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The path to peace in Ethiopia

Ethiopian refugees who fled the fighting in the Tigray region gather on the banks of a border river with Sudan. File   | Photo Credit: AFP

The cataclysm in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the country’s humanitarian crisis give rise to concerns of long-term regional deterioration. Without a clear framework for peace-building, post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice, the country is at risk of drastically postponing both political and economic recovery. This has implications not only for Ethiopia but also the entire Horn of Africa region which is already plagued by low-level conflicts, uneven economic development, border disputes, continued food insecurity, climate change, a precarious political situation, and a dire refugee crisis.

The conflict

The breakdown in the already strained relations between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s leaders in Tigray has resulted in the national crisis. In 2018, anti-government protests by the marginalised Oromo population forced the TPLF to step down, resulting in the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his subsequent crackdown on Tigrayan politicians for corruption and human rights abuses. Internal conflict in Ethiopia has resulted in the death of 52,000 people and the displacement of over 2 million, over 60,000 of whom have taken refuge in Sudan’s eastern border. This has triggered an influx of Sudanese and Eritrean military personnel near Ethiopia’s northern frontier.

The complex process of developing a post-conflict reconstruction framework requires a comprehensive analysis, one that compels immediate coordination between the federal, regional and local governments, independent and partial adjudicators, civil society and victims’ and community groups. The various levels of government need to be responsible for two roles: first, the generation of effective regional security architecture for uncomplicated jurisdictions; and second, a narrowed scope and mandate for the Reconciliation Commission and its independent committee of facilitators. Independent mediators and adjudicators can further assist in framing post-conflict models.

Currently, Ethiopia is attempting to tackle its domestic emergency. This phase includes securing a military conflict-free environment, addressing increased displacement, allowing access to basic needs assistance for citizens at risk of famine, and strengthening humanitarian capacity in conflict-ridden areas. The part that requires more attention, given that it has been more than four months since the initiation of military conflict in Tigray, would be the medium- and long-term phases. This would mean examining how Ethiopia’s response in rebuilding trust and consensus in state institutions will impact its political, economic and security stability.

Internally, the federal government would be urged to consider steps in effectively building frameworks for accountability, transparency and power distribution for inclusive national systems of governance. This is particularly important for combating the contentious nature of Ethiopia’s ethnic federalist system and its lack of non-partisan platforms for political dialogue. This would help build an environment that promotes the establishment of trust and cooperation among its largest and historically conflicted Oromo, Amhara and Tigrayan groups, further preventing a relapse into a state of emergency.

Cities in the Northern Gondar Zone, such as Welkait, which have been under the contested control of TPLF forces for decades, will require socioeconomic transitional institutions for effective post-conflict recovery. In Welkait’s case, this includes initiating healing dialogue among Amhara and Tigrayan groups, establishing efforts to integrate the cities’ education, currently only taught in Tigrigna, and economy into the rest of the neighbouring Amharic-speaking region.

Taking a long-term view

A lack of transitional processes will result in a return to violence in not only the Tigray region but also in other regions where there are rising ethnic tensions. This threatens to derail the economic progress made over the last few decades. The best way to prevent the same chain of events that led to the 2010 post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire is to begin structuring a post-conflict environment that promotes a peaceful transition.

The focus of regional and international media has been heavily geared towards Ethiopia’s immediate alleviation of humanitarian strains. But meeting short-term security and humanitarian needs, although extremely important, should not be the sole focus of a sustainable recovery agenda. It is imperative to recognise a broader view and develop successful post-conflict reconstruction policies before stability is beyond reach.

Tefsi Golla is Researcher with the Institute for Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (INRSD) and Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies; and Hany Besada is Executive Director of INRSD and Research Professor at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 11:31:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-path-to-peace-in-ethiopia/article33974219.ece

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