The Ethiopian Ceasefire: Will It Hold?

Last updated:
Nov 9, 2022

Over a year ago, we examined Ethiopia's escalating civil war between the central government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), located in the north of the country. The conflict was triggered in September 2020, when the TPLF refused to hold regional elections. The central government responded by suspending funding for Tigray and cut ties with it in October 2020. The real catalyst for the conflict then came when Tigrayan forces allegedly attacked a military base housing government troops in Tigray in November 2020, triggering military confrontation.

Villages being massacred featured heavily throughout the conflict, with both sides blaming each other for several large-scale attacks on civilians. During the conflict, there have been mass civilian casualties. Deliberate information blackouts in the country have made it difficult to estimate the true number of casualties.

On 2 November 2022, a truce to end the war between both sides was formally declared. In addition on 7 November, a hotline between the two sides was established, in order to maintain the ceasefire. The deal is reportedly in line with President Abiy Ahmed’s objectives two years ago when the war began. Key features of the deal include disarmament of Tigrayan fighters, removal of the TPLF as a terrorist organisation and entering talks with the TPLF on how best to govern Tigray going forward. The truce should also help put an end to the severe humanitarian crisis that has afflicted Tigray for the past two years. This crisis was made worse by the neighbouring Amhara region's seizure of agricultural lands in western Ethiopia in 2020, something said to be addressed in the truce.

There are many complexities that call into question the viability of the truce. The first is whether Eritrea, a key player in the conflict, will agree to the deal. Eritrea has been seeking to assert itself once more on the regional stage, following two decades of diplomatic isolation. Eritrea also has a complicated relationship with the TPLF, dating back decades. After Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the two countries publicly enjoyed a peaceful and supportive relationship.

This changed between 1998-2000, when war between the Eritrea’s People Liberation Front (EPLF) and the TPLF broke out, killing at least 70,000 people. In addition to casualties, former TPLF leader and Ethiopia’s prime minister at the time, Meles Zenawi, carried out a mass deportation of Eritreans and those of Eritrean descent from Ethiopia. Based on the fraught history, there is a real possibility that Eritrea does not seek peace with the group and may ignore the deal.

Another concern is the risk of renewed bouts of violence, undermining the ceasefire. As of 4 November, reports have already circulated that the Ethiopian government has carried out airstrikes targeting several areas in Tigray, including Maychew and Adigrat, stated by TPLF spokesperson, Mulugeta Gebrehiwot. Whilst the announcement of the truce and hotline are certainly steps in the right direction, the reality on the ground indicates the conflict may not be over entirely. In the coming weeks, we will be keeping a close eye on these developments.

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