The Art of Dominance—Would DDR Augur Permanent Peace in Ethiopia?
Dr. Aklog Birara
Part 21 of 30
It is uncommon for the top leadership of the Biden Administration to reach out to and discuss policy matters that affect the stakeholder, Ethiopia, directly with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. On the surface, this has begun to change. The question I want to assess is the core message behind the conversation, the press releases, and declarations by the United States. Is there transparency?
Before the signing of the Peace Agreement in Pretoria, South Africa on November 2, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. In this conversation, Spokesman Ned Price quotes Blinken “stressed the need for all parties to the conflict to commit to an immediate, indefinite, negotiated ceasefire and urged Prime Minister Abiy to commit to the steps outlined in the United Nations Security Council on July 2, 2022 including the complete withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces from Tigray; full, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need; the establishment of a transparent process to hold accountable those responsible for human rights abuses and atrocities; and an affirmation that neither the internal nor external borders of Ethiopia will be changed by force or in contravention of the constitution.”
Ned Price confirmed to the press that Blinken “emphasized the urgency of holding an inclusive political dialogue to begin the difficult work of forging a lasting resolution to the country’s ethnic and political divisions.
Has US demand for the “complete withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces from Tigray ” changed the primary goal the US is pursuing following the Peace and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Agreements signed in Pretoria and Nairobi? What does “affirmation that neither the internal nor external borders of Ethiopia will be changed by force or in contravention of the Constitution” mean? What does the US have in mind?
On November 15, 2022, just one week after Ethiopian and TPLF/TDF Senor Military leaders met and signed the DDR Agreement in Nairobi on November 12, 2022, the US Department of State held an important and lengthy briefing on the situation in Ethiopia. The tone was serious. In my assessment the briefing portends far reaching implications for Ethiopia, Eritrea and especially, Amhara.
The Senior State Department official framed the matter as follows.” You may recall that during the UN General Assembly President Biden said in his UN General Assembly speech that the United States supports an AU-led process to try to bring peace and stability to northern Ethiopia. And that is, in fact, what we have been doing as the United States, supporting the African Union in a very intense diplomatic effort that has involved not only the Secretary but the Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary Toria Nuland, our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee, our USUN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, people over at the White House and across the interagency, and of course, the SEHOA team and our embassies – multiple embassies in Addis, Nairobi, and also in Pretoria.”
The art and power of deal making
The quote confirms my previous assessments that the United States played a pivotal and muscular role in both the Peace and DDR Agreements. Put differently, the power behind the AU sponsored and chaired processes is, without question, the Government of the United States of America. The briefing acknowledged the complementary of the actors involved giving the AU credit.
“I will say that as we launched on this trip and been up in talks beginning in Pretoria on October 25th, it was noticeably clear from the get-go that the goal as put forward by all parties during these talks in Pretoria was, as the AU has said, to silence the guns, to stop the fighting. This was reflected by the panel members, who did an outstanding job in leading the facilitation mediation effort. You know that that was the panel chair who was and is and remains former President Obasanjo, who represents – is a high representative for the Horn of Africa, joined by former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and then as well as Deputy President Phumuzile of South Africa. And we on the part of the United States commend not only the work of the panel, the African Union, but also extremely impressed with the commitments as hosts and in support of this process of both South Africa and the Kenyan Governments.”
I only wish that “silencing the guns and stopping the fighting” was easy. For sure and for now at least the fighting has topped. This is good news for all Ethiopians, especially Afar, Amhara and Tigreans who are affected more directly than others. Contrary to refuseniks and lovers of insurgency in the Ethiopian Tigrean diaspora, humanitarian aid—foods and medicines has begun to flow into Tigray unfettered. The segregated treatment of Tigray as victim persists. I remind the reader that four million Amhara are in dire need of humanitarian aid. Their plight is caused solely by the TPLF. So, why not parity?
The Peace and DDR processes require local and regional ownership and engagements by ordinary citizens. The ultimate objective, I suggest, is to establish an all-Ethiopian inclusive, fair, and just society replacing the current ethnicized, polarized, and inimical political culture?
At this briefing, the US underscored the often-understated determination concerning withdrawal of non-ENDF forces in Tigray, Ethiopia, including Amhara. “The Nairobi agreement is significant because it expanded upon and clarified some of the key issues that were addressed and agreed upon and understood in Pretoria, including very specifically, as you may have seen from the text that was released, the commitment to a withdrawal of foreign forces as well as those non-ENDF forces from the region and that that would be done concurrently with the expected Tigrayan disarmament. This is significant because it was the first acknowledgement in essence that there are Eritrean forces operating inside of Ethiopia, and there is now a clear understanding that they are to withdraw.”
Whose agenda is Ethiopia’s domestic border like Wolkait anyway?
The US has no business in interfering and dictating Ethiopia’s “internal or external borders.” If it claims it does, I will then ask “Why the US failed to demand accountability from the TPLF when it annexed Wolkait and other lands forcibly and changed the demographics without due process of law? Or “Why did the US refrained from chastising Sudan that invaded Ethiopia and annexed lands in 2020?” The US has an obligation to apply the same standards under international law. Best yet, leave Ethiopia alone.
The controversial matter I have in mind is the continued assumption and insistence by the US that Amhara Special Forces and Fano must withdraw from the newly liberated Amhara lands forcibly annexed by the TPLF before 1991? And codified into legitimacy by the same minority ethnic group that imposed the current ethnicity and language-based Constitution without national consensus?
The Wolkait question is about justice, identity, and national security. It is for Ethiopians to settle the matter judiciously and carefully.
What are the options anyway?
- If you kill, maim. force out hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people from Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt, Raya and other lands that were part of Amhara proper in 1983 and change the demographics of annexed lands, there is a high probability that the option of a referendum will grant you the power to win.
