The recent lull in the deadly violence, which has been rocking considerable parts of the Oromia regional state since 2018, has come as a relief to the long-suffering communities living in the affected areas. The respite seems to come on the heels of a change of demeanor by the conflicting parties. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been brutally murdered with hundreds of thousands more displaced from their homes and needing assistance to cover their basic needs. While the federal and Oromia governments lay the blame at the door of what they call OLF-Shene, the group, which describes itself as the Oromo Liberation Front-Oromo Liberation Army (OLF-OLA), accuses them of being behind the atrocities. Time will tell if the relative peace prevailing in the region will become permanent.
The first promising sign that the security nightmare in Oromia could improve somewhat came with the publication in late January of a brief political manifesto by the OLF-Shene/OLF-OLA in which it stated that it was committed to a negotiated peace that would lead to the cessation of its armed struggle subject to certain measures that it says are essential for a meaningful reconciliation. In mid-February the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and the president of the Oromia region called for reconciliation with the insurgent group in a gesture meant to settle the deadly conflict. The group immediately welcomed the move to end fighting in Oromia, but asked for clarity on conditions for such peace talks, including the involvement of international mediators. However, neither side has taken any steps since then towards the consummation of a permanent deal.
Although Ethiopia has experienced one form of violence or another throughout its long history, the frequency and brutality of the violence have particularly escalated during the tenure of Prime Minister Abiy. In the nearly five years he has been in power, hundreds of thousands of citizens have died in the war in the northern part of the country as well as in hundreds of senseless intercommunal conflicts and targeted attacks in which a staggering number of unarmed civilians including children, women and the elderly have been massacred. Millions more have been injured, uprooted from their homes and traumatized by the seemingly endless cycle of violence. The situation has been compounded by the failure of the federal government and the administrations of the regions where brutalities have taken place with appalling regularity to end them once and for all. This has prompted the public to lose faith in the government’s ability to discharge its law protection responsibilities. It has also seriously dented the credibility of the repeated pronouncements of the federal and regional governments that they are determined to protect the safety and security of citizens.
There can be no denying that the expression of the willingness to find a political solution to the violence besetting Oromia is admittedly the first step in the right direction. Expressing the desire to end the violence is one thing. Taking the necessary measures that yield concrete dividends is entirely another thing, however. While the extending of an olive branch by both sides could bring back the long-sought stability back to Oromia, it’s not enough in itself to bring about the desired result. It needs to be accompanied by a host of confidence and security building measures that help the reconciliation process get off to an auspicious start. Needless to say, it’s premature to declare that the overtures of peace are certain to end the atrocities bedeviling Oromia any time soon. This said there is no alternative but to commence the reconciliation process underway within the shortest possible time if defenseless compatriots who have been leading a life of ordeal are to taste the fruits of peace.
Ethiopia has been battered by a slew of wars and conflicts for far too long. The dramatic political reforms that have been unfolding in the political sphere in the past decade have led to a raft of crises that have threatened the country’s unity and integrity. The situation has been exacerbated by the set of structural issues that has been confronting the country for decades. The strategy pursued by the federal and regional governments to contain armed groups like OLF-Shene/OLF-OLA—the use of force to quash it completely— has not succeeded. Although the government owes the duty to undertake law enforcement operations in a bid to uphold law and order, the failure of the strategy calls for a rethink espousing the settlement of political differences through negotiation and dialogue. The avowed commitment of the government and OLF-Shene/OLF-OLA to peace is a development that marks the start of a decidedly tortuous process. This said, it’s incumbent on both to go beyond making pronouncements and translate into action the calls they made for reconciliation.