 2022

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Nigeria’s Obasanjo secures unlikely Ethiopia ceasefire by Reuters

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©Reuters. FILE PHOTO – Former Nigerian President and Chair of the West Africa Drugs Commission Olusegun Obasanjo looks at documents during an interview with Reuters in Dakar, Senegal September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Ross

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Olusegun Obasanjo has had mixed results as mediator of stubborn conflicts across Africa since stepping down as Nigerian president in 2007, although he never tired of trying.

But on Wednesday, the 85-year-old secured a surprise victory and led the team that announced a cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia, marking a diplomatic breakthrough in a conflict that has killed thousands, displaced millions and left many starving.

Aware of steady progress being made in ending two years of fighting whose roots go farther into Ethiopia’s history, the former army officer struck a cautious note.

“This moment is not the end of the peace process,” said the African Union mediator. “The implementation of the peace agreement signed today is critical to its success.”

He welcomed the Ethiopian government and Tigray forces to a signing ceremony Wednesday in the South African capital of Pretoria, where talks have been held since Oct. 25, and said the deal would allow Tigray’s humanitarian supplies to be restored.

Obasanjo resigned from the Nigerian presidency in 2007 and presided over elections that marked the first handover of power from one civilian head of state to another in Nigeria since independence from Britain in 1960.

Many Nigerians at the time of this vote were wondering if the man, who regularly spoke of plans to retire to his chicken farm, really intended to relinquish power after his allies once sought a constitutional amendment to secure him a third term.

In the end, he kept his promise, at least partially.

He resigned the presidency, but rather than set out to tend his poultry, he launched a new career trying to calm flare-ups across the continent, spreading from Ivory Coast and Liberia to the Congo, Angola, Burundi and Mozambique stretched.

Some cooled, others continued to simmer.

The test now is whether the conflict in Ethiopia is on course for a lasting peace deal or just a temporary respite.

ONCE A DEMOCRATIC HERO HEALED

His own country, meanwhile, has remained a victim of instability.

As president of Nigeria, an OPEC state that had been beset by violence across much of its territory, he faced an insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta that he was criticized for its harsh handling.

He did everything in his power to prevent his estranged deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, from running for the presidency.

This move was blocked by the Supreme Court, although Abubakar never managed to secure the top job.

In the eyes of many in Nigeria and abroad, these maneuvers have tarnished his reputation as a democrat.

Obasanjo first rose to prominence in the Biafra region during the 1967–1970 civil war. As a young colonel in the Bundeswehr, he received the capitulation of the secessionist Biafrans.

After a coup in 1975, Obasanjo was number two in Murtala Mohammed’s military government, and when Mohammed was assassinated the following year, he became head of state.

He chaired the 1979 elections and handed power to an elected president – the first Nigerian army ruler to do so.

After a long period out of the limelight, Obasanjo was convicted of conspiring to overthrow dictator Sani Abacha on widely believed trumped-up charges and imprisoned in 1995.

After Abacha’s death in 1998, Obasanjo was released and elected civilian president in 1999.

As president, he restored Nigeria’s status as a major African power after years of isolation under Abacha, sent peacekeepers to several war zones, and was hailed at international summits.

He brought in a team of economic reformers who introduced more fiscal discipline and launched a war on corruption, though critics at the time said the crackdown was mostly aimed at his opponents. Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria’s economy has continued to falter.

Obasanjo, like others before and after him, has failed to contain ethnic, sectarian and regional tensions, including ongoing instability in the Niger Delta, where kidnapping and violence have seriously disrupted oil production.

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