Ethiopia: Why Tigray Needs Technocratic Interim Government Now

Addis Abeba — On Monday, December 19, 2022, a document specifying terms of reference (TOR) for a monitoring, verification, and compliance mechanism of the “Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement” (the Pretoria agreement) was signed in Nairobi, Kenya. In this TOR the parties agreed to form a joint committee composed of one representative from each of the parties and a representative from Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). They also agreed to create a team of African Experts (TAE) that conducts the monitoring and verification of the implementation of the Pretoria agreement.

The TOR states that the objectives of the joint committee and TAE are assisting the parties to implement the commitments they made in the Pretoria Agreement, laying the foundation for political dialogue, and monitoring the conduct of the parties with respect to the obligations they assumed in the Pretoria Agreement. Contrary to the above stated objectives, the TOR limits the scope of the TAE to only Permanent Cessation of Hostilities and the Disarmament and Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF). It gives less emphasis to the withdrawal of Eritrea and Amhara militants and ignores the provisions of the formation of the Interim Regional Administration (IRA) as stated in the Pretoria Agreement.

In an OpEd article published on Addis Standard, Prof. Mehari Taddele Maru, a prominent expert in transitional governance, advised that the implementation of the Pretoria deal is lagging in civilian protection, aid provision, restoration of services, and withdrawal of foreign forces. He also emphasized that the establishment of an interim governance structure in Tigray has not been given due importance. The TOR is a vindication of Mehari’s observation because it completely ignores the provisions of the IRA which is an important if not the most important component of the Pretoria Agreement.

The importance of the IRA cannot be overemphasized as its success or failure determines the bringing of lasting peace and the nature of Tigray’s relationship with Ethiopia. Article 10 of the Pretoria Agreement states that the IRA will be formed through political dialogue between the Parties within a week of the federal government removing TPLF from its list of terrorist organizations. Mehari, who declared the IRA as “the public face of the Pretoria Deal” expressed his reservation on the Pretoria Agreement’s effort to bring about a forced marriage between the TPLF and the Prosperity Party (PP) of Abiy Ahmed’s government who are greatly at odds with one another.

The mistrust between TPLF, PP, and the other political parties in Tigray is deep rooted and requires some time to ease.

Mehari advocates for the IRA to take a form of a “Government of National Unity” because, he argues, the IRA is likely to sail into turbulent political waters with resentments of people of Tigray against the Abiy’s government, the mistrust between political forces in Tigray & Ethiopia, and dire humanitarian crisis Tigray and neighboring regions are facing. A government of national unity in Tigray, he asserts, will ensure inclusivity, build confidence, and offer the opportunity to bring major parties and stakeholders together.

The key reason he provides for the necessity of government of national unity is the need for the IRA to be able to mediate between the several political and military forces and the population at large which will demand a broad-based, inclusive governance structure that can bring together all Tigrayan stakeholders, including members of the Tigray Defense Force, political parties, youth and women’s organizations, scholars, religious leaders, civil society and minority ethnic communities. Based on these assumptions, it is prudent for such an advocate of civilized engagements as Prof. Mehari to call for a government of national unity. But the chances of such a government being formed are very minimal for the reasons he mentioned in his article.

Neither TPLF nor PP are known to work with integrity to the formation of such an inclusive political structure. The mistrust between TPLF, PP, and the other political parties in Tigray is deep rooted and requires some time to ease. The secretive and conspiracy based political culture of TPLF, and PP will not allow a positive engagement amongst political players. Most importantly neither TPLF nor PP is trusted by the people of Tigray and the people of Ethiopia to chart a path to a democratic system and create a level playing field for political players.

A government of national unity has the advantage of bringing all political forces to the table but will tangle decisions and executions with political debates and deadlocks. A government of national unity is the best option to settle political differences and make sure the voices of all stakeholders are included in charting the political path.

But the purpose of the IRA is not to settle political differences or to create a political roadmap. The purpose of the IRA is to ensure the provisions of the Pretoria Agreement are implemented, humanitarian aid is delivered efficiently, basic public services are restored, war destroyed public facilities are reconstructed, and a conducive environment is created for National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) to conduct regional and federal elections. These mandates require more execution capabilities rather than political consensus.

Therefore, I recommend a technocratic IRA which is composed of non-partisan technical experts. A technocratic government is one in which the decision-makers are selected based on their expertise as opposed to representative democracy in which elected representatives are the primary decision-makers in government. The establishment of technocratic IRA in Tigray has a much better chance of transitioning Tigray into a peaceful and normalized state.

