By Olusegun Obasanjo
Updated Nov 19, 2022, 4:40pm EST
Over the last fifteen months, I have been working as High Representative of African Union in the Horn of Africa to promote peace, security and stability. Because of its strategic position and the conflict raging in its northern region of Tigray, the focus and fulcrum has been Ethiopia.
After receiving my mandate from the Chairperson of AU Commission, Ambassador Moussa Faki Mahamat, I set out to seek the point of entry into a conflict which dates back to Solomonic times in the Bible or back to 2018 when Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy assumed office, depending on whom you are talking to.
Whatever the history, background or remote causes of the civil war in Tigray region, its immediate cause was not unconnected with the assumption of office by Prime Minister Abiy and the reaction of Tigray leadership to what they perceived as the policies and programs of the prime minister. The last straw was the attack on the northern command of the Ethiopian Army located in Tigray by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
On Nov. 4 2020, the TPLF attacked the Ethiopian Defence Forces garrison in Tigray. In response, Prime Minister Abiy ordered what was labeled “law and order action” to punish the alleged impunity of TPLF. The war raged for two years devastatingly and directly over four regions in Ethiopia – Tigray, Amhara Afar, Oromia. There was no part of the country that did not feel the effect of the war in one way or the other.
Some of the neighbors of Ethiopia such as Eritrea and Sudan had their part in the war directly and indirectly, and all countries in the Horn were impacted indirectly by the social, economic and political fallout.
The destruction caused in the Tigray region which was the main theater of the war was very high in human and material losses. It has been estimated that no fewer than 600,000 people died directly in battle or as a result of disease and the lack of access to humanitarian aid.
If destruction of lives caused directly and indirectly in other parts of Ethiopia particularly in Amhara, Afar, and Oromia is added, the estimated total lives lost in Ethiopia civil war would be close to one million. The cost of the reconstruction and rehabilitation of private and public properties and institutions has been estimated at about $25 billion.
To the quantifiable loss of lives and properties and other material losses must be added the unquantifiable losses of opportunities occasioned by the war. The cost of the destruction of trust and the breakdown of relationships within and without the country is high and will take years if not decades to fully rebuild.
As I traversed the country consulting with regional leaders and stakeholders in all walks of life, I observed and felt the impact of the destruction and losses at close quarters. I witnessed the wailing and crying of those who had lost loved ones, the sites of mass graves. The frustration, anger, and desperation caused by war was everywhere to be seen.
At the same time, I encountered local and foreign people — particularly community leaders and people in the civil society – working tirelessly to give help, hope, succor and life to victims and those in need.
From the beginning of the civil war in November 2020, there were efforts made at the local, regional, continental and global levels to stop the violence and the accompanying losses. There were efforts by different groups at the national level to prevent degeneration into wars. There were similar efforts at bilateral and regional levels. And when the war began, greater efforts were mounted by friends of Ethiopia and Tigray people to bring about cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, the restoration of services, and the search for political solutions to Ethiopia’s conflict.
Refusing to be discouraged, I continued with visits, consultations, and discussions to get face to start talks between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the leadership of Tigray people.
After eight months of intense shuttle diplomacy, including eight visits to Mekelle, Capital of Tigray, and the the Chairperson of AU Commission enlarging my panel with addition of former President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa, we finally succeeded.
A peace agreement was signed by the delegates and representatives of the Ethiopian Federal Government, TPLF and the Tigray people on Nov. 2.
After five days of intense discussions in Nairobi Kenya in November, the military commanders agreed on modalities for the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement.
Any pessimist can dig holes in the agreement, undermine it and try to prevent it from being implemented. But no agreement between two belligerents for peace will ever be regarded as perfect by all because it must, necessarily, be based on compromise.
We can, however, strive for perfection in the implementation of the agreement in order to achieve the objectives of peace, security, constitutionality, stability, welfare and well-being, development, and progress of all concerned, especially the ordinary people of Ethiopia no matter where they live.
The agreement must be implemented in good faith, on the basis of peace with honor and dignity, constitutionality and stability. Peace deals function on building trust, and that trust has to be nurtured, layered and reinforced from inside and outside.
All leaders of Ethiopia and all Ethiopians with their neighbors, partners and friends must join hands and accept the truth that there is ‘no victor, no vanquished’ if the possibility of peace, common security and shared prosperity, development and progress for all concerned is to be realized.
The peace agreement and its implementation must be owned by the leaders and people of Ethiopia. The panel and the observers are mere facilitators, there to provide a guiding hand if needed.
The writer, President Olusegun Obasanjo, is the former President of the Republic of Nigeria, overseeing that country’s return to democracy. He is the African Union’s envoy to the Horn of Africa and oversaw the peace talks in Ethiopia. He is chairman of The Brenthurst Foundation.