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Political Dialogue: A Hobson’s choice To End Ethiopia’s Conflict

By Horn of Africa Policy Center (HAPIC)
Policy Brief

Causes and Consequences of Tigray’s Conflict The root of the recent crisis in Ethiopia can be traced to constitutional conflict particularly the system of government, the election, power balance between regional and federal governments, and a push for political reforms. In 2018, when Abiy Ahmed came to power, once a strong influential party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) felt sidelined.

The rift grew and feud came to head when federal government postponed national election because of coronavirus and Tigray regional government defied this by holding its own regional election in September 2020. The central government declared this as unconstitutional and as a result cut ties with Tigray and suspended funding for it in October 2020. Tigray administration interpreted this as a declaration of war.

The 4th of November 2021 is marked the first anniversary since the start of hostilities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. In response to what the government claimed was an attack on its army base in Tigray, the government deployed military on November 4, 2020, for an operation called a law enforcement in Tigray. This was meant to be swift but degenerated into a brutal war.

The conflict has expanded beyond Tigray region, spreading into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar. On August 11, 2021 OLA (Oromo Liberation Army) has also announced their military alliance struck with TPLF. Further, on 5th November, 2021 nine regional opposition groups including TPLF, OLA, SSR (Somali State Resistance) established a political alliance named “United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces” with an intention to remove Abiy. This collision shifted the paradigm and opened a new chapter in the conflict.

 Surprisingly, the conflict also took dramatic turns in a number of times. This includes the retake of Tigray capital by TPLF after eight months of their eviction and the successive recapturing of strategic towns in November/December 2021 by government forces under the direct lead of PM Abiy Ahmed. This indicates a vicious circle that calls a different approach to break.

So far, this war caused immense humanitarian crisis. UN reported allegations of human rights violationsincluding attacks on civilians, torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and sexual and gender based violence. In addition, in the first 10 months of the conflict, around 2.1 million people internally displaced in Tigray, whereas, approximately 250,000 people and about 112,000 internally displaced in Amhara and Afar regions respectively.

On top of this, Tigray remains under a de-facto blockade. The Ethiopian government cut off all delivery of humanitarian goods, communications, electricity and services. Subsequently, humanitarian situation get worsened and the UN warned a “looming catastrophe” in Tigray region. Areas OLA operates are also under communication blackouts.

Impact of Ethiopia’s Conflict on the Horn of Africa:

This war can have drastic implications on the future of Ethiopia as well as on its neighbors. A case in point can be its impact on the peacekeeping missions in the hostile region of Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, the second largest contributor to the U.N peacekeeping missions with more than 6700 uniformed personnel, plays a big role in peacekeeping in South Sudan, Abyei and Darfur. It also contributes about 4000 troops to the AU peacekeepers and additional bilateral 15000 soldiers in Somalia. If the war further intensifies and the situation deteriorates, the government might be forced to withdraw its peacekeepers abroad. This will have a potential impact by undermining both the capacity and effectiveness of the above mentioned peacekeeping missions.

On the other hand, neighboring countries are on high alert as Ethiopia’s war escalates. Kenya earlier announced tightening the security of its 800 km border with Ethiopia. So far there has been also a fear of influx of Ethiopian refugees.

Strategy to Resolve this Conflict

Based on the nature of the current conflict and given the historical background of this multicultural region, military maneuvers can never be seen as a solution. The brutal past experience makes inclusive political dialogue as the exclusively real and sole alternative. However, the course of such dialogue might never be without impediments as explained hereunder.

Critical Obstacles:

Considering the facts on the ground, there are desperate and pressing obstacles for any attempt of peaceful talks. Firstly, opponents’ de-legitimization of each other utterly threatens peace talks at any kind. Abiy believes that he is fighting against terrorist organizations (TPLF & OLA) while the other side questions the legitimate status of his government.

Moreover, both the Ethiopian government and the opposing parties set differing conditions for possible peace process. Besides, the historical identity-based territorial disputes between Amhara and Tigray regions and the hostilities of Tigray-Eritrea border areas are considered as an enormous obstacle to any peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Abiy, on the other hand, launched a campaign against international organizations and accuses them collaborating with the enemy. He also denunciates external actors as prejudiced whose objective is to restore Tigray’s dominance in Ethiopia. Vice versa, most of international community questions his capacity as a negotiating partner due to his inability to rein his allies’ forces (Eritreans and Amhara). USA, an Ethiopian former Ally, is even considering imposing sanctions against its former strategic partner, Addis Ababa. Contrarily, China and Russia believe that this conflict is an internal affair for Ethiopia, which is a stumbling block to a united international voice.

Plausible Resolution Steps:

Silencing the guns must be the first priority and without preconditions. There will not be any resolution while fighting and the war of attrition continue at its current pace.

Retreating and pulling back of both sides from their positions and preliminary egotistical redlines is the most practical viable solution for this conflict. At present, this seems less likely, given the loss of trust and credibility among the contesting parties. However, it is a Hobson’s choice.

The mutual legitimacy recognition of all parties is indispensable and it is a key for beginning negotiations and effective peace process.

If something is to happen immediately and right away, it must be the unconditional lifting of sanctions and resuming all aid, social and economic services in Tigray region. The same goes for OLA operating areas that suffer from lack of communication services. Addressing the humanitarian catastrophe that the war has caused should not be part of the political stalemate.

As stated above, this devastating war caused severe distress and grief. A recent Joint UN & Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report indicates human rights violations committed by all parts, to varying degrees, where some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Hence, independent investigation is absolutely necessary to heal wounds and create a room for a lasting solution.

In addition, according to Human Rights Watch, dozens of opposition members have been detained and kept for prolonged periods. Amnesty International, on the other hand, reported targeting Tigrayans with arbitrary arrests and mass detentions. Releasing all political prisoners across the country can ease the tension, replace the fear, hatred and bitterness with nonviolent coexistence and create conducive environment for a peaceful dialogue.

Most importantly, reconciliation and an inclusive national political dialogue should take place where all political parties, civil societies, and other concerned stakeholders equallyparticipate. Impartial external bodies that treat all disputants alike can play a crucial role in achieving successful reconciliation and durable solution. Enforcing the efforts of African Union’s special envoy for the Horn Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, can thus be a key to peace talks.

 Finally, this dialogue should be held in a way it gives a room the discussion of serious matters and major political deadlocks in the country, including the issues of ethnic federalism and confederation, self-determination, balancing the power from center to periphery, border disputes, resources distribution, political representation, addressing past grievances, and inclusive historical narratives.

Horn of Africa Policy Center (HAPIC)


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