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Ethiopia and TPLF: What You Need to Know About the Pretoria Agreement

July 2, 2024
The Pretoria Agreement: How TPLF’s Deal with Abiy Ahmed Extends His Power

The Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, also known as the Pretoria Agreement, was officially signed on November 2, 2022, between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government. This pivotal agreement represented a significant milestone in the efforts to bring an end to the prolonged two-year conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. and stability in the Tigray region.

Introduction

After two years of devastating war, the Federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People`s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in November 2022 in Pretoria, South Africa.1 At the core of the agreement is the TPLF recognizing and submitting to the authority of the Federal Government of Ethiopia by agreeing to dismantle and replace its administration with an inclusive interim administration and disarming its fighters.In return, the federal government commits to resolving the Amhara-Tigray contested areas based on the 1995 constitution, helping withdraw foreign forces from Tigray, and allowing the unhindered flow of humanitarian aid to Tigray.3 These compromises were envisioned to address the concerns of both parties and, combined with other measures, usher in lasting peace and stability in Northern Ethiopia. This essay argues that such compromises are based on a faulty understanding of what it takes to usher in lasting peace, and is therefore an insufficient basis for a constructive resolution of the conflict, not least because they avoid an adequate resolution of the issues linked to the so-called contested areas.

Flawed Peace Vision

The agreement implicitly accepts that the Federal Government of Ethiopia is a legitimate representative of armed groups that fought on the side of the government. This is not the case. The coalition of forces that were spearheaded by the federal government neither had common war aims nor necessarily considered the federal government as their legitimate representative.4 Hence, their exclusion from the peace process invariably affected the prospect of a durable resolution of the conflict. The agreement also presumes that the 1995 Constitution addresses the concerns and interests of Tigrayans without adversely affecting the interests of other groups. This is not accurate either. The constitution is a pact of ethnonationalists5 (mainly that of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)-TPLF), which adversely affected the interests of communities that were not mobilized along ethnic lines. A significant portion of the Ethiopian population does not accept the ethno-federal component of the constitution. This is reflected in the recent Afrobarometer survey, where Ethiopians are almost equally divided in their support for and opposition to (49 to 48 percent, respectively) the ethno-federal component of the constitution.6 Hence, the federal government would not be able to address the interests of Tigray based on the 1995 constitution without being perceived as undermining the interests of others, especially the Amhara, who blame the current constitutional dispensation for permanently disempowering and victimizing their communities.7

This dilemma is reflected in the vague provision of the agreement regarding the Amhara-Tigray contested areas of Raya (Southern Tigray) and Welkait (Western Tigray). In what appears to be a strategy of constructive ambiguity (language that renders different interpretations legitimate), the agreement recognizes the areas as ‘contested’ and prescribes that they would be addressed based on provisions of the constitution.8 Picking on the stipulation about constitutional resolution, the TPLF insisted that constitutional resolution means the return of these areas to the Tigray regional state because the areas were part of Tigray before the conflict. Drawing its logic on the contested nature of the areas, the federal government still canvassed for a referendum, where the locals decide their fate under federal control. The issue of the ‘contested’ areas has thus remained unresolved, constituting a key obstacle to ending the crisis in Northern Ethiopia.

Local Vision for Peace

In the context of this national-level paralysis, local communities are often perceived to offer less ideologically rigid and more pragmatically informed alternatives to national-level positions. However, local communities are not completely immune from the influence of polarized, simplistic, and distorted narratives as national actors.

For the last six months, I have been researching local communities’ perceptions of the peace process in the Raya-Alamata area, one of the contested territories. The views expressed by respondents suggest that the way the issues of the ‘contested’ territories are addressed will determine the legitimacy of the peace process.9 Tigrayan displaced communities in the area do not envision any durable peace and reconciliation without the re-incorporation of these areas into the Tigray Regional State. Referendums, where the local communities decide which regions they wish to belong to, rarely figure in their responses. Instead, they have continued highlighting the need to ensure the territorial integrity of Tigray and address the plight of the displaced communities.

A significant number of residents, on the other hand, do not envision durable peace and reconciliation unless a referendum is undertaken under the auspices of the federal government. The latter approaches the issue from the perspective of the recognition of the identity of the community rather than a territorial contestation between Amhara and Tigray. Hence, local communities hold opposing interests and visions for peace as much as national actors, and a viable entry point for transformative peacebuilding may not emerge from the grassroots level. By framing these ‘contested’ areas as objects of territorial contestations and suggesting controversial constitutional mechanisms as a solution, the agreement might have also unwittingly undermined the emergence of alternative solutions to the dispute.

