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TPLF, opposition parties, the media, civil society, and scholars in Tigray must sincerely enter into inclusive dialogue to create a more peaceful, democratic, and productive region.
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On 2 November, the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed an agreement in Pretoria, South Africa under the aegis of the African Union to end the two-year long bloody war centred on Tigray.
As the suffering of the public in Tigray has mounted, Tegaru have yearned for peace and a return to normalcy. However, the Pretoria deal elicited mixed emotions.
Many Tegaru initially viewed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) as a capitulation rather than a legitimate way to achieve peace. The deafening silence following the agreement both by senior leaders of the TPLF and of the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) exacerbated the confusion.
Since, the arrival of a delegation of senior federal officials in Mekelle led by Tagese Chaffo, the speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives, and the subsequent restoration of telecoms services and the resumption of flights to Mekelle, which were shut down for much of the war, helped to forge some level of trust between the two parties.
Furthermore, some of the objectives of the agreement, such as disarming the TDF and sending federal troops to Mekelle, have begun to materialize, while plans are advancing to establish an Interim Regional Administration (IRA).
The peace agreement signals the end of the fighting, but nobody can be certain about what the future holds. Implementation and lasting peace necessitate a paradigm shift within Tigrayan society; something that holds for Ethiopia more broadly as well.
To this end, how the protagonists position themselves, namely the incumbent and opposition parties, media, civil society, and the diaspora, will be essential in navigating the coming tests. Finding solutions requires internal dialogue aimed at devising a clear roadmap to put an end to the suffering of the people of Tigray and establish an inclusive political system.
Blaming one another, as we have seen so far, will not bear any fruit. The people of Tigray have already suffered immensely due to polarized views and irreconcilable differences.
Securing a positive future for Tigray requires tangible constructive contributions from each stakeholder. To this end, the main protagonists must play their role in alleviating the political and humanitarian crisis in the region.
First and foremost, these efforts should emphasize the importance of sincere discussion.
It is a common conceit among political parties to assume that one’s own ideology, perspective, or alternative is the ‘best’ one. Those that operate in Tigray, including the incumbent TPLF, are by no means immune to this syndrome.
However, given the current situation, there’s a need to transcend such old-fashioned patterns. As such, the protagonists should stop viewing the current political deadlock through the narrow lens of a zero-sum power struggle.
As an experienced player at the national and regional level for almost half a century, the TPLF has a crucial role during this transitional time. Hence, the party should prepare itself to engage in open and genuine dialogue with other parties in Tigray to prepare a roadmap charting out the region’s political, social, and economic future.
Justifiably, various Tigrayan stakeholders hold the TPLF at least partly responsible for the leadership failures that contributed to the war and prolonged its resolution while the Tigrayan people suffered under the draconian siege of the federal government and its allies.
Despite such perspectives, any approach in the region that side-lines the TPLF is doomed to fail. Moving forward, any engagement with federal authorities and within Tigrayan society must therefore recognize the TPLF’s central role.
For its part, the TPLF should wake up and start aligning itself with the new political dispensation in Tigray. The party must break a habit of a lifetime and free itself from its age-old ‘my way or the highway’ mindset. It has to instead engage in inclusive dialogue and pluralistic politics.
The leadership and cadres should be aware that there is still a chance to rebrand the party and play a significant role as an opinion leader in future discussions. The burden is on the TPLF’s shoulders if it aspires to leave a positive legacy.
TPLF should play an active role in creating fertile ground for a smooth transition period. In doing so, its leaders ought to recognize the proliferation of opposition parties, independent media outlets, and other organizations that have considerably widened Tigray’s political scene.
Most importantly, the interests of Tigray, rather than the TPLF and its leaders, should be the focus of any discussions.
The role of the opposition parties, including Arena Tigray, Salsay Weyane, Tigray Independence Party, and Baytona, will not be productive if they choose to boycott the system entirely and seek to eliminate the TPLF from the political landscape of Tigray.
But while the TPLF needs to be part of the process of finding a solution, it should not be the sole actor as it used to be. All political actors should have a say in mapping out the future.
The opposition political parties should not be focused on playing the blame game. Rather, they should be willing to learn from their past mistakes, and those of the TPLF.
At this critical juncture, new ideas must be developed and shared with the public. The role of opposition parties is to put forth alternative strategies. It’s not enough to simply say “TPLF is a liar, it betrayed the struggle, and is the source of all miseries in Tigray so should be gotten rid of.”
