Wednesday, June 19, 2024
NewsDialogue Commission seeks government guarantee to onboard armed groups’ in national dialogue

Dialogue Commission seeks government guarantee to onboard armed groups’ in national dialogue

Opposition party leaders say ’ it is unlikely’

The lead up to Ethiopia’s upcoming national dialogue initiative takes a new turn as the Commission in charge of the process announces its intentions to place a request for a federal moratorium that it hopes will encourage armed struggle groups to take part in the dialogue.

The National Dialogue Commission (NDC), which has been a topic of heated debate among the public and political figures since its establishment at the height of the northern war in 2021, has invited armed struggle groups scattered across the country to participate in talks for agenda gathering, selection, and the overall dialogue process.

It is the second such invitation to go out following Chief Commissioner Mesfin Araya’s call to the groups from Adama town a month ago.

The Commission is set to commence the agenda gathering program on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in Addis Ababa.

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In an interview with The Reporter, Commissioner Zegeye Asefaw stated that despite lacking the mandate to do so, the NDC is preparing to request the government to enact a temporary suspension of relevant laws for members of active armed struggle groups in a bid to encourage them to take part in the process.

Zegeye has held senior positions in several governments since the end of the Imperial era, including as a member of the constitutional draft commission under the EPRDF transitional government. He observes the practice of a moratorium is not a new concept to Ethiopia.

Zegeye notes that during the constitution drafting process of the early 1990s, the EPRDF transitional government granted a 40-day grace period for all armed groups to enter the capital freely and participate in discussions about the pending constitution.

“At the time, that moratorium had suspended all effective laws with provisions of imprisonment and other measures to be taken against the groups, giving them the opportunity to take part in the most important subject,” Zegeye said.

The NDC is now looking for the same kind of arrangement, but admits it has yet to place a formal request with the federal government. The Commission also concedes it has neither the legal mandate nor the ability to enforce its request on the ground.

However, Mesfin and Hirut Gebreselassie, deputy chief commissioner, had previously disclosed that the Commission would be making arrangements to ensure a ‘safe space’ is extended to the members of armed groups willing to participate in the final dialogue and the meetings leading up to it.

“We do not have the power to enforce it. What the Commission is saying is ‘we can ask the government, which we believe can arrange for the grace period to happen,’” said Zegeye.

He recognizes that the members of the armed groups are likely to question the level of security they would be granted if they were to entertain the Commission’s invitation.

It is an opinion shared by Merera Gudina (PhD), a seasoned opposition figure and head of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC). He argues discussions about a potential moratorium must be held at the federal level, not under the Commission.

“Unless discussions of cessation of hostilities are held at the federal level to the point they are most likely to be realized, I do not think trying out at the level of the Commission would be successful,” Merera said.

He recalls two rounds of failed negotiations between the Oromo Liberation Front (OLA-Shane) and the federal government in Tanzania as an example of the gravity that should be accorded to talks between armed groups and the government.

Merera said these discussions are difficult even for the government. 

“What reasons do these commandos have that would push them to come out of the trenches to the round table?” he asked. “I do not believe the Commission’s idea could be offered as an alternative.”

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