Calls for an immediate to the third round of fighting between government forces and militants of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which poured cold water on the efforts underway since June to find a peaceful solution to the 22-month war that erupted following TPLF’s attack on federal army camps based in the Tigray region in November 2020, have been mounting since active hostilities resumed on August 24. Sadly, the calls have been ignored. The conflict has intensified and spread to more places in the adjoining Amhara and Afar regions in addition to the area where it initially began, uprooting tens of thousands from their homes. The renewed conflict has shattered the months-long relative calm that has been prevailing in the northern part of Ethiopia following the federal government’s announcement in March of a truce to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to Tigray.
The bloody civil war has had to and continues to cause damaging political, economic and social consequences for Ethiopia and its people. In addition to the tens of thousands killed and injured, millions more were displaced, psychologically traumatized and left needing emergency food assistance. Numerous social and economic infrastructures were totally or partially damaged, including schools, universities, health institutions, and other facilities in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions. The economy has been pummeled. Inflation is running at a level that has proven to be backbreaking for the majority poor; joblessness has soared due to the destruction of scores of manufacturing industries as well as the suspension and closure of large investment operations; the undoubtedly huge sums of foreign exchange the war has eaten up has contributed to its dearth at levels rarely seen before and to driving inflation higher. It may be difficult to determine with any degree of precision the true cost of the war. But if one were to hazard a guess, the destruction it has wrought easily runs into billions of dollars.
The re-eruption of a full blown war came soon after a spanner was thrown in the works in the peace initiative launched by the Ethiopian government, which had established a committee tasked with starting peace talks. The government’s pronouncement in late July that it was ready to hold talks “anytime, anywhere” and the TPLF’s reciprocity of the gesture by declaring its readiness to end the war through peaceful means augured well for the prospects of peace. Despite the overtures of peace, both sides conditioned the commencement of talks on the fulfillment of certain events—the declaration of a formal cessation of hostilities in the case of the Ethiopian government and the resumption of basic services to Tigray by the TPLF. They also differed on who should lead negotiations, with the government insisting that the process must be overseen by the African Union (AU) but the rebels demanding that former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta should chair it. Three weeks after the resumption of the war though, the TPLF made a volte face and abandoned the preconditions it had laid, saying it said was prepared to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities and to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the AU.
A host of hurdles can potentially wreck the proposed talks. TPLF forces still occupy parts of the Amhara and Afar regions they invaded. Similarly, the Amhara region has ruled out ceding the areas its forces wrested from Tigray soon after the war erupted, arguing they were forcefully incorporated under the Tigray region in 1991. The presence of the Eritrean troops in some of the territories they occupied in Tigray poses a challenge that complicates negotiations. In fact Eritrea is reportedly mobilizing military reservists to bolster the army, which has been aiding Ethiopia in its fight against the TPLF. Moreover, Western governments are persistently siding with the TPLF, waging a grey warfare against Ethiopia through a campaign undertaken by the mainstream media, think tanks and rights advocacy organizations in furtherance of their plausible end-game— to engineer a regime change or if that does not work to coerce the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) into accepting the demands of the TPLF.
Securing a permanent stop to the fighting in northern Ethiopia followed by a political settlement which results in enduring peace is one of if not the sternest challenge confronting Ethiopia today. Nevertheless, no price is too high to pay for peace. There is no better time than the present for the warring parties to demonstrate that they are truly determined to strike the peace deal that Ethiopians long for. The deep-seated antipathy between the two sides understandably makes it extremely difficult to arrive at a win-win solution. It’s imperative that they go into negotiations in the understanding that engaging in dialogue and making the necessary compromise requires setting aside egos and a commitment to the greater good. They also need to keep in mind that the goal of a peace process is not total victory for one party and a defeat for the other; it’s achieving an outcome in which the interest of all the protagonists and more importantly the people of Ethiopia are reasonably guaranteed. That is why we implore the Ethiopian government and TPLF to heed the renewed call for peace by all stakeholders.