Prospect for Peace and Reconciliation in the ‘Contested’ Areas

The national-level paralysis and local-level polarization certainly suggest the difficulty of getting an entry point to initiate peace and reconciliation in the ‘contested’ areas. However, recent developments might open a window of opportunity for peace and reconciliation. There is increasing awareness among Amhara and Tigrayans that they are both losing out in the current stalemate or no-war, no-peace situation. Each of them also appear to be losing confidence in the will and capacity of the federal government to reconcile the two societies, exemplified in the result of a recent survey where less than five percent of the population in Amhara and Tigray have trust in the federal government.10 This may open an opportunity for non-state mediators to initiate inter-communal dialogue. Indeed, the communities in the Raya area accept the necessity of initiating such dialogue. Moreover, though the positions and interests of the two communities are perceived to be contradictory, they are all underpinned by similar concerns and needs. Both communities want to be administered from the region where they are dominant because they want to avoid repression and marginalization by a dominant group. Hence, peacemaking efforts in the area need to be based on mechanisms that respect the basic rights of all and ensure the rule of law. The constitutional solution currently proposed in the peace agreement does not adequately re-center these rights issues because when heterogenous societies occupy the same space, self-determination will simply create new majorities and minorities without transforming the underlying causes of conflict and addressing the needs and interests of all.

Considering these opportunities and limitations, a local-international civil society alliance needs to support the peace initiative at the local level. This alliance could initiate inter-communal dialogue in the contested areas to discuss past and ongoing abuses, as well as the governing principles and operational modalities of the local administrations. In the immediate term, this dialogue should aim at reconciling communities and helping those who were displaced to return home. The difficult and presumably zero-sum issue of which administrative region the contested areas should belong to can be postponed until a national-level constitutional settlement is achieved.

Given the complexity and depth of the crisis Ethiopia is facing at this stage, it is hard to understate the importance of national-level dialogue among conflicting actors. The ongoing war in Amhara and Oromia, along with the paralysis in the implementation of the Pretoria agreement, are unlikely to end without such a national-level dialogue. The current dialogue process neither engages armed groups nor even manages to select representatives from Amhara, Tigray, and conflict-affected parts of Oromia. Therefore, it is woefully inadequate to end Ethiopia`s multiple crises. Hence, institutions and states that have leverage over the political elites of the country, such as the AU, IGAD, Western States, and China, should pressure the federal government as well as the Amhara, Oromia, and Tigray regional states to commit to a peaceful resolution of conflict among them and within their regions. Ultimately, the resolution of the core issues of the contested area depends on the resolution of these national-level crises because these issues are simultaneously local, regional, and national. They are local because communities living in these areas raise identity related issues; they are regional because the Amhara and Tigray region raise claim over these areas; and they are national because the federal government, on different occasions, supported one or the other side of the disputant.

 Endnotes

  1. CoHA, “Agreeemnt for lasting peace through permanent cessation of hostilities between the government of the Federal Democratic republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF),” (2022). https://igad.int/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Download-the-signed-agreement-here.pdf.
  2. Concerned Pan Africanist. ‘’Assessing the Peace Accord for Tigray. Press statement by concerned Pan Africanist,’’ (26 November 2022). https://www.theelephant.info/documents/assessing-the-peace-accord-for-tigray/
  3. CoHA, “Agreeemnt for lasting peace through permanent cessation of hostilities between the government of the Federal Democratic republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).”
  4. Kjetil Tronvoll, “The Anatomy of Ethiopia’s Civil War,” Current history (1941) 121, no. 835 (2022), https://doi.org/10.1525/curh.2022.121.835.163.
  5. Medhane Tadesse, Alagaw Ababu Kifle, and Dade Desta, “Evolving state building conversations and political settlement in Ethiopia,” Conflict, security & development 21, no. 4 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1080/14678802.2021.1974698.
  6. Afrobarometer, “Ethiopians prefer federal to centralised government, but split over delineation, Afrobarometer survey reveals ” (16 November 2023). https://www.afrobarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/News-release-Ethiopians-prefer-federal-over-centralised-government-but-split-over-delineation-Afrobarometer-bh-15Nov23.pdf.
  7. AAA, ”Introduction of the Amhara Peoples Negotiation Delegation to Promote Inclusive Negotiations to End War in Northern Ethiopia and Ensure Lasting Peace and Stability in the Wider Region,” (21 October 2022). https://www.amharaamerica.org/post/amhara-peoples-negotiations-delegation-letter-to-special-envoys
  8. CoHA, “Agreeemnt for lasting peace through permanent cessation of hostilities between the government of the Federal Democratic republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).”
  9. Alagaw Ababu Kifle, ‘’Grassroots Perception of the Ethiopian Peace Process: A View from the Amhara-Tigray Contested Raya-Alamata Area,’’ (2023), unpublished manuscript.
  10. Patrick Vinck et al., “Can Justice Bring Peace to Ethiopia? How to Heal Divisions After Decades of War,” Foreign Affairs (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ethiopia/can-justice-bring-peace-ethiopia?utm_campaign=tw_daily_soc&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter_posts) 15 November 2023.

Alagaw Ababu Kifle

Alagaw Ababu Kifle is a research fellow and head of fellowship at the African Leadership Centre, Nairobi Kenya. Alagaw holds BA degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University and two MA degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies and Conflict Security and Development (distinction) from Addis Ababa University-University for Peace, and King`s College London, respectively. Alagaw is the 2023 first ever Joint PhD graduate of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and King`s College London in Leadership and Security Studies. Alagaw has over ten years of teaching and research experiences, and has widely published both academic

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