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How Could a Lasting Peace Between Ethiopia and Eritrea Be Achieved?
BY SALIH NUR
Source: Think Africa Press
After more than a decade of low-level hostilities and sour relations, there are signs Eritrea and Ethiopia could be ready to talk again.
It has been over a decade since talks regarding the demarcation of Eritrea-Ethiopia border stalled, and relations between the two long-standing nemeses deteriorated into an effective cold war.
Although the Eritrea-Ethiopia war officially ended with signing of the Algiers Agreement in 2000, relations are still marked by recrimination, sabre-rattling, and efforts at mutual destabilisation.
Although each claims to be against another war, the risk of escalation remains high along their heavily-militarised border. Both sides continue to undermine each other's stability, from allegedly supporting armed opposition groups to waging a proxy war in Somalia.
At the heart of this crisis is the ruling by the Boundary Commission which was established under the Algiers Agreement, a peace treaty marking the end of two years of hostilities.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was tasked with defining the contested border, and both sides agreed to accept its decision.
However, having initially welcomed the ruling in April 2002, Ethiopia reversed its position a few months later, displeased that Badme, the flashpoint of the war, had been awarded to Eritrea. Eritrea refused to agree to a new commission and negotiations came to a standstill. Tensions remained high and relations remained sour.
Since then, Ethiopia's position has softened slightly from its claim that the border judgment was "unjust and illegal"; in 2005, for example, Ethiopia's foreign minister wrote a letter to the UN Security Council in which he repeated Ethiopia's earlier acceptance of the decision "in principle" and added that this "does not mean going back to the drawing board".
Eritrea meanwhile has continued to insist that dialogue cannot recommence until Ethiopia unconditionally accepts the border ruling.
This environment of mistrust and stagnation has defined the status quo for the last decade, with prospects of genuine peace seeming far away. Recently, however, there have been hopeful signs that this could be slowly changing with each side expressing greater readiness for talks.
If negotiations do restart, how could a lasting peace between these arch-enemies be achieved?
The flawed Algiers peace process
The first step in answering this question is to examine why the Algiers Agreement failed. On the one hand, there is some truth to the argument that neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea had any real interest in the process to begin with.
But at the same time, there was also a multitude of real and complex issues which hindered any possible reconciliation.
First, the Algiers process foundered because it failed to address the root causes of the war.
The conflict arose due to myriad historical, political and economic issues, but the peace process treated the conflict as a mere border dispute. By focusing on just the immediate cause of the war, it eschewed the deep political and economic controversies central to the war. This undermined chances of a durable solution from the outset.
Second, this narrow approach was exacerbated by a flawed arbitration process which focussed in on legal matters rather than political disagreements.
Legal methods are inherently conservative and inflexible, and the clause of Algiers Agreement which said the boundary decision would be "final and binding" left no leeway for cooperation - instead, it propelled both parties into a zero-sum game.
The arbitration process was also weakened by contradictory rulings by different bodies.
Initially, mediation initiatives concurred with Ethiopia's stance that Eritrea had crossed the international boundary and should withdraw, but the Boundary Commission's ruling, which awarded Badme to Eritrea, suggested Eritrea had not advanced beyond its borders.
This was again complicated by the later ruling by the Claim's Commission that found Eritrea responsible for igniting the war.
What are the prospects for peace?
Recently, there seem to have been improved prospects for peaceful resolution. The death in August 2012 of Ethiopia's long-time leader Meles Zenawi - whose personal rivalry with Eritrea's president Isaias Afewerki stoked hostilities - has raised hopes of a return to the negotiating table.
After taking office, Meles' successor, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, expressed a willingness to travel to Eritrea to talk with Afewerki without preconditions. And in December, Afewerki reportedly requested mediation by Qatar, which previously brokered an agreement to resolve a border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti in June 2010.
Several other issues could also push both parties to end the low-level conflict. After the Algiers Agreement, both governments sought to settle unfinished scores.
In the protracted cold war, however, there was a clear winner and loser. Ethiopia managed to seize the status of regional hegemon, leave Eritrea diplomatically isolated, win the support of major powers such as the US, and get UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea.
Eritrea, meanwhile, suffered economically, lost the upper-hand in the legal border battle, and came to be seen as a pariah state, accused of sponsoring regional instability and terrorism.
The regime in Asmara is now in a struggle for its own survival. Its military capability is checked, external pressure remains high, its economic situation is dire, and there appears to be simmering domestic dissent as exhibited by several high-level defections and an army mutiny on 21 January, 2013.
This could suggest that Eritrea is more likely to agree to talks, but this is not necessarily the case and there are still many hurdles remaining. Firstly, there is baggage of the past, contrasting political and national interests, and the ongoing rivalry.
