Peacebuilding is a work in progress, and while there have been achievements, key stumbling blocks remain.
On 2 November 2022 in Pretoria, Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) under an African Union (AU)-led process. The agreement concluded a gruelling two-year war with significant national and regional implications.
Over the past year, stakeholders have closely followed the implementation of the peace deal and its effects on the region’s security and humanitarian situation. East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the African Union (AU) commended it as a milestone that exemplifies ‘African solutions to African problems’ while others emphasised the need for full implementation and more work. Both signatories consistently underscore the need for support to enhance their efforts.
Progress since the signing includes the TPLF’s delisting from its terrorist designation and forming an inclusive interim administration in Tigray. The launch of a transitional justice initiative and trust-building measures, such as federal government representatives being able to travel to Tigray without their security detail, are also notable.
Yet a year later, the ceasefire has not delivered peace. Before its signing, the war had seen a shift in momentum at different points. Leading up to the CoHA, the resurgence in clashes was tipped in favour of the federal government. Tigray needed to make significant concessions, and the federal government hailed the agreement as a victory mirroring its achievements on the battlefield.
The National Rehabilitation Commission and Tigray Interim Administration agree that the DDR process has been slow
The TPLF’s concessions sparked internal rifts within Tigray, with prominent Tigrayan actors in the diaspora and opposition political parties highlighting the lopsided nature of the deal and criticising it for ‘granting impunity.’
The CoHA cemented the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ethiopian state, establishing the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) as the sole military force entrusted to safeguard the country’s security. The parties agreed to restore constitutional order, disengage their forces, embark on a transitional justice process, and cease all forms of hostile rhetoric, among other things.
Considerable advancements have been made in these areas but uncertainties persist on three issues: disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR); the continued presence of non-ENDF forces in Tigray; and delivering justice and accountability.
With regard to DDR, while the Pretoria agreement stipulated the overall disarmament of Tigrayan forces within 30 days, the 7 November 2022 follow-up meeting of senior commanders in Nairobi provided a clearer plan. It divided the process into two phases and linked it to the withdrawal of non-ENDF forces from Tigray.
The agreement’s ambiguity on disputed territories currently under Amhara control has complicated matters
Subsequently, a National Rehabilitation Commission was set up to carry out the sensitive and complex task of DDR. Initially the commission was tasked with rehabilitating 250 000 combatants over two years. It is now expected to cover nearly 400 000 former fighters nationally, 70% of whom are in Tigray. Tigrayan forces have since surrendered most of their heavy and medium weapons.
Nonetheless, it’s evident that both the National Rehabilitation Commission and the Tigray Interim Administration agree that the pace of DDR has been slow. Contrary to assertions by the AU Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mission, the process could take years to complete.
The Amhara are also concerned about the disarmament and demobilisation of Tigrayan combatants. They fear the TPLF is retaining much of its arms and handing over heavy weapons merely as a display of goodwill. DDR problems have become intertwined with concerns about contested territories and the presence of non-ENDF elements. This raised suspicions among the Amhara, leading them to resist any form of disarmament.
The Pretoria agreement’s ambiguity on disputed territories currently under Amhara control, has complicated matters. Although the peace deal stipulates the restoration of constitutional order, Tigrayan forces demand a return to the pre-war territorial and administrative status quo, while Amhara forces insist on preserving the current status quo. Reports of federal institutions compiling the contested territories under the Amhara region, and the inclusion of Wolkayit (previously Western Tigray) in the Amhara area, suggest that Addis Ababa endorses retaining the status quo.
The CoHA’s most notable accomplishment was lifting the de facto blockade imposed on Tigray
Following the prime minister’s push for a legalistic approach, the Amhara regional government announced preparations for a referendum in the contested territories, even though neither party seems to welcome a referendum. The Tigrayans worry that a fair referendum is unattainable because millions are displaced and unable to return. Meanwhile, the authorities in Wolkayit say they prefer a legal ruling that takes historical and legal procedures into account.
Despite all this, the CoHA’s most notable accomplishment has been lifting the de facto blockade imposed on Tigray. This enabled access to essential humanitarian relief including food, medical supplies, fuel and services such as telecommunications, transportation, electricity and banking. Nevertheless, the situation remains dire. A recent study suggests that 68% of deaths in Tigray since the peace deal was signed were caused by starvation.
This was partly owing to the diversion of food aid for commercial use that prompted the World Food Programme and USAID to halt food assistance for several months. Investigations implicated regional entities, Eritrean forces and the federal government – allegations the federal government has refuted.
Overall, despite noteworthy progress, stumbling blocks remain regarding justice and accountability, political dialogue and the withdrawal of non-ENDF forces. The fate of the TPLF, the sole ruling party in Tigray for over three decades, is also unclear after the Supreme Court upheld the National Electoral Board’s refusal to recognise it as a legitimate political party.
Peacebuilding is always a work in progress. Attaining tangible peace dividends will require sustained support of ongoing efforts to bring peace and rebuild social ties.
Fikir G Mekonen, Consultant, ISS Addis Ababa