On Monday, December 19, 2022, a document specifying terms of reference (TOR) for a monitoring, verification, and compliance mechanism of the “Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement” (the Pretoria agreement) was signed in Nairobi, Kenya. In this TOR, the parties agreed to form a joint committee composed of one representative from each of the parties and a representative from the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). They also agreed to create a team of African experts (TAE) that conducts monitoring and verification of the implementation of the Pretoria agreement.
The TOR states that the objectives of the joint committee and TAE are to assist the parties in implementing the commitments they made in the Pretoria Agreement, lay the foundation for political dialogue, and monitor the parties’ conduct with respect to the obligations they assumed in the Pretoria Agreement.
Contrary to the above stated objectives, the TOR limits the scope of the TAE to only the permanent cessation of hostilities and the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). It gives less emphasis to the withdrawal of Eritrea and Amhara militants and ignores the provisions of the formation of the Interim Regional Administration (IRA) as stated in the Pretoria Agreement.
In an OpEd article in a weekly newspaper, Addis Standard, Mehari Tadele Maru (Prof.), a prominent expert in transitional governance, advised that the implementation of the Pretoria deal is lagging in civilian protection, aid provision, the restoration of services, and the withdrawal of foreign forces. He also emphasized that the establishment of an interim governance structure in Tigray has not been given due importance.
The TOR is a vindication of Mehari’s observation because it completely ignores the provisions of the IRA, which is an important if not the most important component of the Pretoria Agreement.
The IRA’s importance cannot be overstated, as its success or failure determines the establishment of long-term peace and the nature of Tigray’s relationship with Ethiopia. The IRA will be formed through political dialogue between the parties within a week of the federal government removing the TPLF from its list of terrorist organizations, according to Article 10 of the Pretoria Agreement.
Mehari, who declared the IRA “the public face of the Pretoria Deal,” expressed his reservation about the Pretoria Agreement’s effort to bring about a forced marriage between the TPLF and the Prosperity Party (PP) of Abiy Ahmed’s government, which are greatly at odds with one another.
Mehari advocates for the IRA to take the form of a “government of national unity” because, he claims, the IRA is likely to sail into turbulent political waters with the resentments of the people of Tigray against Abiy’s government, the mistrust between political forces in Tigray and Ethiopia, and the dire humanitarian crisis Tigray and neighboring regions are facing. A government of national unity in Tigray, he asserts, will ensure inclusivity, build confidence, and offer the opportunity to bring major parties and stakeholders together.
The key reason he provides for the necessity of a government of national unity is the need for the IRA to be able to mediate between the several political and military forces and the population at large, which will demand a broad-based, inclusive governance structure that can bring together all stakeholders.
Based on these assumptions, it is prudent for such an advocate of civilized engagements to call for a government of national unity. But the chances of such a government being formed are very minimal for the reasons he mentioned in his article.
Neither the TPLF nor the PP are known to work with integrity toward the formation of such an inclusive political structure. The mistrust between the TPLF, PP, and the other political parties in Tigray is deep-rooted and requires some time to ease. The secretive and conspiracy-based political culture of the TPLF and PP will not allow for positive engagement amongst political players. Most importantly neither the TPLF nor the PP are trusted by the people of Tigray and the people of Ethiopia to chart a path to a democratic system and create a level playing field for political players.
A government of national unity has the advantage of bringing all political forces to the table, but it will tangle decisions and executions with political debates and deadlocks. It is the best option to settle political differences and make sure the voices of all stakeholders are included in charting the political path.
But the purpose of the IRA is not to settle political differences or create a political roadmap. The purpose of the IRA is to ensure the provisions of the Pretoria Agreement are implemented, humanitarian aid is delivered efficiently, basic public services are restored, war-damaged public facilities are reconstructed, and a conducive environment is created for the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to conduct regional and federal elections.
These mandates require more execution capabilities than political consensus. Therefore, I recommend a technocratic IRA that is composed of non-partisan technical experts.
A technocratic government is one in which the decision-makers are selected based on their expertise as opposed to a representative democracy, in which elected representatives are the primary decision-makers in government. Its establishment in Tigray has a much better chance of transitioning Tigray into a peaceful and normalized state.
