As a Tigrayan that has been advocating for the last two years for the ending of the Tigray genocide, my first reaction to Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between government of Ethiopia (GOE) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been extreme anger. 

By Dereje Tekle Asefa (Ph.d.- ESIA- Expert)

Board chairman for a cooperation platform for Norwegian & Tigrayans

As a Tigrayan that has been advocating for the last two years for the ending of the Tigray genocide, my first reaction to Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) between government of Ethiopia (GOE) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been an extreme anger. I have viewed it as a monumental set back that will be registered as a black spot in the history of the people of Tigray, even if I am for peace to prevail. I am for the ending of the sufferings of Tigrayans in and outside of Tigray. I value humanity and support dialogues to solve differences in a civilized way and for co-existence. I supported the peace talk and had an expectation for a win-win scenario that will serve the interest of the people of Tigray, Ethiopia and even Eritrea which is a sustainable peace. Alas the result came out as a means for saving mainly the actors that participated directly and indirectly in the negotiation processes, not the people.

My anger arises from the fact that the deal doesn’t serve the best interest of the people of Tigray now and in the future as the sufferings of Tigrayans has not been addressed accordingly. It is difficult to comprehend for Tigrayans why TPLF chose to sign such a substandard deal that puts the people of Tigray in a precarious situation now and in the future.

My only explanation so far has been “the situation on the ground must be much, much worse” and yet the reaction coming out of Tigrayans in Tigray seems against the deal. Even if the situation on ground is worse, it is difficult to understand why team TPLF did not manage to secure the demands that the US, the UN , the EU and even at last the AU have pinpointed before the negotiation started. All of them have been demanding for an “immediate cessation of hostilities to be transformed to a permanent over further dialogues, an immediate and unfettered flow of humanitarian aid, the resumptions of the basic services and an immediate withdrawal of Eritrea”. What forced team TPLF to ignore these demands flagged by the international community in advance is the big question that everyone asking.

It is not logical for the people’s army (TDF) to disarm before peoples right underpinned by the international human rights and humanitarian laws are restored and respected. You don’t accept detailed disarmament plans, in days, while the basic rights that need to be prioritized are just mentioned in general terms with unknown time frame. You don’t enter to the execution of a disarmament process before you have secured the restoration of an immediate delivery of aid and provision of basic services which some of them might require just touching the control button in Addis Ababa. You don’t accept disarmament before Tigrayans safety is secured. You don’t expose your people to genocidal forces that have no clue about the definition of humanity.

It is not logical to allow actors accused of committing “crimes against humanity” to establish a transitional justice mechanism to hold themselves accountable. You don’t accept a deal that nullifies the possibility of holding the mercenaries of Eritrea accountable at international tribunal courts.

Abiy Ahmed’s regime has successfully delegitimized the election performed in September 2020 and the government of Tigray (GoT) established right. With that he has got the justification he needed for what he called a “law enforcement operation”. Abiy Ahmed has secured what he wanted – to be viewed as guardian of the constitution violated by TPLF. He plans now to enter, Mekelle, the capital of Tigray and establish an order he agreed with TPLF. Paradoxical that he plans to safeguard Tigrayans with an army that has committed horrific atrocity crimes for the last two years and that in collaboration with a foreign force. A quisling act!!

Difficult to understand why team TPLF chose to oversee the long term consequences of the deal on the party itself by overweighing the a short-term gain. TPLF might be deleted from the terrorist list for now but will be punished for holding an election and establishing a government by violating the constitution. The national transitional Justice mechanism to be established will get a mandate to pick this up as a case and hold the TPLF leadership responsible for the start and the consequences of the war.

Like the majority of Tigrayans, my heart is still bleeding by the outcomes of the CoHA and the consequences. Tigrayans have two bad choices.

It is possible to reject the agreement by saying TPLF does not represent the people of Tigray. TPLF will not be happy with such kind of resistance and have anyways started discussing the plan for the disarmament of TPLF combatants in the popular anti-genocidal movement, Tigray defense force (TDF). This will bring cracks in the togetherness that Tigrayans witnessed in the last two years and will make Tigray an easy prey for the wolves in the surrounding. The horrific humanitarian situation in Tigray will also worsen as the world will not do anything and unfortunately endorsed an official politicization of international human right and Humanitarian laws.

The other alternative is endorsing the agreement but strategize to turn some sections of the agreement for the best of the people of Tigray and Tigray.

Tigrayans can demand for the prioritization of an immediate silencing of the guns, unfettered flow of humanitarian aid and an immediate restoration basic service which are not still started after the deal has been signed. We can fight for a full implementation of the restoration of the constitutional order clause by demanding an immediate withdrawal of invading forces from Tigrays constitutional territories. The actors can discuss the disarmament process while genuine actions for the restoration of constitutional order are executed parallelly.

Through the re-integration clause we should demand for the deployment of TPLF combatants to be disarmed as the guardians of the international boarders that Tigray shares with neighboring countries, under the umbrella of one constitutional army in Ethiopia. We can ask for the release of the 17000 former Tigrayan ENDF soldiers and their deployment in Tigray as a part of the re-integration process. This will give an opportunity to neutralize the trauma that the people of Tigray have been exposed to by soldiers of ENDF since November 2020. Reintegration of members of TDF in ENDF and their subsequent deployment as guardians of Tigray will fasten the healing process and give an opportunity for confidence building which is crucial for peace to prevail.  

Last but not least, we Tigrayans have got the opportunity to terminate the rule of a hegemonic power over Tigray for good- whether it is TPLF or PP. We must seize this opportunity to secure the establishment of a real multi-party system in Tigray! Tigrayans, special those of us living in the diaspora need to empower the small parties in Tigray and motivate them to disclose their readiness to take part in the transitional government to be established. We need to prevent PP from establishing itself as the next hegemonic power over the people of Tigray. The alternatives we have are the small parties in Tigray as the hegemonic era of TPLF will be over soon whether we reject or accept the CoHA.

I am still disappointed by the politicization of Aid, the delegitimization of GoT which in turn legitimized Abiys action as a mere “law enforcement operation”. Accountability at any type of tribunal court might potentially be nullified when it comes to Eritrea. However, the future generation of Tigray might hold Ethiopia accountable at an international tribunal court given that we continue with our engagement in documenting the atrocity crimes committed. We need to make sure that the independent investigation activities by the UN continue as we need the results as evidence of future accountability and for justice to be served in terms of prosecution, compensation and even the creation of Tigray as a state.

For this to happen, the people of Tigray must choose the best strategy of survival right now, which I mean is “accepting” the deal by considering the horrific situation on the ground. We are all alone with “war” as an alternative but might get friends with “Peace” as a slogan. We have a chance to use the CoHA as an instrument for creating a better Tigray if we are determined to work systematically and step up our advocacy efforts.