By Dawit Kebede
The Pretoria Agreement, signed on 2 November 2022, partially ending the two-year-long bloody war, holds two significant strategic advantages for the Tigrayans and friends of Tigray. But the Interim Regional Administration formed following the agreement has failed to deliver in most of the most important tasks.
The agreement has brought much-needed partial relief to innocent mothers and children, who were the primary victims of the conflict. The cessation of open military conflicts is promising and welcome, although serious problems remain in areas still under occupation.
The Pretoria Agreement yields a second advantage in its role in prompting the dissolution of radical anti-Tigrayan warmongers. Fervent advocates for the eradication of Tigrayans (individuals like Adndargachew Tsige who were briefly leading a former outlawed opposition group and with loyalty to the Eritrean regime, and the Eritrean regime itself) have split from others forming factions. Part of one of the factions has become embroiled in open and sometimes large-scale conflicts with the federal government, marking a departure from their previous collaboration. The pivot towards confrontation can be traced back to the November 2 agreement.
The Interim Regional Administration of Getachew Reda
The Pretoria Agreement, Article 10/1, stipulates that an inclusive interim regional administration would be established through political discussions among the concerned parties. However, the practical implementation has diverged from this principle. The majority of seats are occupied by the TPLF with a few representatives of one opposition group permitted to take part in the new cabinet of the interim administration. This exclusion of four other opposition parties active within Tigray resulted in significant backlash and unsuccessful protest actions. This situation has created concerns and raised questions about adherence to the inclusive spirit stated in Article 10/1 of the Pretoria Agreement.
When Getachew Reda assumed office, the majority of Tigrayans, both within the region and across the globe (myself included), felt a sense of optimism. There was hope that he would address at least five pressing tasks on his agenda:
- Urgent Return of Displaced Tigrayans: A top priority was the swift and safe return of nearly one million internally displaced Tigrayans to their homes.
- Restoration of Tigray’s Territories: Another critical objective was the restoration of Tigray’s territories that are under Eritrean and Amhara forces’ occupation since November 2020.
- Justice and Accountability: Many expected him to ensure justice and accountability for the countless crimes committed against innocent Tigrayans by both domestic and external actors during the course of the war
- Release of Political Prisoners: The immediate release of Tigrayan political prisoners that includes political leaders and military officers detained in the aftermath of the November 2020 outbreak of war remains a crucial demand.
- Reconstruction of Infrastructure: The reconstruction of the extensive infrastructural damage caused by the conflict, including schools and health centers, was deemed crucial for the region’s recovery.
Tigrayans had high hopes that under Getachew Reda’s leadership, these essential tasks would be addressed promptly, leading to positive change and the revitalization of the region.
Regrettably, as we speak, it’s evident that none of the five crucial tasks have been effectively implemented. The tasks outlined from 1 to 3 remain largely unaddressed. While some progress has been made regarding the fourth task concerning the release of prisoners. It is important to note that numerous Tigrayan veteran military officers and civilians arrested following the war are still not released.
The fifth and final pressing point, centered around the Reconstruction of Infrastructure, also presents a disheartening picture of unmet goals. Despite financial contributions from various regional states within Ethiopia, the impact on alleviating the extensive destruction has been minimal. The statement released by Tigray Region’s Education Bureau serves as further evidence to support these claims.
The Bureau acknowledges the challenges in bringing a large number of students back to school in the upcoming Ethiopian fiscal year due to the lack of restored schools. Furthermore, some schools are being used as temporary shelters for internally displaced people, necessitating significant efforts to prepare them as suitable teaching and learning environments.
Attributing the entirety of these shortcomings solely to the Interim Administration would be overly unfair. It’s important to recognize that addressing issues such as the urgent return of displaced Tigrayans, the restoration of Tigray’s territories, and achieving justice and accountability requires collaborative efforts of various stakeholders.
For instance, placing blame on Getachew Reda’s administration for the presence of Eritrean forces within Tigray may not be entirely fair. The reluctance of the Eritrean regime to withdraw its forces is a challenge that necessitates involvement beyond the scope of the Pretoria Agreement, as Eritrea is not a signatory. The responsibility of pushing for the withdrawal of these forces falls on the Ethiopian authorities, including Prime Minister Abiy. In other words, Abiy must engage with Isaias in whatever manner and on whatever terms necessary, as this represents the key pathway to resolving the issue at hand.
The role of Mekelle’s leaders in this context is to consistently advocate for action from Prime Minister Abiy and engage with international actors to liberate the occupied territories. Similarly, achieving justice and accountability necessitates a comprehensive approach that involves legal mechanisms, international cooperation, and diplomatic efforts to ensure that those responsible for crimes are held accountable.
Regarding the immediate release of Tigrayan political prisoners, there seems to be a more direct avenue for action that involves both Getachew Reda and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. A private discussion between them and Getachew’s consistent engagement could potentially lead to progress in this regard.
If Getachew was to actively and consistently engage with PM Abiy and advocate for the release of Tigrayan political prisoners, it could potentially facilitate positive change in this area. Collaborative efforts between leaders can often be instrumental in bringing about significant policy shifts.
In conclusion, it’s important to address a few key points regarding the domestic challenges facing the Interim Administration within Tigray. A pressing concern currently is the security issue, which is causing growing apprehension throughout Tigray and including in the capital city of Mekelle. The prevalence of robbery and lawlessness has left people feeling vulnerable and unsafe.
A recent incident highlights the severity of this issue. A grenade attack on a busy night club in Mekelle resulted in five fatalities and dozens of injuries. Though the suspect is now under arrest, the alarming event adds to the unease felt by the local population. Additionally, just days before this grenade attack, a distressing incident occurred: a young lady, Zewdu Haftu, was violently killed while attempting to escape from kidnappers who were trying to abduct her in broad daylight.
The most troubling aspect is that those involved in kidnapping and robbery often employ vehicles without license plates for their operations. This complicates the investigation process, making it exceedingly difficult to identify the true culprits. The question we must seriously ask here is: why does the regional government permit vehicles without license plates to freely traverse the regional capital during broad daylight? Is it truly too complex to regulate this matter through the enforcement of the rule of law? Or might there be undisclosed factors at play?
If Getachew’s Administration finds itself incapable of managing these internal issues, what basis and hope is there that it can accomplish the aforementioned paramount objectives, including the repatriation of displaced Tigrayans, return of occupied territories, and the pursuit of justice and accountability for wartime transgressions? How is it conceivable that the Interim Administration is unable to provide security and safety to the local residents six months after its formation? These security challenges are not only concerning for the security and safety of the residents but also they pose significant hurdles to achieving stability and progress in the region. Addressing these internal security issues is crucial to restoring a sense of safety and normalcy for the people of Tigray, and also to achieving the main tasks and objectives discussed above.
Dawit kebede is managing editor of Awramba Times and a recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award