Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Sustaining the peace deal

The implementation of the permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) signed between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Pretoria, South Africa on November 2 is gaining momentum. At the beginning of this week a high-level delegation of federal government officials led by Tagesse Chafo, Speaker of Parliament, paid a visit to the capital of Tigray regional state, Mekelle, to deliberate on the implementation of the peace agreement and underscore that both sides should live up to their end of the bargain. Soon after the visit commercial flights and telecom services to the region, which were suspended due to the two-year war between the two sides, resumed to Mekelle. Electricity, telecom and limited banking services were restored earlier in parts of Tigray following the peace deal. Coupled with the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to the population of Tigray and preparations for the disarmament of TPLF forces in advanced stages, these measures signal that the CoHA is on track.

The path to peace, though encouraging, remains fragile. Despite the reaffirmation by the parties to the peace deal of their commitment to its implementation, there can be no denying that the entire process is susceptible to a raft of problems. For one, the failure to meet the ambitious timetable for various steps to be taken under the agreement can lead to a disagreement. On the other hand, spoilers from within Ethiopia and outside bent on disrupting the air of peace prevailing in the country may well do everything in their power to throw a wrench in the works. In addition to these actors, the threat of economic instability stemming from difficult macroeconomic conditions prompted by the staggering costs of the war, the global hike in the prices of fuel, food and fertilizer as well as the rising internal and external debt service costs imperils the fledgling gains toward peace and stability.

While the execution of time-bound provisions of the CoHA  is proceeding fairly smoothly, the implementation of the consequential matters it addresses have not yet begun. The first relates to the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive national transitional justice policy aimed at ensuring accountability for the atrocities committed by all sides during the war in tandem with ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation, and healing, consistent with the Ethiopian constitution and the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework. The second is the formation in Tigray of an inclusive interim regional administration that takes over the reins of power from the TPLF-led government whose tenure officially expired over a year ago. Third and the most challenging is the settlement of the long-running dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions over areas claimed by both in a manner provided for under the constitution. If the envisaged dialogues on these thorny issues are to bear fruit, it’s incumbent on all participants to be guided by the national interest in their endeavors.

As implementation of the CoHA and the accompanying Nairobi agreements proceeds, it needs to be augmented by different complimentary measures. The commencement of a people-to-people dialogue between the communities which bore the brunt of the conflict—the Amhara, Afar and Tigrayan people—is vitally important in terms of healing the psychological trauma they underwent, achieving reconciliation,  and strengthening their centuries-old bond. Moreover, it’s vitally important to ensure that the inclusive national dialogue set to begin soon also seeks a political solution for the root causes of the war in order to avert the recurrence of a similar catastrophe in northern Ethiopia and elsewhere. It’s then that the bane that has handicapped Ethiopian politics for far too long, namely using violence to settle political differences, can become a thing of the past. 

For a significant chunk of Ethiopia’s millennia of history, war has been the primary means of defeating one’s rival on the way to assuming the reins of power. That is why the deal struck between the government of Ethiopia and the TPLF represents a victory for Ethiopia, not just one of the parties. Both owe the responsibility of making full use of the upsides of the deal. Aside from ushering a new dawn of peace and prosperity by bringing to a close one of the darkest chapters in Ethiopia’s history, it restores the nation’s international standing. Ethiopians are primarily responsible for implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement and instituting a political process that can neutralize the forces determined to torpedo it. Failure to sustain the deal is bound to have dire consequences for Ethiopian, the volatile region it’s located in and the rest of the world. This is a specter Ethiopians must not allow to pass.

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