BY BRUH METSAE
Two decades after the eruption of full-fledged war between Eritrea and Ethiopia and the subsequent huge human and material loss that ensued both countries are today burying the hatchet and working in embracing and solidifying peace and reviving their badly needed economy.
Signs of Optimism
What makes the current peace process more unique, giving optimism to both the brotherly people of Eritrea and Ethiopia has largely to do with the bold move Ethiopian parliament undertaken in recent months, voting overwhelmingly for the acceptance of the Algiers peace agreement and reestablishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Another factor that adds to such optimism involves Somalia and Djibouti, two neighboring countries with a fair share of external-driven instability. As of current, three regional countries – Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia – have just signed a joint declaration of cooperation in trade, security, and other important matters. Djibouti has also shown a positive signal and will most likely to join the group in recent days to weeks.
When President Isaias accepted Ethiopia’s call for engagement and announced to send a delegation to Addis Ababa on June 20 (Martyr’s day), people had exhibited a mixed feeling of joy and suspicion. Some people were simply confused, given the speed with which the rapprochement occurred. After all, up until recently, Ethiopia’s position towards Eritrea has not been palatable and antagonist, to say the least.
For over a decade following the unprovoked war of aggression which had consumed so many lives, the former did everything and anything in its power to undermine the latter’s sovereignty, calling for regime change, imposing unwarranted UN sanctions on a basis of falsified and fabricated Eritrea’s role with terrorism.
Given such facts, it’s quite natural for people to feel a sense of suspicion to such gesture for peace and take it with a grain of salt.
Why Peace and Why Now?
To have a better appreciation as to why and the speed with which such positive rapprochement occurred at this time, it’s prudent that one examines closely at some of the sociopolitical changes Ethiopia has been undergoing in recent years.
It’s the writers firm belief that people’s disenchantment over the ruling party EPRDF lack of governance, the gross human rights violations and the resultant sense of deep anger played a big role in the decision by some members within the ruling party EPRDF to take a different approach in reforming the country’s administrative system and resolving the Eritrea – Ethiopia conflict.
It’s a known fact that Ethiopia has for the past 25 years been ruled by the minority TPLF regime, whose members belong to the Tigray region. Since it came to power in 1991, after ousting another brutal regime- the Dergue militarily, the TPLF government has committed countless crimes against both its own citizens and its neighbors. It was accused by the international community of rigging multiple elections and imprisoning and torturing dissents who questioned the legality of the election.
Externally, the TPLF regime, supported by some powers, crafted the plan to invade Eritrea, only six years after both peoples enjoyed the peace and what appeared to be a lasting warm relationship, under a false territorial claim. Eritrean citizens who resided in Ethiopia for decades were harassed, humiliated and over 70 thousands of them, amongst whom include sick old people, pregnant women and children were deported to Eritrea inhumanely and with nothing but the clothes on their back.
To make things in the region worse, back in December 2006, the TPLF regime under the leadership of the now deceased Meles Zenawi, invaded another sovereign nation: Somalia using “terrorism” as a pretext; destroying families and leaving the country in a chaotic state.
Domestically, certain ethnic groups within Ethiopia were harshly treated and tortured by the same clique for voicing their dismay over the government’s territorial redistricting program they felt threatens their inherited cultures and the lack of economic progress in the country.
Ethnic tensions have risen to the highest level and reached a point that the government was unable to control it. People took it to the streets across Ethiopia demanding drastic sociopolitical changes. The country has suffered multiple incidences of civilian casualties as a result of clashes with TPLF ruled government forces. Ethiopia was on a verge of collapse.
The Era of New Hope
For most Ethiopians, the emergence of Dr. Abye as their Prime Minister at such critical time in their country was considered as “God sent”, which was largely the reason they galvanized huge support to his bold move to both unite his people and make peace with his neighbors.
With respect to Eritrea, the decision by Dr. Abiy and most members of the parliament to engage with their former foe in such a positive manner is of several folds. For one thing and the most important one deals with Ethiopia’s current political and economic state. Twenty years after the eruption of the deadly military conflict and the political and social pressure that followed persistently to isolate and destroy Eritrea, the government in Addis Ababa finally seems to have come to realize that engaging with Asmara with hostility is both meaningless and unproductive.
Despite some difficulties, the sanctions and all other political pressures imposed on Eritrea for over two decades bear little fruits. In contrast, the country was moving forward in developing its economy; the international community was opening up and appraising the progress underway. Eritrea has reached a point where it will move forward and thrive through its solid principle of self-reliance with or without Ethiopia.
Within such context, PM Abiy and his colleagues come to terms and reached out to Eritrea believing that doing so would also benefit their country to come out of the sad economic state it’s in.
Ethiopia’s state of the economy has suffered significantly in the past decade. Corruption played a big part in draining the country’s economy. Billions of dollars have admittedly been stolen by top government officials.
Civil unrest which persisted for years also has contributed to deepening the country’s economic crisis. In addition, lack of hard currency made it more difficult for the government to import goods and services, including its capacity to pay the huge port fees.
What makes the current fanfare between the two countries rather unique and historically relevant is that this would be the first time (and hopefully not the last ) in Ethiopia’s history where the country’s leader not only recognized Eritrea’s sovereignty but also called for a comprehensive peace that would have a far-reaching benefit for both people.
Such language of peace and reconciliation on the basis of mutual respect was an alien to all the previous leaders, all of whom ruled their people by the barrel of a gun and died by one. This may be one factor that instilled hope and optimism in both peoples who had quenched for peace for over two decades and wanted to see the end of hatred and hostility.
A Misreading Tendency
As Eritreans who have been victimized by the previous successive Ethiopian rulers for decades, the need to approach the current peace deals cautiously is quite natural. And I think we should.
Besides, making repeated mistakes don’t look good on us. Having said that, looking at all things we face in life in an apprehensive way persistently without making a thorough analysis is counterproductive. There comes a time when we have to open up to ideas and plans that are of benefit to our society even if they seem too good to be true, and provide moral support in its implementation.
Some of the pessimistic comments that hovered around on social media shortly after both Eritrea and Ethiopia accepted the peace plan have created a tremendous state of confusion and suspicion. “He sold Asab!, that was his plan all alone” … “ What about border demarcation?” are amongst such comments that unfortunately attempted to convince the most gullible.
The irony is that the majority of the commentators and “Facebook warriors” who campaigned against the peace initiative profusely were the same ones who told us that the border issue is “none of our concerns” and frequently traveled to Awasa and Mekele to assist TPLF’s evil scheme in undermining Eritrean sovereignty.
There are also remnants of Emperor Menelik and Haileselassie, who, to this day, daydream of owning Eritrea, including its vast Red Sea and its ports. For these few chauvinists, the peace initiative was miscalculated as to mean “Union” with Ethiopia, far from the truth. They were seen on social media tampering with our map and our flag. The likes of the die-hard Teddy Afro and Tamagn Beyene who still live in the 18th century Lala land will continue to salivate over Eritrea but won’t bear any fruit. Because, despite the presence of such backward tendency amongst some Ethiopian elites and descendants of the Emperors, the majority of Ethiopian people have shown strong desire to live in peace with Eritreans as good neighbors.
Only God knows how things will unfold between the two countries in the future. As people who have had a ‘good’ taste of bad war and familiar with its ugly outcome, we want to be optimistic and see the full implementation of the peace process including the border demarcation.
One also would hope that realization of peace and stability in the region will create an environment conducive to concentrate on the yet to be resolved domestic matters.
May Peace and Love Prevail in the Horn of Africa!