Ethiopia-Eritrea peace: The ball is in President Isaias
(Zenebu Ayele, Sep 2013)
few weeks ago, the Eritrean Pesident Isaias Afeworki gave an interview to the
state television. As usual, it was very long and constitutes unrealisting
propaganda and hectoring that anything else. However, he managed to drop some
vague lines that caught the attention of many.
Awate.com summarised it as follows:
Afeworki's sudden shift of tone towards Ethiopia, the references that he made
concerning some signed “contract” to develop the port of Assab, the complete
silence regarding the border demarcation, the reference to Ethiopian government
as “goblel” roughly meaning big guy, as opposed to what he used to call them,
“kedemti” meaning housemaids, and many other cues have led to wild speculations
that the regime is [or has] already taken steps to mend relations.
Afeworki argued the seriousness of the power shortages that Eritrea is faced
with, and spoke positively regarding the prospects of Ethiopia’s proposal to
generate electricity to meet its own needs and export to regional
is not clear yet whether Isaias Afeworki is serious or not. It is not unsual
for the President to make unrealistic and fanciful remarks. Is the recent
interview an indication of his interst in peace or is it intended for mere
media and diplomatic comsumption.
Isaias Afeworki considers gives primacy to a lasting peace or short-term
manuevers, the international community should not overlook Ethiopia's unwavering
committment to "a healthy relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea would
bring about mutual benefits for the peoples of both countries.”
look at the relationships between the two governments and the ruling parties
attests that fact.
Ethiopian ruling party, EPRDF, had all along advanced a policy free of
adventurism and sentiment, even before seizing governmental power and when the
Eritreans were fighting for the central government in Addis Ababa.
its misgivings about the leadership and organizational quality of the then
insurgent group (now Eritrean ruling party) PFDJ, the EPRDF took a rational
decision to endorse the Eritrean right for self-determination.
EPRDF understood the lives of the two people can not be improved with an endless
war driven by adventurism and sentimentalism. Therefore, the right course was
to let the Eritrean people determine their destiny and work together whatever
the outcome of the referendum.
PFDJ captured Asmara and declared independence before EPRDF entered Addis
Ababa, the EPRDF didn’t change its sober approach even after forming a
multi-party Transitional government, where the remnants of old-fashioned
politics were actively pushing against Eritrea’s succession.
didn’t rush to recognize Eritrea’s premature announcement of independence nor
did it adopted the militaristic adventurism suggested at home. It persisted on
its position that the Eritrean people should determine their future through a
independence and the formation of the state of Eritrea, the EPRDF continued
working towards a brotherly relationship taking into account the benefits of
building on the historic ties and common interests of the two peoples. While
the same has been done with regard to other neighbors, it went a step further
calls for antagonistic and punitive measures against Eritrea, the Ethiopian
government insisted the long-term interests of Ethiopia will not be advanced by
enforcing drastic changes towards the new state Eritrea.
time for the newest and poorest state of Africa to structure its economy and
trade relations was necessary at it will always remain a neighbour, even
possibly develop a confederate relation, with Ethiopia.
the Eritrean ruling party couldn’t develop a sober policy for its domestic and
foreign relations. Even if it seized governmental power and became able to
benefit from the consultations of foreign and local scholars, international
institutions and had the time to think calmly, it couldn’t escape its
militaristic approach to every issue.
refused to respect the political rights of Eritreans at home and started
military conflicts with each of its neighbors one by one in only a decade
Eritrea regime didn’t see me to realize the 30 years of war with the government
in Addis Ababa had ended in 1991 and it was time to craft a new relationship
based on discussion, mutualism and cooperation.
the opposite, it insisted on maintaining a predatory approach believing there
is no expiry date on the grace period Ethiopia has granted it. Asmara focused
on taking advantage of the good will gesture of Ethiopia rather than seeing the
long-term interests of both people.
short-sightedness of Eritrea’s officials was demonstrated in their hopes to
develop their economy by extracting unfair advantages from Ethiopia. An
unsustainable approach, even if Ethiopia was to allow them.
though Ethiopia noticed the predatory and short-sighted calculations of
Eritrea’s government, which was witnessed by Asmara’s activity from Sudan to
D.R. Congo, it continued with its original decision to sort out their bilateral
relations step by step.
initiated Joint Ministerial Commissions on several political, economic,
security and cultural issues, so that their relationship will be developed into
separate but highly cooperative nature.
as the Eritrea side dragged its foots on implementing the basic and agreed
matters, Ethiopia went to enforce customs check-points in border areas, curbing
money laundering activities by agents of the Eritrea government, halting its
purchase of her overpriced outputs the old refinery of Eritrea.
the Eritrea officials didn’t get the message. Instead of aligning to the
reality that Ethiopia is a separate state with its own interests and they
cannot endlessly rely on her resources, they started complaining that the
construction of a couple of factories south of their border, in Ethiopia, was
some sort of conspiracy against them, since Eritrea got factories of similar
clear wish was to be the exporter of manufactured goods towards Ethiopia.
