Tuesday, January 17, 2023
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Breaking down the Joint Peace Accord

There is no doubt that it appears congratulatory to happily gaze at the colorful Pretoria ceremony in which the respective delegations of the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have seriously engaged with each other for more than a week and ultimately arrived at a negotiated peace deal on November 2, 2022.

The deal essentially aims at silencing the gun and putting an end to the two-year-long bloody war between them, which has gravely devastated our country at large.

In fact, it is gracious to watch the chief representatives from both parties shaking hands with each other, apparently at ease and with a sigh of relief. Of course, the actual implementation of this joint peace accord requires good faith and unwavering dedication on the part of the two belligerents themselves, as outlined in Art. 12 Sub-Art 1 of the accord.

However, for the stakeholders from the Amhara and Afar regions, which share administrative borders with Tigray and were affected by the gruesome and destructive war during the negotiation, the recently concluded peace deal could have added a profound value to its successful operationalization on the ground and the level of sustainability desired by the parties in conflict.

For instance, the same agreement that has excluded the Amhara and Afar communities vaguely proclaims that the question of the ‘contested areas’ shall be gradually flushed out and settled in line with the basic law of the land.

In connection with this, Art. 10 Sub-Art 4 of the Joint Agreement on the Permanent Cessation of Hostilities expressly declares that “the Parties commit themselves to resolving those issues in contested areas in accordance with the ‘Constitution and the constitutional order’.”

Unfortunately, that provision may perhaps amount to a silly joke that makes you feel pretty dull instead of helping you smile a little. After all, how would you dare anticipate the amicable resolution or disposition of the issue of the “contested areas” in accordance with the nation’s “Constitution and Constitutional Order,” knowing for sure that the very predicament has been engineered by the constitution in the first place?

The phrase “contested areas,” tactfully coined by the crafters of the peace deal, is a rather tricky one.

The so-called “contested areas” are meant to cautiously refer to the Wolqahit-Tseghedie, Setit-Humera, Tellemt, as well as Raya-Allamata, Aber-ghelie, and Wofla territories of the present-day Amhara Region, previously annexed from the former Beghie-Midir and Wollo Provinces and long occupied by force prior to the enactment of the current constitution.

Therefore, it makes no sense at all how such a complicated bottleneck as this one involving the Amhara identity can be smoothly resolved without the representation and effective participation of the community concerned and directly affected by the agreement.

I don’t think it is too late to do something incremental in the right direction for an all-inclusive political dialogue and sustainable peace with far-reaching implications across the sub-region.

Mind you, the golden proverb operates here: If there is a will, there is a way.

Once again, it is instructive to add that Art. 12, Sub-Art 1 of the Joint Agreement affirms that “The Parties undertake to implement this Agreement in good faith and to refrain from any action that undermines and/or is inconsistent with the spirit and letter of this Cessation of Hostilities.”

In Art. 10, Sub-Art 4, the term “contested areas” has sparked an argument on social media.

To begin with, Art. 10 is entitled “Transitional Measures.” And the full text of its Sub-Art 4 states, “The Parties commit themselves to resolving those issues of ‘contested areas’, in accordance with the Constitution and constitutional order.”

The deliberately obscure formulation represented by ‘contested areas’ is intentionally meant to refer to the territories disputed between the Amhara and Tigray Regions without any doubt.

That is, at least indirectly, what the country’s Prime Minister, National Security Advisor (chief negotiator), and Federal Government Communication Service Minister have been consistently informing the public while delivering official statements.

For lack of key definitions in any similar legal or contractual document, it is an established rule that you always take the spirit of the entire text and the proper context into account for the purpose of interpreting a given controversial phrase or clause.

Contributed by Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh

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