The TPLF, through its spokesman Getachew Reda, announced on July 22 that it has formed the team that will take part in negotiations with representatives of Ethiopia’s federal government. In a 40-minute interview, among many other topics touched upon, the TPLF spokesman announced the news, which follows that of the FDRE’s appointment of the negotiating team on June 27. However, no date has yet been given for the start of the work, as well as the place where it will take place.
As already highlighted last week on these pages there is still no agreement on which institution should mediate, nor on the institutional figure who will preside over the dialogue. The federal government is pushing in the direction of Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union special envoy, while the TPLF would prefer the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta. Probably now, after naming both teams that will participate in the negotiation process, the two sides will have to come down to the first compromise: this would be the first real official step after the unofficial arrangements made so far secretly and informally.
The points that will be addressed in the course of the negotiations – in the hope of its actual imminent launch – concern first of all the definition of a truce, which should become permanent. This will surely be followed by the issue of telecommunications, banking services and the opening of the Tigrinya borders. Then will come the thornier issues, such as the future of the TPLF’s position within Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party, and, more generally, the political solution to the conflict.
The TPLF will no longer be able to enjoy the position of primus inter pares as it did during the EPRDF era, this is well understood by the top echelons of Tigrayan power, while there has been much talk these days of a secession of Tigray from Ethiopia, albeit without being able to clearly define within what boundaries. Western Tigray is in fact controlled by the Amhara army, and Abiy’s old allies in the conflict appear in no way willing to cede control. Tigrayan secession could lead to a domino effect, exacerbating the ethnic conflicts that have flared up again in Ethiopia’s periphery, leading to a disintegration of state unity, and thus a compromise on the issue of West Tigray could play the key role in the mediation process. It is unclear, however, what benefit would accrue to the Amhara, leaving the issue entirely hanging.
Particularly sensitive in negotiating terms is the question of the future role of the TPLF in any assumption of continuity of the federal state led by the current Prosperity Party leadership, as well as the Eritrean issue. Many regional commentators argue that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is still leaning toward a military solution rather than political negotiations, as border clashes in recent weeks have shown, and many wonder what role Eritrea will intend to support on the sidelines of Ethiopian peace talks. The alliance between Isaias Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed was visibly dictated by Asmara’s desire to permanently resolve its conflict with the TPLF, but if, on the contrary, the Ethiopian government should now seek the path of agreement with Tigray, many fear that the conflict could reignite or result in a new phase of regional tensions.