Ethiopia- analysis

Ethiopian government ceasefire a negative factor for domestic support: analyst

File photo of the city of Adigrat in the Tigray region, which was re-taken by theTPLF forces last month
File photo of the city of Adigrat in the Tigray region, which was re-taken by theTPLF forces last month © Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Bertrand Gagnon

The Ethiopian government has a lot of support domestically outside the Tigray region, and its ceasefire declaration earlier this week after eight months of war will factor negatively in terms of Ethiopian support, according to Connor Vesey, Ethiopia analyst for London-based think tank Eurasia Group.

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“A lot of international media are willing to forget why the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party was removed in 2018, and the role it did play in sparking the conflict,” Vesey tells RFI.

“Your average Ethiopian has not forgotten that and that’s why you still have that support,” he says, adding that it is important for the federal government to position the TPLF as a villain, on the political level.

The TPLF party, or their military arm, rebel fighters under the Tigray Defence Force (TDF) banner, made significant gains in and around Mekelle right before this unilateral ceasefire.

It is important to remember that the TPLF/TDF is considered a terrorist organization within the country, says the Eurasia Group expert.

Broken bridges

The government, which has been announcing total defeat of the TPLF for the past few months is not going to mention the military setbacks, but Tigray under threat from an illegitimate government is the narrative they’ve been spinning, he says.

The unilateral ceasefire was installed, according to the Abiy government, to allow farmers in the region to participate in the current planting cycle, which occurs until September. The UN has stated that Ethiopia is on the brink of famine, even though there have been denials from the government.

“The idea of helping Tigrayans is acceptable” to many Ethiopians, says Vesey, as this unilateral ceasefire will also help in delivering humanitarian aid. But recent developments, such as the destruction of a vital bridge by unidentified attackers that was to be used to transport aid, has added more problems to the mix.

Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen spoke to reporters on Friday, saying that the UN indicated that Amhara region special forces were the ones behind the destruction, which was not the case. He blamed the Tigrayans.

“The insinuation that we are trying to suffocate the Tigrayan people by denying humanitarian access and using hunger as a weapon of war is beyond the pale. There is absolutely no reason for us to do so. These are our people,” Demeke said.

Domestic dynamics

The effectiveness of a unilateral ceasefire is questionable, but international pressure will be something to consider, says Vesey.

“A lot of Ethiopia’s international partners, especially before the bar was set quite high by the United States and European Union, what they suggested to Ethiopia is now at least on paper what is Ethiopia committing to, which is a temporary, unilateral humanitarian ceasefire,” he says.

The effectiveness of international pressure cannot be overstated, however, as domestic dynamics come in to play.

“In terms of intra-government dynamics, vis-à- vis the Amhara wing of the government, it’s important that Addis Ababa doesn’t fully close the door on the conflict, because there are a lot of political interests in continuing the conflict, especially territorial interests,” he says.

Ultimately, domestic political drivers will exert downward press on the durability of the ceasefire, according to a report by Vesey’s Eurasia Group think tank, as the Amhara wing of the ruling Prosperity Party has made claim on more parts of the southern and western Tigray region.

The Amhara are considered the biggest supporters of the government offensive in Tigray, but if the TDF took over Amhara positions during the unilateral cease fire, Prime Minister Abiy would bear the brunt of the Amhara backlash, it says.

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