Last updated: 17 April 2023
Peace, Stability, and Security
Supporting the establishment of a commission for demobilisation, disarmament, and reintegration, and a plan for security sector reform
The war in Tigray has militarised Ethiopian society and securitised public and political spaces. Any durable political process and settlement must be accompanied by credible and comprehensive demobilisation, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) processes, and a plan for security sector reform, at both regional and federal levels.
The 10 March 2023 meeting of the leadership of the recently established National Rehabilitation Commission (NRC) with the Tigray regional officials was a major positive step. The head of the Commission Ambassador Teshome Toga led the delegation to Mekelle and met with the newly appointed head of the Interim Regional Administration (IRA) Getachew Redda, members of the civil society in Tigray. The presence of Turhan Saleh, resident representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Ethiopia, who is supporting the program was also seen as a demonstration of increasing cooperation between Addis, Mekele and the international community to coordinate resource mobilization and implementation for the DDR. On 23 March 2023, the government unveiled the National Demobilization and Reintegration Programme (NDRP) for ex- combatants developed by the National Rehabilitation Commission (NRC). The program was presented for members of the diplomatic community. The NRC was established by the Government in November 2022 for with a two-year mandate to assist with demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants across the country.
The start of the war saw all of the security structures in Tigray transformed into Tigray Defence Forces (TDF). Transforming the TDF into a regional security institution requires democratic accountability and civilian oversight of the TDF at the regional and federal levels. Reintegrating its leadership and soldiers in the federal security institutions will be a complex process. The reintegration of former TDF combatants in the post-conflict period will require a thorough security sector reform roadmap. The process may require the creation of overarching national standards on the size, training, weapons, command structure, and mandate of regional security forces, depending on the population size, territory, and security needs. The African Union could coordinate international support for this effort through the Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) framework, the Africa Union’s mechanism to support recovery and reconstruction needs of countries and communities emerging from conflict.
Launching a nationwide and regional demobilisation, and reintegration programmes, for non-state and informal armed groups and movements, will be critical in order to demilitarise Ethiopia’s public and political spaces.
Diplomatic efforts to establish a regional pact involving Eritrea
Eritrea’s involvement in the broader peace agreement and diplomatic process cannot be ignored. Its role will be especially critical in bringing about a solution for Western Tigray and the implementation of an effective security sector reform strategy.
Relations between Addis and Asmara are deteriorating. Improving relations between Addis and Mekelle, the widening differences between Amhara and Oromia chapters of the Prosperity Party and accusations of clandestine cooperation between Amhara and Eritrean security establishments is harming the relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Addis Ababa’s improving relations and accelerated rapprochement with the West, the March 2023 visit of Secretary Blinken to Ethiopia and the delisting of the TPLF by the Ethiopian parliament on 22 March 2023 are received with disapproval and suspicion by Asmara. The possibility of including Eritrea as a stakeholder of the peace and recovery process in Tigray and Ethiopia is increasingly looking distant.
Political settlement, social cohesion, and statebuilding
Harmonising national and international justice and accountability efforts
The continued push by Addis Ababa for the termination of the Mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia is risking efforts to harmonize international and local processes.
There is a risk that progress in the political and security elements of the Pretoria agreement and the transitional justice initiatives of the Ethiopian government could be perceived as replacement for accountability. There are signs that the government may micromanage the outcomes of the local investigation and may not open to findings of government culpability.
Work on a better short-run and long-run timetable for these accountability efforts
There is no doubt that these accountability processes are required, but they also pose risks for other areas that need resolution. At the very least, the implications of these processes for the peace, reconciliation, accountability, and political settlement processes need to be examined. A slower timetable may end up being required, to ensure all of these processes are coordinated.
On January 2023, the Ethiopian government published a draft Policy Options for Transitional Justice. The document is used for a public awareness and consultation with key local and international stakeholders to explore possible avenues and timeframe of addressing peace and justice.
Using the Ethiopian diaspora as an entry point
The post 2018 rapprochement between the Ethiopian government and Ethiopians residing abroad, and the political and resource mobilisation efforts for the war in Tigray, have significantly increased the political, diplomatic, and economic roles of the Ethiopian diaspora.
Growing divisions between the different chapters of the Prosperity Party, continued elite fragmentation and widening societal divisions at home are worsening divisions among the diaspora and deteriorating its relations with the federal government. Diaspora organizations who were at the forefront of supporting the federal government’s war efforts in Tigray and opposing international pressure on Addis Ababa are increasingly becoming critical of the government. These groups oppose the improving relations between Addis and Mekele and rejected the lifting of the terrorist designation of the TPLF. In an open letter dated 8 March 2023, the consortium of influential Ethiopian diaspora associations in the US and Europe expressed their frustration with the government over failure to deliver its promises. The letter said ‘our faith in your leadership and hopes for real change have succumbed to broken promises.’ The government rejected the accusations. These trends are negatively affecting the possibility of using the diaspora space to import reconciliation.
