- Benishangul-Gumuz “shut in” on three sides by violent conflict, insecurity.
When years of social upheaval and public protests culminated in the ousting of the EPRDF government in April 2018, many Ethiopians hoped the changes would bring with them economic prosperity, political freedom, and major institutional reforms – at the very least a lasting sense of peace and stability.
The hopes were manifested in the establishment of the Ministry of Peace later that year. The first institution of its kind in Ethiopia, it was a physical representation of the public’s longing for security, though the institutionalization of peace was alien to traditional Ethiopian perspectives on the subject.
The five years that followed the establishment of the Ministry were decidedly not peaceful, as the country found itself embroiled in civil war, ethnic clashes, and a chain of protracted conflicts dotted across Ethiopia. Ongoing conflicts in the Oromia and Amhara regions continue to pose the most significant security risks today, drawing attention to the Ministry’s role in averting and containing the violence.
The Ministry has faced criticism on many fronts in the past year especially, with Parliament among those raising eyebrows at the widening gap between conflict and institutionalized response mechanisms.
Two weeks ago, the Minister of Peace was the subject of fierce reproval from MPs while presenting a half-year report to Parliament. Minister Binalf Andualem was scolded for his Ministry’s apparent inability to protect civilians from militant groups nor from arbitrary drone and artillery strikes.
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Some MPs suggested the Ministry’s budget be redirected elsewhere, arguing it has no tangible progress to show for its share of federal funding.
The Ministry is currently embarking on a number of peacebuilding initiatives, mainly focusing on ‘positive peace,’ or capitalizing on common values to enhance constructive engagements among regional states, ethnic groups, and other communities. The Ministry’s initiatives place a special importance on shaping the minds of the youth and fostering youth contribution to the peacebuilding process.
Last week, Binalf’s office co-hosted an event with the Ministry of Women and Social Affairs (MoWSA) to introduce a youth initiative called ‘Adwa for Sustainable Peace and Strong Nation Building.’ On the guestlist for the launch held in Adama were representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister, chairs of Parliament’s standing committees, and senior officials from all regional administrations as well as the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia, among others.
The two ministries are basing the national youth dialogue to be carried out in all regional states and two city administrations, on the Victory of Adwa, in hopes the historical event’s symbolism of unity will carry through into the discussions officials have planned.
The Adwa youth dialogue is set to take place at every level of government throughout the month of February, before concluding with a national conference in Addis Ababa a day before the 128th anniversary of the Victory of Adwa.
Officials have prepared a dialogue guide focused on a common national identity, shared values, and the national interest. The Ministry’s action plan reveals its officials expect that all government offices and agencies participating in the dialogue will cover expenses using their own financial resources.
Representatives were given the opportunity to provide their opinions during the event. Some kept it short and clean, limiting themselves to comments on the dialogue guide. Others took the opportunity to shed light on the hardships faced by the youth and others in their respective constituencies.
Among the latter was Wolteji Begalo, head of peacebuilding and security for the Benishangul-Gumuz regional administration.
He told the officials gathered in Adama that financial constraints would make it “very difficult” for the Benishangul-Gumuz regional state to carry out the Adwa youth initiative.
“We’ve been in a difficult situation for the last five years,” said Wolteji. “We question how much we can actually raise from the public.”
Wolteji pointed out his administration is currently struggling to make salary payments to its employees, with civil servants in some woredas not having received their wages for up to two months.
Prolonged conflict in two zones of Benishangul-Gumuz have left the region debilitated, affecting and scaring away large-scale investors.
“Investors have just revamped operations so mobilizing resources for this particular movement in these areas could be challenging,” said Wolteji. “We ask the Ministry to make an exception for us and extend the budget required.” He also gave an overview of the security situation in Benishangul-Gumuz.
“We’re shut in on three fronts. Going in and out has become a never-ending ordeal,” said Wolteji. Security on roads connecting the regional state to the rest of the country via the Amhara and Oromia regions has been compromised, while routes to the border with Sudan have also been shut as Khartoum wrestles with a deadly civil war, decried Wolteji.
“With the exception of some investors that manage to pull through using their own means, the only way for production inputs from the center [of the country] can get to us is through regional security force escorts,” he said.
Wolteji described a harrowing incident that took place on these roads recently.
On January 26, 2024, a convoy of trucks carrying sugar left Asossa but did not make it to the final destination. The convoy was forced to stop on a road connecting Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia, and three of the trucks were hijacked. The remainder managed to return to Asossa, according to Wolteji.
