A bloody conflict over a shared border between Ethiopia and Eritrea with a war that claimed 80,000 lives from 1998 to 2000 compounded by twenty decades of deep, mutual hostility, but had no fully implemented peace deal has been ended with the two countries announcing “the formal end of the state of war.” On Wednesday, July 18th, an airplane from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, flew to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. The new agreement is being seen by analysts as a foreshadowing of an unfamiliar stability or a renewed volatility in the Horn of Africa, a region known for disputes that date back to the Cold War Era. Eritrea fought against Ethiopian dominance and annexation for decades until 1993 when it secured independence. In 1998, a war broke out over the delineation of the shared border.
Eritrea has been on hold for the past twenty years and everything has revolved around the border dispute. A United Nations Commission in 2002 agreed with Eritrea that Ethiopia was illegally occupying land along the two countries’ border. When the 2000 Algiers agreement “ended” the war, Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, has used Ethiopia’s rejection of the boundary ruling as a rationale for a myriad of repressive domestic policies that include jailing journalists and dissidents, refusing to implement the constitution and running an indefinite military conscription program likened by the UN to slavery. With the acceptance of Ethiopia of the boundary findings, the border war is expected to end.
The new prime minister of Ethiopia, Ably Ahmed, announced in June his country would withdraw from the disputed border territories as agreed in the 2002 ruling. Eritrea responded by sending ‘a peace delegation’ to Ethiopia. To date, Ethiopia has not withdrawn from the disputed areas. However, analysts say the “offer was too good to refuse” for Isaias, even though removing the Ethiopian threat may mean increasing domestic pressure for reform as well as Isaias probably being aware this is the only way out. The engagement from both sides is not an option, but a necessity.
- Normalizing relations would benefit both countries
- Eritrean industries could service the growing markets of Ethiopia, larger and more populous than itself
- Eritrea will be able to follow Ethiopian economic momentum
- Settling the dispute could motivate foreign investors to consider Eritrea, free of the fear of retaliation by Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia
- Improved relations could improve the view of Eritrea’s rehabilitation internationally
- Peace could help resolve Ethiopia’s landlocked situation with no access to the sea after Eritrea, comprising Ethiopia’s entire coastline seceded in 1993
- Trade and transport could restart
- The port of Massawa will get a boost and become one of the alternative ports for Ethiopia
Sources: New York Times, July 18th, Alan Cowell; Africanews.com