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Vague national dialogue
Published in Ahram Online on 24 - 08 - 2021

This September a national dialogue commences in Ethiopia to address grievances that have destabilised the country in the past few years, though no details are forthcoming as yet about the roadmap or agenda.
The civil war in Tigray has taken over the country's political scene since its outbreak last November, the northern part of the country becoming a battlefield with thousands dead and thousand others facing famine, turning Ethiopia a source of instability in the volatile Horn of Africa.
Despite sanctions imposed by the US in response to alarming reports on the dire humanitarian situation in the region, the Ethiopian government still refuses to sit down for any peace talks with the Tigray forces (TPLF), which Addis Ababa declared a terrorist group earlier this year.
It is still not clear whether the national dialogue will include Tigrayans but it is widely believed that the issue will be at the top of the agenda. One Europe-based political scientist who has closely followed the war, feels there are conditions under which the Tigrayans might participate if invited.
"The planned national dialogue is dead on arrival as it disregards the key actor," the European diplomat who preferred to remain anonymous, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "The TPLF having been labelled a terrorist organisation and the government's repeated statements that there will be no dialogue with a terrorist organisation makes process disingenuous, if not impractical. If the dialogue is with 'representatives' of Tigray hand-picked by Abiy Ahmed and not with the legitimately elected leaders of the people of Tigray, that would be another ploy meant for media consumption," he added.
"For a genuine national dialogue and a peaceful resolution of the war, Abiy Ahmed must respect the constitution and agree to return to the situation as it existed before the war. Invading forces must leave all of Tigray. Most importantly, the president must show willingness to peacefully resolve the conflict by doing the bare minimum: lifting the blockade, resuming basic services and facilitating access to humanitarian assistance. If such conditions are met, I don't see why the TPLF won't engage in dialogue and work towards a peaceful resolution of the war."
For his part Mulu Beyene, a Tigrayan lawyer pursuing a PhD at the University of Bergen, Norway, feels it is "farcical" to exclude the warring parties in the Tigray and Oromo regions if the Ethiopian regime is going to undertake a national dialogue.
"The dialogue recently announced is not even close to addressing the critical challenges the country faces," he told the Weekly. "All indications show that the regime intends to talk with like-minded parties and personalities. That is, the regime assumes it will win the many-sided wars and then talk with parties that supported it in post-war Ethiopia. This is simply farcical. I believe a meaningful start would have been to sit with, at least, the Tigrayan and Oromian fighting forces in order to end active hostilities. A negotiated settlement is the way forward. That is, if the TDF and OLA are willing to sit and talk with a genocidal regime."
Beyene believes that Addis Ababa has no appetite for negotiations with Tigray. "The rhetoric and practice are all for war." He confirmed that the regime realises that "no settlement can be reached that will not ensure full accountability for crimes committed in the course of the war."
This could mean "a total regime change", according to Beyene. As the fighting has now extended beyond Tigray into neighbouring regions, Abiy's government summoned capable citizens to fight earlier this month, urging them to join the country's military, which signalled what can be a military depletion in the numbers of the Ethiopian forces. The move also reveals that Ethiopia's 110 million people are being dragged into a conflict that Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, once said would end within weeks.
By the initiative of the national dialogue, "Abiy Ahmed is obviously buying time; he is regrouping and attempting to recover from recent military losses and the growing unrest in the country," according to Hafsa Mohamed, an executive director at Maandeeq Women's Organisation (MWO), based in Ethiopia.
"The Ethiopian government cannot adequately respond to a crisis which the majority of the public believe the government created. That does not make any sense. National dialogue does not equal a ceasefire, nor does it result in the immediate end to humanitarian blockades. Also, if Abiy Ahmed was genuine about ending the Tigray genocide, he would not preschedule or plan a dialogue a month into the future, he would call for a dialogue right this minute." Mohamed highlighted the fact that communities across the country and in the diaspora are beginning to side with the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) "as the only two entities currently fighting to save the constitution and multinational federalism".
"Abiy Ahmed cannot overcome the crisis he and the Prosperity Party (PP) produced," she said; "they can only be consumed by it. It is only a matter of time."
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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