Ethio-Eritrean New Relationship

Published on 10th July 2018

I congratulate our prime minister, Dr. Abiy, for his courageous action to break the deadlock between Ethiopia and Eritrea. I am sure the ordinary people of both countries are happier than the elites of both countries. I am cautiously optimistic that the action taken by our prime minster may bring the intended peace. At the same time, I am pessimistic that the anticipated peace process may not last.

Agreements reached between elites or government officials may not necessarily  bring sustainable peace among the ordinary people. A case in point is what happened between the late prime minister Meles and Isayas. We should not repeat the same mistake by rushing to conclude that the historic meeting between Dr. Abiy and Isayas is final and has solved the complex problems existing between these two countries. Much needs to be done to cure the past wounds, and this must be followed by people to people relationship in the two countries.

The conflict with Eritrea must be resolved in peaceful manner. Let’s forget what harm was done by Shabia for the last 50 years to secede from Ethiopia. Looking at the bright future is more beneficial than living with past tormenting memories. The peace deal should be handled carefully to bring sustainable peace for both people.

There were many opportunities to reach a deal in the advantage of Ethiopia with Eritrea before Dr. Abiy came to power, but the previous government officials in particular TPLF terribly missed this opportunity. The only chance left for TPLF is to adjust itself and try to contribute its share in the peace-making process. TPLF should  change to fit with Dr. Abiy’s new ideas.

The “border” issue would have been completed through military victory when Mr. Meles Zenawi was in power, and when Eritrean military establishments were totally destroyed by our gallant military forces. The opportunities were lost then! Therefore, the only option what is left now is  to reach a “comprehensive “deal with Isayas’ regime to bring sustainable peace between these two countries.

As Ethiopians, we have legal rights to safeguard our interests when dealing with the  Eritrean regime. First, we should understand firmly that the war was started by Isayas, and the root cause of the war was not the border issue but  economic and other related issues. The Eritrean side may continue to push border demarcation as a priority issue for the discussions, to get popularity among Eritreans. Negotiation should thus emphasize on core issues that provoked Isayas to start the war of aggression against Ethiopia. Isayas may take desperate measures to divide us more and alienate TPLF from EPRDF.

We must present persuasive historical facts and convincing evidences to the negotiation table to bring lasting peace for the benefit of both people. For this reason, the Ethiopian side should choose peoples who have multi-dimensional knowledge, detailed oriented individuals who have deep knowledge about the past and present Ethiopia regardless of their political affiliations.

The socio-economic and political activities in Ethiopia are dynamic, but stagnant in Eritrea. What the Ethiopian government side should know is that (I am not sure to what extent they changed now) the delegation from Eritrea are from the notorious generation of the 60’s and 70’s. It is hard to change their stand through civilized discussion. They may try to mingle in the internal affairs of Ethiopia to create more division within the EPRDF. They may pretend to be victims of what they call “Woyane aggression and outside actors in particular United States of America conspiracy” to distract from the main negotiation issues. Therefore, the discussion should be focused. 

What should be clear here is that both the Hague and the African Union have confirmed that it was the Eritrean government that started the war of aggression against Ethiopia. Therefore, the Ethiopian government should deal with Isayas regime with a mixture of caution and optimism.

The other issue which needs to be raised is that the Hague boundary commission agreement was violated not only by Isayas but also by the Hauge commission itself. First Isayas evicted the peace keepers from the 25-kilometer buffer zone, and second, according to the Hague boundary commission agreements, the border issue will be declared completed only after the physical demarcation of the border and installation of pillars through comprehensive negotiations between the two parties. Therefore, it is not final and binding as both Shabia and the Hague boundary commission are claiming. Delivery of the delimitation map for both countries in a careless manner should not be considered as final legal document. Delimitation, demarcation and installing of pillars are three separate issues which need time, space, experts, and money.

No matter how Ethiopians wish to improve the relationship with Eritrean people, the elites in Asmara may not wish to settle the problem. Shabia is a centralized one-man cult, cruelly ruling the Eritrean people with no constitution, rules of law. As a result of this, Eritrea has lost two of its generations. Shabia has absolute domination in all socio-economic and political activities of Eritrea. To avoid past mistakes, any deal should not be a secret to both people of Ethiopia and Eritrea. If the two leaders truly want to bring sustainable peace in the region, any deal should be people-centered, through participatory approaches. This approach is internationally acceptable and it is a human right issue as well.

There are two important factors which can determine the fate of the Ethio-Eritrean peace deal. One, regardless of our differences, if we manage to keep the unity of our country, we certainly can achieve a meaningful result from the negotiation with Eritrea. On the contrary if we are divided as before and use Shabia as a proxy to solve our internal political problems, Shabia will get the upper hand in the ongoing peace process, and no one will stop the conflict and civil strife that will happen in Ethiopia. We should not allow our adversaries to take advantage of our weakness. 

Two, it is my hope that the new Ethiopian administration will not ignore the plight of Ethiopians in particular the people who live at the border with Eritrea. Similarly, the Eritrean side will work for the benefit of both people. Demarcation of the border should not be considered to be more important than human beings. I urge all people from both sides, Ethiopians and Eritreans, not to be emotional as the elites of both countries may be. It is the people of the border who will enjoy if peace prevails or continue suffering if the peace process fails. 

I wish success to the ongoing peace process, and long live the friendships between the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea!

By W. Yilma

Courtesy, Aiga Forum.

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