On Tuesday, June 14, Abiy Ahmed announced to the Ethiopian Parliament that peace dialogues with the TPLF will begin in the space of 10-15 days. The venue appears to be Nairobi in Kenya, while the federal government committee will be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Makonnen. There is no word yet on who will be the TPLF delegate however, as early as June 13 an official statement from the Tigrinya party said that there will be a number of international actors involved in Nairobi: the United States, the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, the United Nations and the African Union, as well as, of course, the government of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Neither the TPLF nor the federal government imposed any preconditions on the holding of peace dialogues. However, this move by the two actors makes it clear how the reports of secret talks since before the ‘indefinite humanitarian truce’ sanctioned by Abiy on March 24, as well as the release of several prisoners of war and the green light for convoys to send humanitarian aid to Tigray, were decisions made by the two sides so as to ease from tension and attempt to rebuild a relationship.
Since the beginning of the conflict in November 2020, this is the time when expectations for a peaceful solution between the federal government and the TPLF are highest, yet the excitement that this situation might generate must be seen within the larger context in which the conflict has taken place, and is taking place.
First, new clashes emerged this week, in West Oromia and the Gambella capital, between the OLF-OLA in collaboration with the Gambella Liberation Front (GLF) and federal forces. A statement issued by the OLF-OLA says the objectives of the raid in Gambella City – neutralizing unspecified government installations, freeing political prisoners and citizens from the regime’s “gulags” – have been achieved while in West Oromia clashes are still ongoing. Is the close alliance between TPLF and OLF-OLA, officially announced last August, still standing or has it already faded? In the official communiqué of the Tigrayan government, there are no references to the OLF, and this week’s clashes post-date the announcement of the peace dialogues: once again, as after 1991, is the alliance between TPLF and OLF so instrumental that it is abandoned as soon as a goal is achieved?
The document released by the TPLF also fails to mention the Eritrean government. However, Isaias Afewerki has played a very important role in the conflict, and reports of his departure from Abiy’s positions – as well as of provocations by Eritrean forces toward the Tigrayans in late May – may be true at this point. However, has Abiy, by antagonizing Afewerki, just as he has antagonized the Amhara elite in recent weeks thus definitively betrayed the tripartite pact he made at the beginning of the conflict?
So, if on both sides it appears that alliances are crumbling in favor of a rapprochement between TPLF and Abiy, what will be the offers that will be proposed at the peace table? For example, if Abiy offered the west of Tigray, which is currently still occupied by the Amhara forces, could we see a front flip with the Amhara and Afewerki against Abiy? And where would the TPLF position itself? At the same time, would a final peace mean leaving the OLF at the mercy of the federal government while the TPLF observes its defeat?
The possible scenarios are many, and as positive as the news is, it is not certain that the solution to the conflict that might be found at the peace table between TPLF and Abiy is the solution to the civil war that is being fought, perhaps it might exacerbate it or perhaps it might heal what seemed an irremediable rift within Ethiopian society.