Thursday, June 20, 2024
 
 

Ethiopia’s peace deal is critical for Africa on many levels

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On November 2 in Pretoria, South Africa, the Government of Ethiopia and the representatives of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace deal brokered by the African Union.

The truce signals an end to the brutal war that has been raging since November 2020 in the north of the country. The accord should hopefully open up the flow of desperately needed aid to those suffering from famine, thereby ending the starvation that may have cost the lives of as many as one million people

The true death toll from the conflict is unknown but it has been, without a doubt, one of the most deadly anywhere in the world. With independent journalists having no access to the area, and a limited presence of international NGOs, reliable data is scarce.

More than a million refugees have been displaced by the civil war, making it impossible for farmers to harvest their crops. People are still dying of treatable diseases as hospitals run out of basic drugs, with no sign of this ending. For the millions who have been deprived of food, medicine and other basic services, essential aid cannot come a day too soon.

Politically the peace deal meets the objectives of the Ethiopian Federal Government and sets out a process for the negotiated disarmament of the Tigrayan rebels – a collection of left-wing and Marxist ethnic nationalist paramilitary groups.

The Ethiopian government has promised to remove the TPLF’s designation as a terrorist organization, and enter into political negotiations with the TPLF on how the separatist region should be run in future. Both parties have agreed to abide by Ethiopia’s existing federal constitution.

The peace deal calls for resolving the administrative status of areas that include the agriculturally rich western region of Tigray. This is strategically important not only for the peace process, but also for improving food security for the continent of Africa as a whole, which faces external supply threats due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the latter of which is historically an important supplier of grain to the continent.

Ethiopia is one of the few countries in Africa with the food production potential to help meet the shortfall in the continent’s imports of cereal crops from Ukraine.

The truce is being hailed as a triumph for Ethiopia’s independent diplomacy, which intentionally blocked the involvement of the international community. The mechanism for monitoring, verification and compliance with the agreement will be carried out by a small unit reporting to the African Union (AU) panel chaired by Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The AU has broken with international protocol and has downgraded the UN and the US to observer status during the implementation of the agreement’s details. 

The EU has also been excluded from observing, but Ethiopia and the AU will still count on international endorsement, and both the United States and the EU will still have an important role to play when providing Ethiopia will foreign aid.

For the future, realistically, the prospect for peace and stabilization in Ethiopia still depends on the good faith of the federal government. An early litmus test will be the winding down of hostile propaganda and rhetoric that has characterized exchanges between all sides during the conflict.

The main question is, “will the deal hold?” The agreement is clearly an important first step, but more still needs to be done to reach a lasting political settlement that is acceptable to both sides. In this sense, key sticking points remain. The biggest is the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray. The Eritreans have been heavily involved in the fighting, but Eritrea was not a party to the talks and is not mentioned in the deal that has been signed.

The agreement does not contain direct provisions for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, and it is not clear where Eritrea now stands as the government in Asmara has not yet reacted formally to the agreement, and still possesses the ability to scuttle the peace process.

The most important issue is the fate of Tigray. The region was occupied by ethnic Amhara forces in the early days of the conflict and remains under their control. The Amhara are a Semitic-speaking indigenous ethnic group from northwest Ethiopia. This Orthodox Christian population claims Tigray as part of their traditional homelands. Amharan politicians insist the land is rightfully theirs, and have threatened that they may not abide by the outcome of the negotiations if they are excluded from the talks.

The Amharan demands could lead to further conflict as the leadership of the Tigray rebels has previously demanded that the lands remain under their control.

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Brussels based Freelance writer and communications adviser.

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