For two years, the conflict between the federal government and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) in Ethiopia had raged with a senseless, grinding violence. Villages burned, families torn apart, bodies piled in the dust. Over 600,000 lives lost in what had become the deadliest conflict of the 21st century.
Then, in November 2022, a ray of hope emerged. In the foreign ministry headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa, representatives from the warring sides sat down at the table. The African Union (AU) mediators, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, shuttled between the two sides as calls for a ceasefire grew.
When the “Pretoria Agreement” was finally signed, a cautious celebration broke out. The TPLF and the Ethiopian government had, at last, agreed to cease hostilities and begin peace talks. The AU eagerly took credit.
But behind the scenes, some suspected a more complicated story. The US had long been pressuring the warring sides, and some language in the agreement seemed to bear their fingerprints. The deal may have owed more to geopolitical maneuvering than a true meeting of hearts, some observers suspected.
Either way, for Ethiopians weary of war, that November day offered a glimmer of hope. After so much killings and darkness, a chance for peace had emerged. Whatever its limitations, that fragile agreement carried the dreams of a nation ready to move beyond its long shadow of war. Yet there are sufficient causes for concern, especially as what was inked on paper remains unrealized.
Recently, the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) has been accusing the federal government of failing to implement the agreement in good faith.
The Interim Administration points to two recent incidents that have inflamed tensions. First, a visit by American diplomats to Tigray and the neighboring Amhara region. Then, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education’s classification of schools in Western Tigray as part of Amhara – contravening the truce terms. These actions have enraged TIA officials, who believe the peace process is adrift.
A new report also shows gaps in implementing the ceasefire deal threaten progress.
Released this week by a civil society coalition, the report indicated that monitoring has revealed disturbing evidence that the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) reached eight months ago between the federal government and the TPLF is marred by significant gaps impacting civilians.
”The report reveals that it is dangerous to claim that Ethiopia is now at peace,” said Dismas Nkunda, executive director of Atrocities Watch Africa, which is a member of the civil society coalition that established the mechanism. “While there is much to celebrate about the AU-led peace process, more work remains to be done.”
The report explores the plight of hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are in urgent need of greater support and security. IDPs, who have no legal entitlement to basic services, are living at the mercy of others for aid.
Davis Malombe of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, another coalition member, “While remaining in situations of protracted displacement, many IDPs and other vulnerable populations face inequality particularly in access to basic services, housing, land and property.”
The Ethiopian Government must support internally displaced persons in achieving a durable solution of their choice to their displacement, according to Malombe.
Authorities in Tigray are worried too.
For Amanuel Assefa, the Interim Administration’s top official, the implementation of the pact has become “paradoxical.”
“At times the letter of the agreement is followed,” he says, “but consistency is lacking.”
Amanuel worries that this “haphazard approach” risks undermining the accord. There are mounting doubts whether the deal – signed with fanfare just months ago – is specific enough or being properly honored.
Dawit Birhanu of the Enat Party says the agreement’s vague language risks future disagreements, jeopardizing the peace process. “While not entirely self-contradictory, the accords complexity makes good faith implementation difficult,” he said.
The Pretoria Agreement calls for resolving the conflict peacefully, restoring humanitarian access and holding fair elections. Withdrawal of foreign forces, humanitarian access, justice for human rights abuses and a political solution are priorities.
To start with, Article 1, mandating restoration of constitutional order in Tigray, faces obstacles.
Amanuel says that while the government has taken some steps forward, other clauses remain unfulfilled. He is dismayed by the humanitarian toll as millions remain displaced. “Including spoilers in the deal was a mistake. Watching this cruelty unfold has been heartbreaking,” he said.
Resettlement of IDPs has been also stalled as a result of the boundary dispute.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) said he is committed to resettling displaced people and mending torn lands in a stirring speech to Parliament on July 6.
Invoking the spirit of unity enshrined in the Pretoria Agreement, Abiy declared his government would work “tirelessly” to ensure all those driven from their homes could return in peace and dignity.
“Land cannot – and should not be – a source of conflict,” he said.
According to the United Nations, some 2.7 million Ethiopians had been displaced across Tigray by the end of 2022. But after signing the peace accord, nearly 500,000 were emboldened to journey homeward once more.
Abiy aimed for an accord that yielded a win-win solution satisfying both parties in the contentious boundary lands between Tigray and Amhara, though Dawit contended the agreement lacked tangibility.
“The Pretoria deal glossed over how constitutional jurisdiction in the fractious boundary areas would be reestablished,” he critiqued.
The report released by a coalition of CSOs this week suggested the African Union policy organs can and must fortify the agreement in order to ensure sustainable peace in Ethiopia.
On the other hand, the report finds a startling lack of transparency in the work of the official AU Monitoring Verification and Compliance Mechanism (AU-MVCM). The AU’s monitoring team works with few resources and a limited mandate, the report shows. At the same time, its efforts to gain access to areas held by forces not party to the CoHA deserve recognition and political support from the AU, according to the same source.
“It is important to make use of the institutional memory and the resources that the continent and the AU has at its disposal and deployed in previous situations to solve wicked problems in the past,” said Shuvai Busuman Nyoni, executive director of the African Leadership Centre. “Let Africa seriously consider what has worked, what can be tweaked and forge ahead decisively and without reservation.”
As Nyoni notes, the AU has the opportunity to draw from its past experiences in peacemaking to help resolve Ethiopia’s complex challenges—but only if leaders of the parties muster the political will and decisiveness to fortify the peace accord, rectify its shortcomings, and translate its promises into reality for the Ethiopian people who have suffered for far too long.