Secondly, Ethiopia's strong position could make it less willing to compromise. Thirdly, peace efforts may not even be in Afewerki's interests. Afewerki's regime has been subjecting Eritrea to political repression and economic hardships all in the name of defending against Ethiopian annexation.
Reconciliation with Ethiopia would undermine this strategy and confront the regime with an array of challenges such as demobilisation, a return to constitutionalism, and a move to democracy - all so far postponed given the alleged existential threats facing the country. For Afewerki, a 'no war no peace' status quo might well be preferable to a peace that could cost him his power.
How peace could be achieved?
Firstly, any initiative should uphold the terms and achievements of the Algiers agreement. Although its legal and political instruments have expired, the accord has not been abrogated. Eritrea in particular seems committed to the treaty and upholds its integrity. The agreement continues to provide a framework within which Ethiopia and Eritrea can settle their differences.
Secondly, any peace initiative should go beyond previous negotiations in seeking a comprehensive settlement of the root causes of the conflict - both economic and political.
One major contention is land-locked Ethiopia's claim of a "right of access to sea" either through incorporation of some Eritrean territory along the coast or guaranteed lease of the port of Assab.
Previous fears that Ethiopia could claim access to the sea by military force make Eritrea's insistence that Ethiopia unconditionally respect Eritrea's territorial sovereignty all the more salient.
The lease of Assab to Ethiopia would likely be in Eritrea's economic interest, but a history of Ethiopian (previously Abyssinian) attempts to annex the country mean mistrust is high. Any peace effort must come up with an intelligent way to address this and other complex issues.
Finally, a sustainable peace process should emphasise long-term reconciliation and cultivate the right environment for the normalisation of relations and possible future cooperation. Alongside formal negotiations, informal channels could also be important in this.
Non-official Track II diplomacy involving civil society, community elders, religious leaders and others could provide an effective peace-making mechanism.
It has the advantage, amongst other things, of laying the foundation for a more durable peace through broad social reconciliation by dealing with historical-political grievances and the deeper roots of inter-communal conflicts. Unlike more adversarial formal proceedings, it could help thaw hostilities between two governments locked in the pride and prejudice of their kin communities.
Salih Nur is an Eritrean writer and Public Policy and Good Governance scholar with DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst), studying Democratic Governance at the University of Osnabrueck, Germany.
He previously taught political science at Asmara University and the Eritrea Institute of Technology.
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Read the original of this report on the ThinkAfricaPress site
This very simple the end of Shabba is the only one if the leader and his gang willing to packup move somewhere else as retiree California is the best where mom love the most and all so good opportunity.
Ethiopia and Eritrea is divorced long time. as you know Ethiopians called Eritreans brothers and sisters while they bleeding…and Eritrea jumping on the top dead Ethiopia!!! those days are over…. we do not need aseb. the issue of sea is solved….Ethiopia will many option, so what do Ethiopia need from Eritrea??? Nothing….we have peace now… the country and people are in peace…..we building Ethiopia like never before….we caching to Kenya to be economic power in east or Africa….
Ethiopia has no reason to lease the Assab port. This port is belongs to Ethiopia and now of the province of Ethiopian’s, the Eritrea.
I guess there are two major alternative in resolving the foe between the country called Ethiopia and her province called the Eritrea:
1) The province has right to fully merge with the Country. Or, the Country has a mandate diplomatically in convincing the province to get an economic benefits only when there is no disintegrated.
2) The province has a choice to continue to be an independent, as it is now, but would not has a choice of instigation against the Country. No country will use the province, who dreamy an economic gains from the port.
The author of the article is a chimeric to forwarding his coda.
the only solution is when shabia and woyane give back to Ethiopia coz ASSAB never was part of eritria
You mean the END of Hostalities between the twin Bandit bros , Agazis and Shabis . Surely with the Gulf States Emirs Moneys…LOL !!!
Regardless what people type behind screen pretending to be Eritreans,You only have to come here and see the attitude of the Eritrean people.As much as I oppose the repressive regime of Isaias,WE WILL NOT HAVE PEACE WITH ANYONE who points towards our very own land.This is Eritrea,we’re used to fight & die for this land.If Ethiopians couldn’t stop their obsession with our country,WE WILL make sure you lack peace and no one will sleep in peace.Infact I’d personally rather die than see Eritrea agreeing piece of our land to our natural enemies.Hate shabia.Death to Weyanes.Swore to hate Ethiopia.
correction from Dr WHO
Many analysts often deliberately shy away from the real, underlying cause of Ethio-Eritrea predicament perhaps because the truth is not diplomatic enough to swallow…But I personally believe in identifying the symptom in order to find a cure, hence better to call a spade a spade than beat about the bush..
