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Prospect of Peace: How Have Peace Agreements Been Implemented in Post-Civil War Ethiopia?


Quinn Phillips


Introduction

In 2020, the Ethiopian central government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, executed attacks on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) following accusations that the TPLF had laid siege to federal army camps (a claim that the TPLF deny). Following this, a two-year long conflict between state forces and regional TPLF forces began, resulting in a death toll of an estimated half-a-million people and the displacement of millions of civilians. After widespread humanitarian abuses from both sides, blockades on aid, and multiple ceasefire attempts, peace talks in South Africa led to an agreement on a permanent cessation of hostilities. Now, almost five months out from the peace talks, what does the situation in Ethiopia look like?


Background

Before we can understand how this conflict can be resolved, we have to look at how it started. In 2018, Abiy Ahmed was elected Prime Minister of Ethiopia, ending the TPLF’s 27-year long rule. Relations between the new federal government and the regional government of Tigray began to deteriorate quickly. Tensions began to escalate following efforts by Ahmed’s government to reform the political organization of the country, efforts which the TPLF characterized as an assault on Ethiopia’s federalist system. In the wake of COVID-19, federal elections were delayed and Ahmed’s tenure as Prime Minister was extended. In an act of defiance, Tigrary went ahead with their regional elections, and within two months, the first shots of what would become one of the worst conflicts of the 21st century were fired.


The tempo of the conflict has shifted back and forth between the TPLF and federal forces, with the TPLF at one point threatening to enter the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and at other times, the territorial control of federal troops extending almost into Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray. In March of 2022, an indefinite humanitarian truce was agreed upon, allowing desperately needed humanitarian assistance to reach civilians in Tigray for the first time in three months. This truce was not long-lasting, however, and fighting resumed in August. Finally, in October, the TPLF indicated their willingness to participate in peace talks. Although, before the peace talks could ensue, the Ethiopian forces led a major offensive that allowed them to take back two key cities, a move that gave the federal government more leverage at the negotiation table.


Actors

One aspect of the conflict in Ethiopia which makes peace so hard to achieve is the number of disparate groups involved. Allied with the TPLF are 8 different groups, both armed and unarmed, the most prominent of these allies being the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The OLA is a splinter group of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which desires to see the region of Oromia liberated from what they term “colonial rule” and “a century of oppression and exploitation” perpetrated by the Ethiopian central government. The Ethiopian central government has allied itself with Eritrea, who have a negative relationship with the TPLF stemming from the Eritrean war of independence and the subsequent Ethiopian-Eritrean War, as well as armed belligerents from Amhara, the region that lies between Tigray and Addis Ababa. The various Amhara forces are motivated by the desire to reclaim land lost in 1991 when the TPLF took power in Addis Ababa. The multitude of actors, with their varied goals and means, complicates the peace process and, with the exclusion of both the OLA and Eritrea from recent peace talks, there still remain serious hurdles to stabilizing the region.


The Peace Talks

On the 25th of October, 2022, representatives from Addis Ababa and Mekelle met in Pretoria to initiate peace talks led by Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and former President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta. By November 2nd, an agreement had been reached and a permanent cessation of hostilities announced. Going into the peace talks, the TPLF was suffering major losses on the battlefield and had little military leverage to work with. As such, the agreement signed leaves the TPLF with nothing to show for their two years of fighting. While able to win certain concessions, such as the removal of the party’s terrorist designation, the restoration of essential services to the region like electricity, and the continued flow of humanitarian assistance, the TPLF has also agreed to disarm both light and heavy armaments, effectively erasing their military capabilities. In addition to these measures, commitments to open further dialogue and create political resolutions to grievances were agreed upon, along with the implementation of a post-conflict accountability program based on the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework.


Following the peace talks in Pretoria, a second meeting was held. Gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, officials from Mekelle and Addis Ababa worked on detailing how the conditions of the peace agreement would be carried out. These talks began on November 7th, with another agreement signed 5 days later to be implemented immediately.


Progress Made So Far

Beginning November 15th, humanitarian aid was once again flowing into Tigray and by the end of 2022, over 100,000 tons of food had been brought into the region. Although the efforts have been sizable, the breadth of the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia leaves the country still in dire need of aid. Fortunately, the restoration of flights to Tigray, as well as telecommunications service and essential services, will help to expedite the dispensation of aid.


The disarmament of the TPLF has also begun. Under the monitoring of the regional organization Intergovernmental Authority on Development, both heavy and light armaments have begun to be turned in by TPLF forces. In conjunction with this, armed Amhara groups allied with the Ethiopian central government have withdrawn from the region, and Eritrea has pulled back some of its own troops as well.


While these developments instill hope for the future of Ethiopia, there are many roadblocks to peace. The TPLF are adamant about the full evacuation of Eritrean troops from the region, but with Eritrea missing from the peace negotiations there is no indication of what their plans in the region are. Further, other armed groups, such as the OLA, are still armed and operating, with no peace process in the foreseeable future. Finally, the peace agreement calls for justice and accountability, but the government in Addis Ababa has shown a desire to bypass accountability in favor of pushing for strong nationalism. Ethiopia’s attempts to halt the United Nations’ International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) investigation into humanitarian abuses again calls into question their commitment to transitional justice and accountability. Both Addis Ababa and Mekelle must continue forward in the spirit of the peace agreement, with a commitment to dialogue and with Ethiopian federalism in mind, or the effects could lead to even more civilian suffering and further conflict.


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