“I am telling you this so that you all know how painful it is becoming for us,” he said.
Wolteji told officials that even vehicles registered to the federal government are victim to hijackings on the roads leading in and out of Benishangul.
The situation, according to Wolteji, is grim. The public is challenging the Benishangul-Gumuz administration at every turn, demanding to know why no one is paying attention to their plight, or why there has been no action for several years now.
“The public is asking us what the interests behind cutting off roads connecting the region to neighboring states are,” said Wolteji. “They’re asking us why they have to go through this suffering. They’re asking: ‘Aren’t we Ethiopians?”
Wolteji cautioned federal officials that the Peace Ministry’s latest initiative would be met with similar questions in Benishangul-Gumuz before calling for an immediate response from the Office of the Prime Minister, head of Parliamentary standing committees, and the federal government at large.
The Ministry of Peace is a fruit of the political upheaval of 2018, and the growing tensions that accompanied the ousting of the ethnicity-based Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) coalition.
Almost immediately following the political change, Ethiopia began to see the onslaught of new, ethnic resurgent factions carrying out regular attacks on civilians and the military as part of a chain of conflicts scattered across the country. The conditions led to the birth of the Peace Ministry in late 2018.
The Ministry developed out of a Federal Affairs agency (formerly itself a ministry) that was first established at the turn of the millennium to work on regional affairs and urban development. In 2018, the Ministry took over the responsibilities, as well as those of facilitating a peace process to prevent and resolve armed conflicts and support equitable development among regional states.
Its 10-year program for sustainable and overall peace building introduced in 2022 lists among its priorities preserving and ensuring peace for all citizens; growing national consensus and unity to strengthen the federal system; being the first to prevent conflicts from sparking and to facilitate lasting peace solutions; and expediting the growth of a sustainable peace process through the development of regional and continental collaboration and affiliations.
The Ministry’s track record and its current state indicate it is at a crossroads where it must choose between full self-awareness and revival, or self-delusion and demise.
During a public-private dialogue hosted by the National Rehabilitation Commission and the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations two weeks ago, a member of the Chamber put it succinctly when he said: “We live in a country where there is a Ministry of Peace, but no peace.”
When Binalf and his team presented the Ministry’s first quarter performance to Parliament a few months ago, MPs expressed similar sentiments.
One MP argued that conflict and violence have spread following the formation of the Ministry.
“Do you believe the Ministry’s performance lives up to the budget allocated to it?” he asked.
The Ministry of Peace operates with a recurrent budget of 125 million birr and a capital budget of 300 million birr for the 2023/24 fiscal year.
The question was directed at State Minister Taye Dendea, who has since been sacked from his senior post and detained by federal security forces.
“There is a distorted view of power from both the government and the public,” Taye told Parliament. “There is a lack of political culture and negotiation. There are several distorted narratives. Social media has also contributed to widening differences and fanning extremism. Corrupt and illicit networks that benefit from conflict are also working against peace.”
Nonetheless, MPs were not satisfied with the justifications.
The Ministry was put on blast for the failure of negotiations between the federal government and the self-titled Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)/(OLF Shane) as two rounds of talks did not bear any fruit. The Ministry did not play a role in either round of negotiations.
The Ministry was unable to prevent the conflict in the Amhara region, nor has it been able to facilitate a negotiating ground for the two sides. It was also notably sidelined during the talks preceding the Pretoria Peace Agreement, which ended the bloody two-year civil war in Tigray.
Furthermore, the Ministry has lost stewardship of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) established to execute demobilization, rehabilitation and reconstruction works in the country’s north. The Commission has been placed under the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) through an amended law.
“NRC was placed under the Ministry because its goal is transforming ex-combatants into a part of the peacebuilding process, but, when we began the work, we realized we first have to complete the demobilization and disarmament, and no one knows [how to do] that better than ENDF,” said Teshome Toga (Amb.), head of the Commission, during an event last week.
By mandate, the Peace Ministry is expected to accomplish its mission goals through cooperation with other relevant government organs, as well as cultural and religious organizations.
This has led its critics to point out a lack of real power, relegating the Ministry to hanging in the background with no real impact on the country’s peacebuilding process. Ministry officials, on the other hand, argue their main area of work is positive peace.
Still, the argument does not change the fact that the Ministry has largely been limited to a role in organizing youth initiatives, dialogues, and other events.
In Adama, State Minister Kairedin Tezera (PhD), in charge of peacebuilding and national consensus, announced plans for a national inter-regional sports competition that aspires to foster connections and communication between youth.
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