How Ethiopia’s Immediate Neighbours Affect the Peace Agreement with TPLF

The Tigray War has drawn international attention as the stability of Ethiopia is of great interest to many states. Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Kenya which have been active participants in the Tigray War, have participated in the peace process leading up to the deal brokered by the African Union (AU) and mediated by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. On November 2, 2022, the Ethiopian government and Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) signed the Agreement for Lasting Peace through a Permanent Cessation of Hostilities between the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, in Pretoria, South Africa. According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, this is a promising start to sustainable peace in Ethiopia after conflict erupted on November 3, 2020. Following previously failed attempts at cessation of hostilities between the two parties, the federal government and TPLF are invested in the successful implementation of the agreement.  Indeed, the state’s immediate neighbours have a part to play in this process.

The role of Ethiopia’s neighbouring states

While the Eritrean government had reassured the international community that their presence in Tigray was short-lived, their troops are still present in the region, despite the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. Eritrea has been an active player in the Tigray War from the start, although this fact was not openly acknowledged until April 2021, six months after the conflict began. Eritrea’s hostility towards TPLF can be traced back to the Border War between Ethiopia and Eritrea which erupted on May 6, 1998. Hostilities were expected to end following a border ruling over the town of Badme, but Ethiopia (which was under TPLF’s rule), did not accept the ruling. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed shifted Ethiopia’s relationship with Eritrea after his election into office and agreed to abide by the ruling of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. The presence of Eritrean troops is fuelled by a shared enmity towards TPLF, by President Isaias Afwerki, who has argued that TPLF is a threat to Eritrea’s unity on one hand, and Prime Minister Abiy, who sees them as a threat to his reign on the other.

Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has shared his support for the peace agreement. Somalia’s relationship with Ethiopia has been affected by the election of President Mohamud. Under former president, Farmajo, there was some noted Somali troop engagement in the Tigray region. Like Eritrea, Somalia’s participation in the Tigray War was shocking, although allegedly limited. However, under the new administration, this engagement seems to have changed. Although there was speculation that these countries’ bilateral relations would be negatively affected by this change of guard, a visit by President Mohamud to Addis on September 28, 2022, reaffirmed their relationship.

South Sudan is a close ally of Ethiopia. This goodwill has been apparent since 2019 when Prime Minister Abiy and President Isaias went to South Sudan to take part in high-level talks, geared towards the revival of South Sudan’s transition process. This gesture motivated the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to front President Salva Kiir as the most appropriate mediator in the Tigray War. A statement issued by South Sudan’s Foreign Ministry on November 2021, shared President Kiir’s wish for African leaders to come together and support his proposal to stop hostilities in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the domestic situation in South Sudan hinders heavy engagement in Ethiopia’s quest for peace.

On November 14, 2021, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, made a visit to Ethiopia, where he encouraged the Ethiopian leadership to engage in mediation with TPLF. Kenya has continued to play an active role on the path to peace. Kenyatta was part of the group in Pretoria which participated in the hitherto successful Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. More importantly, AU and parties of the conflict were hosted in Nairobi for the second round of peace talks.

Role of the neighbouring states in maintaining peace in Ethiopia

While it is still unclear how the peace deal will affect Ethiopia–Eritrea’s bilateral relations, it is apparent that Eritrea is an important factor in whether the agreement will be successful. The large presence of Eritrean troops must be effectively dealt with before they agitate an already delicate situation. Thus, Eritrea must be treated as one of the key players in the Tigray War. Ignoring President Afwerki and Prime Minister Abiy roles in the war can be detrimental to the peace process. Of note, sanctions against Eritrea have previously been ineffective; hence a soft approach may be more productive.

Somalia’s role in the Tigray War has changed following the change in government. President Mohamud’s administration is likely more concerned with securing political unity among the elite in Somalia, as well as securing peace in the face of the threat that al Shabab poses, rather than direct involvement in Ethiopia’s peace process. Peace in Somalia is an advantage to the region as it offers Ethiopia a stable ally in the quest for peace.

Sudan, unlike the other countries mentioned above, has not had a visible part to play in the Tigray War and the peace process. This does not make them inconsequential to long-term peace in Ethiopia. Both Sudan and South Sudan are currently plagued by internal governance challenges, they have struggled to implement their own peace agreements. This has left both states vulnerable, and any relapse into conflict has the potential to further escalate the situation in Ethiopia.

Kenya should also continue to act as a guarantor of the peace process implementation. President Abiy has already lamented that the peace process has a lot of foreign intervention. Kenya should thus come in as a friendly and dependable neighbour, especially in this time of need.

Conflict is a phenomenon that cannot be isolated to one state. Thus, it follows that the path to peace should be pursued by a state experiencing conflict and its neighbouring states. In Ethiopia’s case, Eritrea must be heavily engaged to ensure troop movement out of Tigray is smooth and peaceful. Both Sudan and South Sudan have to be introspective, enhancing their stability to ensure that domestic challenges do not escalate and feed into a larger security concern in within the region. Lastly, Kenya’s place as a friend to Ethiopia has to be solidified to provide it with necessary leverage as an honest broker.

Raudhat is a Research Assistant at the HORN Institute.

Redwan Hussein (left), representing the Ethiopian government, and Getachew Reda (right), representing the TPLF, sign a peace agreement between the two parties in Pretoria, South Africa (Photo Credit: Phill Magokoe/AFP via Getty Images)

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