Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 565, 3 November 2022

Ethiopia: Federal government and Tigray agree to a permanent ceasefire
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 2 November, the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace deal brokered by the African Union and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in South Africa. The African Union’s mediator to the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region said that the parties to the conflict have agreed to a “permanent cessation of hostilities.” The government’s lead negotiator said both sides agreed to end all forms of hostilities and restore federal authority in Tigray. Both parties also agreed on a single defence force for Ethiopia, and on TPLF entering a disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programme. Further, a new interim administration is to be appointed in Tigray until the elections, and humanitarian aid and services are to be restored.

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said that the Ethiopian government and Tigray authorities have agreed on an “orderly, smooth, and coordinated disarmament along with “restoration of law and order,” “restoration of services,” and “unilateral access to humanitarian supplies.” Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said: “The commitment to peace remains steadfast and our commitment to collaborating for the implementation of the agreement is equally strong.” The head of the Tigray delegation, Getachew Reda, said: “Ultimately, the fact that we have reached a point where we have now signed an agreement speaks volumes about the readiness on the part of the two sides to lay the past behind them to chart a new path of peace.” The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement, and his spokesperson said: “It is very much a welcome first step, which we hope can start to bring some solace to the millions of Ethiopian civilians that have really suffered during the conflict.” The US Department of State spokesperson said: “The African Union’s announcement of the signing of a cessation of hostilities between the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front represents an important step towards peace.”

Issues at large
First, a previously failed truce. In March 2022, the Ethiopian government declared an immediate “humanitarian truce,” aiming to deliver food aid to 5.5 million people in need. However, in August, the fighting resumed with the TPLF accusing Ethiopian and Eritrean forces of launching massive joint offensives in Tigray causing widespread civilian casualties.

Second, continued fighting during the ceasefire talks. On 26 October, BBC reported heavy fighting taking place on several fronts in the northern Tigray region while peace talks were underway in South Africa. A senior military officer of TPLF told the BBC that fighting near Adwa town involved heavy artillery and tanks. There have also been reports of clashes with Eritrean forces near the border in the Afar region. The continued fighting squandered any potential success of the peace talks.

Third, ambiguity over unaddressed issues. To begin with, the agreement makes no mention of Eritrea or forces from the Ethiopian neighbourhood that have fought alongside the Ethiopian army. Though the agreement states that the Ethiopian army will protect the country from “foreign incursion,” many are sceptical about whether Eritrea, TPLF’s sworn enemy would abide. In addition, political issues, including territorial disputes between Tigray and the neighbouring Amhara region remain unresolved. Furthermore, the question of the implementation of key provisions in the deal including Tigray’s interim administration, distribution of humanitarian aid, and resumption of blocked services remains unresolved. 

In perspective
First, achieving a permanent ceasefire in Tigray won't be easy. The conflict, rooted in the long-standing ethnopolitical rift, violent regime change, territorial disputes, failed truce, and a large humanitarian crisis makes the peace deal still seem increasingly volatile. 

Second, though both sides agreed to a permanent ceasefire, a critical question of how and when the key provisions would be implemented on the ground remains unclear. Besides, the unaddressed issues create uncertainty. 

Third, the sudden ceasefire is a significant achievement, a hope to end the two-year deadly conflict. The agreement is a delicate opportunity to consolidate a permanent ceasefire and long-term stability in Ethiopia, though the initial steps appear complex.

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