Yonas Biru, PhD
December 27, 2022
I have written four articles on peace agreement proposals from November 21, 2020, to September 26, 2022. By and large these proposals are consistent with the agreement that the federal government and TPLF adopted.
There was one issue where my prediction missed the mark. That is the focus of this article. But first allow me to highlight what I got right because it is important to shed light on the lingering and wrongly predicted problem. In an article that appeared in the Ethiopian Reporter, stressed three points:
•“TPLF must honor the constitutional order and give the people of Ethiopia a chance to determine under what constitutional order they want to be governed.”
•“The Ethiopian government must agree to stop the war, suspend its drive to replace the government in Tigray, provided TPLF agrees to reinstate the legitimate former representatives. Finally, the Ethiopian government must drop its demand for the surrender of TPLF leaders.”
•“Any negotiation on the future constitutional governance of the country and border disputes between regions must be held between legitimately elected officials or a democratically established constitutional assembly, not by armed parties.”
I reiterated the same set of points on July 28, 2021, under the title “A Four Step Proposal for a Peaceful Resolution of the Conflict Between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray Regional Government.” In addition to the three points noted in the November 2020 article, I stressed that “In the interest of ending the looming humanitarian crisis, the Federal government needs to withdraw its sanction on the TPLF as a terrorist organization.”
My last September 26, 2022, article titled “Peace in Ethiopia requires exiling TPLF leaders to a safe haven” appeared in Inside Policy Magazine in Canada. The article reemphasized exiling TPLF leaders, rescinding the terrorist designation of TPLF, and allowing the TPLF as a party to participate in the free and fair election and let the people of Tigray decide its fate.
I was confident that their own best interest would lead TPLF leaders to leave the country. This has not materialized and seems unlikely to materialize. The question now is: How can the Abiy administration handle it? This has various political implications on:
·The peace agreement
·OLF-Shene’s and its clones’ existential threat
·Amhara-Tigray border issues
·The Ethio-Eritrean relationship. Let us address them in turn.
How Far Will the Government Tolerate TPLF’s Violation of the Peace Agreement?
TPLF is violating both the letter and spirit of the peace agreement. To start with, it was supposed to relinquish the levers of power, but it has not. It is also using different pretexts to drag its foot regarding the disarmament agreement. In clear violation of the agreement, there is a visible strategy to resuscitate itself as the government of Tigray.
To date, the Abiy administration is handling the situation right. The government seems to rightly focus on the end result of the peace agreement. TPLF’s violation of elements of the agreement should not be a reason to go back to war. The government should continue its peace and charm offensive to win the hearts and minds of the people of Tigray. Peace is what will weaken the TPLF as a negative force, not war.
In any case, we need to keep in mind the three most important factors that led to the peace settlement.
First, TPLF’s backbone was broken at the war front. The only thing left in its arsenal was the humanitarian crisis in Tigray that it was weaponizing for an international PR campaign. Its military might and invincibility was no more than a Quixotic delirium – 21st Century reality mimicking a 4th century fiction of Don Quixote de la Mancha. The emperor has fake clothes without zippers and buttons, laying bare his organs and grieving soul.
Second, the Ethiopian government was forced to realize the economy was sliding into a blackhole and time was running out. The PM desperately needed the International Community (Read the US) to bail the economy out of an impending existential crisis. As the #NoMore community was እንጣጥ እንጣጥing and እንዘጭ እንቦጭing on the streets of Washington, the PM was sending a delegation led by the Minister of Finance to Washington to plead for an economic bailout package.
Third, the West was able to twist arms and force a peaceful settlement. This is the truth. All else is a cruel satirization of an already satirized and hermitized Ethiopian intellectual class at home and in the diaspora.
The bottom line is that the Ethiopian government has very little option but to keep the peace process, despite TPLF’s violation of elements of the agreement. The most TPLF will get out of
this is saving itself with a broken backbone with little chance of creating a threatening military power, much less winning any future war.
Thankfully, the West still has the leverage to enforce peace. Left to their own devices, Ethiopia political elites on both sides have self-destructive tendencies.
The OLF-Shene Factor: An Emerging Power or Metastasizing Cancer?
OLF-Shene represents the essence of Ethiopia’s problem. The malignant force is an Oromo spirit without a head. It is part bank-robber, part hostage taker, and part throat cutting and mass murdering savage establishment. But it is more than all these combined. It has become a template for unemployed Oromo high-school and university graduates to form gangster groups.
Oromo high schools and universities are churning out graduates who speak neither Amharic nor English. They are unemployable outside of the Oromo tribal land and feel others should not be employable in their tribal land.
This is where the spirit of Shene comes into play. Unemployed and restive Oromo youth clone themselves using OLF-Shene as a template to rob banks, hold people hostage and engage in savagery. Though their victims include Oromos, Amhara’s and other tribes, the political market is selling them as anti-Amhara political forces. The Oromo Tribal government is afraid to go after them, as the problem metastasizes out of Welga. They lack both the wisdom and the integrity to deal with their tribal politics that created tribal gangsterism as an economic solution. This adds a new urgency to the PM to end the war and deal with the economy. Who would have thought OLF-Shene will be a factor in the Etio-TPLF peace calculus?
The Implication for the Amhara and Tigray Conflicts
TPLF’s survival favors the Amhara political class. Knowing TPLF’s part delusional and part amnesiac tendencies, no government in Ethiopia will allow it to have control over Welkait. On the one hand, TPLF will use Welkait as a reason why it is not honoring its side of the peace deal to elongate its hold to power, no matter how diminished its power may be.
On the other hand, the PM will not put his government at risk by allowing TPLF access to Sudan. From a political perspective it will be unimaginable for PM Abiy to return Welkait to Tigray without creating an enemy out of 30 plus million people in the Amhara tribal land. This, plus the PM’s own survival instinct will favor the Amhara in the Wolkait conflict
In short, TPLF’s stay in power creates an unfavorable environment to make a political case to return Welkait to Tigray. This is not to say, any other Tigrayan government will win on this issue. It simply means TPLF’s stay will make it much harder. TPLF would not mind.
How Will the Ethio-Eritrean Relationship Be Affected?
There are psychological and political issues in play. The psychological issue is the hardest to deal with. From a political and military perspective, Eritrea has very little to fear. TPLF has no military backbone to threaten Eritrea. They have self-destructed with surgical precision. Partly, TPLF was the reason for Eritrea’s economic stagnation. Eritrea was reduced to being a militarized nation to defend itself from Ethiopia led by TPLF. That threat has been removed. Eritrea and Amhara have inherently interlocked common interests against TPLF. There is also an overlapping space between the Abiy government, Amhara, and Eritrea interests in putting TPLF in check.
In an unlikely event that TPLF launches a war against Eritrea, the Ethiopian federal government has a duty to intervene both politically and militarily. Ethiopia cannot allow one of its regions to drag the whole nation into a war with a neighboring country. Ethiopia must assure Eritrea of this.
Either way, I do not think Eritrea will have meaningful influence to force the PM to act in a way that undermines Ethiopia’s interest.
If rightly handled by the Abiy administration, TPLF’s only choice is recreating itself as a positive force to build Tigray’s economy. That is the only choice it has to remain a relevant power in Tigray politics. Its arrogance, sense of invincibility, and ambition to be alpha tribe (ዓውራ ብሄር) and regional power is a pipe dream. The reality is that as long us the current constitution stands, Tigray will remain an አጋር ብሄር with diminished influence over the nation’s politics – 6% voting right to be exact.