There is no time to waste to try and prevent fragmentation.
It’s been over a year now since the Tigray war has been making all the wrong sorts of headlines.
But, still, there is no solution in sight.
Tens of thousands have died, millions are displaced, and infrastructure has been destroyed in Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states.
The federal air force has also been accused of indiscriminate and disproportionate drone bombardment and shelling which has led to mass civilian casualties and widespread fear.
There have been communication blackouts while access to basic services such as health clinics, electricity, and water is hard to come by for millions in Tigray.
The bloodshed has shredded our social fabric. Ethnic animosity based on historic grievances has intensified and has been used in the effort to mobilize youngsters for the war.
This has intensified the deep distrust and division in our diverse society. For instance, one of my Tigrayan friends recently told me that he was unable to join weddings and funerals in the capital Addis Abeba, and such stories are now very common.
Ethiopia is on the path to destroying itself and the world should understand that the failure to stop the civil war is giving free rein to perpetrators of atrocities. Urgent steps must be taken against all belligerents, as that means survival for millions who may otherwise perish or see their lives ruined.
The international community has a legal responsibility to make sure human rights are respected and must help the country out of this crisis before it is too late.
Only then can we Ethiopians understand what went wrong in the past and how to fix it.
At this perilous moment, it is important that the international community is calling for a ceasefire, but more concrete action is needed. Despite the UN Security Council’s meetings on the war, the geopolitical dispute among the member states, as usual, overshadows the mission of the UN to protect human rights and promote peace.
The UN needs to increase its enforcement methods to ensure negotiations begin and force stakeholders to take a peaceful route. The permanent members of the UN Security Council—including China and Russia—must pressure Ethiopia’s federal government and the other warring parties.
Nothing else is as important as this international action. Nothing else that needs to be done in Ethiopia is possible until this step is taken.
International partners obviously want Ethiopia to stand on its own two feet. But swift action and pressure on all stakeholders is critical. Among others, the international community should take the following steps.
The first step is to seize the day. Whatever their reasons, the withdrawal of Tigray’s forces from Afar and Amhara and the federal government’s announcement that the military will not advance further into Tigray presents a big opportunity. Pressuring all sides to maintain these stances is key to upholding the truce and progressing towards a formal, negotiated ceasefire. Allowing this opportunity to pass would lead to another round of bloodshed.
The second step is to facilitate humanitarian aid to all displaced and conflict-affected communities. The government and the international community must do their part. Above all, restoring access to health care, electricity, banking, telecommunications, and other basic services in Tigray is essential to save civilian lives.
Third, the international community and the African Union mediator, Olusegun Obasanjo, need to push for the release of all remaining political prisoners and promote national reconciliation. In this respect, the recent move by the government to release politicians has sowed a seed of hope.
Given the historical make-up of Ethiopia, and the influence of opposition political leaders like Jawar Mohammed and Eskinder Nega, engaging them is vital for a successful peace process.
The fourth step would be convincing all sides to support an independent human rights investigation. Last month, the UN Human Rights Council voted to establish an expert international commission to investigate atrocities. Though the Ethiopian government has been critical of its establishment, it is a key step to justice and healing. This is an opportunity for the authorities to clear their name or accept their crimes.
Finally, preparing an all-inclusive national dialogue requires the representation of all parties, including armed groups such as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
This will be the bare minimum for reconciliation, and would at least confirm the nation’s commitment to try and forge consensus through bargaining and not the barrel of a gun. Technical and financial assistance is expected from the international community for the process of this genuine dialogue.
The UN and African nations must back Ethiopian civic leaders to pursue peace so as to prevent Ethiopia from collapsing. Reconciliation and healing must start as soon as possible to save the country.
Using elders and other traditional conflict resolution methods, the way forward lies in listening to various voices and revealing complexity and richness in resolving conflicts in a manner that challenges the simple narrative that peace cannot be achieved through discussion.
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Main photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres; UN/ Cia Pak.
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