Though they have few old factories which could only sustain a fraction of their
labor force and national income, while Ethiopia is a big market able to absorb
Eritrean products if produced in good quality and price, no matter what new
factories built at home.
they miraculously assumed they are better off antagonizing Ethiopia by such
worse, they continued on money laundering, attempting to establish a proxy
commercial bank in Ethiopia and printed a new currency without concluding the
joint discussions on how manage currency change related issues.
had no option except to secretly move to unilaterally print a new currency and
put it in use in a few weeks time.
answer from the Eritrean dictator was to launch a war in the pretext of border
dispute, despite the advice of some of his officials that it was a disastrous
after the aggression, Ethiopia had no interest on military adventurism,
therefore didn’t hesitate to accept the America-Rwana peace proposal to restore
the status quo and resolve issues through legal and diplomatic means. After
all, it is not sensible to try have border conflicts in the 20th century when
such issues eventually go to Court or arbitration tribunal.
the Eritrea government refused the proposal as its real interst was not a
border issue. He can not raise his parasitic demands in any negotiation except
to be a laugh stock. Therefore, he insisted on his aggression on several fronts
alongside Ethiopian border, hoping that Ethiopia will eventually become
distablized internally and bend to its wishes of economic demands.
giving months chance for diplomatic efforts, Ethiopia had no option except to
restore her sovereignty through military power.
after the Eritrea army suffered a humiliating deaf and Ethiopia’s forces
entered deep into Eritrea territory, Ethiopia’s determination to quickly settle
the matter and return to her war on poverty remained unwavering.
restored her sovereignty, Ethiopia only demanded that Eritrea demilitarize 25
killometer deep from the border and be patrolled by international peacekeeping
troops until all outstanding matters are resolved. A humiliating treaty Asmara
signed in Algiers, as it had no alternative.
Eritrea’s government violated the agreement for cessation of hostilities by
arming terror groups in Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere, and even though it
increasingly interrupted the patrol by peace keeping troops, Ethiopia chose not
to escalate the matter and not be diverted from the economic development path
which is now astonishing the world.
when the peacekeeping forces withdrew being unable to operate and even if the
border commission delivered an erroneous decision that would only create a
recurrent time-bomb by dividing small towns and even homes into two, Ethiopia’s
response didn’t digress from its long-standing determination for a peaceful
calls for adventurism from some sections, by November 2004 the Ethiopian
government clearly affirmed its willingness to abide by the border decision. It
underlined the need to negotiate on all outstanding matters, so that the matter
would be resolved once and for all.
the Eritrean government was once again in another vicious circle of
short-sighted policy of adventurism and rent-seeking. It simply continued on
its adventurism by shifting to a policy of arming rebel and terror groups
throughout the region.
of changing course towards a productive economic path, the Eritrean
dictatorship chose to instill fear on its population by claiming an impending
started enlisting almost all high school graduates in the guise of national
service, which is virtually endless and where the youth end-up providing free
or underpaid labor service for companies owned by the Eritrea ruling party and
host of intimidation, coercion and deception tools were deployed to force the
Eritrean abroad raise funds, in addition to the 2% tax and deductibles from
remittance, for the national budget which has never been officially disclosed
in more than a decade.
even started serving as conduit for finance and weapons destined to terror
groups in the region, acquiring some revenue from the transaction.
suggested that Eritrea’s destructive behaviors would be changed if Ethiopia
gives her a piece of land around the border.
it was a naïve idea that didn’t consider the track record of Asmara and its
officials’ inability to think outside the box of adventurism and predatory
Asmara government demonstrated its scale of irresponsibility by sending troops
in support of terror groupings in Somalia and then by masterminding a plot to
bomb the meeting of African Union in Addis Ababa. Two main acts, among others,
that affirmed Eritrea’s pariah status and brought two rounds of sanctions by
the UN Security Council, condemnations by regional bodies and the international
community at large.
the Eritrean government continued to make comical claims of international
conspiracy and impending aggression, so that it could maintain a state of war
and have an excuse to ignore persistent calls from its citizens for bread,
basic rights and constitutionalism.
Ethiopia, in line with her commitment for peace kept on the table the offer for
an unconditional comprehensive peace talks. Though it had been forced to
undertake a couple of surgical operations to dismantle terrorist training
centers near its border, as part of her policy to proportionally respond to
acts of provocation. The necessity of the measures was well-understood by the
firm belief in long-term peaceful co-existence was not limited to mere offers
for unconditional peace talks with Asmara.
has taken several unilateral measures out of humanitarianism and considering
the worth of building people-to-people relations.
of Eritrean youth crossing the border everyday are received warmly in refugee
camps monitored by international aid agencies.
government ensured the refugees’ dignity was respected and access to basic
services. Ethiopia went even as far as to grant them access to her Higher
Educational Institutions and allowed them to live outside their refugee area,
provided they find a host.
root cause of all these and several more efforts for peace is rooted in none
but Ethiopia’s understanding that the need to build the good relation of the
two peoples who will live side by side for the foreseeable future.
latest evidence of that committment ceme during Prime Minister Hailemariam
Desalegne interview with Al-Jazeera a few weeks ago where he offered to
negotiate without pre-conditions and even travel to the Eritrean capital for
remark was in line with the Ethiopia’s position that the relation with
neighboring countries “should be free of different sentiments and proceed from
a sober analysis of the situation, keeping in constant view of [Ethiopia’s]
development and democracy agenda”.
unwavering commitmment to peace and good neighborlihood is a position clearly
stated in her Foreign Policy. The 2002 policy document underlined:
contribution the Eritrean market makes to our economy is negligible, at least
in the immediate and foreseeable future. The same is true as regards investment
and finance. Eritrean ports are, however, more convenient ports for us,
especially to the northern and central parts of the country, than other ports.
also believe that the significant electric power potential we have can be a
better and cheaper alternative for Eritrea which has scarce power resources.
Our wider market opportunity is more to the economic advantage of Eritrea than
their limited market is to Ethiopia.
all these considerations, a healthy relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea
would bring about mutual benefits for the peoples of both
hope that President Isaias for once takes the path of peace with genuine
interst and seriousness. After all, the ball is still in his court, as it has
been for more than a decade.