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In-depth Analysis: Can Ethiopia peace agreement resolve war in Tigray and bring lasting peace to its devastated population?


A Tigrayan woman refugee in the Um Rakuba refugee camp – tries to protect herself from wind-blown dust. Gedaref region, Sudan, December 2020. Photo: MSF

By Beka Atoma Boru @bek_boru

Addis Abeba – The less than expected peace pact between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan authorities held signed on 02 November in Pretoria, South Africa has entertained contradictory responses.

Since the announcement of the peace accord, the deal has grasped the attention of not only Ethiopians including those in Tigray but also the international community. Officials, ordinary people, scholars, and political parties enunciated their reactions.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres among others said that he believes the agreement is a promising start to wind up the bloody war in the country, urging the international community to support the bold step taken by the two parties.

The peace agreement brought about rays of hope to people in dire situations from lack of much needed humanitarian aid including medical services and to families that have been disconnected for over a year due to blackout of basic services including communications and banking.

Medhanit Shumiye, 40, is a mother of three and lives in Addis Abeba. She doesn’t know the whereabouts and existence of her relatives since the outbreak of the war. Despite her dreams of a good day to come, she has been despairing of her isolation from her parents, relatives and friends for two solid years.

She sees the peace agreement as a golden opportunity to people like her, to know the existence of their family, to meet them and to improve the entire dire situation in the northern region in general.

The war devastated the entire Tigray, and parts of Afar and Amhara Regions. Hundreds of thousands are believed to have died and millions displaced from their villages and they were subjected to different abominations and atrocities throughout the course of the war. Now, the feeling among many people is that the peace deal will be a stepping stone to restore life to normalcy.

But, will the peace agreement hold?

The commitment by the Ethiopian government and TPLF to proceed inline with the provisions of the Pretoria agreement and abide by it, is very crucial indication of the success of the agreement signed between the two parties, Bereket Diriba, a Chavening scholar and political and security analyst told Addis Standard.

“The frustration created by the war, the immense losses it resulted in terms of material and human life cost, the enormous economic stress created by the war, along with the international communities’ pressure, mainly the US, could force the parties to abide by the agreement,” he said.

“Pacification of languages and terminologies on government-controlled and TPLF affiliated media, following the signing of the CoHA are signs that indicate the agreement could last,” Bereket added.

Yohannes Woldemariam (PhD), a researcher on the politics of the Horn of Africa based in the US, also said the peace agreement could bring peace for the short term for several reasons despite reservations on the durability of the peace.

There was a lot of arm twisting that was going on”

The pressure particularly from the US is a major factor that could make the two parties commit themselves to the terms of the agreement, Yohannes told Addis Standard.

“It [the peace agreement] was done under a heavy pressure from the Americans. There was a lot of arm twisting that was going on” he said.

The US has said that the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) signed in Pretoria, South Africa between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan leadership must be fully implemented to consider restoring partnerships with Ethiopia which includes restoring AGOA and supporting IMF, World Bank etc loans to Ethiopia.

Yohannes also stated that the economic cost of the war and the level of humanitarian crisis in Tigray are other prospective factors to make the parties abide by the peace agreement.

“The siege[on Tigray] was merciless in terms of the number of people dying from hunger and lack of medicine” he said, while also noting that, “the economic leverage also came into play hugely because this was a very expensive war. Those drones cost money,” he added.

However there are underlying issues begging questions and uncertainties on whether the agreement could bring lasting peace, despite the aforementioned factors and re-affirmed commitment to the cessation of hostilities agreement of the two warring parties.

Yohannes says, “the cause of failures in peace agreements usually relates to a breakdown in their implementations. It is very important that the agreement is not only clear and comprehensive but also that the parties have the same understanding of its terms and the nature of obligations which they are required to adhere to”.

Thus, he has doubts whether the two parties are equally clear on the terms of this agreement.

