We now know talks are under way in Djibouti between the governments of Ethiopia and Tigray. We have the formal announcement from Tigray (see below) and some idea of who the key players are. It is said that these are the third round of face-to-face talks.
Facts are scarce and the information needs confirming, but what is the chance that they might succeed?
First, some optimistic indications
- Both sides appear to have sent very senior, tough negotiators. None of them are pushovers. This is vital, since only the strong can make concessions. Ethiopia is said to represented by Gedion Thimotheos, Minister of Justice and Redwan Hussein, Ambassador to Eritrea. Tigray is, we know from the official announcement, represented by Getachew Reda and General Tsadkan Gebretinsae.
- The peace is backed by the international community. The African Union has issued a statement welcoming the talks, and the US has had its Special Envoy, Michael Hammer, in Addis since 6 September.
- Importantly both the African Union and the European Union have issued statements in which they refer to the authorities in Tigray as the “Regional Government of Tigray” – their rightful title. This is in stark contrast to the Ethiopian government which until recently referred to the Tigrayans as “terrorists.”
- Finally, neither side in the war that resumed on 24 August after a five month ceasefire, has collapsed. Neither side is having to negotiate from a position of weakness. Ethiopia and Eritrea did not make the advances they clearly thought they might given the scale of the onslaught they unleashed. Similarly, the Tigrayans have not broken their enemies on any front, despite making very significant gains in the south and inflicting what is said to be a “monumental” defeat on their opponents at Dedebit in north-western Tigray, while taking thousands of prisoners.
Now, the problems ahead
Overcoming the bitterness and hatred that this war has stoked up since it erupted on 4th November 2020 will be an immense task. Over 150,000 lives have been lost (according to the best estimates) and tens of thousands of women – and some men – have been brutally sexually abused. Leaving these tragic issues to one side, these are some of the questions that need to be resolved.
- This is a regional, not a national war. Eritrea began plotting to eradicate the Tigrayans even before the reconciliation with PM Abiy in 2018. Eritrea was involved in the fighting within days of the conflict erupting in November 2020, and deployed thousands of Somali troops who had been sent to Eritrea under false pretences. Yet Eritrea is not a party to the talks. In August 2022 the AU mediator, former President Oluseum Obasanjo, suggested that the Eritreans participate, but this does not appear to have been taken forward. Can peace really be achieved if one of the main protagonists in the war is not at the talks?
- The government of Ethiopia put forward no pre-conditions for talks: they did not need to. After all, Tigray was surrounded and blockaded. Its people were gradually starving and Addis Ababa was in no rush to hold talks. The pressure was on Tigray, which pledged not to talk while enemy troops were on its soil – and by this they meant anywhere in Tigray as defined by the Ethiopian constitution (see below). This would require Ethiopia and Eritrea removing their forces from Western Tigray, allowing Tigray a corridor to Sudan. This was only one of Tigray’s pre-conditions for talks. Most have not been fulfilled, yet talks (if not full negotiations) are now under way. This is a considerable concession by Mekelle.
- Tigray has been sceptical about the role of the African Union and President Obasanjo as mediators, preferring the Kenyans to take this role. However, in their latest statement they have accepted that the AU will mediate, although their scepticism remains. How will it be resolved if Tigray sees Obasanjo as biased against them?
- Even if PM Abiy wishes to make peace with Tigray (understanding that they are unlikely to be defeated militarily) can he take the Amhara hardliners with him? He arrested thousands of Fano militia, which did not endear him to the Amhara. They will resist any concessions over Western Tigray, which they regard as their traditional territory.
- Tigray will have hard choices too. The Boundary Commission was given the task of designating the Ethiopia-Eritrea border after the war between the two states that ended in 2000. Their finding was given on 13 April 2002. Both sides were awarded territory the other side claimed, but for Tigray abandoning the town of Badme and villages in Irob will be extremely painful – even though Tigray will gain other areas along the border.
Confidence building is key
These are just some of the issues that need to be resolved. But there is considerable room for measures that would bolster confidence in any peace process. These include:
- Ending the blockade of Tigray to allow unhindered access to the region. Re-connecting the communications networks and paying the thousands of civil servants who have been denied the salaries they were due from Addis Ababa.
- Allowing unrestricted access reporting of the situation by journalists and human rights investigators, local and international.
- Freeing the thousands of Tigrayans held in Ethiopian prisons and camps, and encouraging Tigray to hand back the thousands of Ethiopian and Eritrean prisoners of war they have captured. It is important that the Eritreans should not be forcibly returned to Eritrea – if they want to seek sanctuary in Ethiopia or another state.
