The Kenyan capital Nairobi hosted the second phase of the peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on Monday. The talks delved into the “military details” to reach a “permanent” cessation of the violence in Africa’s second-most populous country.
The delegations from both sides comprised military leaders and political negotiators. The talks were meant to discuss how the agreement that both parties signed last week in South Africa could be monitored. They also included the means to deliver humanitarian aid and basic services to millions of Tigrayans cornered in the rugged mountainous region in the north of the country.
The Ethiopian government and the TPLF signed a “Cessation of Hostilities Agreement” last week brokered by former Nigerian and Kenyan presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Uharu Kenyatta, respectively, in Pretoria in South Africa.
The African-backed accord was welcomed by the UN, the US, some European countries, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa, among other countries.
Theoretically, the agreement ends two years of war between the Ethiopian government, backed by neighbouring Eritrea and the national militias of the Amhara. This war has resulted in the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world today,” according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), who hails from Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
The war, and the resulting famine and disease, has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. More than one million people have been displaced and denied the ability to harvest their crops. In addition, thousands of women have been raped or killed, and their children have been denied the right to be raised normally.
Ghebreyesus said that the world has ignored the suffering of six million Tigrayans put under siege at the hands of the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
He suggested racism was the reason the crisis in Tigray has not received international attention, asking why it has not been covered as much as the Ukraine war. The EU has received with open arms Ukrainians who have fled the horrors of war in their country, he said, whereas the press has shown little interest in the Ethiopian Civil War.
“Maybe the reason is the colour of the skin of the people,” he said.
UN agencies and international relief organisations have warned of a famine that could affect millions of people in Ethiopia, home to more than 110 million people.
Meanwhile, Ahmed’s government celebrated the agreement as an “achievement,” igniting more questions than answers among observers about its implementation.
Observers say they see many loopholes in the agreement that was signed quickly after only nine days leaving many issues unresolved. It hinges more on the “goodwill of the government” in Addis Ababa than on its opponent, the TPLF.
The widest gap, however, is no mention of Eritrea, which is not a party to the deal but is a main partner in the war and has been accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Tigrayans.
According to observers, the absence of Eritrea from the agreement and not stating that it should withdraw its forces from all Ethiopian land will allow it not to commit to the terms of the deal that Ahmed’s government is obliged to honour.
Eritrea, which believes that the existence of a strong Tigray is a threat to the regime of its President Isaias Afwerki, called for expansive military mobilisation in mid-September to provoke the Tigrayans and find a pretext for war.
The majority of Western media reports saw the mandatory military mobilisation as aimed at waging a long war against the Tigrayans, who are fortified in mountainous areas.
Furthermore, the agreement makes no mention of the Amhara militias that control the agriculturally rich western region of Tigray. The Amhara, comprising 28 per cent of the population, and the Tigrayans, seven per cent, refuse to negotiate.
This military situation does not encourage the TPLF to surrender its arms and integrate into society. The loss of the TPLF’s credibility among its people may also complicate the situation in the region and create a more hardline political body against Ahmed’s government.
Meanwhile, the peace agreement seems to be an indicator for Ahmed’s government that stringency is the solution to the problem of the rebellious Ethiopian nationalities.
The siege of the Tigrayans, and the starvation and killing that amounts to genocide, has resulted in the “submission” of Tigray and the government’s acquiring “100 per cent of its demands,” Ahmed said before a crowd of supporters two days after signing the agreement.
It now appears that Ahmed will adopt the same harsh attitude towards others in Ethiopia, especially after the majority Oromo Liberation Front, comprising 34 per cent of the population, announced it had taken over a city in the westernmost part of the country.
This has exacerbated the already difficult security conditions in a country that is home to 80 ethnicities, most of which have liberation fronts that are demanding secession from Addis Ababa and the control of the Amhara.
The recent peace agreement was signed to silence the guns in Ethiopia, but hopes are diminishing that this will be accomplished given the large number of political and military loopholes in it.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.