The resumption of fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has disintegrated the fragile ceasefire that has lasted in unstable equilibrium for five months. The two warring parties – the Tigray rebels and Ethiopian government forces – have blamed each other for initiating the fighting. The former accused government forces of launching a large-scale offensive on southern Tigray on Wednesday. The latter accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to strike first. None of the competing claims can be substantiated as access to the northern region is very restricted. Despite the inability to identify who struck first, the implications of an upsurge in violence are certainly dire for a nation currently suffering from one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
In a statement published by Yahoo News, Africa Eurasia analyst Connor Vasey predicted that “amid a resurgence of fighting, neither side will be willing to reduce its leverage for future discussions by making compromises. on key issues. On the contrary, they will likely look to use the next combat phase to strengthen their negotiating positions.
In light of Vasey’s prediction, it should be noted that the conditions for constructive political dialogue have been compromised for months. While the conflict that began in 2020 had subsided into a wary stalemate – the two sides were unable to resolutely subdue the other – the peace talks were contentious with neither the TPLF nor with the Ethiopian government, nor with foreign mediators in alignment with what will be necessary to ensure a more lasting peace.
There is disagreement on the terms of peace. On behalf of the Ethiopian government, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman accused the Tigray authorities of “refusing to accept peace talks”. On the other hand, Abiy is accused of disrupting efforts to end the famine blockade that would allow humanitarian aid to flow – a key Tigray demand – due to separate obligations to powerful rival forces. determined to crush Tigray.
There is further disagreement over who should mediate the peace negotiations. The Abiy government favors the African Union envoy to the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo. But by his lack of intensity and his particular complacency, Obasanjo proved that he was incapable of provoking discussions with the vigor necessary to improve a conflict of this magnitude. The TPLF prefers outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to broker the dialogue. But this preference is also fraught with problems. Vice President William Ruto, in a now contested election, won the Kenyan presidency against Raila Odinga who was backed by Kenyatta. With Kenya potentially facing renewed post-election conflict and destabilization, it is unlikely that a Kenyan leader can really help solve Ethiopia’s dilemma before ensuring his own does not spiral out of control.
Basically, Tigray has reached disaster. No less than 500,000 of its six million inhabitants died in this war, almost half of its population suffers from a serious lack of food and civil structures (including hospitals, schools, factories and businesses) were destroyed. Ethiopians need peace. The current approach has not led to any substantial change, which means that to stop this war, a larger and more powerful cohort of international actors will have to be truly resolute in their commitment to fostering negotiations. Anything less will only make the suffering worse.