By Habte Hagos
The peace accord signed by the Ethiopian warring factions in South Africa on 2 November 2022 is to be welcomed by people who wish to see stability and prosperity, not only in Ethiopia itself, but also across the Horn of African and beyond. The work of the African Union in leading the peace negotiations is commendable, and will certainly help improve its lacklustre image over the years. All in all, a good outcome for the AU’s mantra of “African solution to African problems” – assuming, of course, the peace agreement holds.
I have been following in horror the war in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia since its outbreak in November 2020, and indeed I took an active role in chronicling the first 15-months of the conflict. The war has shattered the lives and dreams of millions of people in the region and as an Eritrean, who in the late 1970s lived for extended period of time in both Mekelle and Addis Ababa, my heart goes out to all the people who have been affected by this unnecessary war that could have been avoided through negotiations.
To their credit, and over the 27 years before the outbreak of the Tigray war, the Ethiopians, despite their problems, have in fact transformed their country. It was reasonably stable and one of the most successful economies in Africa.
So, what went wrong? In my view the Ethiopians could not have had these two years of bloody conflict without the 2018 Peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia for which Prime Minister Abiy received a premature Noble Peace Prize for what he might do in the future rather than his past achievements. In hindsight, almost all observers, including perhaps the Noble Committee in Oslo, now agree that the peace agreement between President Isaias of Eritrea and Abiy was in fact a war pact. It was a peace agreement to end the stalemate of “no-war-no-peace” between the two countries that had existed since the end of the border war in 2000, and a start of another war in Ethiopia – with the full involvement of Eritrean forces from the outset. History will tell whether the war in Ethiopia could have been avoided, if it was not for the peace accord Isaias and Abiy signed in July 2018 to essentially eliminate their arch enemy the TPLF. What we can now say for certain, based on what has unravelled over the last two years, is that the 2018 peace accord was a licence for Isaias’ aggressive interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and the involvement of the Eritrean people in somebody else’s war.
Could history repeat itself – a peace agreement leading to another war? It certainly looks likely and perhaps unavoidable too, given the dynamics on the ground. It is plausible that a war between Eritrea and Ethiopia could break out, ironically, if the TPLF/Federal Government peace agreement holds.
The draft agreement envisages a “lasting peace through permanent cessation of hostilities between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF,” but makes no mention of the elephant in the room i.e., Eritrea. The Eritrean regime has subjected its people to unwarranted pressure and coercion to get them involved in the Tigray war – such as house to house round ups seeking conscripts and locking the occupants out if they cannot find conscripts in their houses, forcing them to be homeless. Recently, an 82-year old woman (I have her full personal details) was locked out of her home and left on the street for days until her son returned from hiding to be sent to the war front. A distant relative of mine in his 70th year was forcibly conscripted by the regime in Asmara in September and his whereabouts remain unknown. These are just a couple of examples of many tens of thousands of our fellow Eritreans sent to their deaths in a war they do not understand and has nothing to do with them. It was a war instigated by Isaias’ hate and animosity towards the TPLF and his desire to get them wiped off the face of the earth regardless of the human cost. This is truly an example of “crimes against humanity”, if one is needed, which the West claims to abhor.
The peace agreement is silent on number of issues pertaining to Eritrea, including:
- Preamble: it recognises the destructive consequences of the conflict between the “two parties” on human lives and livelihoods. However, it fails to recognise the death and destruction the Eritrean people endured from the start of the war and even as the peace discussions were ongoing. There were and are three parties in this conflict; a foreign invader (Eritrea), the Federal Government (that represents the people who elected it in 2021, including the Amhara, Oromo and others), and the TPLF. All three groups paid a huge price in the conflict, but sadly the Eritrean causalities do not merit recognition.
- Article 2 (a) states that the parties shall have “respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of [Ethiopia]”. This is further expanded in Article 8 (1 and 2) – International Boundaries and Federal Facilities – in which it explains the “ENDF shall be deployed along the international boundaries of Ethiopia and that the ENDF shall safeguard the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the country from foreign incursion and ensure that there will be no provocation or incursion from either side of the border”. There are currently, of course, a large number of Eritrean forces not only in Tigray but across the Amhara region and beyond as well as Eritrean operatives in cities across Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa itself. Their presence is not mentioned.
The second point above is the most worrisome for Eritreans both at home and in diaspore because it can potentially mean one of two outcomes:
- The Federal Government is unable to provide territorial integrity and security on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which is the most likely scenario at least in the short to medium term. This would infuriate the TPLF pushing them to retreat into the hills to resume a guerrilla war that will continue to destabilise the region for decades to come; or
- The peace accord holds but the Federal Government is unable to evict Eritrean forces from its territory. In such a scenario the ENDF and TPLF may create an alliance that could push out Eritrean troops from their land by force.
In both scenarios the Eritrean people will be the losers with countless of our citizens continuing to perish in yet another border war. The international community and the UN in particular have the obligation to prevent this madness from recurring where the Eritrean people will be butchered en mass.
The peace accord says nothing specific about the protection of Eritrean refugees, whether in Tigray, Amhara or Addis Ababa. It only says, “The Government of [Ethiopia] undertakes to facilitate the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons and refugees, whenever the security situation permits.” It is not clear to where the Eritrean refugees would be “returned”. Equally it is not clear how and when the many Ethiopian and Somali troops currently operating from Eritrean territory in support of the Federal Government would return to their respective homelands.
President Isaias thrives in wars, to the point that he is addicted to being drunk on human blood and his rule has caused mayhem, instability and turmoil not only in Eritrea but across many parts of Africa. This peace agreement is not going to thwart his long-held ambition to see the fragmentation of Ethiopia as we know it today and the absolute humiliation of the Eritrean people. Isaias will never give up until he wipes out [his own words] the Tigrayan people, and he is likely to be deeply angered by the peace agreement. He will do everything in his power to frustrate and put obstacles in its implementation.
I fear that this will not be the end of the conflict and as long as President Isaias runs Eritrea the rest of the region will be at risk. If the international community wants stability in the Horn of Africa it needs to do all in its power to see the end of Eritrea’s ruthless dictatorship. History has repeatedly shown that nothing less will bring peace and prosperity to the region and its peoples.