Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Hoping for a peaceful, prosperous 2023

To borrow a cliché 2022 has been a tumultuous year, albeit silver linings far and few between, for Ethiopia. Actually, it has been in the throes of political, economic and social crises in one form or another for decades now due to natural and man-made disasters. However, the eruption of an all-out war in northern Ethiopia in August between government forces and militants of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the unending cycle of violence gripping certain parts of the country, the stiff headwinds the economy faced on account of difficult macroeconomic conditions as well as the occurrence of the most severe La Niña-induced droughts in the last forty years following four consecutive failed rainy seasons since late 2020, have had a particularly devastating impact on significant chunks of the population. As 2023 gets into full swing it’s only appropriate to not only reflect on the significant events of 2022 and evaluate the circumstances under which the year was spent, but also make amends for the mistakes made then. If Ethiopia is to make a dent in the multi-pronged challenges it had been facing perennially during 2023, it has no choice but to do everything in its power to overcome them before they get worse.  

Of all the setbacks that Ethiopia experienced in 2022 the most testing was the resumption in August of active hostilities in northern Ethiopia. The fighting shattered the relative peace that had prevailed for five months on the back of a truce declared by the government in March to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid into the Tigray region. Aside from dealing a blow to the efforts started in June 2022 to stop the war, which began when TPLF militants launched an attack on federal army camps based in Tigray in November 2020, the war led to the death of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands from their homes. The recommencement of conflict left Ethiopians despairing over whether there is an end in sight to it. Fortunately, it was brought to a halt without exacting the horrendous toll many had feared it would thanks to the conclusion of a surprise peace deal in November. 

2022 also saw the recurrence of attacks—most ethnically motivated and some driven by the desire to amass wealth without hard work—that had mostly been blighting the western part of Ethiopia. The unending bout of horrific cycle continued to make life a living hell for the communities living in the affected areas. Thousands of defenseless civilians were killed while millions more sent fleeing and robbed of their properties in broad daylight by different armed groups including the terrorist designated “OLF-Shene” in some zones of Oromia and other regional states.  A dark stain on the nation’s conscience, the violence has been unfolding with sickening regularity since the advent to power of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) in April 2018. By the premier’s own admission not that long ago, one deadly conflict has taken place on average in Ethiopia after he came to office. The atrocities ravaging Ethiopia are largely fueled by its strategic foes and executed by traitors at home for the singular purpose of destabilizing the country. This is aimed at rendering it incapable of foiling the evil agenda they have in store for it. Given that the underlying political conditions which have left Ethiopia vulnerable to the machinations of its enemies remain unchanged, it would be remiss to expect that 2023 is going to be different from its predecessors.

Economic instability stemming from difficult macroeconomic conditions was another hallmark of 2022 for Ethiopia. The most pressing economic hardship Ethiopians had to endure during the year was undoubtedly the debilitating rise in the cost of basic goods and services, which made life an ordeal for the majority poor. Although the federal and regional governments have taken a series of measures intended to alleviate the burden Ethiopians have been shouldering, they have acknowledged that their efforts have had a limited impact in terms of lowering the prices of food items, utility bills, house rent, mass transit services, medical expenses, tuition fees and the like. The surge in inflationary pressure is attributable to a host of factors which are partly beyond the government’s control but by and large were not. Among these factors are supply-side constraints; the government’s weak regulatory capacity when it comes to reining in the predatory behavior of oligopolistic actors that distort the market; the acute shortage of foreign exchange; the rapid depreciation of the Ethiopian Birr against a basket of foreign currency; the global hike in the prices of fuel, food and fertilizer; the rising internal and external debt service costs; and the staggering costs of the war. The worst drought to have occurred in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in at least the last 70 years, which especially hit hard pastoralist areas, has not helped matters either.

The past year was not all doom and gloom for Ethiopia though. It ended on a positive note with the signing of the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) in Pretoria, South Africa on November 2 in which the federal government and TPLF agreed to permanently end the two-year war they fought. The subsequent agreements penned in Nairobi governing the implementation of the deal have further raised hopes of a lasting peace. While the commencement by both parties of the confidence-building measures set out in the CoHA augurs well for 2023, the path to peace is still fragile. For one thing, failure to adhere to the agreement’s ambitious schedule can induce a disagreement, imperiling its success. Moreover, spoilers from within Ethiopia and outside dismayed by the conclusion of a deal can take a wrecking ball to the peace process. Most concerning, however, is the potential pitfalls associated with the thorny issues indicated in the agreement, namely the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive national transitional justice policy; the formation in Tigray of an inclusive interim regional administration; and 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.

2022 has been a year of ups and downs for Ethiopia. If 2023 is to be a year in which its citizens are able to taste the dividends of peace, democracy and inclusive economic growth, it’s of the essence to build on the gains made so far and overcome the obstacles standing in the way of the realization of their aspirations.  

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