Can Ethiopia avoid increasing turbulence and prioritize peace? | Opinion

Ethiopia’s devastating civil war has recently entered its second year. The conflict between the federal government and the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) has spread beyond Tigray, exacerbating the old hostility between Tigray and Amhara, and attracting people from Oromia, Benishangur and the Arab Republic. Farr’s armed groups have deepened identity-based disputes across Ethiopia.

These days, fighting is getting closer and closer to the capital Addis Ababa, threatening a catastrophic escalation. On November 2, the Ethiopian Cabinet declared a state of emergency throughout the country, and there were widespread reports that Tigray civilians were arrested without reasonable grounds. From the United States to Turkey, governments all over the world recommend that their citizens leave the country immediately.

At the same time, northern Ethiopia is facing a worsening humanitarian crisis, with more than 8 million people in urgent need of assistance. In Tigray, it is believed that at least 400,000 people are living in famine. Two million people are internally displaced, and there are more than 60,000 refugees in Sudan. Although at least 100 trucks are needed every day to meet the most basic needs of local residents, no humanitarian convoy has entered the area since mid-October.

A joint investigation by the United Nations and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and a subsequent EHRC report exposed widespread abuse, torture and sexual violence against civilians by the Ethiopian Defense Forces (ENDF) and Tigrayan. , Amhara and Eritrean troops are at different stages of the conflict, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Tigrayan improves-but the final game is unclear

In recent months, the Ethiopian government forces have been at a disadvantage. TDF occupied important territories, including major towns such as Weldiya, Dessie and Kombolcha. The Tigray people also formed an alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which occupied territory in many areas of Oromia, but faced limited resistance from the ENDF and its allies.

The joint force is located within 200 kilometers of Addis Ababa. In Afar, the insurgents tried to cut off the main supply route from neighboring Djibouti to Addis Ababa, which would allow them to impose a blockade on the capital and potentially open a key supply route to Tigray.

But the outcome of the Tigray team is still unclear. They have yet to articulate a coherent political plan or form an alliance that has the opportunity to gain national legitimacy.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and OLA recently formed an alliance with seven smaller groups to call for the formation of a transitional authority, but the details of the agreement are still unclear, which does not include many legitimate stakeholders. Whether TPLF-TDF is fighting for the conquest of the entire country, ensuring the autonomy of the Tigray people in the Ethiopian Union, or for secession is still uncertain.

As far as he is concerned, Prime Minister Abi Ahmed is still optimistic and committed to achieving military victory. He announced that he will lead the army from the front and called on citizens to take up arms against groups designated by his government as terrorists. He maintains important support in Addis Ababa, but the federal government is no longer the only power base in the country. The regional government is leading its own forces and prioritizing its own national-federal agenda-not only to protect and expand the territory, but also to create a favorable position for itself in the possible future political distribution. A self-sustaining violent logic may be established.

Limited international leverage

Both parties seem to be reluctant to listen to outside calls for peace. Prime Minister Abiy seems to believe that the international community wants to remove him. His only option is to adopt a winner-takes-all approach. TPLF/TDF also sees little value in the negotiations, especially because of its recent progress. Both sides believe that the other is an existential threat.

The European Union and the United States applied some pressure by stopping aid, and the latter also suspended Ethiopia’s “African Growth and Opportunity Act” in an attempt to end the conflict. Sanctions on Ethiopian actors have been suspended, at least for now, to allow time for negotiations to yield results, but due to the unstable role of Eritrean officials and institutions in the conflict, they have taken targeted measures.

However, so far these efforts have had little success, and punitive actions by outside actors have been used to incite nationalism and mobilize resistance.

Mediation is essential to resolve this conflict-but no one actor can mediate effectively. The African Union (AU) Horn of Africa representative, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (Olusegun Obasanjo) is engaged in shuttle diplomacy, but his team needs more support and resources to make meaningful progress. U.S. and EU envoys also play an important role in negotiations with domestic and regional participants.

The AU is in a delicate position. Its headquarters is in Addis Ababa, and its decision-making model requires consensus. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely to take strong actions, such as suspending actions in Ethiopia. Due to the turmoil after the current chairman of the Sudan coup, the Intergovernmental Development Authority (IGAD), a regional group, is also in trouble. Even before the coup, the deteriorating relationship between Khartoum and Addis Ababa, as well as the relationship between the Executive Secretary of IGAD Ethiopia and Prime Minister Abiy, made it difficult for the EU to act as a mediator.

In the absence of a viable institutional mechanism, the participation of regional leaders such as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is crucial. Kenya is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. It protects Addis Ababa from sanctions (as well as China and Russia), but insists on Africa-led conflict resolution. But it also speaks out about the humanitarian crisis and urges an end to hostilities. After the talks with Prime Minister Abiy in Addis Ababa, the President of Kenya also discussed with the US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken and the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa a solution to the conflict in Ethiopia.

Towards true dialogue and reconciliation

Only after the ceasefire is achieved can a road map for sustainable peace in Ethiopia be drawn. In order to degrade the conflict, both the federal government and the rebels need to recognize that each other is an interlocutor. This will require the federal government to cancel the designation of TPLF and OLA-Shene as terrorist organizations, and require the rebel organizations to accept the legality of federal jurisdiction. As a matter of urgency, the government and the federal states also need to allow humanitarian relief to reach Tigray. At the same time, an independent monitoring and evaluation committee authorized by the United Nations can be established to oversee the ceasefire.

Then, all parties need to recognize the primary need to find new political solutions and resolve the deep-rooted structural problems in Ethiopia. They need to start working to reconcile their conflicting historical narratives, reach agreement on the division of power between the central and regional governments, manage national language self-determination requirements, and resolve territorial disputes.

In order to advance peacefully, Ethiopian leaders need to find a way to adapt to competing ideological views and establish a vision of consensus governance. This can only be achieved through national dialogue and an inclusive transition process.

To this end, the Ministry of Peace and some local organizations have established a dialogue platform. In order to strengthen this emerging process, the government should become an equal partner — working with civil society groups and other groups to strengthen peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.

The transition process should include senior leaders of the federal government, rebel movements, and opposition parties—such as Jawar Mohamed, Bekele Gerba, and Eskind Nega—as well as civil society groups, religious leaders, and celebrities.

This inclusive process may lead to an interim government of national unity recognized by all stakeholders. The term of this administration is short, predetermined, and institutional reforms can be implemented to strengthen federal programs and allow true decentralization, which will pave the way for national elections that meet local expectations and international standards.

A transitional justice strategy should also be developed-essential for the healing of society and the accountability of perpetrators of atrocities. In addition, stakeholders should agree on procedures for managing the security forces of the autonomous region and unifying the national army. In addition, the economic drivers of conflict resolution, including ensuring peace dividends at the local level, will be an important factor in any long-term solution. International partners can support this process through resources and technical expertise.

For this to happen, both sides need to accept some hard facts.

Prime Minister Abiy will need to recognize that the legitimacy of his government has been so tarnished by the atrocities committed during this brutal civil war that it cannot continue to manage the country on its own after the conflict is over. As far as the Tigray people are concerned, they must accept that their deep dissatisfaction with their long-term dominance in Ethiopian politics still exists, and most Ethiopians will not agree with them to lead the federation again. Both parties can aspire to win the war, but no one can hope to win peace alone.

The civil war in Ethiopia has caused unimaginable suffering and brought the country on the verge of collapse. It is time for the elites to put their own interests aside and start working to reach a political solution to resolve the country’s deteriorating grievances and establish a new social order based on mutual understanding and inclusiveness.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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