Let's avoid a Deja Vu by Jawar Mohammed
Edited by : addiskignit@gmail.com -1/11/2023
Let's avoid a Deja Vu The visit to Mekelle by a delegation of federal government officials, the quick resumption of flights, banking and telecom services showed peace could be achieved quickly when politicians turn away from the destructive path of war. The excitement on both sides was palpable. The emotional family reunion after the first commercial flight to Mekelle underscores the trauma and toll of the conflict on civilians. While we should all rejoice in this speedy process, caution is required to avoid repeating mistakes from our recent past. The Mekelle-Finfinne rapprochement of the past weeks resembles the peace deal with Asmara four years ago. The speed toward normalisation of relations, the excitement of politicians on both sides, the weaponization of public emotion, and the quick tendency to say 'let bygones be bygones' without properly reflecting on and addressing the root causes of the conflict are chilling reminders of what happened in the summer of 2018 with the Ethio-Eritrea detente. Therefore, while the speedy implementation of the Pretoria and Nairobi Agreements must be supported and encouraged, we should not get carried away or fail to lay down mechanisms for lasting peace and justice properly. A few points to consider: First, it seems the appearance of normalisation is moving way faster than detailed agreement on substantive issues that led to the conflict. Let alone the issue of political settlement that is needed for long term assurance for peace, the Cessation of Hostilities lacks important details. It is important to remember that mutual mistrust between politicians in Mekele and Finfinne led to the outbreak of the war. The Nairobi agreement on DDR mentions in passing the (re)integration of armed combatants, which suggests no agreement was reached in this regard. Thus, since the Pretoria and Nairobi Agreements stipulate that there can only be one military force, a detailed agreement on the reintegration of armed forces who fought on both sides will be essential for removing the mutual insecurity and suspicion of one another. Both parties should ask and answer: How many of the Tigrayan forces will be reintegrated into ENDF? What would be the fate of former Tigrean members of ENDF who were decommissioned and who are reportedly still in detention? Will they be reinstated? Aside the still fresh scars of the horrible war that will take a long process of rehabilitation and reconciliation, will the leadership and people of Tigray feel secure enough under ENDF protection without adequate representation of their commanders and soldiers in the rank and file of the federal army? What would adequate mean? What would be the reaction of other stakeholders to reintegration of Tigrean forces into ENDF and the proportion? These and other issues need serious negotiation and the agreements reached should be made public so that we don’t go back to fear mongering and conspiracy theories (some have already begun alluding to unwritten deals.) These might be controversial and sensitive subjects and leaders might fear discussing them could spoil the excitement of the time. Yet we rather debate them today uncomfortably, than go back to war in the future. Importantly, speaking of DDR, the focus should not be only on Tigrean combatants. Currently, it is estimated that there are close to a million soldiers at various battlefields in Ethiopia (ENDF, TDF, Amhara SF & Fano, OLA). The country's economy cannot support more than 150k standing army at best. This means some 800k soldiers need to go through DDR, if and when political settlement is reached to a satisfying level whereby fighting groups agree to lay down arms . We cannot simply disarm, demobilise and send home these battle hardened soldiers. We have to reintegrate them either into federal or regional security forces or into the public workforce. Reintegrating into federal forces has ramifications for power politics, hence, requires political negotiations and agreement. Reintegrating the young combatants into society requires resources and job creation schemes, which makes substantial outside funding crucial. Failure to think proactively to secure the required resources and agreements will end in the botched implementation of DDR for Tigray and the rest of the country. The breakdown of the DDR process means the peace deal won't last. Second, it is crucial not to turn the Tigray peace agreement into another tactical gamble or war pact. In 2018, while we were celebrating the Asmara-Finfinne peace deal, seeds were being sown for another war. Basically, the systematic exclusion of Tigray from the Ethio-Eritrea rapprochement and the propaganda that accompanied the celebrations was seen as an Finfine-Asrama war pact against Mekelle. This created a sense of existential threat in Tigray, leading to preparations for self-defence, political brinkmanship, and finally the breakout of the war. Once