By Ogoti Bokombe
The guns were silenced in Northern Ethiopia at least for a moment after the Federal government of Ethiopia declared a unilateral ceasefire on June 28 after eight months of war on the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).
The ceasefire was however rejected by the TPLF terming it as a retreat after defeating the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) and taking control of a huge chunk of Tigray, especially the regional capital Mekele. The TPLF responded to the ceasefire by accepting it in principle and on July 4, 2021 issuing seven conditions for the ceasefire to be formalized.
Getachew Reda, the outfit’s spokesman, TDF demanded for an immediate withdrawal of invading Eritrean and Amhara forces, the establishment of an independent investigative body by the United Nations to account for the crimes committed against the Tigrayans, unimpeded humanitarian aid delivery and compensation for damages and losses during the conflict, full access to basic services, the establishment of the democratically elected government of Tigray with budgetary allocation, the declaration of all federal government declarations, directives and decisions aimed at Tigray as illegal, null and void and finally it issued a condition that an international body is formed to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire preconditions.
However, various factors point towards an unending crisis or one that is far from over. Abiy’s rule in Ethiopia is up for a muddled political and security landscape, with both domestic and regional instability which is also eating into the people’s social and economic welfare.
The TPLF has vowed to “liberate every square inch” of the Tigray region. This speaks to total autonomy as an end in the long-term and the spirited vow to push off its boundaries Eritrean, Amharan and federal forces from Tigray. The unverified withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray continues to cast doubts on Addis Ababa’s interest to reach a ceasefire agreement with the TPLF. Further, TPLF was in May 6 listed as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian parliament, a policy stand that essentially make the former dominating party a threat to national security.
Since Abiy’s ascension to power in Addis, Tigray has been isolated, stifled and strangled off her powers with many of its former military men and political leaders been arrested or under detention for various ‘reform’ related crimes such as corruption. November 4, 2020, marked another turn of events for the Northern region, the federal government instituted a communication blackout, blocked access to basic services such as banking, electricity, education, air travel and healthcare and also altered its administration by declaring its elected leaders as illegally elected and stopping budgetary allocation to the region.
This continued schism is meant to push the region back to order, however, this stifles any hope for an end to the crisis anytime soon. Even after the declaration of the unilateral ceasefire, Addis Ababa has a strong hand in assessing all aid deliveries to the region to quell her fears that the rebel group may be supplied with arms through humanitarian convoys.
The huge win by Abiy’s Prosperity Party in the June 21 parliamentary elections, winning 410 seats out of 436 seats in parliament assuring Abiy’s stay in power for a second five-year term is another case of delayed liberation and return to past glory for the TPLF. Abiy’s reform agenda continues to face rebellion from many quarters including his backyard in Oromo with the TPLF been the most fervid opponent casting a dark cloud over an end to the Tigray crisis. Abiy aims at concentrating power in Addis Ababa, limit self-autonomy claims based on ethnic–federalism, this counters the core of Ethiopia’s political and social structures.
Most importantly, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and its impacts will evidently be a whole load of an issue even in the intended aftermath of the Tigray war. The humanitarian crisis is manifested in refugee outflows to neighbouring Sudan (approximately 46,000), 1.7 million Tigreans been displaced, stalled harvest season when the conflict sparked, and UN officials warning to the United Nations Security Council on July 2 that more than 400,000 people in Tigray been in famine and 1.8 million been on the brink of famine, with 33,000 children been severely malnourished.
This situation in Tigray echoes, Robert Kaplan’s analysis in “Surrender or Starve” that famine is both a tool and aspect of ethnic conflict in the Horn of Africa based on the 1980s Amhara regime use of famine to pressure Tigreans and Eritreans into submission. Humanitarian assistance or aid access is becoming tools of conflict which often rolls back stalls willingness to spark pacific settlement of conflicts.
Ethiopia has managed international interference into the Tigrayan issue strategically, only inviting traditional condemnations, travel restrictions and aid cuts such as those by the United States. Notably, the international community has compared to other conflicts had it slow on the Tigray crisis, especially regional actors such as the IGAD, AU and also the Horn of Africa Cooperation (Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia) a tripartite that may join against TPLF as evidenced in the Eritrean troops engagement in Tigray.
It is a ripe moment for the international community to seize in supporting and pushing the parties to reconcile and facilitate dialogue in charting Ethiopia’s future and reform agenda.
The author is an international affairs policy analyst.