After two years of horrific fighting that has cost thousands of lives and left millions in need of aid in Africa’s second-most populous nation, the warring parties in Ethiopia declared on Wednesday that they have reached an agreement to put down their weapons.
After a little over a week of talks in South Africa, headed by the African Union, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed‘s administration and Tigrayan rebels announced a surprising agreement that was applauded by the US, the UN, and others.
“We have agreed to permanently silence the guns and end the two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia,” the government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said in a joint statement after marathon talks.
Nearly two years to the day after the war broke out in November 2020, Olusegun Obasanjo, the mediator for the African Union, proclaimed the breakthrough.
“Today is the beginning of a new dawn for Ethiopia, for the Horn of Africa and indeed for Africa as a whole,” he said.
“The two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to the cessation of hostilities as well as the systematic, orderly, smooth and coordinated disarmament,” Obasanjo said at a briefing in Pretoria.
They also agreed on a “restoration of law and order, restoration of services, unhindered access to humanitarian supplies, protection of civilians… among other areas of agreement”, he added. The deal’s monitoring to assure implementation was not immediately obvious, and Obasanjo made no mention of international or rebel calls for Eritrea’s feared army to leave the front lines.
‘Welcome first step’
Diplomatic efforts to bring Abiy’s administration and the TPLF to the bargaining table had taken on additional urgency when fighting resumed in late August, scuttling a five-month cease-fire that had permitted some relief into war-torn Tigray.
The discussions began last week on Tuesday and were set to go through Sunday, but they were extended.
They were the first formal talks between the two parties since the conflict’s inception, which raised questions about Ethiopia’s stability and the unstable Horn of Africa.
According to his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised Obasanjo’s announcement as “a welcome first step” that could “bring some solace” to millions of suffering civilians.
The United States also described it as an “important step towards peace”, with State Department spokesman Ned Price hoping it would lead to a “durable cessation of hostilities to set the stage for an end to human rights abuses and atrocities”.
The delegates in Pretoria emphasized that all parties must now uphold the deal, and Abiy himself expressed a “strong” commitment to seeing that it is carried out.
The head of the government team, Abiy’s national security adviser Redwan Hussein, praised the sides for their “constructive engagement to allow the country to put this tragic period of conflict behind us”.
Tigrayan delegation chief Getachew Reda said they were ready to “implement and expedite this agreement”, adding: “In order to address the pains of our people, we have made concessions because we have to build trust.”
The battle has displaced well over two million people from their homes and may have killed up to 500,000 people, according to US estimates.
Intense warfare has continued unabatedly in Tigray despite the Pretoria peace process, where government soldiers supported by the Eritrean army and local forces engaged in artillery bombardments and airstrikes to seize a number of towns from the rebels.
The conflict and the death toll among civilians caught in the crossfire had the international world increasingly alarmed.
When asked about Eritrea, former vice president of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who was facilitating the talks, merely said: “These two parties (Ethiopia’s government and Tigrayan authorities) are not the only two groups that are relevant for peace to happen in Ethiopia.
“So we are entrusting them with the responsibility of going back home to socialise this agreement… to ensure that many more people embrace this agreement.”
The six million-person Tigray region has been without communications for the most of the conflict, is severely lacking in basic amenities, and has severe food, fuel, and medication shortages.
On November 4, 2020, the crisis broke out when Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy ordered soldiers into Tigray after charging the local government TPLF with attacking federal army facilities.
Fighting broke out after months of simmering hostilities between Abiy and the TPLF, which had controlled Ethiopia’s government coalition for nearly three decades before he took office in 2018.