A technocratic government composed of technical experts with clearly defined mandates can execute more effectively. In war-torn Tigray, a technocratic IRA with effective execution capability is much preferable to a government of politicians who are at odds with one another.
The technocratic government should save any political decisions for the future elected government and focus on clear nonpolitical mandates to be completed within a fixed term during which all parties should commit not to interfere in its activities.
The mandates should include the implementation of the Pretoria agreement, including the DDR, the withdrawal of non-ENDF forces, the repatriation of IDPs and refugees, the restoration of public services, and finally the creation of a conducive environment for NEBE to conduct the election.
Political negotiations between political parties and stakeholders need to continue in parallel while the technocratic IRA works on the mandates given to it. The IRA should put the delivery of basic services at the top of its list of priorities, rebuild infrastructure, bring the market back into the formal economy, and create stability to improve the chances of a lasting peace.
Another important rationale for a technocratic interim government is that the probability of a stable post-transition political system is much higher when no political group controls the process. Both the TPLF and PP lack the will to chart a democratic system and are known to take any opportunity to maintain autocracy.
The governmental bureaucracy of Tigray and Ethiopia in general is designed to maintain the absolute dominance of one party. It is very important that the current bureaucracy, which is marred with political patronage, be discontinued and a merit-based technocratic bureaucracy be installed.
A technocratic IRA creates the opportunity to disband the deeply entrenched political system of one-party rule and create a level playing field for all political parties in preparation for the election. To do this, local administrations must be set up to replace the people the ruling party put in charge of local administrations.
It is important that it be protected from political influence for it to function well, but it is also important that it receive continued support and confidence from the different stakeholders and political parties. International donors and partners should work directly with the interim government to prevent the federal government from using international assistance as a political tool.
Monitoring the performance of a technocratic IRA should be included in the scope of the TOR for monitoring, verification, and compliance. The TAE and joint committee should continually evaluate key performance indicators for the IRA, and the results should be made public to ensure transparency and accountability.
Considering their political cultures, neither PP nor TPLF will trust the other to create a level playing field, but an independent technical, trusted, and respected leader can lead Tigray as it navigates through the turbulent journey ahead of it. It is important that the individuals taking over as technocrats to lead the IRA are trusted by all stakeholders and know that they will not assume any power after the end of the IRA’s term.
The leader selected to lead the technocratic interim government must be not only a technical expert but also a figure who can garner consensus over government decisions, including cabinet appointments, and who also has good relationships with all stakeholders.
One individual who can be tasked with such a big role is Arkebe Oqubay (PhD), who worked with both parties and is known to be an effective executive. He was revered as the “best mayor of Africa” when he was administering the Addis Ababa city administration and also served as the vice chairman of the Tigray Regional Administration. He was also shortlisted as one of the candidates to lead the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) for his transformational leadership in developing industrial parks in Ethiopia.
Considering the execution capabilities and large figurehead needed to lead the IRA, there is no better technocrat than Arkebe. His one challenge is that he may be seen as a person who betrayed Tigray during the war because he stayed silent while most Tigrayans voiced their opposition to the war crimes committed against the people of Tigray.
Another individual who can take on such a big task is Tsadkan Gebretinsae (Gen.). The general is a savvy strategist who is known for his military, diplomatic, administrative, and business leadership capabilities. He is one of the masterminds who led the Tigray people’s revolutionary war during the Derg regime. He also led the reestablishment of the ENDF after the civil war. He consulted many African countries in their post-conflict establishment of states and governments with their security apparatuses. His strategic leadership capabilities can help Tigray navigate the difficult journey ahead.
Other non-politicians, like Tadesse Yemane, who led the Tigray Development Association (TDA), can also take the lead to form a non-partisan technocratic IRA. The engagements between the TPLF and the PP-ruled federal government of Ethiopia seem to be improving, but they still need to address the most important components of the Pretoria Agreement. The parties need to stop kicking the can farther and act now! Abiy’s administration should order the withdrawal of all non-ENDF forces from Tigray, and the TPLF should stop calling itself the government of Tigray. A technocratic IRA needs to be formed immediately.
Mersea Kidan is a change and transformational leadership expert and a candidate for the Doctor of Business Administration program at Metropolitan State University in the US. He can be reached at [email protected]
Contributed by Mersea Kidan