HORN OF AFRICA
Ethiopian peace deal must be bolstered to prevent further slaughter and war atrocities
African voices and actors have a crucial role to play in supporting and helping Ethiopians find peace. The deal reached in Pretoria is a cause for optimism. But we cannot ignore its gaps. It is now incumbent on us all to do what we can to prevent a worsening of the slaughter.
I have had the misfortune to witness the worst of humanity. In 1994, as a journalist for the Ugandan newspaper The Monitor, I arrived in Rwanda a few days after the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira — the president of Burundi — was brought down in Kigali.
Over the next months of genocide, I was horrorstruck by the dead bodies littering paths, hilltops, gardens and rivers.
In a village in Nyamagana, we found a six-month-old baby whose mother had died two days earlier. The little girl was still suckling her dead mother’s breast. Flies had taken over her entire body. We picked her up and bathed her.
The tales of the Rwanda genocide are more than this article can easily detail. The experience changed me. I knew I could never be satisfied with counting bodies and empathising with the dead. I needed to prevent atrocities from ever happening.
Like many, I was uplifted by the news that the African Union (AU) had brokered a permanent cessation of hostilities agreement between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in Pretoria in November 2022.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Warring Ethiopian parties silence the guns by signing historic peace agreement in Pretoria”
Political tension in the country was roiled by the two-year war, which was centred in northern Ethiopia and served as a spur to other conflicts elsewhere in Ethiopia. More than half a million civilians have died. And yet the world’s media and politicians haven’t paid attention. The war in Tigray was a hidden conflict, cloaked behind an internet, telecommunications and banking blackout that is only now lifting.
Ethiopia is important for all Africans. It is the home of the AU, the political organisation we trust to advance Africa’s aspirations for continental development and equal participation in global affairs. As such, it is our home, too. African voices and actors have a crucial role to play in supporting and helping Ethiopians find peace. The deal reached in Pretoria is a cause for optimism. But we cannot ignore its gaps.
It is now incumbent on us all to do what we can to prevent a worsening of the slaughter. The public and social media space in Ethiopia and its diaspora is riven by angry debates that often rise to the level of hate speech. We are all called upon to avoid antagonistic, overly politicised, and simplistic positions.
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More signatories needed
At the moment, the only signatories to the peace agreement are the Ethiopian government and the TPLF.
Absent from the negotiating table are representatives of Amhara special forces and militias and Eritrean troops, both of which fought on the side of the federal government. Excluded too are representatives of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which allied with the TPLF and has been conducting a long-running insurgency against the government.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Ethiopia needs a peace coalition to underpin its new accord with Tigray People’s Liberation Front”
The situation has been worsening in other parts of Ethiopia, particularly in western Oromia and southern Amhara. In recent weeks, tensions have flared over the decision of a group of Oromo clerics to break away from the main body of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church. A truly inclusive peace process is urgently required.
The appalling levels of sexual violence in the conflict — one source estimates that more than 120,000 women and girls were victims in Tigray — demand greater inclusion of women within every aspect of the peace process. It’s a goal in keeping with the mandate of Bineta Diop, the AU’s special envoy on women, peace and security, who is called upon to “ensure that the voices of women and the vulnerable are heard much more clearly in peacebuilding and in conflict resolution”.
The scale of the atrocities — many of which are still coming to light — insists upon the full adoption of Article 10 of the cessation of hostilities agreement, which calls upon the Ethiopian government to implement an all-inclusive transitional justice policy “aimed at accountability, ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation and healing”.
The agreement calls for the policy to be crafted with “inputs from all stakeholders, and civil society groups through public consultations and formal national policymaking processes”.
The issue of accountability, or lack thereof, has beleaguered many peace efforts in Africa. Yet, genuine accountability can be the greatest contribution to healing and the strongest guarantee against a repeat of the violence. Let us not ignore it in the eagerness to move on.
I pledge my life’s work to prevent mass atrocities in memory of the victims whose agonies I witnessed in Rwanda. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if the achievement of the Ethiopian peace deal, and the hopes of so many people, were thwarted by a return to more pointless, tragic war. War is not a party. DM/MC
Dismas Nkunda is co-founder and CEO of Atrocities Watch Africa.
Join Dismas and Shuvai Busuman Nyoni, director of the African Leadership Centre, for a Daily Maverick webinar facilitated by Mark Heywood (Maverick Citizen editor) on Thursday, 16 February, from 6pm-7pm to discuss Ethiopia: Filling in the Gaps in the Peace Process
Register here: https://bit.ly/DM-Webinar-Ethiopia-Filling-In-The-Gaps