Last Friday Ethiopian Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed, his deputy, Demeke Mekonnen and other Federal officials sat down Tigrayan delegation including Getachew Reda and Lt. General Tsadkan Gebre-Tensae. It was the first face to face meeting between the Prime Minister and the Tigrayans since last year’s peace agreements signed in Pretoria and Nairobi.
Abiy’s national security adviser Redwan Hussein said that the meeting had seen an agreement to lift many of the existing restrictions on links with Tigray. “As a result, PM Abiy passed decisions about increasing flights, banking & other issues that would boost trust & ease lives of civilians.” he tweeted.
It was remarkable that the two sides could meet and calmly discuss the situation after such an horrific war, involving so many different parties, including Eritrea and Somalia, that had cost some 800,000 lives.
Towards a wider peace
That TPLF leaders could sit down with the Ethiopian government was heartening, but could it be the beginning of a wider peace process? If the Tigrayans are now being reconciled with the federal government, might they bring in others?
When Lieutenant General Tadesse Worede Commander of Tigray Defense Forces spoke on Tigrayan TV recently he talked about “moving on from the tragic history.” He expressed his sorrow at the harm done to Tigrayans, but also to the region’s Amhara and Afar neighbours. He even pointed out that “people to people” relations between Tigray and Eritrea would always continue.
Yet he did not mention the Oromo, with whom the Tigrayans had concluded an alliance. The two movements fought alongside each other, capturing several towns at they advanced on Addis Ababa in late 2021.
If there is a new federalist alliance in the making between the TPLF and the Prosperity Party might it be extended to include others?
The Oromo Liberation Army
In August 2021 Reuters ran a story headed “Tigray forces seek new military alliance”.
“Forces from Ethiopia’s rebellious Tigray region said on Wednesday they were in talks to forge a military alliance with insurgents from Ethiopia’s most populous region, Oromiya, heaping pressure on the central government in Addis Ababa. “We are in talks with the Oromo Liberation Army,” Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite phone.
The TPLF controls the Tigray region in Ethiopia’s north and its forces have been fighting federal troops since November in a conflict that has caused a major refugee crisis.
Debretsion declined to give further details. Also on Wednesday, Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the TPLF, told Reuters by satellite phone that “some sort of agreement” was in the works. “It’s only natural that we work together with people who have a stake in the future of the Ethiopian state.”
“At this point, we share intel and coordinate strategy,” Odaa Tarbii, a spokesperson for The Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), said in a message.
Tarbii said the agreement, which he described as being “at a very early stage”, was “based on the mutual understanding that Abiy’s dictatorship must be removed”.Reuters
Associated Press also reported on the Oromo Liberation Army military alliance with the Tigrayan government. [Full report below]
The OLA leader Kumsa Diriba, known as Jaal Marroo, said the agreement was reached a few weeks earlier, after the Tigray forces proposed it. “We have agreed on a level of understanding to cooperate against the same enemy, especially in military cooperation,” he said. “It is underway.” They share battlefield information and fight in parallel, he said, and while they’re not fighting side by side, “there is a possibility it might happen.”
The alliance produced results, with towns falling to joint TDF-OLA attacks, as reported by the New York Times on 17 November 2021.
“As they push south, the Tigrayans have linked up with the Oromo Liberation Army, a far smaller rebel group fighting for the rights of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. After years of battle in the bush, the O.L.A. appears to be moving into Ethiopia’s towns. Odaa Tarbii, an O.L.A. spokesman, said Tuesday it had captured a town 120 miles north of Addis Ababa and expected to start moving south, alongside the Tigrayans, in two or three days.”New York Times
Kumsa Diriba told the New York Times in the November 2021 interview that they had began building a wider political alliance. He said that other groups in Ethiopia were involved in the discussions: “There’s going to be a grand coalition against (Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s) regime.”
The Tigrayans and Oromo concluded this process in Washington a year later.
The United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces
The TPLF and OLA formed an alliance, signed in Washington with a range of Ethiopian groups opposed to Prime Minister Abiy, in November 2021. This took place as US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman was in Addis Ababa meeting with senior government officials amid calls for an immediate ceasefire and talks to end the war.
The signing ceremony to found the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces included these movements:
• the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front,
• Agaw Democratic Movement,
• Benishangul People’s Liberation Movement,
• Gambella Peoples Liberation Army,
• Global Kimant People Right and Justice Movement/ Kimant Democratic Party,
• Oromo Liberation Front-Oromo Liberation Army,
• Sidama National Liberation Front,
• Somali State Resistance,
• and Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
A press statement was released [see below] outlining their aims.
Al-Jazeera carried a report about the new alliance.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher said that the fact that the agreement was signed in Washington was important. It was designed to put pressure on the Americans, to show that opposition to the Federal Government was far wider than Tigray.
