For the past few months, we have witnessed changes that seem implausible in the political dynamics of Ethiopia. The EPRDF has changed its course of leadership, bringing unprecedented changes on the political and economic fronts.
This new atmosphere has encompassed one of the most intractable stalemates in the Horn of Africa. The ongoing peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea is an outstanding achievement that will allow both countries to concentrate on development rather than the unnecessary political and economic deadlock of the past almost two decades.
The Horn is volatile. Thus the peace process will have positive externalities for countries in the region. But for it to be sustainable, the process ought to be transparent, and every issue needs to be discussed in detail. Both leaders of the countries have to formally come forward, acknowledge wrongdoing and ask an apology from the people of the two countries for the economic damage and the innocent citizens who gave their valuable lives to protect their nations.
More importantly, both governments have to give an opportunity for the wider public to have its say on core problems that led to the impasse.
One of the bravest and positive strides taken by the Ethiopia government was to concede to Eritrea areas that have been contested and ruled by a boundary commission. Momentarily, this can be unworkable and impractical given the absence of third-party mediators.
Most conflicts around the world, where stability has remained elusive, and peace and development have proved far more difficult and complicated to achieve, settling disputes without third parties is rare. But, to everyone’s surprise, it seems that the two neighbouring countries have reached certain agreements on their own though analysts argue it is merely power play by powerful coalitions in the Middle East.
This positive development needs to be met by strengthening people-to-people relations. Many scholars in conflict management believe that peacebuilding works best when members of the two parties interact and communities torn apart by war are empowered.
As both countries claimed, if the emphasis during the peacemaking process is on the renewal and reconstruction of society, then the mechanisms and institutions that are put in place to oversee this process need an emphasis on the healing of the communities most affected by the war.
As scholars such as Oliver Ramsbotham have explained, official high-level diplomacy tends to focus on promoting dialogue between the leaders of the countries, based on the assumption that these are the legitimate representatives of the people.
This would indeed be an erroneous assumption. Ultimately peace processes must also include local populations to be effectively grounded in their realities and be able to address grievances. Incorporating the insights and best practices of the local people will help create a hybrid peace process and improve its efficacy.
But even though such a process may be more inclusive, it tends to be slow in bringing about an agreement as each stage has to proceed through consensus-building.
Of course, the process has to go beyond that. It is an issue that has to be settled and negotiated between the federal governments of the two countries. It is the mandate of the Prime Minister to assign competent people who can safeguard the country’s economic, cultural, and historical riches.
But integrating the locals in the peace agreement process will help rebuild mutual coexistence in the area, promote public participation and enhance inclusive decision making.
The ultimate goal has to be restoring broken relationships and learning to live harmoniously despite sweeping differences. The reconciliation process has to rebuild and maintain social trust and social cohesion with a view to preventing a culture of retribution from developing and escalating between individuals, families and society as a whole.
Both Governments have to strengthen the people to people relationship and consequently work on the peace process by considering basic criteria that have been highlighted by John Darby and Roger MacGinty in their book, “The Management of Peace Processes.”
Both countries have to negotiate in good faith and not stall with pre-conditions and non-negotiable demands, and the key players should be included in the process, which necessitates mutual “recognition” by the adversaries.
There also has to be an understanding that the central issues in the conflict are addressed – both the core and the derivative ones. The players have to also refrain from using force or forms of sabotage to achieve their agendas or use a ceasefire merely for rearming and repositioning their forces.
The commitment of both countries to be committed to a sustained process, not just exploratory talks, is similarly crucial.
The hard task for the Ethiopian government to implement the peace process may be a political atmosphere of identity politics that lends itself to regressive relations between nations.
“Relations are burdened with collective myths, fears, and hostile emotions. Embedded in culture and socialization, their histories highlight past conflicts and threats from other groups. Even during periods of peaceful cooperation, incidents can spark hostilities that escalate rapidly to destructive conflicts,” said Anthony Oberschall in “Conflict and Peace Building in Divided Societies: Responses to Ethnic Violence.”
There is always an obstacle in any peacemaking process. Nonetheless, Ethiopia and Eritrea have to push through until a point where the people of both countries can freely move across the borders. It is not advisable that external stakeholders as in other conflict-ridden regions should assume peace-building responsibilities.
Both countries have to work by themselves to make sure that the peace is sustainable. This can be best realised through the strengthening of people to people relationships and the empowerment of communities torn apart by the conflict.
An old Chinese quote illustrates this best, “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves’.”
Furthermore, the two countries have to work together and fight the image of stereotypical Africa, represented by bloody armed conflicts, continued political instability, unrelenting economic crises, famine, disease and poverty. The new Political paradigm of reconciliation without mediation will be one of the remedial factors to show the world the hope inspiring side of the continent.
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