again, we are witnessing narratives that resemble the 2018 botch. Some internal and external actors are openly pushing the narrative that frames the Mekelle- Finfinne deal as a tactical pact against Asmara and Bahir Dar. They should be reassured not threatened. We should avoid replacing one war coalition with reconfigured new one. Unfortunately, so far, we see the opposite signs. It is critical to correct course before mutual suspicions degenerate into the severing of relations and potential confrontation. It is unwise and dangerous. For one reason or another, Eritrea has been part war coalition that fought in Tigray; for sustainable peace to be materialised, they should be brought on board of the peace train. We need train with multiple wagons, a peace and normalisation process with multiple tracks. Since the shortcomings of the Asmara-Finfinne agreement led to suspicion, mistrust, and (mis)interpretations by various actors. Institutionalising the agreement, including through formal ratification, will help build confidence and contribute to the sustainability of peace in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia. There is a lot of emphasis on withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray. They should.But that will not be the end of the problem unless the military disengagement is followed by political engagement. There shall be Makele-Asmara-Finfine deliberation on implementation of Algiers agreement and beyond. Ethiopia-Eritrea relation has more direct socio-economic and security impacts on Tigray. Likewise, developments in Tigray have serious consequences for Asmara. Tigrean and Eritreas leaders have long been bogged down with belief that security of one will only be assured with complete destruction of the other. We hope that the recent war has shown complete destruction of any of the national forces in the region is not possible, hence, coexistence is a necessity. The the path to sustainable peace and productive bilateral relation Ethiopia and Eritrea necessarily passes through Tigray. Its matter of geography and history. Hence, normalization of relation between Asamara-Mekele is essential for peaceful and productive Ethio-Eritrean bilateral relation Long before breakout of the Tigray war, we have argued that an Asmara-Finfine agreement that excludes Mekele will not lead to peace but potential cause for war. Once again, a Mekele-Finfine deal that threatens Asmara will not lead to stability, but potential to another chaos with reconfigured alliances and shifting battlefields. Third, similarly the Amhara region has also been part of and significantly affected by this conflict. The Mekelle-Finfinne patch-up will affect them in many ways. The process must not make them feel excluded. Sense of exclusion by Amhara elites will have far-reaching consequences for peace and stability in the country and the region. The immediate impact will be on Oromo-Amhara relations as we have already began witnessing. Amhara political actors have already began framing the Mekele-Finfine peace making process as Oromo-Tigray reliance. Since perception is often more important than reality in in such fragmented and polarized polity, this should not be taken lightly. If the Oromo-Amhara relation further deteriorates with other actors playing catalysts of the conflict, the center cannot hold and integrity of the Ethiopian State will be in serious danger. Fourth, bringing sustainable peace to Northern Ethiopia also requires ending conflicts elsewhere in the country. As long as the war continues in Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, and other regions, the Tigray agreement will either fall apart or become just another war alliance. Thus, comprehensive negotiations with OLA and other armed forces need to commence right away. Unless the Northern Peace process is made inclusive of all the warring parties and the war with OLA is contained through negotiations, there is high possibility South-Central parts of Ethiopia will the new battlefields where those who were fighting in the North and their external sponsors will renew their confrontation, directly or through proxies. My point is that the various conflicts in Ethiopia and the Horn region are interconnected with complicated waves of alliances. As with the Asmara-Finfinne agreement, the Finfinne-Mekelle deal is bound to make a major realignment of forces. Unless peace initiatives are made to hold a positive dividend for major stakeholders involved in conflicts, ending one war could be the beginning of another, and even many more wars. While rejoicing in the ending of this ugly chapter of war in Tigray, let’s be diligent not to ignite or exacerbate another. The economy is in shambles. People are hurting. There is no sense of physical and economic security. The public wants respite from war, partisan propaganda, and lawlessness. Ethiopia can no longer afford to gamble with shortsighted tactical manoeuvres that risk venturing into another round of wars.