Anteneh Desalegn, 41, who was directly affected by the two-year conflict in Northern Ethiopia, is cautiously optimistic that the ceasefire agreement signed between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) would potentially end the devastating conflict and lead to lasting peace.
Desalegn’s hometown, the once-peaceful mountainous town of Sekota in Ethiopia’s Amhara region along the border with the Tigray region and some 870 km from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, has been one of the epicenters of the two-year conflict.
For the past two years, Desalegn, a father of two, witnessed recurrent conflict, as the government and regional Tigray forces repeatedly exchanged control of the area over the course of the conflict. “You can imagine how hard life would be without electricity and other basic necessities for two years.
This is in addition to the devastating impact and damage caused by the fighting on our people and infrastructure,” Desalegn said on Thursday.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, has seen a devastating conflict between government-allied troops and forces loyal to the TPLF since November 2020, which left thousands dead and millions in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
FIRST STEP TOWARD LASTING PEACE
As the conflict in Northern Ethiopia marks its second year on last Friday, the Ethiopian government and TPLF had on earlier on Wednesday announced an agreement to end the conflict.
The ceasefire agreement is igniting optimism among Ethiopians from all walks of life that have been yearning for an end to the conflict. Desalegn, recalling the shock and distress that the conflict inflicted on his life and those of millions of others, said the peace agreement would only count if it ensures lasting peace on the ground.
“Our area is among the areas that were highly affected by the conflict. So, we are very happy that they have agreed to end the conflict and eventually bring an end to our continued suffering,” Desalegn said. “Even though it is unfortunate that the peace agreement was achieved after many people had died and countless others impacted by the conflict, we are very delighted and happy that they have agreed to end the fighting.”
The peace accord was signed in the South African capital Pretoria, days after an African Union (AU)-led negotiation, which was facilitated by Olusegun Obasanjo, the AU high representative for the Horn of Africa and former president of Nigeria, along with the former president of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, and former deputy president of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
The two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to the cessation of hostilities and orderly disarmament, Obasanjo said at a press briefing on the outcomes of the negotiation.
The deal also includes restoring law and order, restoring services and unhindered access to humanitarian supplies, he said. Tewodros Beshah, a private employee in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, argued that even though the ceasefire is highly welcomed, its effective implementation is “much more critical.”
“For many reasons, I was very surprised the moment I heard about the ceasefire agreement. For one, many of us were anticipating the worst, that it was going to be a protracted war due to the conflicting parties’ extreme positions before they headed to South Africa,” Beshah said.
Noting the fragile overall security conditions in Northern Ethiopia, Beshah said the agreement is the start of the right path to establishing lasting peace. “As we in Ethiopia say – the most difficult step ever is the first step as it comes with doubts, uncertainties and fears. Now that we have embarked on the path to peace, we all should strive for its success as we do not have a second option or chance,” Beshah said.
ROAD TO RECONCILIATION
Many experts and analysts argue that the conflict – in addition to causing a humanitarian crisis across the three affected regions of Ethiopia that are Afar, Amhara and Tigray, has seriously jeopardized the social fabric in Ethiopia. They emphasized that in order to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict, targeted reconciliation initiatives should be implemented so as to heal the bond that existed for generations among the affected neighboring communities.
Costantinos Bt. Costantinos, a professor of public policy at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, said that if the East African country is to realize the core aspirations of the peace agreement, the affected communities should be at the center of the peace process. Desalegn, who was left out of work due to the conflict, has highlighted the crucial importance of providing psycho-social and related support to the affected people. “People in the conflict-hit areas were highly affected by the fighting, their lives were shattered, and their future still remains uncertain. The peace process should encompass addressing these challenges and restoring the affected people’s lives and livelihoods,” Desalegn said.