The Ethiopian government and the leadership of the north Tigray region on Wednesday, 2 November, inked a deal to permanently end a two-year-long civil war, which has killed lakhs of people and displaced millions since its inception.
Both sides, apart from using massive force against each other, had been accused by several rights bodies of perpetrating human rights abuses - including using starvation as a weapon of war.
What Does the Agreement Say?
A draft text of the agreement, signed in South Africa and accessed by the AP, says that the Tigray rebels will initiate disarmament, starting with "light weapons," within 30 days. Also, the Ethiopian government will take control of all federal facilities and essential infrastructure, such as highways and airports, in the Tigray region.
Further, Ethiopia will restore basic facilities in Tigray, where communications, banking, transport, and internet services had been disrupted for around 50 lakh residents since the fighting began in 2020.
The agreement also states that Ethiopia and Tigray will stop "collusion with any external forces hostile to either party" and that the former will lift its designation of the TPLF as a terrorist organisation.
The surprise deal came just a day ahead of the second anniversary of the brutal war, that had begun on 3 November, 2020.
"We have agreed to permanently silence the guns and end the two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia," a joint statement by the two sides read.
After the deal was signed, PM Ahmed said in a statement, "The agreement signed today in South Africa is monumental in moving Ethiopia forward on the path of the reforms we embarked upon four and half years ago."
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres hailed the agreement as a "welcome first step" which can "bring some solace to the millions of Ethiopian civilians that have really suffered during this conflict."
All Is Not Well Yet: What Are the Challenges Ahead?
However, despite the inking of the landmark peace deal, Ethiopia and Tigray are not yet in the clear.
The greatest challenge now is to implement the agreement in the region, which has multiple actors who were not a part of the peace talks and can act as "spoilers" by fueling the conflict.
"The devil will be in the implementation," said former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is said to have helped in facilitating the conversation between the rival sides.
Neighbouring Eritrea, which has traditionally considered the Tigray rebels as a threat and fought with Ethiopia to repel them, was not a party to the talks. Hence, there is no guarantee that the country will accept the agreement.
Armed forces from Ethiopia's neighbouring Amhara, which have also been fighting Tigray rebels, were not a part of the peace talks either.
"Amharas cannot be expected to abide by any outcome of a negotiations process from which they think they are excluded," chairman of the Amhara Association of America Tewodrose Tirfe said, as per AP.
In a veiled reference to Eritrea and the armed Amhara groups, South African's Kenyatta said that unnamed "destructive" actors "from without or without" could disrupt the deal.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, representing the African Union, also cautioned that the agreement was not the end of the peace process, "but the beginning of it", The New York Times reported.
Another factor that casts a doubt over the sustainability of the agreement is that it is not the first one to have been signed. The last deal between the rebels and the government had been breached in August, just months after it was agreed to.
Desperate Need for Aid
One of the most dire challenges is the lack of global aid to the Tigray region over the last two years due to the raging conflict.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 90 percent of the people in north Tigray desperately need food aid. One-third of the children in the region have also been suffering from malnutrition.
Further, several hospitals have reported a massive shortage of essential medicines, leading to a large number of people dying due to easily preventable illnesses and starvation.
A large number of doctors have had to resort to the use of rags and saline solutions to dress wounds.
A Brutal War
The roots of the war go back to 1991, when the TPLF had come to power in Ethiopia after it was victorious in its rebellion against the Derg - a totalitarian militia which had ruled the country since 1974.
After coming to power, the TPLF and its allies went on to rule Ethiopia for more than 25 years, reportedly with brutal repression, human rights abuses, and crackdowns on dissent.
The group was finally booted out in 2018 by Ahmed and his Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, now called the 'Prosperity Party', amid widespread demands for change in the cash-strapped country.
Ahmed spent a large part of his tenure sidelining the TPLF, including removing their officials from important government positions.
Further, his efforts to tide over a 20-year-long border crisis with the TPLF's traditional rival, Eritrea - which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize - irked the rebel group further, and they refused to accept an end to the conflict.
After a period of an uneasy calm, fighting between Ethiopia and the Tigray rebels erupted in November 2020, less than a year after Ahmed's Nobel win.
Last year, Ahmed had declared a state of emergency, and bestowed his country's security forces with unfettered powers to crack down on the TPLF. He also established a transitional government that would choose new leaders in Tigray.
The fighting had led to the deaths of thousands and the displacement of more than 2.4 million people. A large number of people were also subject to human rights atrocities, including gang rapes, extrajudicial killings, and torture.
Shocking testimonies from people in Tigray revealed the extent to which Tigrayan women were being raped by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
"Rape is starting at the age of 8 and to the age of 72. Many, many have been raped and this rape is in public, in front of family, husbands, in front of everyone", a woman was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had also said in August that the situation in Tigray was was worse than any other humanitarian crisis in the world, including Ukraine.
(With inputs from AP, The New York Times, and The Guardian.)