a “positive” agreement but unresolved questions and issues

“Positive progress”, the agreement between the Ethiopian government and rebel authorities in the Tigray region to end two years of war leaves many problems unresolved, analysts worry.

In addition to the cessation of fighting – unverifiable, northern Ethiopia being forbidden to journalists – and a commitment to peacefully settle their disputes, this “Agreement for a lasting peace and an immediate cessation of hostilities” provides in particular for a return of federal authority in Tigray and a disarmament of the rebels.

But the text, negotiated in Pretoria under the aegis of the African Union and published by the Ethiopian government, refers to the goodwill of the parties for the settlement of inextricable disputes and neglects or remains vague on others, note the analysts interviewed. by AFP.

What will be the political role of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which ruled the region before the war after having governed Ethiopia for 27 years, until the arrival of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018?

What about the methods of disarmament or the presence in Tigray of the Eritrean army which provided decisive assistance to the Ethiopian army?

“The will and the commitment of the parties, so sincere, to resolve their differences politically rather than militarily (…) is the very positive side of this agreement”, explains to AFP Benjamin Petrini, researcher at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) from Washington.

“But there are also a lot of unknowns (…) The duration of the negotiations was very short – barely more than a week – and the subjects of dispute are multiple”.

– Eritrean “hole” –

For Patrick Ferras, doctor in geopolitics and president of the African Strategies Association, “it is an interesting and positive agreement because the two parties have sat down at the table” of the negotiations, even if “they both have their knees on the ground for different reasons and are both obliged to have a peace agreement”.

But this agreement “is a + letter to Santa Claus + because it is difficult to apply”, he underlines: “we have the impression that everything has been dealt with but it was done in a hurry”.

“There is not a word about Eritrea, any more than about the Amhara (forces) or the Fano”, Amhara community militias, notes the researcher in particular.

Allies of the federal government, forces from the neighboring region of Amhara and Fano have occupied “Western Tigray” for two years. Administratively attached to Tigray, this fertile area is claimed as “ancestral land” by Amhara nationalists who make it a casus belli. But for the TPLF, it is not negotiable.

“Even if it is a positive step, the agreement is full of contradictions and opportune omissions” and it “does not address the underlying causes of the conflict”, notes Ben Hunter, Africa analyst at the evaluation company of Verisk Maplecroft risks.

Mr. Hunter points in particular to “the absence of a clear plan to resolve the occupation of Western Tigray” and “the hole the size of Eritrea” in the text: Eritrean President “Issaias Afeworki did not sign the agreement and still has expansionist ambitions”.

A cardinal provision, the announced “disarmament” leaves researchers cautious.

“The TPLF’s commitment to disarm presupposes that it has confidence in the government to oversee the process. This is far from certain, given the level of mistrust between the two parties,” said Ben Hunter.

– “poisoned chalice”? –

Mr. Petrini also wonders about the “security guarantees offered to the TPLF”, recalling that the rebel forces “will not lay down their arms in exchange for vague promises”.

In addition, points out Patrick Ferras, “if we demilitarize the TPLF, we must also demilitarize the militias” and “special forces” available to all the federated regions of Ethiopia, which requires “a complete reform of the security system”.

The agreement is also “silent on the fundamental political question: (…) will the TPLF keep its role as the leading party”?, wonders Mr. Petrini, “the (federal) government will authorize it- lead the region and organize elections?”.

Patrick Ferras is surprised at the little obtained by the Tigrayan rebels who have admitted “concessions to relieve the suffering of (their) people”.

“On paper Abiy got everything he wanted” and “there is nothing to the advantage of the TPLF”, notes the researcher. “How are the Tigrayan people going to take ‘having’ paid a high price for two years for nothing?”

“In the eyes of the people of Tigray, the TPLF could have lost all credibility” and the promises of the agreement to restore basic services, of which the region has been deprived for more than a year, could prove insufficient.

“To rebuild the region and resupply the services – electricity network, drinking water – it will take six months, a year”, he estimates.

The agreement is also silent on who will pay, worry MM. Ferras and Petrini. However, Ethiopia’s economy is devastated and the AU has no resources.

“I am pessimistic”, admits Patrick Ferras, “it is possible that the two parties signed the peace agreement to please the international community and the AU knowing that it will not go to the end “.

For the AU, “supervising this agreement could well prove to be a poisoned chalice”, suggests Ben Hunter.