But Fisher also noted some experts on Ethiopian affairs raised questions about some of the groups involved in the new coalition. “On the list of nine groups, there are a few there that they don’t recognise; they’ve never heard of them and they don’t what level of support they have on the ground in Ethiopia,” he said.
It is hard to know what to make of this report, but the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces appears to have vanished without a trace.
The question now is whether the TPLF can build on its past relationships with other groups to draw others into its new relationship with the government in Addis.
Can its ties with the Oromo, as well as the other parties that were – perhaps briefly – involved in the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces, help to end Ethiopia’s widespread current conflicts?
The Economist has warned what will happen if the current TPLF-PP relationship is not extended. A settlement will have to deal with other parties, including Eritrea, which was such an important participant in the Tigray war.
By resetting relations between the two main belligerents—Ethiopia’s government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)—the deal is also reshaping alliances inside Ethiopia and perhaps the wider region.
The OLA is a major headache for Abiy, who is himself Oromo. He has recently stepped up military operations against it, including launching drone strikes that have killed large numbers of civilians. If the war in Oromia escalates further, the OLA might seek support from Issaias, an old ally: Eritrea hosted it and several other Ethiopian rebel groups before the peace deal in 2018.Economist
It is a sober warning. The current peace deal is not wide enough. Conflict in Ethiopia is not yet over and others need to be included if real reconciliation is to be achieved.
Ethiopia Armed Group Says it Has Alliance with Tigray Forces
August 11, 2021 07:31 AM
FILE – Aug. 8, 2021 photo, thousands of Ethiopians from the capital and surrounding areas head to Meskel Square to rally against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
NAIROBI – The leader of an armed group that Ethiopia’s government has designated a terrorist organization says his group has struck a military alliance with the Tigray forces who are now pressing toward the capital, as the conflict that erupted in the Tigray region last year spreads into other parts of Africa’s second-most populous country.
“The only solution now is overthrowing this government militarily, speaking the language they want to be spoken to,” Oromo Liberation Army leader Kumsa Diriba, also known as Jaal Marroo, told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.
He said the agreement was reached a few weeks ago after the Tigray forces proposed it. “We have agreed on a level of understanding to cooperate against the same enemy, especially in military cooperation,” he said. “It is underway.” They share battlefield information and fight in parallel, he said, and while they’re not fighting side by side, “there is a possibility it might happen.”
Talks are underway on a political alliance as well, he said, and asserted that other groups in Ethiopia are involved in similar discussions: “There’s going to be a grand coalition against (Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s) regime.”
The alliance brings together the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who long dominated Ethiopia’s repressive government but were sidelined when Abiy took office in 2018, and the OLA, which last year broke away from the opposition party Oromo Liberation Front and seeks self-determination for the Oromo people. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.
Ethiopia’s government earlier this year declared both the TPLF and OLA terrorist organizations.
There was no immediate comment from Gen. Tsadkan Gebretensae with the Tigray forces, nor from the spokeswoman for Abiy’s office.
Ethiopia Calls on All ‘Capable’ Citizens to Join Military Effort in Northern Tigray
The request comes from the prime minister’s office, which unilaterally declared a cease-fire in June.
The OLA leader spoke a day after the prime minister called on all capable Ethiopians to join the military and stop the Tigray forces “once and for all” after they retook much of the Tigray region in recent weeks and crossed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. Tigray forces spokesman Getachew Reda has told the AP they are fighting to secure their long-blockaded region but if Abiy’s government topples, “that’s icing on the cake.”
With access to parts of Ethiopia increasingly restricted and journalists often harassed, it is difficult to tell how citizens will respond to the prime minister’s call, or whether they will join the fight against him. The government has supported large military recruiting rallies in recent weeks.
The Tigray leaders embittered many Ethiopians during their nearly three decades in power by putting in place a system of ethnic federalism that led to ethnic tensions that continue to simmer in the country of 110 million people.
The OLA leader acknowledged that agreeing to the TPLF’s proposal for an alliance took some thought. “There were so many atrocities committed” against the Oromo people during the TPLF’s time in power, he said, and the problems it created have never been resolved.
But the OLA decided it was possible to work with the TPLF, he said, though some doubts remain. “I hope the TPLF has learned a lesson,” he said. “I don’t think the TPLF will commit the same mistakes unless they’re out of their mind.” If they do, there will be chaos in Ethiopia and it could collapse as a state, he said.
It was not clear how many fighters the OLA would bring to the alliance. “This, madam, is a military secret,” the OLA leader said.
He said he hoped the TPLF’s talks with other groups would become public in the near future. He also warned the international community, which led by the United Nations and the United States has urged a halt to the Tigray conflict and negotiations, that the crisis has to be handled carefully “if Ethiopia is to continue together.”