Maverick Citizen


Ethiopia peace agreement marred by gaps, say experts

Ethiopia peace agreement marred by gaps, say experts
From left: Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood, Dismas Nkunda, CEO of Atrocities Watch Africa, and Shuvai Busuman Nyoni, executive director of the African Leadership Centre. (Photos: Leila Dougan // Supplied)

As the African Union summit approaches, a Maverick Citizen webinar has heard about the flaws in the Ethiopian peace accord, as well as the roots of the long and bloody civil war.

After a brutal two-year war that killed an estimated 600,000 civilians and internally displaced 2.7 million, a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in South Africa on 2 November. But the agreement is marred by gaps, making peace that much harder to achieve.

“When we talk about the human, social and economic cost of this particular conflict in Ethiopia, it will take us quite a long time to have the full picture of the real impact,” said Shuvai Busuman Nyoni, executive director of the African Leadership Centre. 

Nyoni was speaking as part of a Maverick Citizen webinar panel on peace in Ethiopia and the significant gaps in the peace agreement. His remarks came in the run-up to the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa from 18 to 19 February.

Thursday’s discussion was chaired by Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood, joined by Dismas Nkunda, CEO of Atrocities Watch Africa. 

Laying the foundation

“In 2018, there were changes in the leadership in Ethiopia, including the former prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigning and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking over,” said Nkunda, adding that Ahmed had made a concerted effort to refocus on the administration of the country using a much more nationalistic approach, which was the complete opposite of the TPLF government. 

The conflict stems from grievances dating from when the TPLF – a rebel movement-turned-political party – dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, he explained. Since the coalition lost power nationally in 2018, the TPLF, still powerful in its northern stronghold, had fallen out with the federal government led by Ahmed. “The TPLF resisted. Their resistance included holding their own elections and saying they do not believe in what Prime Minister Ahmed is doing.” The Tigrayan security forces attacking the Northern Command headquarters of the Ethiopian National Defence Force, alongside several other bases in Tigray, had been the catalyst for the war.

Humanitarian nightmare

The bitter and bloody civil war has brought the nation to its knees. “In December of 2022, some of the numbers we were hearing were about 600,000 lives that had been lost as a result of direct military confrontation, and in some instances starvation as a result of the conflict – 20 million people who needed humanitarian relief, 4.2 million people displaced,” said Nyoni. 

Read in Daily Maverick:No short cuts to lasting peace in Tigray, but each day of silenced guns is a small victory for humanity

There had also been an increase in sexual and gender-based violence, with 3.5 million to five million people exposed. “We also have specific conflict-related sexual violence which was happening, especially rape and gang rape of women and girls and men and boys, which is part of the story that hasn’t really come out yet.”

The peace agreement

Many experts viewed the cessation of hostilities agreement as a critical first step towards ending a two-year war that has killed thousands, displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine in Africa’s second-most-populous nation. One of the most important articles in the agreement is the fourth, which is about the protection of civilians, says Nkunda.

“It became the hallmark, it was part of the whole system in terms of attacks on civilians. So, the article says there is a proper prohibition [on] attacks against civilians and ensures smooth movement of civilians and security of civilians, vulnerable groups such as women and children,” he said. 

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The agreement also mentioned the facilitation of movement for security, aid workers, as well as unhindered movement. “I think those are very important because before the agreement was reached, all the movement was controlled, aid workers could not reach there, the banking sector was closed and communication was cut off.” 

Gap-filled peace agreement

Despite some positive aspects, the agreement has serious gaps, according to Nkunda and Nyoni. 

Nkunda has described it as one the shortest peace accords he has seen. “The good thing about even the little that we get out of this is that it has allowed for prohibiting all forms of military confrontation, which had been the hallmark of all that had been troubling the region.” Since it had been signed there had not been a serious confrontation. 

The agreement provides the process of disarmament, which Nkunda notes has positive aspects. “The only challenge… is that it is only saying that disarmament is going to be done on TPLF, yet there are so many other fighting groups within the region and it does not mention the presence of military forces in the region.” 

Read in Daily Maverick:Ethiopia loses national treasures to looting and trafficking in Tigray war

The accord also calls for the formation of a joint committee to ensure the comprehensive implementation of the agreement, although it is unclear on the role of women and children in achieving peace and does not touch on the questions of nation-building and territory disputes.

For Nyoni, the agreement does not take the opportunity to bring to the fore African solutions to African problems. “I think every time we have a peace agreement, or a process that results in a peace agreement such as this one, [it] is an opportunity for us to demonstrate what is meant by the phrase ‘African solutions for African problems’.” 

While the agreement says the monitoring will include African experts, this is not satisfactory for Nyoni, because throughout the conflict expertise across the continent has not been used. “The response to the situation has not sufficiently taken on board the institutional memory that the African Union has. They have a history of responding to crises and conflict on our continent.” 

Another issue is that it is not laid out how the agreement will be implemented. “What carrots, what sticks, and what mechanisms does the African Union have to ensure that this is implemented, because it is not fully spelled out in the agreement,” she says. 

One of the glaring gaps for Nyoni is the exclusion of important segments of society, particularly women. “The process has not been participatory enough and inclusive enough.”

Justice and reparations

Nkunda and Nyoni also agree that the agreement does not have a clear sense of accountability for the individuals who have committed serious crimes during the two-year conflict. 

“One of the glaring things is the question of holding people accountable for the crimes they have committed,” said Nkunda, adding that, without accountability, the possibility of the same crime occurring increases. 

The peace agreement offered no form of justice to any victims of the brutality. This could be rectified by the AU Transitional Justice Policy, “to help the Ethiopian government to be able to address those glaring aspects of the commission of crimes so that the people can feel and see that justice has been done”. 

Three months after the agreement was signed, it seems the truce is holding, for now, said Nkunda.

“The AU intervention team has arrived in Mekelle and I know in the recent past there has been the movement of humanitarian workers, opening space that was initially closed and holding discussions with the two military groups as per the agreement.” 

What to expect from the AU

Nkunda did not expect much from the forthcoming AU summit.

“The AU has been very silent on the Ethiopian conflict, irrespective of the fact that it has a presence there as that is where the headquarters are. They should give resources but I am a bit pessimistic,” he explained.

While this conflict is a tragedy, Nyoni said it is not new in Africa. She hoped the AU would “make use of the institutional memory and the resources that the continent has and had deployed in the previous situations and see what has worked”. 

Nyoni notes that civil society activity had been curtailed to a large extent in many contexts – not only in Ethiopia – but stressed the importance of civil society in helping: “Keep things in the public domain, share information as much as possible, and be a voice where others cannot be.” DM/MC


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