Almost two months ago, Ethiopia’s federal government declared an indefinite humanitarian truce, a major step taken after 17 months of devastating civil war in the northern part of the country. It was a decision welcomed by many on the international arena, including the US, which applauded the action as a step in the right direction to end the conflict. The truce was followed by delivery of food aid to war-ravaged Tigray Region, with the last month alone seeing the largest food delivery made since the war intensified almost a year ago when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front re-ignited the conflict by seizing areas in adjacent Afar and Amhara regains.
Not only the truce but also the promised negotiation between the parties to the conflict made many hope that the war would end soon. It is such hope that is encouraging the west and international organizations, resulting in the flow of aid by countries and multinational financial institutions to rebuild the economy and help victims of the conflict.
Last week, the World Bank and the French Development Agency (AFD) approved loans amounting to 300 million and 20 million USD, respectively — a gesture lauded by policymakers who were intent on reviving the economy beset by the effects of the war as well as shortage of hard currency, inflation, widening trade balance and a bulging budget gap.
Despite promising signals that a negotiated settlement is within reach, Ethiopia finds itself again in a precarious position, as the warring parties are flexing their muscles to initiate another round of fighting, which security specialists caution would be more deadly than its previous iteration. It is shocking that the dueling parties announced that their respective forces were battle-ready.
It is against this backdrop that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in less than a month, paid visits to three military bases where members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force are stationed. His last trip took him to Humera, where he remarked, “the army is ready to restore peace whenever it is disrupted.” He also told troops there to be ready at all times, signaling the possibility of war breaking out again. In the wake of the PM’s remark, TPLF head Debretsion Gebremichael said, “The people of Tigray should be ready for the last chapter of the struggle to ensure the safety of Tigrayans.”
Debretsion, at a public forum held earlier this month, said “his administration has exhausted all options to end the conflict through negotiation and diplomacy but this did not bear fruit as yet. This comes on the heels of accusations by rights groups and the Ethiopian government that the rebel group was press-ganging Tigrayan youth, an allegation categorically denied by a rebel spokesperson. It, however, admitted that the youth had been voluntarily joining TPLF’s forces, blaming the Ethiopian government for “inflicting a slow and painful death on Tigrayans by employing food as a weapon of war.” The federal government has all along been denying such accusations.
In an apparent move that seemed to be a response to the mobilization of TPLF, the Amhara Regional State called on its special forces and the Amhara people to remain vigilant in the face of a possible attack from the TPLF, another sign indicating the likelihood of fighting resuming soon. In its statement released by the end of last week, the regional administration accused the TPLF of declaring war against it again, adding that security forces in the region should be ready to respond to TPLF incursions.
By the same token, Demeke Zewdu (Colonel), leader of the Welkait Amhara Identity Question Committee who also doubles as administrator of the area which was previously under the jurisdiction of Tigray, urged security forces at federal and regional levels to defend the area against potential attacks by forces of the TPLF, which he says is beating the drums of war and is preparing to seize the area currently under the control of the federal army, Eritrean troops and the Amhara Special Force.
To make matters worse, there were credible reports last week indicating that fighting has already broken out between the forces of the TPLF and the Eritrean government in areas along the common border. The Eritrean Ministry of Information, in an editorial published earlier this week, reiterated that country’s resolve to defend its territory from any military offensive coming from the TPLF, which it says is planning to take control of the Wolkait and Humera areas with a view to opening a route to Sudan.
After following recent developments, Goitom Tsegaye, deputy chairperson of Arena Tigray, an opposition party active in Tigray before the war broke out, expressed his fear that the parties would soon come to blows. “It is going to be more deadly unless each side stops beating the drums of war and resort to peaceful means of settling its differences with the other,” said Goitom, adding that war is not going to be a solution to end the dispute among the two groups.
Demoz Kassie, a senior official with the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA), begs to differ. “War happens not only because you want it but also to defend oneself from aggression, which is exactly what the Amhara region and its people are facing now. “Though peace is the ultimate solution, the preparation by TPLF to invade Amhara and Afar regions as well as Eritrea shows war is inevitable,” Demoze added.
Political parties say the recently-constituted National Dialogue Commission, which has yet to stand on its feet, is not also in a position to end the war, even though many hoped it would mediate between the warring parties. “Even though an all-inclusive national dialogue was a task the commission was entrusted with, it is doing little by way of preventing another war,” says Goitom.
The Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), which has called on all feuding parties to resolve their differences via negotiation, blamed the Commission for not being impartial and for failing to mediate between the opposing groups. “The Commission is dead on arrival,” said Merara Gudina (Prof.), chairperson of OFC, cautioning that another cycle of war would compromise the very existence of the country as a united entity.
Contributed by Samson Berhane & Selamawit Mengesha