Tender touch for Africa’s troubles

The civil war that engulfed a region of Ethiopia over the past two years and threatened wider instability in the Horn of Africa resulted in an estimated 1 million deaths. Its toll has sharpened an appreciation for better leadership on the continent and may shape the dialogue at a coming U.S.-African summit in December.

An example of such leadership was seen in the peace accord signed in early November by the Ethiopian government and rebel forces in the state of Tigray. The accord turned on a rare concession by the Tigrayans. Neither side had an outright military advantage, said Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, in a Lawfare podcast. But the Tigrayan leadership “decided that the human price was too high a cost to pay, so they would not continue the war and instead sue for peace,” he said.

The Tigrayans sparked the war to defend their regional autonomy under Ethiopia’s federal system that tries to balance competing ethnicities. Their decision to accept a peace accord, one that tilts in favor of the government, may end one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. It also reflects a growing norm in Africa to put the greater good above the interests of individual leaders or a dominant party. Over the past quarter century, Africa has made some notable democratic gains. Elections are more transparent. Opposition parties are more competitive. South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, is now in jail for refusing to testify in a corruption inquiry. 

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