Ethiopia peace deal leaves unanswered questions and concerns: AFP report

AFP , Friday 4 Nov 2022

The breakthrough deal signed by Ethiopia's government and Tigrayan rebels has been hailed as a crucial step to ending two years of war, but much remains unclear, observers say, raising questions about whether it will lead to a durable peace.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Traffic and pedestrians fill a street in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. AP


Other than the silencing of the guns, the accord notably calls for the provision of humanitarian aid to war-stricken regions, the re-establishment of federal authority over Tigray and the disarming of Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters.

But the "Agreement for lasting peace through a permanent cessation of hostilities", which has been published online by the government, relies largely on the good faith of the parties to resolve intractable disputes, leaves aside several crucial issues and remains vague on others, analysts said.

According to Patrick Ferras, geopolitical researcher and president of Strategies Africaines, the deal is effectively "a letter to Santa Claus because it is difficult to achieve".

"We have the impression that everything has been processed but it was done in a hurry," he told AFP.

The negotiations in Pretoria were mediated by the African Union and barely covered nine days.

The final document also made no mention of Eritrea -- whose forces have backed Ethiopian soldiers during their operations in Tigray -- or of the various regional militias involved in the war.

The failure to consider these key players and their role while hammering out the deal has created a situation rife with risk, observers say.

'Too many unknowns'

For instance, the contested Western Tigray region, which has been occupied by Ethiopia's Amhara militias since the war erupted, is one of the issues looming over the peace process, and the deal does little to address it.

The TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's election in 2018, has always refused to negotiate on the matter, a position echoed by the Amhara who also claim the region.

Even more worrying, the agreement suffers from "an Eritrea-sized hole", said Ben Hunter, Africa analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki "did not sign the agreement and still harbours expansionist ambitions," Hunter told AFP.

"He is likely to try provoking the TPLF into breaking the ceasefire," Hunter added, with the two sides sharing an enmity that goes back decades.

Eritrea's presence in Tigray -- its forces have been accused of horrific atrocities against civilians -- also casts doubt over the likelihood of the TPLF disarming its fighters, as it has pledged to do.

The Tigrayan authorities "will not depose arms in exchange (for) vague promises," said Benjamin Petrini, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, pointing to the climate of deep distrust between the parties.

"What are the security guarantees offered to the TPLF to disarm?" he asked, underlining the presence of "too many unknowns" in the agreement.

'Poisoned chalice' 

The biggest unanswered question concerns the future of the TPLF, a party whose influence over Ethiopian politics was unquestionable for many years, but which now faces an uncertain road ahead.

The crucial issue is whether the "TPLF (will) maintain its role of ruling party" in Tigray, said Petrini.

Barely 24 hours after the deal was signed, Abiy told a crowd of supporters in southern Ethiopia that his government had secured "100 percent" of its demands in the negotiations.

Researcher Ferras agreed, saying, "on paper Abiy got everything he wanted", leaving the TPLF with very little to show for two years of war and a humanitarian crisis that has left Tigray battling severe food and medicine shortages.

The war broke out on 4 November 2020, capping months of tensions between Abiy's government and the TPLF, then the ruling party of Tigray.

Shortly after the peace deal was announced, the Tigrayan delegation's chief Getachew Reda admitted his side had "made concessions because we have to build trust".

But its willingness to accede to the government's demands may not find favour with Tigray's six million residents, who have "paid a high price for two years" as the war dragged on, said Ferras.

The region is teetering on the brink of disaster, with limited access to basic services such as power, communications and banking, and rebuilding it will prove a monumental task, he warned.

"In the eyes of the population, the TPLF may have lost all credibility," he said.

With so many issues hanging in the balance, the lack of substance in the deal has raised eyebrows even as many have welcomed the public commitment to a peace process by both the TPLF and the Abiy government.

"The African Union will for now be breathing a sigh of relief following sharp criticism of its previous mediation efforts," said Hunter.

But it is too soon to celebrate, he said.

"Overseeing this deal may yet turn out to be a poisoned chalice".

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