Saturday, February 24, 2024

Forging a path to reconciliation

The historic visit of a delegation headed by Getachew Reda, the president of the Tigray Interim Administration, to the Amhara region a fortnight ago—the first visit by a high-ranking Tigrayan official to the region after the war between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government forces ended with a peace agreement signed in in November 2022—has been hailed as a significant step forward towards reconciliation between the Tigray and Amhara regions, which were at the center of the conflict that devastated the country for two years since November 2020. As expected, both Getachew and Yilkal Kefale (PhD), the president of the Amhara Region, reiterated the importance of peace and stressed the need for unity and collaboration between their respective regions. Although the two leaders had previously met face-to-face at the end of April when the latter paid a visit to Tigray as part of a group of regional states presidents, city mayors and senior officials of the ruling Prosperity Party (PP), the act that the two regions continue to be embroiled in a set of seemingly intractable disputes points to the gravity of the task that lies ahead in normalizing relations between the two sides.

Predictably, Getachew’s visit elicited vehement criticisms from extremist elements opposed to any semblance of among the peoples of Tigray and Amhara. Such elements should remind themselves though that the bloody civil war has taken a heavy political, economic and social toll on Ethiopian society as a whole, but particularly more so on the communities living in the Tigray and Amhara regions. In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed and injured, millions more were uprooted from their homes, psychologically traumatized and left needing emergency food assistance. Scores of social and economic infrastructures, including schools, universities, health institutions, and other facilities were totally or partially damaged in these regions. Although it may be difficult to determine with any degree of precision the true cost of the war, there is no doubt that the destruction it has wrought in both regions easily runs into billions of dollars.

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 delivery of transitional justice remains an emotive matter for the ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans who underwent unimaginable horrors during the war. True, the federal government has gone some way toward formulating 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. However, the policy has not been approved to date, making it unviable to engage in a genuine dialogue between the two regions as well as on the national level that helps seek durable political solutions instrumental to averting a recurrence of a similar conflict in the future. It’s therefore imperative to finalize and implement the policy at the earliest possible time.

An equally thorny issue is the settlement of disputed territories that the two regions lay historical claim to. The Amhara region has unequivocally stated on several occasions that the Tigray region’s demands that its forces withdraw from areas they seized from Tigray soon after the war erupted is a red line which simply cannot be crossed, arguing they were methodically annexed by Tigray in 1991. Tigray of course denies the accusation and believes it has the rightful jurisdiction over them. Even as the leaders of Amhara and Tigray regions have expressed their commitment to abide by the terms of the peace agreement stating that the dispute shall be resolved in accordance with the constitution, it’s of the essence that they take such confidence-building measures as allowing citizens drive from these areas to return and facilitating a dialogue in which all stakeholders participate with a view to lend credence to the entire process.

Laudable as the commencement of a direct engagement between the leaders of the Amhara and Tigray regions is, it should be underpinned by a people-to-people dialogue between the communities which bore the brunt of the conflict. Doing so is vitally important in terms of healing the psychological trauma they endured, forging a path to reconciliation, and strengthening their centuries-old bond. The chance for peace in Ethiopia must not slip through our fingers. As such it’s incumbent on the government and peoples of Tigray and Amhara regions to demonstrate the courage to pursue peace-building initiatives— even if that disappoints critics. Failure to do everything within their power to give peace a chance is bound to lead to another round of protracted conflict and destruction. This is something they must not let come to pass.

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