In this regard, and as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reminded members of Parliament, Amhara administrators and activists failed to do their homework. They failed because they did not encourage or persuade indigenous people who fled their lands during the period of TPLF occupation to go back and reclaim their lands after the annexed lands were freed from TPLF occupation. The reference that TPLF has registered a million Tigreans who claim lands in newly designated “Western Tigray” affirms this thesis.
Think of the lead reason the Biden Administration calls for complete withdrawal of “Amhara forces from Tigray.” Right or wrong, the assumption is that annexed lands (Western Tigray) are now a core part of Tigray. So, the referendum option disadvantages the Indigenous population and the Amhara.
For this reason, I urge the Federal Government of Ethiopia to grant a grace period of five years for the indigenous population in Sudan and in other parts of the world to return and resettle. In the meantime, the Amhara regional administration and the fractured and quarreling Amhara organizations across the globe must speak with one voice and reject the unfortunate call by the US for Amhara Special forces, Fano and militia to vacate their own lands (Western Tigray). They must argue rightly that it is like saying that Oromo Special Forces and militia in Wellega that is an epicenter of ethnicity-based violence against Amhara must withdraw. Two standards in the same country are unacceptable.
I have argued successively that in terms of the future status of all Special Forces in Ethiopia, that these forces must be absorbed into Ethiopia’s National Defense Forces, federal or local police or the private sector.
- The second option is to entertain the proposal that newly liberated lands—Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya are administrated by the Federal Government until such time that the people of these lands have had ample opportunity to breathe freely, move freely, restore their lives without duress. They then may be in a better situation to make informed decisions.
- The third option is to let the current Amhara administration continue to restore all services, provide the requisite budgets and strengthen local administrative and management capacity.
Reliable sources in Ethiopia tell me that ordinary folks—Afar, Amhara and Tigrean population are amenable to coexist with one another peacefully as human beings and as Ethiopians. So, it behooves all of us to ask the question, “Why not let something that has begun to work continue without undue interference?” and support implementation of the Comprehensive Peace and DDR Agreements. Sustainability requires letting go of past animosities and singular focus on the future by all concerned.
President Biden’s call for restoration of “peace and stability” in northern Ethiopia is a welcome preposition. The challenging work of ensuring “peace and stability” not only in the North but throughout Ethiopia requires a buy in from all Ethiopians. Segregating the process entails future risks.
My understanding of the Peace and DDR process is that two Parties, the Federal Government of Ethiopia representing Ethiopia as a country and Ethiopians as people on the one hand; and TPLF/TDF representing Tigray and Tigreans on the other met, discussed and signed agreements to “silence the guns and stop fighting” followed by availing humanitarian aid the rest.
Unfortunately, there is a misunderstanding that Afar and Amhara should have been included in both the Peace and DDR processes. This is a misplaced and misinformed preposition. The AU recognizes Ethiopia and the Government of Ethiopia. The AU also recognizes TPLF/TDF as the insurgent that needs to disarm. Both processes are solely about the two.
At the same time, we must differentiate the institutional and structural hurdles Ethiopia faces that require deep, honest conversation and transformation of the entire system from the current insurgency that threatens Ethiopia. This aspect requires a robust program of Transitional Justice.
Humanitarian access availed to Tigray is justified. But aid must be available to all victims of this cruel and unnecessary war. I do hope and pray that there will not be partisanship in providing aid. All human lives matter. The people of Afar and Amhara deserve the same humanitarian aid that is provided to Tigray.
It is true that “The first reports on November 15, 2022, of ICRC trucks arriving safely in Mekelle with stocks of medical cargo and additionally other convoys from the World Food Program that are going from Bandar to Mai Tsemri with nearly 300 metric tons of mixed aid commodities” shows commitment to unfettered access. By the same token, it is important that humanitarian aid agencies avail the same to the Afar and Amhara population harmed by the war.
I find it troublesome that the Biden Administration and some members of Congress like Representative Brad Sherman believe that the way to impose America’s will on Ethiopia is through more sanctions. On the same day, November 15, 2022, the US Department of State held its intensive forum on the situation in Ethiopia, the US announced it” Will not hesitate to use sanctions to ensure that a ceasefire agreement between Ethiopia’s government and forces from the Tigray region is respected and will hold to account those responsible for human rights violations, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.”
The threat of sanctions is constant. So is the determination to “hold to account those responsible for human rights violations.” Just who the USA will held accountable is unclear. Is it the leadership of the treasonous and mass murderer TPLF? Is it Abiy Ahmed and his military leaders? Is it Amhara Fano and Special Forces leaders? Is it Isaias Afewerki and his military leaders? Is it all of them?
- In the light of Ethiopia’s unreserved commitment to the Peace and DDR Agreements, I believe it will be unfortunate for the Biden Administration to consider sanctions against Ethiopia. The US must consider the unintended consequences of such an ill-advised action against a key member of the African Union and a long-time friend of the people of the United States of America.
- I urge Amhara academics, scholars, media personnel, politicians, and others within and outside Ethiopia to stop fighting one another; and instead to close ranks, work together and focus singularly on the settlement and resettlement of indigenous Amhara forced out of Wolkait, Tegede, Telemt and Raya.
- I urge Amhara, who tends to manufacture and set up numerous organizations, more than 50 in the USA alone, to learn from the successes of others and forge a unity of purpose and an unassailable organizational structure that delivers.
- I encourage the Amhara regional administration to be firm; and not to cave in to domestic or external pressure regardless of the potential cost.
- I recommend to the rest of Ethiopians to consider wise and prudent settlement of the Wolkait and related policy matters as detrimental to Ethiopia’s national security and future prosperity.
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