The Ethiopian war in Tigray is over.
On November 2, federal forces and rebel authorities agreed to a “cessation of hostilities”, ending a conflict that is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. All parties committed abuses, such as documented by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and other international observers.
“No one has been clean in this war,” said Desta Heliso, a visiting lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. “As Christians, we have to feel sorry about this.”
The peace accord, however, provides a biblical mandate.
Most of the negotiations were about military realities. The two-year conflict in the northernmost region of the Horn of Africa nation, home to 7 million of Ethiopia’s 120 million people, has oscillated between the two sides and between hostilities and a humanitarian truce.
The United Nations declared 5.2 million Tigrayans need help.
But as federal forces moved deeper into Tigray, African Union (AU)-sponsored peace talks in South Africa concluded with an agreement for the full disarmament of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. (TPLF) within 30 days. National troops can enter the regional capital of Mekele; take control of all borders, highways and airports; and accelerating humanitarian aid.
Both parties agree to cease smear campaigns and the central government will ensure the restoration of communications, transport networks and banking services.
But long-term peace may depend on the outcome of a minor clause included among the 15 measures. The federal government is committed to pursuing a “comprehensive policy of transitional justice” in line with the AU framework.
Ethiopia will be the first experience the implementation.
“The possibility of reconciliation is there,” said Heliso, who previously served as vice president of Kale Heywet Church, one of Ethiopia’s largest evangelical denominations. “But some demands for justice will have to be abandoned for peace, however painful that may be.”
It may not be necessary.
Adopted in 2019, the African Union Transitional Justice Policy 2019 (AUTJP) goes beyond criminal accountability – while ensuring impartial investigation – to set measurable standards for reconciliation, reparation and conflict memorialization . It establishes commissions, employs traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and requires the participation of women and other vulnerable groups.
“We now have a transitional justice toolkit”, wrote Moussa Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, in the foreword, “who is from our homeland…rich in his progressive methodologies and approaches, and rooted in shared African values”.
Now all you have to do is follow.
“The devil will be in the implementation” declared former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who helped facilitate the talks.
The Ethiopian federal government has since lifted the designation of the TPLF as a terrorist entity, while the AU, responsible for monitoring the peace agreement, has begun the translation of the AUTJP into Amharic (Ethiopian).
the UN called the agreement a “welcome first step”, while urging the two parties “to continue… in a spirit of reconciliation, in order to… silence the guns and put the country back on the path of peace and stability”.
Many analysts viewed the deal as a surrender of Tigray forces. Getachew Reda, head of the TPLF delegation, agreed there were concessions, necessary to “build confidence” in the negotiations to come.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed saw it as a victory.
“We must also replicate the victory we have achieved on the battlefield in peace efforts,” he said. declared. And addressing the people of Tigray, he said, “The tricks, wickedness and sabotage should stop here.”
Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending hostilities with neighboring Eritrea, hailed the deal amid his country’s “unwavering” commitment to peace. Significant ethnic tensions and outbreaks of violence continue in Oromia, Somalia and other parts of Ethiopia.
Heliso linked them to the TPLF seeking to undermine the government. With joy and elation, he said his hope for Ethiopia had “quadrupled” once the Tigrayan fighters agreed to lay down their arms.
Abiy, who came to power in 2018, was once part of the ruling TPLF coalition, which dominated Ethiopian politics for 27 years. But as the evangelical Oromo leader began reforms and expanded human rights, he also created a national political party to reduce Tigray’s dominance.
Tensions spiked during COVID-19, when Tigray held regional elections in defiance of Abiy’s decree to postpone voting nationwide. The war began when rebel forces offensive a federal army base, escalating when the Eritrean army—despite Ethiopian denials—joined the government’s southern attack by invading from the north.
The worst atrocities have been blamed on Eritrea.
Analysts have noted possible weaknesses in the peace deal by failing to mention this longtime enemy of the TPLF, or disputed territories between the Tigray and Amhara regions that have also witnessed fighting.
Disarming the regional force is “completely catastrophic”, said Meron Gebreananaye, co-editor of media company Tghat, which documented federal atrocities during the war. Without political affiliation, she shared their fears.
“It is inconceivable that the peace negotiations did not take into account an international peacekeeping force to protect the people of Tigray during a transitional period of national reconciliation,” said the doctoral student in theology from the University of Durham in England. “The people of Tigray do not feel guilty for standing up to the genocide.”
She quoted international organizations who warned against military deployments before the start of the war, as evidence of Abiy’s efforts to “completely neutralize” a political rival. She recognized the Eritrean president as an “eternal spoilsport” of peace, condemning the “complete siege” that has devastated her region.
But she included religious actors in her doubts about transitional justice.
“Churches in Ethiopia are part of the problem because of their ethnic allegiance or religious kinship with those in power,” said Gebreananaye, a Baptist. “Many are in need of reconciliation and truth themselves.”
Tigray is predominantly Ethiopian Orthodox, the expression of faith of approximately 44% of the national population. Evangelical denominations, often called P’ent’ay and mostly Pentecostals, total about 19% nationally and are most numerous in the southwest, while Muslims make up about 34% of the population.
Amnesty International shares Gebreananaye’s concern, noting “rampant impunity” on the part of the government.
Heliso said several offending soldiers have been tried and jailed, and investigations are ongoing.
Abiy, he predicted, would forgive many offenders in Tigray. Lawmakers would return to their parliamentary posts after the election. And the government is trustworthy, having previously announced two unilateral humanitarian ceasefires later broken, he said, by the rebels.
At least the government should be respected.
“People don’t realize how our ministers struggle to balance their Christian faith with the need to maintain constitutional order,” Heliso said. “Sometimes by force.”
But beyond the TPLF, his wrath was directed outwards.
“Keep human rights organizations away from us with their political agendas,” he said. “Let us use our Christian values to heal our own wounds ourselves.
Even for the UN he had “little respect” and was optimistic the AU was brokering the deal and would continue to monitor it. Heliso recently created Sophos Africa, a secular civil society organization, to find African solutions within the Judeo-Christian heritage to the corruption, tribalism and religious extremism plaguing the continent.
Despite his different analysis, Gebreananaye expresses “cautious optimism” about the deal, hoping it will at least end the brutal conflict. Peace, however, will depend on widespread social transformation and official accountability.
“We have all been wounded, and now we must become wounded healers,” echoed Heliso, “while keeping a balance between justice and peace.”