Eritrea and Ethiopia War Closure.
In This Review
On the 21st of July, Eritrea appointed an ambassador to Ethiopia -the first time in the last 20 years.
This is the latest step in a string of dramatic developments that suggest a new peaceful relationship between these two nations which have spent the last two decades engulfed in war.
It’s occurring at breakneck speed.
Ethiopia’s new, young premier, Abiy Ahmed, has been the main player in resolving the tension between neighboring nations. He made the announcement in June that declared that Ethiopia would not be averse to a controversial border decision as to the source of the conflict. In early July, he traveled to Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, and met the Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki. The two were embraced at the airport’s tarmac and then released a joint statement that declared that the war was over in peace and “a new era of peace and friendship has been opened.”
Ethiopians and Eritreans rejoiced at the announcement that one of the longest-running conflicts in Africa was over. It was reported that the United Nations hailed the move as a “new wind of hope” in Africa.
“It’s long, long, long overdue,” Bronwyn Bruton who is deputy Africa director at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, DC, told me. “But the speed at the war is coming to an end — it’s shocking. It’s shocking.”
The peace accord is excellent news in the region. Omar S. Mahmood, an expert in the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, said that the settlement of the conflict between two nations “goes a long way to resolving one of the major conflict fault lines within the Horn of Africa.”
This is a quick outline of the current conflict and the peace agreement, and what you can expect going ahead.
Ethiopia as well as Eritrea were caught in a war that lasted 20 years. The war ended.
The current war between the two Horn of Africa countries has its origins in a war that occurred earlier. Ethiopia was annexed by Eritrea during the 60s triggering the country into a long-running conflict lasting for 30 years. Eritrea held an election in 1993 where the majority of voters voted for independence which led to the two countries officially breaking up. The split was friendly according to the majority of accounts.
However, things changed after that.
The month of May 1998 saw both nations claim the border town known as Badme. It wasn’t a major city or strategically important as it didn’t have any crucial resources and this caused some to refer to the battle by describing it as “two bald men fighting over a comb.”
However, the border dispute led to violence. Between 80,000-100,000 people died, while thousands were forced to flee. Ethiopia and Eritrea reached a peace accord in 2000. They also established an official border commission to settle the conflict.
In 2002, however, when the commission granted Badme to Eritrea, Ethiopia balked and requested further talks. Eritrea did not want to talk until it first received Badme. The two countries were at a standstill with occasional outbreaks of violence on the border for nearly two decades.
At the time Eritrea’s president made use of the simmering conflict to establish compulsory and indefinite military conscription. He also ruled the country’s government that was so shut and oppressive that Eritrea has been compared with rebel states such as North Korea.
“In September 2001, the federal government shut down all independent publications and detained their editors and top journalists. No one was taken to trial,” Human Rights Watch said. In 2017, “They remain in solitary detention. There are credible reports that approximately half of them lost their lives.”
Anyone who is suspected of seeking to stay out of military service is often taken into custody, tortured, and detained for a long time. For a long time, the armed forces stationed near the border had the “shoot to kill” policy that saw people executed for trying to escape the country right on the spot.
Despite numerous attempts to reach Eritrean representatives in Washington but no one replied by the time of publication. An Eritrean ex-pat I spoke with said that the reason might be fear: Even if you live 6,900 miles from the nearest city, the risk of being punished by Eritrean intelligence services for committing a crime Eritrean Intelligence services in case they say something that isn’t right could be a big concern.
In the past many hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have been forced to flee into Ethiopia, Europe, and other countries, contributing to the increasing influx of migrants. However, the tensions that exist in the region between Ethiopia and Eritrea did not seem to be decreasing.
In June, everything changed.
Ethiopia’s new premier is reversing the status of the norm.
Although many people in Eritrea are hesitant to criticize their rulers, along the border into Ethiopia there is a rout of unrest among the population in recent times.
Thousands of people have taken part in massive protests in support of greater political freedom and economic reforms as well as increased democratic power distribution.
The country was actually controlled by a coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) however, the bulk control was by an elite group that was formerly liberation soldiers known as the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) who was the head of the security forces of the state as well as represented the rights of a tiny ethnic minority.
The power-hungry gang ruled the country for nearly three decades and many common Ethiopians were dissatisfied with the excessive levels of corruption in the government and the oppressive laws.
In the wake of the massive protests and tensions in the country, prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn stepped down in February. Abiy, a recent arrival from a different ethnic group known as the Oromo took over the presidency in April. at 41, Abiy is among the most youthful chiefs of Africa as well as being called Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.
He’s also enacted some head-spinning reforms.
In just a couple of weeks, “Abiy has released thousands of political prisoners, restored access to websites that had been previously blocked, lifted the terrorism listing for several opposition groups, committed to reform of repressive laws, and admitted that torture has occurred in the country,” Human Rights Watch’s director of operations in Africa, Maria Burnett, informed me via email.
He’s also been pushing to make peace with neighboring Eritrea. Then, in June Abiy stated that Ethiopia will respect the border commission’s ruling of 2000 and the process was swiftly moved from there. Both countries are in the process of creating trade ties and expanding ports. Ethiopians and Eritreans are now able to call one another directly, and direct flights of passengers have been resumed between the two countries.
Eritrea is also announcing it will be removing troops from its frontier for the first time in a long time although Ethiopia is yet to do the same.
The tone of the debate has changed from war words to words of love. “There is no longer a border between Eritrea and Ethiopia because a bridge of love has destroyed it,” Abiy said to The New York Times earlier this month.
However, not everything can be attributed to Abiy or Eritrea’s President Afwerki who led an official peace delegation to Ethiopia towards the close of the month. Other countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have been quietly advocating for peace for a long time. The UAE has contracted to lease a major port to Eritrea and has obvious commercial desires to see trade reestablished between the two nations, Bruton said.
The US could have played a role in this as well. Donald Yamamoto, the Trump administration’s top diplomat for Africa visited Eritrea as well as Ethiopia in April. triggering the idea that a peace treaty was in the making.
At the end of the day, however, Bruton stated to me that “this is an African-led peace.” It’s bound to affect adjacent countries in the region.
What do we do now?
Apart from the clear impacts of the conflict on Ethiopians and Eritreans This fragile peace could also aid in the resolution of other conflicts that are occurring in the nearby countries.
In the time of war when they were at war, both Ethiopia and Eritrea supported militias to battle each with each other in proxy wars that occurred as far as Somalia according to Mahmood the researcher from Addis Ababa.
Eritrea has border dispute and border disputes with Sudan and Djibouti too however since Ethiopia enjoys good relations with both of them it has a greater likelihood of settling the thorny issues. Now since Ethiopia and Eritrea don’t compete directly and the security of Eritrea’s Horn of Africa, Mahmood believes, “should improve.”
It’s unclear how these bilateral relations between the two countries and the US are going to change after Abiy is at the helm and is settling with the former enemies.
The US has for a long time viewed Ethiopia as a key partner in the fight against terror and has provided Ethiopia by providing aid and military support. Eritrea however is frequently slandered by the US and has been viewed as a victim of other nations, Bruton told me.
However, now that the two countries have come to an agreement, Abiy won’t want to be perceived as one of the American puppets. “We’re going to be in this situation where Eritrea and Ethiopia are now working together, and I think what you’ll see is that American influence is going to be greatly diminished,” Bruton stated.
Regardless of all the indicators that suggest that both countries are moving in a new direction, Ethiopia has yet to complete a crucial aspect of the agreement which is to withdraw its troops from the militarized border.
This is the next step in the process. If both countries wish to sustain the momentum, experts say, it’s going to take place soon.