There is clearly much to be done and it will take skilled negotiators and difficult choices by all involved if they are to succeed. Resolving how to treat Eritrea, which did so much to bring about this conflict, will be just one of the issues that need to be confronted.
The Government of Tigray’s Stance on a Peaceful Resolution of the Current Conflict
Source: Tghat published September 12, 2022
Today, September 11, 2022, Ethiopians in and outside the country are celebrating the advent of the New Year. It is the Government of Tigray’s solemn desire to see Ethiopians in general and the people of Tigray in particular to no longer hear the sound of gunfire, the blockade of essential services and humanitarian aid, and associated pain and suffering.
To that end, the Government of Tigray is prepared to participate in a robust peace process under the auspices of the African Union (AU). Furthermore, we are ready to abide by an immediate and mutually agreed cessation of hostilities in order to create a conducive atmosphere. Indeed, the Government of Tigray has repeatedly called for, and worked towards, the peaceful resolution of the current conflict. The Government of Tigray’s prior unilateral compliance with the cessation of hostilities is a case in point.
We expect a credible AU-led peace process. This peace process will also include mutually acceptable mediators; international observers who will help the parties build mutual trust, instill confidence in the peace process, and support and oversee the implementation of commitments; and international experts to provide necessary guidance and advice on the integrity of the peace process. We are convinced that only through peaceful dialogue can we achieve a lasting solution to this tragic conflict.
Following a cessation of hostilities, the next step is to finalize a comprehensive negotiated ceasefire, and an all-inclusive political dialogue to resolve issues underlying the current conflict.
The Government of Tigray has set up a negotiation team ready to be deployed without delay. This team, which includes Getachew Reda and Gen. Tsadkan Gebretinsae has already been given the mandate to represent the Government of Tigray in future negotiations.
In the spirit of our New Year and a fresh start, let us end the fighting, give peace a chance and start on a path towards peace and prosperity.
A statement regarding peaceful resolution by the government of Tigray, 19/02/21
The people and government of Tigray fully understand that war brings human loss and social and economic crises. The price of war can’t be measured in money or other material measures. On the contrary, we know that it is secured by paying priceless human life. That is why the people and government of Tigray have at all times held and continue to hold uncompromising stance regarding peace. Therefore the people and government of Tigray are always prepared to resolve the invasion that we are currently confronted with through peaceful means. Even before we entered into war, not because it was our first choice, but because we were forced into it. Today also, it will not be (our first choice).
Because the people of Tigray undertook the election of its administrators, since the fascist clique of Abiy closed all avenues of peace, invited foreign invading forces and has continued to inflict injustice on us aiming to annihilate us as a people, we are currently fighting by holding an unshakable stance that our existence shall be secured by our blood and bones; and (as a result) are achieving a succession of victories. However, we would like to affirm, as a people and a government, that, even today, we are prepared to resolve the situation through peaceful means.
But we are going to engage in peaceful negotiations if, and only if, the following preconditions are fully actualized.
1. The alien invading force of PFDJ should leave the land of Tigray immediately. And the fact that it has left has to be confirmed by independent international body. It’s only then (that we’ll negotiate).
2. The sovereign territory of Tigray should be secured and those enemies of ours who are engaged in partitioning the land of Tigray to the south, North West, west and east leave the areas and the territorial integrity of Tigray is secured. It’s only then (that we’ll negotiate).
3. The body that has been instituted by enemies in the name of interim administration should be dismantled and the administration of Tigray, which has been elected by the people, is allowed to return to its place. It’s only then (that we’ll negotiate).
4. An international independent investigative body has to be instituted, conditions should be facilitated to enable it to freely investigate the genocide and war crimes that have been inflicted on the people of Tigray and it should start its work. It’s only then (that we’ll negotiate).
5. More than 4.5 million people of Tigray, who were displaced and exposed to severe social crisis, as the result of the invading forces should be made to receive emergency humanitarian aid, the international organizations that come to give humanitarian aid should be given unrestricted access. And the land of Tigray should be opened from end to end to journalists and international humanitarian agencies.
6. An international independent body has to be instituted and start work to investigate the property of the people, investors and government of Tigray that has been invaded and destroyed.
7. The politicians and other children of Tigray who are arrested as the consequence of the present situation should be released without any preconditions.
8. The peace negotiation has to be mediated by independent international body. It’s only then (that we’ll negotiate).
The government of Tigray
February 19, 2013
Tigray shall be victorious
Delivered via phone by Liya Kassa, spokesperson of the regional government of Tigray currently
Source: DW TV Facebook page, 19/02/21