Multi-track regional, intra-national, and inter-ethnic dialogue
Differences and divisions within the elites of Ethiopia’s different ethnic groups have contributed to the ongoing conflicts across the country.
Strong accusations of dominance of the Oromo political and security establishment in the federal government is undermining the cohesion of the Prosperity Party and weakening the image, legitimacy and effectiveness of the state to undertake inclusive, independent and comprehensive peace, political and dialogue processes that may result in a new political settlement. Continued conflict and tensions between Tigray and Amhara, Oromo and Amhara, Somali and Afar and tensions in southern Ethiopia continue to fuel political polarizations and elite fragmentation.
A commission for Western Tigray and a strengthened African Union Border Programme
Widening ideological and political divisions, and growing power contestation between the Oromia and Amhara chapters of the PP is undermining the possibility of resolving the issue of Western Tigray through a constitutional process.
Amhara and Tigrayan farmers and business associations
Differences over Western Tigray have emerged as an issue that embodies the contradictions that underlie the Ethiopian state and society.
The wounds, crimes and trauma of the war and bitter divisions over the identity and ownership of Western and Southern Tigray continue to shape elite and communal relations of the two groups. Areas bordering the two regions remain militarized and political and security alliance between Amhara and Eritrean political and security establishments inform continued mistrust.
Build a bridge between peace talks and national dialogue
The peace process alone will not be able to respond to the deep ideological and structural issues underlying the Tigray war, and conflict and instability in other parts of the country.
The 22 March 2023 decision by Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives to remove The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), from a list of terrorist organisations could facilitate the TPLF and the Tigray region to take a role in the National Dialogue process. The decision took place at the backdrop of encouraging security and political progress with the Pretoria agreement. However, the National Dialogue still suffers from lack of legitimacy among the major opposition groups.
The role of the Orthodox Church
Divisions between Tigray and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) are widening preventing possibilities of using the church to compliment the peace and political process.
On 09 February 2023, the Tigray Orthodox Church Council rejected a call by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) Holy Synod’s Secretariat for reconciliation and normalization of relations between the Synod in Addis Ababa and Tigray Orthodox Church. The Tigray Orthodox Church severed ties with the Synod in Addis accusing the EOTC of taking a partial role in the war. A statement by members of the Council of Bishops of Tigray Orthodox Church accused the EOC of endorsing what it said was a “war of genocide” declared on the people of Tigray. On 23 March 2023, the EOC made a statement rejecting the Tigray Church as a structure that violates “the institutional unity and existing structural organization of our church.” The January 2023 establishment of the Oromia Synod opposing the EOC also further weekend the image and capacity of EOC to play a role in ongoing peace and political processes. The division was driven by structural and political factors that are also shaping the broader political and social spaces in Ethiopia. Despite the February 2023 settlement between the rebelling Oromo archbishops and the EOC, the deal is fragile and under massive pressure from immediate and structural issues. Addressing contentions issues including the newly appointed bishops by splinter groups and rebuilding trust between the archbishops and the ecosystem in the EOC are proving difficult. In the mid and long term, the division set a precedence that could inspire future and further rebellion especially in the situation of delays from the EOC to respect or implement the terms of the deal.
Economic reconstruction, recovery, and development
Humanitarian access committee
Millions in Tigray will continue to rely on aid for the foreseeable future. There is thus a continuing need to improve both the quality, and also the governance, of humanitarian aid delivery in Tigray.
The establishment of the Interim Regional Administration and the approval of the appointment of Getachew Reda as head of the body by PM Abiy Ahmed on 22 March 2023 raised hopes of enhanced cooperation for humanitarian access. The decision could facilitate and accelerate efforts to institutionalize a permanent mechanism focused on the issue of ensuring humanitarian access, which is well-structured and led, possibly composed of the United Nations, the federal and Tigray governments, the African Union, the EU, the US, and selected members of NGOs, could be a way to address logistical, security, and communication challenges in aid delivery.
A nationwide reconstruction and recovery plan to stop the reversal development gains
Addis Ababa should start a serious conversation within Ethiopia and with international partners about a nationwide (i.e. not just in the north) reconstruction and recovery plan to stop the reversal of Ethiopia’s development gains.
It is clear that large parts of northern Ethiopia must be completely rebuilt (see below), with some estimates putting the cost of reconstruction in the next three years up to $20 billion. This monumental task is even more challenging given that Ethiopia’s macroeconomy is currently on the brink of collapse—and not simply because of the costs of the conflict. Like many countries around the world, Ethiopia has been hit hard by the global rise in fuel, food, and fertiliser prices. On top of this, rising internal and external debt service costs from the country’s infrastructure-led growth model, so applauded across the continent and beyond, adds additional strain.