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Otherwise, the opposition parties will merely be perpetuating the problems they have condemned since their inception.
However, this doesn’t mean that such past misdeeds can be ignored and accountability overlooked. At the same time, because no one will be spared from such accusations and trials, it’s important to not expend undue energy on such matters. Doing so would create opportune conditions for those who stand against the survival of Tigray and its people.
Based on these principles, Tigray’s opposition parties should prepare themselves to play a constructive role in the soon-to-be Interim Regional Administration (IRA).
To this end, the opposition parties should call for an inclusive dialogue on Tigray’s multifaceted challenges as part of the federation. Some form of consensus must be reached before they join the IRA.
This would help opposition parties put forward their agenda rather than engaging in agendas designed by the federal government or the TPLF. The focus should not be on vying for recognition and maximizing their seats in the regional council.
For obvious reasons, it will be exceedingly difficult for Tigrayans to develop trust in the federal government. Every move going forward will be viewed with fear and mistrust. But, as it stands, the only viable approach is to implement the peace deal and design the future of Tigray, either as part of the federation or by seceding from it.
The media also has an important role in the deliberations that will shape Tigray’s political landscape. Media outlets provide a platform where divergent ideas are brought to the table for critical but civil debate.
Such an initiative is an arduous task given the polarized discourse in Tigray and Ethiopia. There are many dissenting views on how to deal with the current quagmire and a firm belief among many that their way is the only way.
The media’s role is to bring all the actors together and engage with their respective views, ideologies, and suggestions.
At this stage, there’s a need to identify and prioritize issues that need an urgent response vis-à-vis the survival and livelihoods of the people of Tigray.
Those issues that should be prioritized include the following questions:
What needs to be done to end the suffering of the public and what role should each actor play? What will be the future relationship of the regional administration with the federal government and other regions?
What kind of regional government are we looking for? Should Tigray even continue within the federation as we know it today? What other options should be considered, such as a confederation with greater autonomy or independent nation statehood?
One of the major points of contention since Abiy Ahmed took power back in 2018 is the federal constitution. Actors in Tigray should scrutinize the constitution in order to pinpoint the provisions that are in line with the interests of the Tigrayan polity.
Considering alternatives requires focused and broad-based public deliberation, and should not be conducted in a top-down manner.
Apart from these issues related to the constitution, debates over rebuilding Tigray, territorial integrity, transitional justice, institutional development, and restructuring the political landscape should also be points of deliberation.
Even though civil society in Tigray is nascent for various reasons, such organizations can still play a pivotal role alongside the media in the above discussions, defending basic human rights, and helping transform the society.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) could disseminate the outcome of the deliberations to the local community through their extensive communication networks.
This would help to identify what the society wants and gauge the heartbeat of the public in relation to the key issues identified above.
However, most of the CSOs in the region suffer from a lack of sufficient resources. They also tend to operate as the mouthpiece of the TPLF government. That has to change.
The long-term health of Tigrayan society greatly depends on the ability to develop a stronger civil society that can provide an outlet to counterbalance the dominance of the ruling parties in Addis Abeba and Mekelle.
The Tigrayan diaspora has played a significant role in exposing the wrongdoings of the government in Arat Kilo during the war when there were few others doing so.
The role of the diaspora prior to and during the war in mobilizing all sorts of support for suffering people in Tigray was immense and must be recognized. The diaspora will continue to play a role in shaping political, economic, social, and cultural issues in Tigray.
As a major actor, apart from financial, material, and moral support, the diaspora should actively engage and use its leverage to pressure all stakeholders, including the incumbent party, to partake in dialogue.
It is hard to find independent media in Tigray, therefore the diaspora community should also help create independent professional media at home and abroad. They must be the voice of voiceless.
Another pivotal area where the diaspora could play a significant role is in organizing a parallel high-level discussion about the key issues facing Tigray that have been identified here.
Every topic on the table requires active participation from scholars. Therefore, Tigrayan academics should play their part in recovery and reconstruction by assisting the IRA and offering evidence-based solutions to help try and bridge the gap between stakeholders.
All parties involved must try and avoid partisan stances, go above and beyond to understand one another, and put Tigray’s interests first while always taking objective realities into account.
The discussions and the continuous engagement of stakeholders should build the groundwork for breaking the vicious cycle in which our society finds itself and help usher in a more virtuous, plural, and fruitful political landscape in Tigray.
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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.
Main photo: A demonstration by Tigrayans in London; Martin Plaut; 25 April 2021.
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