Ethio-Eritrea problem might never have a technical solution such as demarcating a border since the issue at hand is pure psychological between people who should not have been divided in the first place(regardless of how it happened)..to cut a long story short, two rival identity out of people of the same heritage has been curved means a recipe for endless psychological war with a potential to turn physical every now and then, unless one directly or indirectly dominates the other..But even though the power balance is clear and there might never be a chance for Eritreans to dominate the Tigrians who control a large resourceful country, past misleading historical events means Eritreans will always want to prove all they myths they have built their identity on and they will always try to unseat the Tigrians or whoever might takeover Ethiopia..For Eritreans, accepting a more successful and powerful Ethiopia does not only mean economic restriction to the much needed Ethiopia’s resource, but they also see it as a a threat to their identity since their identity is purely formed around a superficial myth of being unique and better than Ethiopians..without it, they know they will just be a few deluded Tigrigna speakers behind a self-imposed curtain, culturally and economically overshadowed by EThiopia..That is what Eritreans fear and fighting a loosing battle at a risk of their future existence altogether..That kind of mindset will never change since many Eritreans believe they have sacrificed too much to fall back within Ethiopian fold be it directly or indirectly…It is like a grumbler who can not stop gambling because he has already lost so much..I am of the opinion that even if those who oppose Isaias afwerqe takeover and decide to make peace Ethiopia, they will only do so in order to buy time and recover at the expense of Ethiopia but it might not mean genuine love for Ethiopia. Unfortunately it is a sad truth that respecting or loving Ethiopia is simply against the core principle of being Eritrean. I therefore do not recommend Ethiopia to risk rushing trust at least until nature takes it’s toll and the egomaniac generation of Eritreans dies away.
If the two states could not find a lasting peace , who could??
Yes the cause to the conflict has deeper mostly historical roots than has been reported. This has been exacerbated by the extraordinary shallowness of the leaders that emerged on both sides and their complete ignorance of history. Their characteristic unwillingness to listen to learn and engage in a civilized way has few parallels in histroy. In short what we have had as leaders were/are small men.
My friend there is always a way and we will/should find it.
If there is negotiations,it has to be in Ethiopian terms.
No way out without Eritrea returning the port back to Ethiopia, if the Ethiopian government make any peace deal with Eritrea without returning the port they also better prepare their coffins and graveyards as well.
It is no way out without returning our God given out-late to the sea.
Bare in mind the author of this article is Eritrean, he is promoting a post-Isais Eritrean cause, to loot Ethiopia in the name of providing a port service..Let’s be honest here, It is strategically and politically risky to feed in to the pocket of people whose identity is forged out of nothing but hating Ethiopiawinet!..Full stop, It is safer to be overcharged by peaceful people of Dijibouti and kenya than risking Ethiopia’s integrity…These people will never sleep harming ethiopia, through their Arab masters. They are the bad apple of the region and the world in general as proved by their isolation from world community..ቆሻሻ አእምሮ ያለዉ ህዝብ ነዉ!
All that matters to Ethiopia is access to the sea; the return of Assab at the least or all of Danakil at the most. Ethiopia has no use for Eritrea after that. The idea that a country as large as Ethiopia will allow itself to be landlocked in the long-term by these smaller countries and our government is a joke. Hopefully the people of Ethiopia are realizing this and the government will have no choice but to listen and act accordingly.
There is a prerequisite for everlasting peace between the two. It is the duty of every citizen to over throw the Weyanne regime on Ethiopian side and the people of Eriteria should remove Shabia on their side. Then only, the initiation of the peace will start.
I am from both the countries. I.E. My father is from Eritrea and my Mother form Ethiopia. But I am as a person from Ethiopia. I am born raised and educated in Ethiopia. As long as I know from reading about ethiopia’s histroy, Assab belongs to Ethiopia. It was Ibrahim Sultan and Emir of Assab who sold it ot the Italeans. When Etitrea was part of ethiopia The erithreans were every when in Ethiopia without any hinderance. But the mement they got what they were fighting for, the first thing they did was to evict people of Ethiopian origin back to ethiopia, claiming that Assab is Eritrea. Why should we Ethiopians relent to Eritrea’s sad state and give back what belong to us, Badme. This is I hope the current Ethiopian government should take note. We have to get Assab or no Algers Agreement.
We all want to be not forgotten by Ethiopians.
Eventhough we are independent we want to rip the fruit of any fruit we would have gotten if we stayed Ethiopian plus we want to rip- our cousins that’s how we stayed black!!
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