A technocratic government composed of technical experts with clearly defined mandates can execute more effectively. For the war-torn Tigray, a technocratic IRA effective execution capability is much preferable than a government of politicians who are at odds with one another. The technocratic government should save any political decisions to the future elected government and focus on clear nonpolitical mandates to be completed within a fixed term during which all parties should commit not to interfere in its activities.

The mandates should include the implementation of the Pretoria agreement including the DDR, withdrawal of non ENDF forces, repatriation of IDPs and refugees, restoration of public services, and finally creation of a conducive environment for NEBE to conduct the election. Political negotiations between political parties and stakeholders need to continue in parallel while the technocratic IRA works on the mandates given to it. The technocratic IRA should prioritize the delivery of basic services, rebuild infrastructure, restore the market to the formal economy and create stability to improve prospects of lasting peace.

The technocratic government should save any political decisions to the future elected government and focus on clear nonpolitical mandates to be completed within a fixed term during which all parties should commit not to interfere in its activities

Another important rationale for a technocratic interim government is that the probability of a stable post-transition political system is much better when no political group controls the process. Both TPLF and PP lack the will to chart a democratic system and are known to take any opportunity to maintain autocracy. The governmental bureaucracy of Tigray and Ethiopia in general is designed to maintain absolute domination of one party.

It is very important that the current bureaucracy which is marred with political patronage is discontinued and a merit based technocratic bureaucracy is installed. A technocratic IRA creates the opportunity to disband the deeply entrenched political system of one-party rule and create a level playing field for all political parties in preparation of the election. This requires establishment of local administrations that replace the political appointees of the ruling party in local administrations.

It is important that the technocratic interim government is protected from political influence for it to function well, but it is also important that it receives continued support and confidence from the different stakeholders and political parties. International donors and partners should directly work with the interim government to prevent any undue influence by the federal government to use international assistance as a leverage to gain political advantage.

The scope of the TOR for the monitoring, verification, and compliance should be expanded to monitoring the performance of technocratic IRA. The TAE and Joint committee should continually evaluate key performance indicators for the IRA and the results should be made public to ensure transparency and accountability.

Considering their political culture, neither PP nor TPLF will trust the other to create a level playing field, but an independent technical, trusted and respected leader can lead Tigray as it navigates through the turbulent journey ahead of it. It is important that the individuals taking over as technocrats to lead the IRA are trusted by all stakeholders and know that they will not assume any power after the end of the term of the IRA. The leader selected to lead the technocratic interim government must be not only technical expert but also a figure who can garner consensus over government decisions, including cabinet appointments, and who also have good relationships with all stakeholders.

One individual who can be tasked with such a big role is Dr. Arkebe Oqubay who worked with both parties and is known to be an effective executive. He is a kind of leader who works relentlessly to achieve goals given to him. He was revered as the best mayor of Africa when he was administering the Addis Abeba City administration. He also served as the vice chairman of the Tigray Regional administration.

He was also shortlisted as one of the candidates to lead the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) for his transformational leadership in developing industrial parks in Ethiopia. Considering the execution capabilities and large figurehead needed to lead the IRA, there is no better technocrat than Dr. Arkebe Oqubay. His one challenge is that he may be seen as a person who betrayed Tigray during the war because he stayed silent while most Tigrayans voiced their opposition to the war crimes committed on the people of Tigray.

Another individual who can take on such a big task is General Tsadkan Gebretinsae. The general is a savvy strategist who is known for his military, diplomatic, administrative and business leadership capabilities. He is one of the masterminds who led the Tigray People’s revolutionary war during the Derg regime. He also led the reestablishment of the ENDF after the civil war.

He consulted many African countries in their post conflict establishment of states and governments with their security apparatuses. His most valuable strength is his integrity. He is known to be a person of high integrity and can be trusted by all stakeholders. His strategic leadership capabilities can help Tigray navigate through the difficult journey ahead of it.

Other non-politicians like Tadesse Yemane, who led Tigray Development Association (TDA) can also take the lead to form a non-partisan technocratic IRA. The engagements between TPLF and PP ruled by the Federal government of Ethiopia seem to be improving but still need to address the most important components of the Pretoria Agreement. The parties need to stop kicking the can farther and act now. Abiy’s administration should order the withdrawal of all non-ENDF forces from Tigray and TPLF should stop calling itself the government of Tigray. A technocratic IRA needs to be formed immediately. AS

Editor’s Note: Mersea Kidan is a change and transformational leadership expert and a candidate for Doctor of Business Administration program at Metropolitan State University in USA. Mersea can be reached at Mersea.kidan@gmail.com

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