The return of international economic support for peace building efforts will be indispensable to avoid these vast economic losses, protect livelihoods, and get Ethiopia’s ambitious development agenda back on track, including Prime Minister Abiy’s stated goal of large-scale poverty reduction.
A clear first step now would be to explore how to reinvigorate development and service delivery across the entire country, to bring about a recovery in health, education, social protection, and other areas. None of the parties to the conflicts in Ethiopia are keen to lose this progress in development – some of the legitimacy of the main elite groups involved in the conflict within their communities has stemmed from this progress over the last few decades. It is therefore a good idea to begin to reconnect with this.
This is an area where the international community – especially the United Nations, multilateral development banks, and bilateral donors – must play a key role. An international reconstruction forum and transparent donor platform to coordinate the process – not unlike what the G7 and the European Commission recently convened in Berlin for Ukraine – could be a first step. This can help define a clear upside to peace for many stakeholders across the many different conflicts – not just the one involving Tigray.
Accelerated agreement with the International Monetary Fund
Globally, virtually all economies are under macroeconomic pressure of low growth and fiscal deficits, and many are suffering from debt problems. Even without the conflict, Ethiopia may well have needed to go to the IMF for assistance to handle this crisis. A year ago, it was essentially ready to do so, including in terms of an agreement with the G20 on debt talks as part of the Common Framework for Debt Treatments. The G20 Common Framework is intended to coordinate and implement country-specific plans to tackle insolvency and liquidity problems, along with the implementation of an IMF-supported reform program.
We continue to call for accelerating the process with the IMF, and the start of an IMF programme, given the further collateral damage its absence will do, to the prospects for future peace and stability.
It is unclear what the political or tactical gains could be from delaying further a bailout of the Ethiopian economy. More instability across the country is hardly going to bring more peace and stability across the country. It will alienate public opinion further from the West. Further implosion of the Ethiopian economy will no doubt offer ammunition to conflict hawks that may seek to gamble on intensifying the conflict, or seek closer links with Russia or other rogue parties.
Establishing a reconstruction and recovery commission for northern Ethiopia
In parallel, there would also be gains from starting a more thorough conversation on how to kickstart the Tigrayan economy. In his speech to youth representatives in Addis Ababa on 22 August 2022, PM Abiy Ahmed said that Tigray has the potential to achieve growth and revival.
The massive damage to economic and social infrastructure in Tigray has created an obstacle for peace. Launching a commission focusing on the reconstruction of war-affected areas of Tigray, northern Amhara, and Afar regions could provide a shared project between Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia.
This could be linked to, but separate to, the overall reinvigoration of development efforts mentioned above, but as it would include more considerable infrastructure recovery investment, it could also be kept separate. Involving the World Bank, but also other infrastructure vehicles (including the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and even the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as bilateral aid agencies), may be helpful in terms of providing the right incentives from the start.
Mechanisms to lock in economic incentives to peace
One commonly forgotten element of trust building in peace processes is how elite players in business and the economy can provide a reinforcing role in regard to keeping these processes on track. There is no doubt that business generally likes stability, beyond the few who can, through deep connections with states and militias, make fortunes out of conflict.
Most investments only bring a return after several years. Mobilising the business community as influencers for peace and stability, away from the standard political and government channels, is a route that is not currently being considered but that could be fruitful in terms of locking in players on all sides of the conflict into the longer-term process of peacebuilding. In neighbouring Somaliland, for example, the business community can be credited with bringing an end to the civil war and sustaining peace since the 1990s, despite the continuing instability in large parts of the rest of Somalia.
Supporting the role of the private sector
Prominent individual business people and figures have access to, influence over, and leverage in relation to government, politics, and peace processes at the federal and regional levels. Inviting prominent business people to form an informal group of business people who can articulate the potential role of the private sector, its capability and contributions, would increase the role and impact of the private sector in the political and peace processes, and in efforts to achieve an inclusive and comprehensive national dialogue at the regional and national levels.
Conversations on recovery, the nature of the economy post-conflict, and restoring national and regional trade might seem of no great import, but, given the influence of such business people, they could become useful influencers for achieving a reasonable compromise, contributing to rebuilding some trust among influential players. There is no need for such a group to operate publicly, and indeed informal processes may be more effective.
An inter-ethnic business community dialogue process
Growing rift, lack of cohesion and increased competition between the Amhara, Tigray and Oromo political elites is trickling down tensions, and widening divisions to members of the business community of the respective groups. These growing rifts are negatively affecting the possibility of launching inter-ethnic business platforms for peace and reconstruction.