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Ethiopia seeks national healing after Tigray peace treaty

Hanna Demisse Addis Ababa
December 9, 2022

With a truce recently signed and a history of ethnic tensions, Ethiopia faces a myriad of challenges. As a result, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has embarked on a national dialogue hoping to silence the guns.

Warring parties in Ethiopia have agreed to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid into the Tigray region.
Local and regional leaders hope there would be lasting peace in EthiopiaImage: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

After a two-year devastating civil war, the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace treaty on November 2, 2022.

Both parties vowed that they were determined to make the peace deal last. So far, the fighting between the two sides has ceased, and there are signs of an end to the bloody civil war.

However, people still worry that the fragile calm could be shattered at any time unless both sides keep their promises.  

Observers say that in addition to silencing the guns, it is imperative to reach a long-term political settlement in the area, especially in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions, which were worst affected by the violence.

A time for peace

Dr. Yonas Adaye, head of the Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission, told DW that leaders must resolve their differences through dialogue.

"There is time and seasons for war, and there is time for peace, as the wise [King] Solomon says," Adaye said, adding that now is the time for peace.

He said the commission did not have a specific timetable. However, he hinted that they were preparing to go to Tigray and talk to the people, having witnessed "very positive developmentover there."   

Ethiopia's Amhara region scarred by conflict

The widespread destruction, displacement and suffering in strategic towns in Amhara came as Tigrayan fighters and Ethiopian government and local Amhara forces wrestled for control over the region.

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Fighting in the hills

Tigrayan fighters are believed to have suffered defeat in the hills around Mezezo in the Amhara region in early December. They had been advancing toward the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The fighting lasted five days, according to local eyewitnesses. People stayed indoors during heavy fighting, terrified by the sound of artillery. In the area, bodies are decaying along the road and in fields.

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Destruction in Mezezo

Ayu Berhan hid in a forest for nine days in late November as Tigrayan fighters occupied her village of Mezezo, some 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa. The 55-year-old found her house destroyed by artillery when she returned. "[In the forest] we were hungry and thirsty. There were also children. We lost everything and when we came back to our home, we lost a place to stay," she told DW.

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Life is slowly resuming

The TPLF had controlled the strategic towns of Kombolcha and Dessie for several weeks before retreating. Life in those places is slowly resuming, but there are shortages of food items, fuel and other essential items. Electricity and running water have yet to return.

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Destroyed hospital

The hospital is a referral center for about 8 million people. It was used as a military hospital by both the Ethiopian army and Tigrayan fighters at separate times. Locals sad Tigrayan fighters looted it before leaving. "The medicine they didn't take, they made it unusable," said Melaku Sete, who runs the now destroyed oxygen center at Dessie hospital. The region faces a shortage of oxygen.

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Wollo University badly damaged

The institution in Dessie was badly damaged by heavy artillery and looted. "It's really devastating," said Menagesha Ayele, the campus director. He attributes the damage to Tigrayan forces. "I didn’t expect it. This is the university where their children used to study for their bachelor's and master's." Eyewitnesses said soldiers from both sides of the conflict used the campus at different times.

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Aid warehouses looted

In Kombolcha, dozens of warehouses used for storing international and local humanitarian aid were heavily looted. Local officials have accused Tigrayan fighters, but humanitarian sources said the community played a major part in taking food and other items. Other armed groups are also believed to have later participated in the looting.

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Mass grave in Teraf

In the village of Teraf, 21 unarmed civilians and four fighters were buried in this mass grave. Teraf is located within the Oromo special zone in the Amhara region. Residents said Oromo and Tigrayan rebels targeted Amharic-speaking people, a minority in the area. Children aged 8 and 12 are said to be among the victims.

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Shot by soldiers

Arabie Hassen, 17, said she was home with her mother and siblings when a fighter entered and shot at her. "It is better to die than living with this wound because it makes me suffer me a lot," Arabie told DW. Her cousin (pictured on the phone) was killed in an adjacent house on that day. Arabie's mother, Fatima, said her children still have nightmares as a result of the shooting.

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Displaced in Debre Berhan

Schools in Debre Berhan, three hours by road from Addis Ababa, are now shelters for some of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the fighting. "There's nothing to eat. There are children here... people have left their homes without anything," said Mamito Belachew, who came from Ataye. "We are told now it's peaceful there but if we go, there is nothing. The houses are burned down."

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Militias on patrol

Local volunteer militias are still on the lookout for Tigrayan fighters. The militias are often farmers or civil servants with little military training. "We use this hill to watch for remaining TPLF militias, and when we find them, we will apprehend them," said Bahere Kefele, who joined a militia group in Shewa Robit. "We can't assume they've left our area. We must be alert."

general.image.copyright_prefix Maria Gerth-Niculescu/DW

Shewa Robit economy shattered

Shewa Robit, a town of about 50,000 people on the highway between Dessie to Addis Ababa, was occupied by Tigrayan fighters for several days. They destroyed several banks and hotels, leaving behind a shattered economy. Local officials said it could take years for the town and the region to recover from the damage.

general.image.copyright_prefix Maria Gerth-Niculescu/DW

Ethnic-based federalism

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) once ruled and dominated Ethiopia for more than two decades. During its reign, the TPLF established a complex ethnic-based political system.

According to Dr. Taye Negussie, a researcher and political scientist at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia's warring sides must be willing to forgive each other and reconcile.

"They may not forget what happened and move on, but they can learn to forgive and live with it," Negussie said.

In February 2022, the rights group Amnesty International issued a report stating that armed fighters of the TPLF had killed civilians and raped women and girls in the northern Amhara region of Ethiopia.

Much needed aid is now trickling in in Tigray after the signing of the peace dealImage: International Committee of the Red Cross/Handout/REUTERS

'Time is a healer'

It's a great step to come to political reconciliation on a national level," Negussie said, adding that time is a healer. "For this to happen, social and economic transactions between people on a communal level must be restarted, regardless of signing on paper between officials," Negussie said.

He added that the healing process would begin from the bottom-up level when this happens. However, he warned that some factors might jeopardize the peace process.

"One is that global and social media fuelled the fire for their interest, and the other is that if there is no legal investigating and seeking accountability for atrocities committed by all parties during the conflict."

Fighting might have subsided in Tigray but mistrust persistsImage: Tiksa Negeri/File Photo/REUTERS

Premier Abiy's appeal

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has urged scholars to recognize the current situation and play a positive proper role in ensuring long-term peace.

Residents of Addis Ababa are pleased with the peace agreement and have called on their leaders to resolve their differences at the negotiating table.

"It is time for a new hero now that we have been celebrating war heroes for so long," Adene Berhanu, a resident of Addis Ababa, told DW. "I want my generation to have its own hero who believes in dialogue."

She said women and children were the most affected by this conflict, and it is time to end it.

"We live in the twenty-first century, and anything is possible with discussion."

For Meheret Belachew, another resident in the capital, peace remains elusive in the country. "There is no peace in the country from beginning to end. What we're hearing is terrifying," Belachew told DW.

"Every minute and second, there is a problem that causes us to be concerned. It is pointless to have a single peace treaty if the rest of the country is not."

She regretted that every conflict is a source of pain for Ethiopians, and in her opinion: "This is because of the government's failure."

Ethiopia belligerents agree to open Tigray to aid


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Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu

Hanna Demisse DW correspondent in Addis Ababa
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