Ethiopia: breakthrough peace agreement

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After ten days of talks in Pretoria, on November 3, 2022, a peace deal that promises to be historic has been reached between The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s liberation Front (TPLF). Many were surprised by the sudden agreement given the deep mistrust between the sides in northern Ethiopia. The talks which started on the 24th of October had been expected to take much longer to resolve differences. Those who doubted the African Union-led peace efforts were indeed proven wrong. To the surprise of many close observers, this seemingly intractable conflict has ended in a negotiated settlement led by the AU.

For the African Union, facilitating this peace agreement in Ethiopia is a win for its long-held principle of African Solutions for African Problem. The Union withstood pressure by foreign powers to intervene in continental affairs. The UK and the EU, who held partisan positions favorable to the rebels in Ethiopia, were not invited. In years past, African conflicts had been negotiated in European capitals. In the case of Ethiopia, after years of insurgency wars, an American-led negotiation in London facilitated the ouster of the former Mengistu Regime and ushered in a TPLF led government into power in 1991.

Ethiopia’s warring sides reach historic peace deal

For the rebels, whose top leaders are from a bygone triumphant era, 2022 would not be as favorable as 1991. Battle fatigue seems to have set in. Most of them are coming to terms with the futile nature of continuing to fight and are already disengaging from combat. According to Ethiopia’s chief national security advisor, Redwan Hussein, “many rebel fighters are already coming over towards the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) for things like cigarettes and rations”, which indicates a collapse of the insurgents’ command and control. The rebels had run out of steam. This was the biggest factor which convinced their leaders to accept an AU-led mediation. It also is why a deal was reached so quickly.

All indications are the Ethiopian side was confident going into Pretoria for talks. Having made successive gains in recent fighting, it was likely to dictate most of the terms. Correspondingly, threats of sanctions against the Government of Ethiopia by the United States and the EU appear to have receded following these battlefield gains. It was suspected, the U.S would once again table House Resolutions to threaten sanctions, but that did not happen; perhaps due to ongoing mid-term elections. Whatever the reason, the tables seem to have turned in favor of the government.

The Peace Agreement reached between the two sides reads like a complete capitulation by the TPLF. Look no further than Article 6, which is the linchpin of the Agreement and is copied herein verbatim:

“Article 6 – Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR)

The Parties:

  • Agree and recognize that the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has only one defense force.
  • Shall design and implement a comprehensive DDR program for TPLF Combatants consistent with the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

2. Agree that within 24 hours of the signing of this Agreement, an open channel of communication between senior commanders of both sides will be established

  • Agree to organize a meeting of senior commanders within 5 days from the signing of this Agreement to discuss and work out detailed modalities for disarmament for the TPLF combatants, taking into account the security situation on the ground.
  • Agree to undertake the disarmament of the heavy armaments of the TPLF combatants as a matter of priority based on a detailed schedule to be agreed upon between the senior commanders of the Parties. The disarmament activities in the schedule should be completed within ten days from the conclusion of the meeting of the senior commanders. The ten-day period could be extended based on the recommendation of the senior commanders, to be endorsed by the Parties.
  • Agree to finalize the overall disarmament of the TPLF combatants, including light weapons within 30 days from the signing of this Agreement.
  • Agree that the demobilization and reintegration plan will consider the Tigray Region’s law-and-order needs.”

Indeed, article 6 does not read like two exhausted warring parties that decided to call it a truce. There can be no mistaking TPLF’s defeat politically, and now militarily as well. Given this reality, the subdued reaction of the Ethiopian government is admirable. It shows great restraint and magnanimity on the part of state officials and media not to gloat. This bodes well for reconciliation and nation building that must surely come after the dust has settled. One can only imagine what reaction we would have from a TPLF victory.

This outcome of TPLF’s misadventures is a historic warning for other ethnic based fringe elements trying to topple the constitutional order using unconstitutional means, and by violence. Yes, Ethiopia is the victor. But the prize has not been worth the cost, with so much loss and suffering on both sides. Ethiopia’s political as well as security apparatus must now rebuild sufficient institutional capacity; one that can deter violent and armed insurrections. Only then will political actors know the way to power is through peaceful political means and not by terrorism.

Of course, the devil will be in the implementation of the letter and the spirit of the agreement. Many such agreements have fallen short previously. This is particularly the case in the Horn of Africa. The case of the Eritrea – Ethiopia Boundary Commission comes to mind, where the disputed territory of Badme was granted to Eritrea in the Algiers Peace Agreement but continued to be occupied by TPLF led Ethiopia until 2018, when a historic peace agreement was reached between the two sides, an achievement for which the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Peace talks between Ethiopian government and rebels continue in Kenya

Currently, early engagements between the sides in Nairobi, Kenya give hope. According to the agreement, the sides have established a hotline for de-escalation, followed by disarmament and demobilization of rebel forces. That the military commanders of the two sides know each other and adorned the same uniform as recently as three years ago can greatly facilitate a speedy transition towards peace if they remain positive and engaged. Would be spoilers, particularly from the rebel group’s diaspora support network as well as foreign conflict merchants, will surely seek to undermine this agreement. Their success in doing so would bring more misery to the people of northern Ethiopia. It is therefore incumbent upon the international community, particularly the United States, which was a facilitator and an observer to this agreement, to preemptively suppress such sabotage.

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