By Addissu Admas
In an article I wrote at the start of the Tigray War for Borkena.com on November 11/ 2020 (see https://borkena.com/2020/11/11/ethiopia-imperative-of-avoiding-civil-war/) and for which I was slanderously criticized, I urged PM Abiy to choose the peaceful way, even though the TPLF deserved then as it does now unqualified condemnation for its 27 plus years of ethno-fascist rule. After hundreds of thousands have perished, tens of thousands more have been maimed, raped and suffered all manners of humiliation and destruction; after millions have been displaced suffering feminine and disease, what has been achieved by the war? An uneasy truce, the ruling TPLF cadre still untouched, and indeed re-entrusted with governing Tigray and continuing to clamor to retake lands it illegally and illegitimately annexed during its unchallenged 27-year rule. Rather than achieving anything, the Tigray war has in essence made Ethiopia more unstable, more prone to disintegration, rather than the unity it sought. Now the TPLF has re-emerged as a possible partner to any extremist faction. It will become stronger, and even re-attempt to assert its will in coordination with other factional forces.
Had the PM chose the peaceful solution, he would have gained more, not only in terms of personal prestige, but in terms of regional stability, economic development, institutional strengthening and overall security, both internal and external. Now, on the contrary, Ethiopia is as insecure and unstable a place as anyone can imagine. This is quite similar a situation as the one experienced by the former Yugoslavia on the eve of its fragmentation into six nations. Just as Yugoslavia would suffer a horrendous civil war, there is a good reason to believe that the same may occur in Ethiopia if the government of PM Abiy does not take a radical turn towards peaceful negotiations and rational compromises.
The aggressive and even punitive approach the PM has chosen to take vis a vis the Amhara popular militia Fano risks only to rally more support to its cause, whatever that maybe. His demand to disarm the region and install EDF (Ethiopian Defense Force) command posts, does not only contravene the mandate of the Constitution (Article 52), but declares clearly its intent to violate its region-status. This will not go down well not only with Amhara people, but with all the so called “nations, nationalities and peoples” of Ethiopia not enjoying so-far any privileged status.
The main cause of Fano’s rebellion is its refusal to hand-over the sub-regions of Humera, Wolkait, Tsegede, Raya and Al-Fashaga (bordering the Sudan) to place it under the supervision of the EDF and the federal government. Fano has well-founded suspicion that these sub regions will revert to Tigray for no other reason that they could be used as a bargaining chip to pacify the TPLF and Tigray, should the need arise. The PM has shown repeatedly that he is not immune to taking very risky decisions. Ideally, the whole matter could be resolved in the same way that the Badme border dispute was resolved at Algiers in 2000, though it did not become effective until 2018, when PM Abiy came to power. An act that made him overnight the recipient of A Nobel Peace prize.
Even though the Badme border dispute was definitively decided at Algiers, it has never been accepted by the TPLF. Similarly, there is a very good chance that, even though the dispute over the five sub-regions could find reasonable solution through parliament or any mediating agency, it may not be accepted by either party for one reason or another. There should be every expectation that TPLF’s unyielding attitude of all or nothing will be again in full display. For very understandable reason, it is repugnant to Fano and all Amhara people that these five sub-regions should be up for debate to decide their ultimate fate. However, it is also equally repugnant that a war must ensue to decide it! I think a peaceful negotiation must be given a chance before the whole country plunges into a much bigger, bloodier, bitter and destructive war.
To begin first, a peaceful way to resolve the issue, the PM should abstain from demanding that Fano or, for that matter, any formal or informal militia disarm. As he has not completed to anyone’s satisfaction the disarmament of the TPLF, which continues to refuse to do so under the pretext that Eritrean forces have not withdrawn from Tigray completely, he cannot in good conscience demand that Fano or any other militia lay down its arms. His first task is to demand the orderly withdrawal of Eritrean troops while the TPLF disarms itself at the same time. A disarmed Tigray will have the protection of the EDF and the Pretoria accord, and thus has nothing to fear. A disarmed Amhara region while Tigray is armed is an impossible proposition. In fact, after settling the disarmament in Tigray, the PM can legitimately demand the disarmament of all armed militia throughout Ethiopia in order to initiate the peaceful resolution of the many border disputes.
Secondly, the PM must abstain from playing one side against another, or coopt one force to attack another: this is a recipe for continuous instability. A prime example of this is of course the coopting of Eritrean forces in Tigray’s war. Not only it came at a very high personal cost to the PM and the nation, but is bound to ignite further hostilities down the road.
Faced with a region that is not only the center of gravity of the ideology of Ethiopiawinet, but also home to the second largest ethnic group, PM Abiy must proceed with the greatest caution, lest he triggers an unstoppable war. He has shown us that he is inclined to make dangerous alliances that provide only short-term solutions at a very high cost. Now we want him to proceed with patience, careful deliberation, mindful of each of his steps. As usual, the quick alliances that he thinks will get him out of the present predicament, such as his rumored rapprochement with the TPLF and OLA with the intention of subduing Amhara region will only result in total disaster. Not even during its worst times has the TPLF dared to arm one region against another, let alone one armed group against another!
Third and finally, what the PM needs to do is to call upon all stakeholders in a national assembly for an honest and open discussion without pre-conditions to hammer out, for the last time, the terms of our coexistence as a multiethnic nation. One may argue that it is already laid down in the Constitution. However, one can also argue, clearly deducing from the facts on the ground, that apparently the Constitution has not been able to resolve the challenges put to it. We are living a rather momentous episode in our history that requires an epochal solution. Rather than shuffling the cards and holding them near his chest, the PM needs to let them be seen by all concerned. It is impossible to find a solution for a problem that has not been acknowledged, or to think that all solutions come from one person.
We are at a crossroad. Which one is it going to be? The road of war and disintegration, or the road of dialogue and peaceful resolution?
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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