“I think from the point of view of Tigray, with this agreement they got something in terms of this clause that says the constitutional framework. Because with the constitutional framework, they can get Wolkait and the Raya areas within Tigray at least in theory,” he says.

He added, “that is a time bomb right there” given the opposition that arises from the Amhara political camp. The Amhara regional president had already said that the regional government would not negotiate on the issues of Wolkait and other contested areas.

Bereket also notes the discontent regarding the peace agreement among the Amhara nationalist political forces. “They [the Amharas] feel marginalized from the peace agreement. Some even consider the CoHA as a threat to their recently gained control over the disputed areas like Wolkait, Raya etc” he said.

Isaias – ‘The elephant in the room’

The Pretoria CoHA states under Article 6 that the Tigrayan combatants would be disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated within 30 days of the signing of the agreement.

Subsequently, the top commanders of both the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and the Tigrayan armed combatants have agreed in Nairobi on modalities of orderly and successful implementation of the agreement which includes the disarmament of Tigrayan fighters.

However the issue of disarmament has faced rejection particularly from the Tigrayan diaspora who according to Yohannes were, “The financiers and the PR of Tigray” during the war.

Yohannes said, “the Social media propaganda that was being waged by the Tigrayan diaspora was extremely impactful. When that is lost from the equation and they turn against the Tigrayan leadership, that is a very significant factor”.

“The Peace agreement from the point of view of Isaias is unexpected, and what he will do next matters”

He argues that the issue of disarmament by its nature is “complicated” and the fact that it is conditioned on provision of security in Tigray, makes it more intricate.

“How many heavy weapons are they [Tigrayan combatants] going to surrender? How is that going to be monitored? Who is going to determine that there is security in Tigray? The mistrust is very intense to begin with,” he said.

Bereket also agrees that the Federal government and its security forces are “in absolute trust deficit in Tigray”.

“The media coverage of the atrocities allegedly committed in the Tigray region created a fear that the ENDF may not be trusted to guarantee and respect the Tigrayan rights,” he added.

In addition the fact that the Tigrayan leadership put the withdrawal of Eritrean troops and Amara forces from Tigray as a precondition to begin disarmament, makes Isaias, the leader of Eritrea “the elephant in the room” according to Yohannes.

“The Peace agreement from the point of view of Isaias is unexpected, and what he will do next matters,” Yohannes said.

“The media coverage of the atrocities allegedly committed in the Tigray region created a fear that the ENDF may not be trusted to guarantee and respect the Tigrayan rights,”

Split in the Tigrayan camp?

Another potential factor that could undermine the peace agreement is the divergence among the Tigrayans on what the end game of the war should have been.

Yohannes said, “I don’t think there was unanimity even at the top level on what the end game of the war is within the TPLF. Some were looking for an end game within the framework of Ethiopia, and the younger more militant including those in the diaspora were looking for cessation”.

“Some of the negotiators, only a few days ago, were heroes and now they are seen as traitors,” he added.

According to Bereket, some of the Tigray diaspora communities and nationalist Tigrayans consider the CoHA “as a humiliating defeat for Tigrayans”. As a result, “With the support of the diaspora-based forces, members of the TDF might opt to continue the armed struggle” he said.

Nevertheless, Bereket said, “these factors will not be enough to derail the agreement if the major stakeholders continue to abide by the agreement” given the fact that, “communities along the conflict affected areas and the general population in Ethiopia and Eritrea seem to have little interest in continuing the war and the agreement is already embraced”.

However “for the agreement to result in full stability and recovery of the country, similar dialogue initiatives need to be replicated in areas that are currently suffering from conflict across Ethiopia”.

For Yohannes though, there is yet another crucial factor that determines the durability of the peace agreement which is justice and accountability.

“For the short term, yes, the agreement could bring peace, but what kind of peace would it be without justice?” he said.

“If this was the solution that Abiy and the TPLF were looking for, why didn’t this take place two years ago? Why did (by some accounts) a million people need to die? Where is justice? Where is accountability?” he asks. AS






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