By Mersea Kidan
Addis Abeba – The US, through its special envoy to the Horn of Africa, played a leading role in stopping the bloodiest war of the twenty-first century. The war on Tigray has caused a million deaths, displacement of four million people, hundreds of thousands of victims of rape and destruction of economies and livelihoods. Horrific war crimes were committed in Tigray including, ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans using mass murders, systemic raping of women, economic destruction and most importantly using hunger as a weapon.
The agreement of permanent cessation of hostilities signed in Pretoria by Abiy Ahmed’s administration and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) ignited a glimmer of hope that the siege imposed on Tigray may end and peace may come to Tigray and to Ethiopia. Albeit meager improvements in access to food aid and basic services, Tigray remains to be under siege four months after the signing of the Pretoria agreement. More than three million IDPs cannot return home because their homes are occupied by Amhara militias and Eritrean troops, land transportation is blocked, air transport is limited, basic services like telecommunication and electrical power are intermittent. Even though the arresting of Tigrayans and ethnic profiling has declined, more than seventeen thousand officers of Tigrayan ethnicity are still languishing in concentration camps, many Tigrayans arrested because of their ethnicity remain in prisons. Western Tigray and some parts of Southern Tigray remain to be occupied by Amhara forces and some pockets in Northern Tigray remain to be occupied by Eritrean troops. Systemic ethnic cleansing is continuing in the occupied territories as evidenced by many independent sources.
“Abiy’s strategy overall seems to be to continue the siege on Tigray using any rationale available”
While Abiy’s Administration takes the lion’s share, TPLF also contributed to the lack of progress in implementation of the Pretoria agreement. Abiy’s administration seems to be using every opportunity to maintain the siege on Tigray while the TPLF also wants to maintain its authoritarian rule over Tigray. Abiy’s Administration continues to restrict movement of Tigrayans by purposefully limiting air transport and putting discriminatory transportation controls. It purposefully limits the amount of finance that flows into Tigray and puts restricting policies and procedures on banks. There is no sign of interest to release tens of thousands of Tigrayans languishing in concentration camps. Abiy’s administration also did not fulfill its agreed responsibility of removing all non ENDF forces which includes Amhara forces and Eritrean troops from Western, Southern and some pockets in the Northern Tigray. Abiy’s strategy overall seems to be to continue the siege on Tigray using any rationale available.
Ironically, it is the TPLF that is presenting the rationale for Abiy to maintain the siege on Tigray. Indifferent to the suffering of the people of Tigray, TPLF is occupied with finding ways to maintain its authoritarian rule in Tigray. Instead of expediting the formation of an inclusive interim regional administration (IRA) as specified in the Pretoria agreement, the TPLF proposed to establish the IRA following its old way; an IRA for TPLF, by TPLF. TPLF’s proposal, putting aside its legal flaws, is an effort to put a lipstick on a pig. TPLF’s proposal goes against the Pretoria agreement by proposing the continuation of the regional parliament which was formed as a result of the election that was deemed illegal in the Pretoria agreement. TPLF controls all but one of the seats in the regional parliament which it is proposing to keep as part of the IRA. TPLF also wants to control majority seats in the cabinet of the IRA giving itself 50% of the seats and all other political parties just 15% with the remaining 35% allotted for military leaders which were handpicked by TPLF and scholars who will not have significant impact considering the small political leverage they have.
TPLF’s legally flawed and pragmatically unacceptable proposal gave a good reason for Abiy to extend the siege on Tigray. The people of Tigray are suffering under an authoritarian party that is willing to sacrifice anything to maintain its authoritarian rule and a prime minister who is ill bent to cause as much suffering on the people of Tigray.
“…though the Pretoria agreement has silenced the guns, the economical, and humanitarian siege continues to silently suffocate Tigrayans to death”
Blinken’s visit may open an opportunity to break the stalemate and get the people of Tigray out of the horrific conditions the siege levied up on them. The US as a guarantor that played the major role in bringing the two parties to the table, has a responsibility to make sure the parties are committed to the agreement and are implementing it. Blinken needs to pressure both parties to stop dragging their feet, and fully implement the agreement they signed.
Blinken needs to pressure Abiy Ahmed to immediately remove non ENDF forces including Amhara forces and Eritrean troops from constitutionally recognized territories of Tigray, stop restricting access to public services and expand access to public services to all parts of Tigray, release civilian Tigrayans who were detained during the war due to their ethnicity, release more than seventeen thousand officers who were put in concentration camps because of their ethnicity, release budget held by the federal government including budgets and salaries that were held in the past two years of war as soon as the IRA is established, and remove any travel restrictions on Tigray including ensuring safe passage on land routes to and from Tigray.
Blinken also needs to pressure the TPLF to stop its effort to maintain its authoritarian rule in Tigray. All the signatories of the Pretoria agreement need to hear the voices of Tigrayans as they demand for a transition to a democratic system. Notable institutions like Global Society of Tigrayan Scholars (GSTS), Global Coalition of Tigrayans (GCT) and notable individuals like Professor Mehari Taddele Maru and Lieutenant General Tsadkan Gebretinsae have recommended a process for the establishment of the IRA. There is a common theme in all the recommendations. All agree that, as per the Pretoria agreement, the regional parliament which was formed as a result of the election deemed illegal by the Pretoria agreement needs to be dissolved. A committee composed of nonpartisan bodies needs to set a conference to establish an interim regional council which will replace the Parliament on an interim basis. The interim regional council should elect the interim administrator who would select his/her cabinet which will be approved by the interim regional council. Most of the recommendations also agree that the executive body including the head of the IRA should be nonpartisan and should not run for political position in the election that would be held to take over his or her administration. A nonpartisan independent observatory and monitoring team like the team of African Experts (TAE) of the DDR need to be established to monitor the inclusivity of the IRA and the transparency and inclusivity of the process of its establishment.
In summary, though the Pretoria agreement has silenced the guns, the economical, and humanitarian siege continues to silently suffocate Tigrayans to death. While Abiy’s administration remains to be the party that is continuing the siege on Tigray, TPLF is playing its share out of its interest to maintain complete monopoly of power in Tigray. The signatories of the Pretoria agreement including the US have a responsibility to save the people of Tigray from the siege Abiy’s administration is imposing and from being taken hostage by the TPLF. Blinken needs to tell Abiy to stop the siege and TPLF to stop its effort to maintain its authoritarian rule in Tigray. AS
Editor’s Note: Mersea Kidan is a community leader, an author and a public speaker on subjects relating to Tigray, Ethiopia and change leadership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org