Almost two years to the day since the devastating civil war broke out in Ethiopia, both sides have agreed to halt the conflict in a surprise deal announced by an African Union special envoy on Wednesday.
The formal peace talks began just over a week ago in South Africa’s Pretoria, mediated by the African Union (AU).
On Wednesday night, Nigeria’s former Prime Minister Olusegun Obasanjo, who mediated the deal through the talks in South Africa, announced that the “two parties in the Ethiopian conflict have formally agreed to the cessation of hostilities as well as to systematic, orderly, smooth, and coordinated disarmament.”
He added the agreement also included a “restoration of law and order, restoration of services, unhindered access to humanitarian supplies, [and] protection of civilians.”
“This moment is not the end of the peace process,” highlighted Obasanjo, who praised the process as an African solution to an African problem. “Implementation of the peace agreement signed today is critical for its success.”
The announcement was described by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as “monumental,” and he added: “Our commitment to peace remains steadfast and our commitment to collaborating for the implementation of the agreement is equally strong.”
Meanwhile Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray authorities, said: “The way over the last two years has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and has turned Ethiopia, once on the cusp of great economic progress, into a bad parody of itself and caused tremendous suffering to the people of Tigray.”
The ceasefire and opening up of corridors to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid to resume, including to the Tigray region, is particularly key — with the two-year conflict having devastated millions of lives and livelihoods across the region, including in Tigray, as well as surrounding areas like Amhara and Afar, as well as decimating key health infrastructure and facilities.
Civilians across Tigray have been living under a blockade since the beginning of the war, including the interruption of communications and transport links, putting a serious obstacle in the way of vital humanitarian aid, such as food and medicines.
According to the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), 70% of health facilities have been impacted by the war, affecting access to health care for 2.5 million citizens, and destroying decades worth of gains in health care in the region. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said just last week that Tigray had run out of vaccines, antibiotics, and insulin, according to Reuters.
The ceasefire announcement has been welcomed as a breakthrough moment, with the African Union describing it as a new “dawn,” but the welcome will be cautious — as this isn't the first ceasefire agreed during the conflict.
A previous ceasefire — which allowed humanitarian aid deliveries to resume between March and August — was then broken in August, just months after it began, when fighting resumed and escalated.
This peace agreement, however, has gone further than before, with both sides having signed a disarmament plan and agreeing to allow for humanitarian aid to resume.
The true death toll of the conflict is unknown — with media and humanitarian organisations largely having been blocked from the region throughout the conflict — but estimates range from thousands to hundreds of thousands.
Meanwhile, the conflict has also displaced millions of people from their homes, and left hundreds of thousands of people facing famine.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described the ceasefire as a “welcome first step, which we hope can start to bring some solace to the millions of Ethiopian civilians that have really suffered during this conflict.”