On November 2, the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the “Tigray People’s Liberation Front” (referred to as “Tigray People’s Front”) reached a permanent ceasefire agreement under the mediation of the African Union. In November 2020, armed conflict broke out between Ethiopian government forces and the “Tigray” armed forces in the northern Tigray region of the country. This two-year conflict has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of millions of people in Ethiopia, causing immeasurable losses. The African Union special envoy and former Nigerian President Obasanjo said that the conclusion of the agreement means that Ethiopia has ushered in a new dawn of peace.
The outbreak of the Tigray conflict is not accidental
The outbreak of the conflict in the Tigray region is not accidental, and is largely the result of the accumulation and fermentation of various conflicts in Ethiopia since 1991.
One is unequal national federalism. In May 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (“EGF”) overthrew the Mengistu regime. In December 1994, the Constituent Assembly passed a new constitution, stipulating that Ethiopia is a federal state. Ethiopia has adopted a federal state system based on ethnicity, and then formed a “binding” relationship between ethnicity and territory. However, there are many problems in this “binding”. For example, there are only five states in Ethiopia where the ethnic groups are relatively single, while the other four states are mixed with multiple ethnic groups. Another example is that there is no law in the “binding” of ethnicity and territory. For example, The Hareri ethnic group with only 185,000 people has an autonomous state, but the Sidama ethnic group with a population of 3 million has no ethnic state representing its own interests. Although the Sidama people successfully established an autonomous prefecture in 2020, this move not only failed to alleviate ethnic disputes in Ethiopia, but stimulated more ethnic groups to demand autonomy.
The second is the unequal distribution of resources. Since 1991, the “Aegis” has been in power for a long time, and among the four political parties that form the ruling coalition “Aegis”, the “Tirend” is the core party and monopolizes power, making it only 6% of the population of Ethiopia. The Tigray people have disproportionate political and security power, which has laid a hidden danger for the outbreak of conflicts. The long-term hold on political and security power has allowed the Tigray to seize more financial resources. For example, between 2015 and 2018, the Tigray people received an annual per capita budget of 2.272 million birr (approximately 43,000 U.S. dollars), while the Oromo, the most populous ethnic group in Ethiopia, and the Amhara, the second largest ethnic group, They are 1.325 million birr and 1.544 million birr respectively. Tigray people also control major state-owned enterprises in Ethiopia, such as Ethio Telecom, Sugar Industry and Metal Engineering Company.
The third is the unreasonable federal system of security forces. The Ethiopian Constitution issued in 1994 allows states to establish and manage police forces to maintain order in the state. The federal police can intervene in state affairs only at the invitation of the state police. Among the paramilitary forces in these places, the special police force in Somalia State is particularly famous, and Tigray State has a paramilitary force of up to 250,000 people.
For a long time, Ethiopia’s unequal ethnic federalism and resource allocation have intensified multiple conflicts between ethnic groups and between the federal and local governments. The unreasonable federal system of security forces has made it possible to resolve conflicts through violent means, resulting in various scales of conflicts. armed conflicts continued. In 2012, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles passed away, and his successor, Hailemariam, took a procrastinating and appeasement attitude towards ethnic disputes and regional conflicts, which caused social rifts to continue to deepen. In 2014, the expansion plan of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, involved farmland and forests in Oromia State, which aroused dissatisfaction among local ethnic groups and became the fuse for the escalation of related conflicts.
In February 2018, demonstrations and riots broke out in several regions of Ethiopia, and Hailemariam was forced to resign from the party and government. In March, Abiy, a candidate of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, a member party of the “Egelia”, was elected as the chairman of the “Egelia” and later became the prime minister of the federal government. Prime Minister Abiy carried out a series of reforms in terms of domestic and foreign policies, mainly including: reorganizing the ruling party and establishing a national political party “Prosperity Party”, but excluding the “Temporary People’s Front”; easing tensions with Eritrea; and so on. In June 2020, the Ethiopian federal government postponed the election on the grounds of the new crown epidemic. The “Telifist Front” firmly opposed it and held regional elections on its own in September. In retaliation, the federal government suspended budget subsidies to Tigray state. The conflict between the federal government and the PFLP finally escalated into a full-scale military confrontation in November 2020.
Uncertainties remain over the implementation of the agreement
The conclusion of a permanent ceasefire agreement is encouraging, but there are still uncertainties about whether the agreement can be effectively implemented. One is that the agreement seeks an isolated ceasefire between the Ethiopian government forces and the “Temporary People’s Front” armed forces, and its implementation may be compromised. Although this is an internal conflict, Eritrea, which is allied with the Ethiopian federal government, and the United States and Europe, which have a looming relationship with the “PFLF” armed forces, all have a major impact on the trend of the war. Still, the ceasefire agreement made no mention of Utter’s role. Of course, the provisions of Article 8 of the ceasefire agreement concerning international borders and federal facilities set up a “firewall” for potential intervention by Uttar Pradesh to some extent.
The second is to focus on issues such as the disarmament of the PFLP, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, confidence measures between the two sides, and ceasefire transitional measures, but it does not address the deeper conflicts in Ethiopia’s political society. In addition, the agreement stipulates that within 30 days after the signing, the complete disarmament of the “Temporary People’s Front” will be completed. The question is, can paramilitary forces of other peoples continue to exist? And in what form?
Third, although the key mediator for the ceasefire agreement is the African Union, the key to the “success” of the mediation is the United States. In the second half of 2021, after the exposure of its support for the PFLP, the United States adjusted its intervention strategy. In April 2022, its Senate passed the “Ethiopia Peace and Stability Act 2022” with a high vote. The bill requires the President of the United States to provide support for AU-led mediation, and the United States needs to actively participate in peace mediation. Soon after the bill was passed, the United States appointed Hamer, a former ambassador to Congo (Kinshasa) who is familiar with African affairs, as the third special envoy for the “Horn of Africa” affairs, and made every effort to promote the mediation process. The bill also prohibits the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation from providing development assistance to Ethiopia, suspends U.S. security assistance to Ethiopia, and pressures international financial institutions to suspend loans to Ethiopia and Eritrea, among others. In the bill, the entry of humanitarian organizations into Ethiopia, the role of Ethiopian overseas Chinese, post-war reconciliation and transitional justice, and the prosecution of war crimes have all been included in the permanent ceasefire agreement.
To untie the “dead knot”, only development
Ethiopia is one of the representative countries of “Africa’s rise” in the 21st century, and its economy has maintained a growth rate of more than 9% for ten consecutive years. However, since the outbreak of the Tigray conflict, Ethiopia’s economy has been greatly weakened, and people’s lives have been severely impacted. Ethiopia is still one of the least developed countries, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of only US$930 in 2021.
In addition, the Abiy government faces many other governance challenges. On the one hand, due to his identity as both Oromo and Amharic, Abiy was to a large extent pushed out by the PFLP power group as a “scapegoat” for regional and ethnic conflicts. On the other hand, although Abiy introduced a series of economic liberalization measures in the early days of his tenure, he did not really prioritize economic development. However, due to the multiple impacts of the civil war, the new crown epidemic, and the Ukrainian crisis, the ruling resources needed by the Abiy government to improve the country’s appearance are increasingly exhausted. Its basic strategy is still “stock reforms” rather than “incremental reforms.”
To untie the “knot” of political and social development, what Ethiopia needs is a long-term development strategy. Only by relying on development can Ethiopia solve various deep-seated problems. It needs to work hard to promote economic growth and improve people’s living standards, so as to embark on the road of sustainable peace and development.