The second round of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took place in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The talks focused on “military details” to achieve a “lasting” end to violence in Africa’s second most populous country. Delegations from both sides included military leaders and political negotiators. The talks discussed how to monitor the agreement, which the two sides recently signed in South Africa. Details of the talks also covered how to provide humanitarian aid and basic services to the millions of Tigrays who are literally cornered in the rugged mountainous region in the north of the country.
The Ethiopian government and the TPLF signed a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in South Africa on November 2, brokered by former presidents of Nigeria and Kenya, Olusegun Obasanjo and Uhuru Kenyatta. The signed Agreement provides for the disarmament of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the restoration of aid to Tigray, which has been experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis since the war began two years ago. The Agreement, which is supported by African countries, was welcomed by UN and some European countries. In theory, the agreement ends a two-year war between the Ethiopian government, backed by neighboring Eritrea, and national militias.
According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), who is from Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the war has led to “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.” The war and the famine and disease it has caused have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. More than a million people have been displaced and unable to harvest their crops. In addition, thousands of women have been raped or killed, and their children have been denied the right to a normal education. Tigray suffers from severe food and medicine shortages, as well as limited access to basic services such as electricity, banking and communications. It should be noted that 70% of the country’s northern Tigray region is currently under military control. Although aid deliveries to the area have reportedly resumed, there is no confirmation yet from aid workers or Tigray officials.
Ghebreyesus said the world has ignored the suffering of the six million Tigray who are under siege by the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He suggested that racism was the reason the Tigray crisis had not received international attention and asked why it was not covered as extensively as the war in Ukraine US-NATO. According to him, the EU welcomed the Ukrainians with open arms, while the press showed little interest in the civil war in Ethiopia. “Maybe it’s because of the color of people’s skin,” he said.
UN agencies and international aid organizations have warned of famine that could affect millions in Ethiopia, which is home to more than 110 million people. The peace agreement stipulates that Ethiopia will “accelerate” both the delivery of aid and supplies to the long-cut-off Tigray region, which is running out of food and essential medicines. After a lull in the fighting earlier this year, about 8,000 trucks of humanitarian aid were able to reach the region, according to the United Nations. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations humanitarian agency did not immediately confirm that trucks carrying humanitarian aid had arrived in the Shire. A spokesman for the humanitarian organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said his organization had not yet begun delivering aid because it was still checking the safety of roads and waiting for permits.
Meanwhile, Ahmed’s government has called the agreement an “achievement,” raising more questions than answers about its implementation. Observers see many loopholes in the agreement, which was signed in just nine days, and leaves many questions unanswered. It depends more on the “good will” of the government in Addis Ababa than on its opponent, the TPLF. The biggest gap, however, is the lack of mention of Eritrea, which is not a party to the agreement but is Ethiopia’s main partner in the war and is accused of committing war atrocities and crimes against humanity in Tigray. Observers assume that Eritrea’s absence from the agreement and its failure to declare that it must withdraw its troops from all Ethiopian soil will prevent it from complying with the terms of the agreement, which Ahmed’s government must abide by. Eritrea, which sees the existence of a strong Tigray as a threat to the regime of its president, Isaiah Afwerka, called for a massive military mobilization in mid-September to provoke the Tigray and find a pretext for a new round of war. In most Western media reports, the mandatory military mobilization was seen as the goal of a protracted war against the Tigray, who had entrenched themselves in the mountainous regions.
Moreover, the agreement makes no mention of the Amhara fighters who control the agriculturally rich western Tigray region. The Amhara, who make up 28% of the population, and the Tigray, 7%, refuse to negotiate among themselves. This military situation does not encourage the TPLF to give up their weapons and integrate into society. The population’s loss of confidence in the TPLF could also complicate the situation in the region and form a tougher political bloc against Abiy Ahmed’s government.
In the meantime, the peace agreement appears to be a sign to the Abiy Ahmed government that toughness is the solution to the problem of rebellious Ethiopian nationalities. The siege of Tigray, the famine, and the killings that amounted to genocide led to the “subjugation” of the people of Tigray and the fulfillment of “100% of our demands,” Ahmed told a crowd of supporters two days after signing the agreement. It now appears that Ahmed will take a similarly tough stance on other Ethiopians, especially after the Oromo-majority Liberation Front, which makes up 34% of the population, announced the capture of towns in the westernmost part of the country. This has exacerbated already difficult security conditions in the country, which is home to representatives of 80 ethnic groups, most of whom have their own liberation fronts demanding separation from Addis Ababa and control of Amhara.
Recently, a peace agreement was signed to silence the guns. But hopes that this will succeed are fading, given the numerous political and military loopholes in the agreement. For example, the disputed western region of Tigray, occupied by Ethiopian Amhara militias since the beginning of the war, is one of the problems plaguing the peace process, and the agreement barely addresses it. The TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades until the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018, has consistently refused to negotiate on the issue, a position supported by the Amhara, who also lay claim to the region. Even more troubling, the agreement has a “hole the size of Eritrea,” according to Ben Hunter, Africa analyst at news service provider Verisk Maplecroft. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki “has not signed the agreement and is still pursuing expansionist ambitions,” Hunter told AFP. “He is likely to try to provoke the NFLF into violating the ceasefire,” Hunter added, pointing out that the two sides have been enemies for decades. The Eritrean presence in Tigray, whose troops have been accused of horrific atrocities against civilians, also casts doubt on whether the TPLF will disarm its fighters as it has promised.
Tigray authorities “will not lay down their arms in exchange for vague promises,” said Benjamin Petrini, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, referring to the atmosphere of deep mistrust between the parties. “What security guarantees does the TPLF offer for disarmament?” he asked, stressing that the agreement contains “too many unknowns.”
The biggest unanswered question concerns the future of the TPLF, a party whose influence on Ethiopian politics has been undeniable for years, but which now faces an uncertain future.
Shortly after the peace agreement was announced, the head of the negotiating delegation from Tigray, Getachew Reda , acknowledged that his side “made concessions because we need to build trust” But his willingness to meet the government’s demands may not sit well with Tigray’s six million residents, who “paid a heavy price for two years” as the war dragged on.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”.