BY DR. FIKREJESUS AMHAZION
The following is a brief recap and commentary on the recent massive and rapid developments toward peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
1 – Ethiopia and Eritrea declared their “state of war” over on Monday and agreed to open embassies, develop ports, and resume flights. The announcement on Monday came after Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, accompanied by a small Ethiopian delegation, arrived in Asmara, Eritrea, a day earlier to engage in historic talks with the Eritrean President, H.E. Isaias Afwerki.
The Joint “Declaration of Peace and Friendship” between Eritrea and Ethiopia, signed by the two leaders in Asmara on Monday morning, states that:
- The state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has come to an end. A new era of peace and friendship has been opened.
- The two governments will endeavor to forge intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation that serves and advances the vital interests of their peoples;
- Transport, trade and communications links between the two countries will resume; diplomatic ties and activities will restart;
- The decision on the boundary between the two countries will be implemented.
- Both countries will jointly endeavor to ensure regional peace, development, and cooperation.
The agreement is only the latest step in a series of encouraging and significant developments between the two countries, after years of tension. It promises to present numerous and significant benefits for both nations, which are faced with a broad array of considerable challenges.
Moreover, a normalization of relations between the two countries will undoubtedly help promote peace, security, and stability throughout the general Horn of Africa region, which has long been plagued by conflict and poverty.
Also on Monday, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, who was visiting Addis Ababa, said that he believed the need for UN sanctions against Eritrea will no longer exist following its peace deal with Ethiopia.
Speaking to reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Guterres stated,
“The sanctions were motivated by a number of events that took place, (but) it is my belief that those events will no longer exist…If the reasons that led to the sanctions will no longer exist…they will naturally become obsolete.”
Additionally, an Ethiopian state-affiliated news agency announced that Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopia’s state-owned airlines, will resume flights to Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, next week [July 18th].
2 – The benefits of peace should be significant. Both countries are faced with a number of significant challenges, and thus an end to the costly – and largely unnecessary – conflict and tension will allow the two to better focus their attention on addressing their various and considerable challenges.
For instance, with peace and stability, vital human and fiscal resources can be used to combat poverty or promote development, rather than having to be diverted toward defense and national security.
Notably, one issue in relation to the impending peace arousing questions has been the process of demobilizing and reintegrating soldiers into Eritrean society. It is important to recall, however, that Eritrea has previous experience with mass demobilization and reintegration.
For example, after the long war for independence (from 1961 to 1991), Eritrea engaged in a process of demobilization and reintegration, which were considered successes – until war broke out with Ethiopia in 1998 and reversed the process. The period was characterized by a focus on poverty reduction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation, and nearly 65 percent of the country’s liberation forces were demobilized and shifted into both the private and public sectors.
Years later, after the 1998-2000 conflict, which had reversed many of the significant benefits which independence and peace had brought, another large-scale process of demobilization was implemented through “The Demobilization and Reintegration Program Project”, carried out in close cooperation with the World Bank and other partners.
With a normalization of relations with Ethiopia and a period of extended peace and stability, soldiers can continue or upgrade their education, receive or undergo training that generates immediate employment opportunities, or return to former livelihoods and occupations.
Additionally, many will return to agriculture and farming, key priority areas for Eritrea, since they are crucial to ensuring food security, supporting poverty reduction, and promoting national self-reliance. With thousands of Eritrean citizens returning or shifting to agriculture, productivity, efficiency, and yields can be improved, meaning the country can reduce dependence on imports to fill gaps, and even possibly transition to becoming an exporter in certain crops.
Of course, the shift or return of thousands of former soldiers to agriculture and farming will also have to be coupled with significant efforts to improve soil and water conservation, technological inputs, and access to energy, education, and training programs.
3 – Another important consideration is how peace and stability will significantly help promote investment, socio-economic growth, poverty reduction, and general development in Eritrea (and Ethiopia).
Until the emergence of the conflict in 1998, Eritrea and Ethiopia enjoyed strong economic, cultural and security relations. Prior to the war, Ethiopia was Eritrea’s top export partner, and thousands of Ethiopians were employed throughout the country. Furthermore, Ethiopia had been using the Eritrean ports at Assab and Massawa at symbolic rates and without any hindrance, while even during the war, Eritrea offered the use of its ports to transport humanitarian aid to Ethiopia.
Simply, peace and stability between the two can reignite once-thriving cross-border trade and economic activities. Furthermore, the reopening of the Assab and Massawa ports to Ethiopia will immensely benefit both countries. It is difficult to overlook how, despite Assab being the closest port to Addis Ababa (by some considerable distance), over the years of conflict and stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Djibouti has attracted hundreds of millions in investment, built numerous ports, and developed a steady stream of income (including hundreds of millions in service fees from Ethiopia).
Moreover, peace and stability can help promote a number of high-potential sectors for Eritrea, such as manufacturing and tourism. Eritrea has immense tourism potential – consider the long, beautiful coastline and countless historical sites – which peace and security will help allow the country to take better advantage of. For Eritrea, tourists can bring money, help create jobs, and thus support growth.
4 – The developments in relation to the removal of sanctions against Eritrea are also particularly interesting. Specifically, they underscore the fact that the sanctions against Eritrea were never really or truly about Eritrea’s alleged support for terrorism.
Beyond the considerable issue of the dubious legitimacy or basis for the original adoption of sanctions against Eritrea, recall that the pretexts for the sanctions have long been non-existent, with a long series of UN Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (UN SEMG) reports consistently concluding that they have found “no evidence of Eritrea’s support for Al-Shabaab.”
The fact that they are now being questioned, as Eritrea and Ethiopia work toward forging peace and normalizing relations, illustrates out how they were less about terrorism than other factors. Of course, the removal of sanctions (which were imposed in 2009, and then broadened several years later), is a key to development. Not only did they unjustly hurt the people of Eritrea, their removal can help promote the country’s image (e.g. as an unstable political risk, which can deter investors) and promote investment.
5 – Finally, writing days ago, as Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea, I pointed out how the ongoing encouraging developments between the two countries would present both populations, particularly the youth, with a renewed sense of optimism and hope.
Since then (as well as in the weeks prior), I have regularly and extensively discussed the ongoing and general developments at length with Eritreans, especially youth, from across the country. Invariably, the responses to the developments toward peace with Ethiopia have been positive and forward-looking.
For example, according to Filmon Tesfalem, a young college student, youth mentor, and budding author originally from Mai Mne, a small town in southern Eritrea, located near the border with Ethiopia, “This is very exciting. Peace is the fountain of development and prosperity, and it will impact all of us positively and in every which way.”
Similarly, Estifanos Ghirmay, a successful artist, youth volunteer, and college student currently studying at the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), located in Adi Keih, commented, “These initiatives are great. Working together [with Ethiopia] we have so much potential – in arts, education, economy, security, development…everything. Of course, challenges remain, but this is a great step.”
Last, Ms. Hermon Tesfamariam, a college student and impressive scholar at CASS, who is originally from Asmara, happily commented, “I am so pleased. Peace is always good…the best is yet to come.”