Spotlight: Guiding Ethiopian peace policy initiatives

ISS is working with the Ethiopian government on efforts to reconcile national differences and build long-term peace.

Ethiopia has a history of domestic conflict and faces violent threats in many regions, including inter-ethnic struggles in the south and government fighting rebel groups. But initiatives are underway to secure political cooperation and progress towards sustainable peace, particularly since the November 2022 accords brokered by the African Union to end the conflict with forces from the Tigray region.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) office in Addis Ababa works with government bodies including the ministries of peace and justice, the prime minister’s office, National Dialogue Commission and National Electoral Board. ISS analysts helped the Ministry of Peace to research and develop policy documents on the country’s national identity, values, security and interests, and invited experts to review and provide insights on the draft policies.

Asma Redi, Director General of Nation Building at the Ministry of Peace, described these engagements with the ISS as historic. ‘If we succeed in turning these documents into a policy, it will be one of the ministry’s biggest achievements. We requested your partnership at such a high level, and with such politically sensitive documents, because we trust you.’

The ISS’ ability to include all perspectives in its policy guidance is essential to the institute’s credibility with Ethiopia’s government and politicians, and to building the trust needed to work on sensitive peace plans. ISS researchers have a reputation for independence, diversity and objectivity, with many establishing their profile as scholars and analysts before joining the organisation.

ISS’ inclusion of all perspectives in its guidance is key to building trust for work on sensitive peace plans

Drawing on African and international experience, ISS researchers looked at what Ethiopia could learn from other countries which are divided or facing conflict, including Nigeria, Malaysia, India, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Africa and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

They selected comparative cases on criteria relevant to Ethiopia, including social divisions and cases where no ethnic group makes up more than 50% of the population. Other criteria were economic circumstances, a contested history and disagreements over the shared legacies needed to build a national identity.

‘Our insights into national identity, national values and national interests enabled the Ethiopian government to learn from other countries’ successes and failures as they develop their own policies for reconciliation and peace,’ said Semir Yusuf, ISS Senior Researcher and Project Manager in the Horn of Africa Security Analysis programme. ‘This helped policy makers make informed decisions.’

In March 2023, at an event hosted by the ISS in partnership with the Open Society Foundation, representatives of the Ethiopian government, political parties, civil society, diplomats, academics, media and regional observers were briefed on Ethiopia’s peace and security policy options.

Years of ISS work on national dialogue has attracted the attention of Ethiopian decision makers, who asked the institute to review the draft proclamation establishing the National Dialogue Commission. The commission then invited an ISS senior researcher to join its national dialogue advisory council.

A consortium of Ethiopian political parties unanimously selected Yusuf as one of five experts to facilitate an inter-party dialogue; and the Ethiopian National Electoral Board asked him to present a paper in December 2023 on the controversial topic of nation building.

 At the request of Ethiopia’s justice ministry, the ISS researched the role of customary dispute resolution mechanisms in transitional justice. A ministry working group will incorporate the findings into its new transitional justice policy framework. The ISS has also co-hosted a workshop on transitional justice initiatives with the Ethiopian Civil Societies Council.

The ISS trained senior officials on intergovernmental relations, and supported the launch of the first annual inter-governmental forum to discuss relations between government institutions, and facilitate the smooth operation of the federal system.

ISS training was also delivered on early warning and rapid response. Delegates from the Ministry of Peace, House of Federation, Ethiopian Civil Societies Council, federal police and regional security bureaus agreed during the training to form an inter-party initiative to establish a viable early warning and rapid response system in Ethiopia.

The ISS organised a policy dialogue on the sensitive issue of interaction between religious groups, and between the government and religious groups. The Ministry of Peace and leaders from all religious denominations agreed on the need for a new secular framework for Ethiopia.

For more information, contact:

Semir Yusuf, ISS: [email protected]

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