Peace deal in Tigray leaves many questions open

Suddenly, there was a surprising peace agreement in Ethiopia on Wednesday evening. In a press conference from Pretoria, South Africa, the Ethiopian government and the Tigres People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) announced an end to fighting in the northern Tigray region. Still, according to analysts, the news is not yet cause for celebration.

On November 3, 2020, one day after exactly two years earlier, war broke out in Tigray. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was an illegitimate leader in the eyes of the TPLF due to postponed elections. By organizing their own elections where it was not allowed, the Tigers worsened the bad conditions. Things really went wrong when Tigrese units attacked the National Army barracks and tried to loot weapons. So Abiy sent the army against them. According to an estimate by a researcher in Ghent, up to 600,000 civilians were killed in the war that followed.

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This is not the first ceasefire in the conflict, the previous one was violated in August after about five months. This time, however, the agreements go ahead. The agreement states that the government will approve humanitarian aid in the almost completely isolated region. Public services and infrastructure are restored; the region has almost no electricity, internet and food. The government will also work “to facilitate the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons and refugees”.

Hunger as a weapon

In exchange for these commitments, the TPLF has had to make a huge concession: to cease to exist. “Ethiopia has only one national defense force,” reads the joint statement. The Tigres People’s Liberation Front must disarm, demobilize and integrate into the federal army.

Many residents of Tigray fled for the violence and hunger in the region, such as these displaced persons who were taken across the border into Sudan at the end of 2020.
Photo Nariman El-Mofty/AP

A defeat for the TPLF, which has already suffered heavy military losses in recent weeks. The government army also continued to carry out heavy attacks during the negotiations, which began on October 25 under the leadership of the African Union (AU), and regained control of almost all major cities in Tigres. After hundreds of thousands of deaths and starvation of the population as a weapon of war, the TPLF had no choice but to agree to its dismantling.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who brokered the deal, said Wednesday that this is just the beginning of the peace process. The agreement therefore leaves many questions unanswered, writes an Ethiopian researcher at Oslo New University College Kjetil Tronvoll and other analysts on Twitter.

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For example, there are concerns about who will oversee the Tigers’ security and compliance with the agreements, as the government army, along with Eritrea’s army, have committed genocide against them in the past. It is also unclear whether this agreement will restore the pre-war situation, with Tigray as part of Ethiopia, or whether Tigray will be able to hold an independence referendum on “constitutional principles” as has been repeatedly promised by the TPLF. Furthermore, it is uncertain what will happen to West Tigray. Leaders in the Amhara region want to incorporate that part into their state. And whether the Eritrean army, which fought on Ethiopia’s side, will now leave the country is uncertain. Eritrea is not mentioned in the agreement, and did not participate in the negotiations.

The Ethiopian government promises in the agreement to ensure “accountability and truth-finding”. TPLF members who have committed crimes will be prosecuted. However, it seems unlikely that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will also be prepared to stand trial, even though, according to human rights organizations, he is politically and militarily responsible for most of the civilian casualties.

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