The conclusion of a surprise peace deal between the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Pretoria, South Africa in which they agreed to a permanent cessation of hostilities has come as a great relief for all Ethiopians. As a people who were subjected to a litany of atrocities in the past two years on account of a civil war triggered by the TPLF’s attack federal army camps based in the Tigray region in November 3, 2020, the agreement struck a chord when news about it broke. Many did not expect the AU-led talks, which began on October 25, to bear fruit within ten days of their commencement, believing that any meaningful truce would be arrived after successive rounds of negotiations in view of the deep distrust running between the warring parties. Be that as it may the very fact that a deal which aims at ending the horrendous internecine conflict is a welcome turn of events for the country and its long-suffering people.
The agreement achieves the goals sought by the talks, namely securing a cessation of hostilities, thereby paving the way for the restoration of peace, security and stability in Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia. It represents an opportunity to ensure the preservation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the resumption of unhindered humanitarian access, the restoration of services as well as healing and reconciliation. Towards this end it provides for, inter alia, the disarming, demobilization and reintegration of TPLF combatants; the restoration of Federal Authority in Tigray; the expeditious, smooth, peaceful, and coordinated entry of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and other relevant federal institutions into the regional capital Mekelle; the overall control of airports, highways and federal facilities within the Tigray region by federal security forces; and the cessation of all forms of hostile propaganda, rhetoric, and hate speech. As these measures are envisaged to be implemented within a short period of time they can go a long way towards bringing immediately the much-needed respite Ethiopians have been longing for.
The agreement addresses other critical matters which are more challenging and as such have not been time-bound. This is understandable given that their success resolution requires a host of political dialogues involving multiple stakeholders. The first is the establishment of an inclusive Interim regional administration in Tigray after the federal government facilitates the lifting of the terrorist designation of the TPLF. Equally important is the implementation by the federal government of Ethiopia of a “comprehensive national transitional justice policy aimed at accountability, ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation, and healing, consistent with the Constitution of FDRE and the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework.” Perhaps the most difficult and emotive task that lies ahead is resolving the fate of areas claimed both by the Amhara and Tigray regions in accordance with the constitution. It’s absolutely imperative that the dialogues on these matters be underpinned by the national interest and conducted in a constructive manner in order to bring about at a lasting political settlement. Failure is bound to lead to another round of protracted conflict and destruction.
For anyone rejecting the peace deal out of hand they should remind themselves that the bloody civil war has taken a heavy political, economic and social toll on Ethiopian society as a whole, but particularly more so on the communities living in the regions where it raged—Tigray, Amhara and Afar. In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed and injured, millions more were uprooted from their homes, psychologically traumatized and left needing emergency food assistance. Scores of social and economic infrastructures, including schools, universities, health institutions, and other facilities were totally or partially damaged in these regions. The war has battered the economy as well, stoking an astronomic rise in joblessness and inflationary rate that has proven to be backbreaking for the majority poor. The huge amount of desperately needed foreign exchange it has gobbled up has contributed to exacerbating its shortage and restrictions on its allocation. Although it may be difficult to determine with any degree of precision the true cost of the war, there is no doubt that the destruction it has wrought easily runs into billions of dollars.
The deal struck between the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF represents a victory for Ethiopia, not just one of the parties. It offers multi-faceted opportunities that must not be squandered. Aside from heralding in a new dawn of peace and prosperity by helping draw a line under one of the darkest chapters in our history, it not only restores the nation’s standing in the eyes of the international community, but also validates the notion that Africans are perfectly capable of finding African solutions for the problems besetting them. Both parties should be commended for displaying the courage to participate in the peace talks and make concessions that disappoint their support base and allies. The agreement, however, will not see the light of day if they fail to honor the pledges they made therein. This prospect can be averted through the demonstration of a willingness to let go of deep-seated antagonisms and carry out the confidence-building measures set out in the agreement. If Ethiopians are to enjoy the dividends of the peace deal, it’s of the essence to implement it faithfully in letter and spirit.