The decision by the Ethiopian Parliament to delist the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a terrorist organisation is being viewed as a positive step to help the Horn of African country recover from its two-year war.
And part of that is to ensure fighters once considered renegades to the country’s stability can play formal politics where their grievances can be addressed without breaking the law or chopping one another’s necks.
On Wednesday, the Federal House of People’s Representatives upended one of the controversial decisions that had been partly blamed for delayed dialogue to end the war. The TPLF, once the ruling party, had fought government forces in a two-year war in Tigray.
Ethiopian legislators responded by declaring the rebel group a terrorist organisation which under Ethiopian law did not qualify for negotiations or even be part of the national dialogue to rebuild fragile reconciliation.
On Wednesday, the legislators voted by majority of 61 votes to rescind the decision. Five representatives abstained. A dispatch from the House said the move was meant to “consolidate the agreement between TPLF and the Federal Government (signed) in Pretoria”.
The legislators argued the country was striving to “bring sustainable peace…” and that removing the TPLF from the list of terrorist organisation will help the group abandon violence as is proposed in the peace agreement and entice them to re-join nation building.
Mediated by the African Union, the peace deal in November says the TPLF will stop fighting, surrender weapons and re-join dialogue as the Ethiopian government resumes provision of security guarantees and services for the citizens.
Adem Kassie, a senior officer at the Institute for Electoral Assistance notes that this is a great opportunity for the peace process to be successful as it depends on the delisting of TPLF as a terror outfit.
Restart key services
“The Ethiopian government can now start the process of releasing budget to restart key services, and to bring the Tigray people fully on board to the negotiating table," says Kassie.
The enlisting of the TPLF as a terror outfit a few months into the start of the conflict in 2020, has been termed by scholars and diplomacy experts meeting at a peace conference in Addis Ababa as a push by the Ethiopian government to put a chokehold on the group economically and politically.
George Kegoro, the Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa notes that, “this is a big deal because it was one of the breaking points that led to the signing of the peace deal. The recognition of TPLF as a peace partner will be a huge confidence building measure, that Ethiopia has taken on.”
Peace deal mediators
The peace deal was mediated by a team of AU’s eminent personalities including Kenya's former President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and former South African deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Ethiopian government signed a deal to end hostilities with the TPLF.
This was followed by an AU-led mission to investigate whether the points of the agreement had been met inside Tigray. After two years of conflict, Tigray’s major airport in Mekele was reopened as families engaged with one another after a long time of being apart.
“There are many conversations that need to take place, the primary one is between the TPLF and the government. The matter of the disarmament, has been going on, but it has not been clarified how far it has come, but this will go a long way in giving confidence to the people,” notes Kegoro.
Strengthen more institutions
In a meeting in Addis Ababa hosted by Open Society Africa (OSA) and the Institute of Security Studies, the Ethiopian Minister for Peace Tayde Dende noted the great achievements made between the two parties so far but also stated that more institutions must be strengthened to guarantee it.
Muthoni Wanyeki from OSA says authorities should work with affected groups in the region, especially the victims of sexual abuse, to heal the wounds that have been compounded by the deaths of an estimated 600,000 people in Tigray.
Ethiopia may have ended one of its biggest conflicts yet but still faces other pockets of violence in the country in the Oromia, Somali and Amhara regions, which means the government must address the causes there as it rebuilds Tigray.
Ethiopia, the most populous country in the Horn, is also the seat of the African Union. Participants said the country’s democracy and stability will also help the region deal with other crises in the neighbourhood.