Progress Made In Peace Talks Between Ethiopia And Tigray But Eritrea Remains A Concern

On November 7th, the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces made efforts to maintain the November 2nd ceasefire agreement made in Pretoria. An agreement which was mediated by the African Union (AU) by means of a telephone hotline between the two parties. The two parties continued talks in Kenya starting on November 7th to make progress on implementing the truce, according to Reuters.

The AU chief mediator, Olusegun Obasanjo, told the press that the establishment of the hotline was “the first sign of progress after the signing of the agreement”.

Speaking on the talks in Kenya, Redwan Hussein, a national security advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and lead negotiator during the talks, said that the discussion in Nairobi would ensure “safety and expedites humanitarian flow to areas hitherto inaccessible.” Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the Tigray authorities said that the Tigrayan forces would honour their agreements, according to Reuters. Later on Twitter, Reda said that “peace is what our people need more than anything…If a peace agreement can ensure our survival, why not give it a try?!”

Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, a co-mediator at the talks, also expressed optimism, saying that “we started in Pretoria, we are inching our way closer. We are now in Nairobi, we are very hopeful next time we will be in Mekelle for our [next] meeting and ultimately celebrate together in Addis Ababa”, according to Reuters.

Tigray is the northernmost state of Ethiopia, home to the Tigrayan ethnic group, as well as the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF, a political party as well as a paramilitary group, was the ruling party of Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018, when it was ousted from power. In 2021, the National Election Board of Ethiopia terminated the party’s registration as a political party, citing, in part, acts of violence towards the Ethiopian federal government, according to BBC and the Center for Preventive Action. It has been designated as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government. The conflict formally began after Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed sent troops into the northern region of Tigray in November 2020, in response to attacks on federal government troops that were blamed on the TPLF, which left thousands dead and millions displaced, according to Al Jazeera. According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme, over 5.2 million people urgently require food aid.

Though the peace talks and the set-up of a hotline between the two parties is very important and signals both parties’ commitments to the deal, the absence of Eritrea at the talks, despite Eritrean forces’ considerable involvement in the conflict, as well as their vocal discord with the TPLF, is concerning. According to USA Today, Eritrean government officials declined to comment on the peace talks. While the ceasefire agreement compels Ethiopia to defend the country against “foreign incursion,” according to Reuters, which should at least deter Eritrea, experts worry that given the tension between Eritrea and the TPLF, this will not hold in the long term. However, in the short term, at least, the peace agreement is an excellent sign of progress and will hopefully ensure that aid to those suffering in Tigray will be forthcoming in the face of the humanitarian disaster.

While the continuation of negotiations and peace-building efforts between Ethiopia and Tigray is welcomed and encouraged to continue, and a ceasefire is a very important step in the process, it is discomforting that Eritrea, a major party in the conflict, has chosen not to participate in the talks. While short-term peace has been achieved, the outlook for long-term success appears dimmer.