Ethiopia peace agreement: African solutions for African problems

Picture: Jacoline Schoonees/DIRCO

Picture: Jacoline Schoonees/DIRCO

Published Nov 4, 2022


By Gwinyai Taruvinga

After a protracted civil war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, it has been announced that the combatants in this war have reached a settlement to bring an end to this conflict. This war was fought between the Ethiopian federal government and Eritrea together and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on the other side.

This civil war has been an ongoing crisis, and had been taking place since November 2020, when the tensions between the TPLF and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, reached a tipping point. On 4 November, Abiy ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray in response to an alleged attack on a military base where government troops resided.

Before Ahmed’s appointment as Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the TPLF had commanded a strong presence within the country’s political sphere. This, however, changed when Ahmed assumed the leadership of the country in 2018 on the back of anti-government protests. He embarked on a process of reforms which put him at loggerheads with the TPLF, as these reforms were viewed as a centralisation of power. The refusal of the TPLF to accept these reforms exacerbated a political crisis that turned into a fully-fledged war.

Many attribute this crisis to the governance system in Ethiopia. Since 1994, the country has used a federal system that accommodated the different ethnic groups in the country. The TPLF was at the heart of setting up this system and was the leader of a four-party coalition that governed the country since 1991. Although there was relative stability in the country, there were major concerns about human rights abuses from the masses, and this resulted in protests within the country. The outcome of these protests resulted in Ahmed becoming the leader of the country through a new political party – the Prosperity Party.

Under his leadership, Ahmed made great strides toward ensuring that Ethiopia was a democratic country. He liberalised the political system in the country, and key Tigrayan government leaders were removed after they were accused of corruption and repression. His exploits as leader of Ethiopia saw him awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for bringing an end to a territorial dispute with neighbouring Eritrea. Despite these achievements, the relationship between Ahmed’s government and the TPLF did not improve, resulting in the conflict which has been widely reported globally.

In Tigray, Ahmed’s government was viewed with dismay as many of the political decisions he was making seemed to undermine the TPLF. In September 2020, Tigray ignored a directive from Ethiopia’s central government and went ahead and held its own general election, and this was deemed illegal by Ahmed as national elections were postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These events culminated in Ahmed stating that a “red line” had been crossed after Tigrayan forces were accused of attacking the Ethiopian military with the aim of stealing weapons. Due to this, it was announced by Ahmed that “The federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation”.

The conflict has had huge ramifications for the Tigray population, with several international organisations reporting a humanitarian crisis in the country. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), nine million people across Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhara did not have adequate access to food. Forty percent of the population in Tigray was reported to be suffering severe food insecurity, gender-based violence was reported to have increased, and women and children lacked access to proper healthcare, social welfare, and justice services.

Further to this, Tigray was effectively cut off from the rest of Ethiopia, resulting in several aid organisations failing to reach affected people. International organisations noted that a shortage of fuel, supplies, and cash forced many of them to reduce or cancel distributions of food, water, and medicine. In early 2022, it was reported by the United Nations (UN) that Tigray was on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, with a reported five million people needing food.

An announcement that a peace deal had been reached between the Ethiopian government and the TPLF is, therefore, welcome, not only to Ethiopia and the African continent but to the global community. In a joint statement released by both sides, they have agreed to “permanently silence the guns”. The former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was instrumental in brokering a peace deal, stated that the warring parties had agreed to a “systematic, orderly, smooth and coordinated disarmament” process. This deal is a welcome one owing to the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding in Tigray.

There is, however, scepticism stemming from a similar deal that was reached in August, which both parties did not adhere to. Despite this, both parties involved seem to have committed to seeing that there is indeed a silencing of the guns. Ahmed stressed that his government was committed to implementing the agreement, and Tigrayan representatives acknowledged that the deal must now be implemented to ensure that peace is maintained within the region.

According to a draft agreement of the settlement, Tigray forces face disarmament starting with “light weapons” within 30 days of the peace deal being signed. Ethiopian federal security forces are set to take control of federal facilities, installations, and major infrastructure, such as airports within the Tigray region.

The role of the African Union (AU) in reaching this deal is of paramount importance. The AU has often been accused of “lacking teeth” and failing to address the leadership crisis that is often associated with the continent. An AU panel with representatives from both sides will monitor the process to ensure that it is successful. This is an important step for the continent, as the AU has led the way in resolving the crisis. Former President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, commented stating that, “The devil will be in the implementation”.

The role of the AU in this regard speaks closely to the adage, “African solutions to African problems”, made famous by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

* Gwinyai Taruvinga is a Post-doctoral Researcher at Wits Humanities Graduate Centre.