Peace Held Hostage by Ethiopia for Thirteen Years

While Ethiopia refuses to take final as final, and binding as binding, its talk for dialogue is nothing but a ruse.
While Ethiopia refuses to take final as final, and binding as binding, its talk for dialogue is nothing but a ruse.

By Ghidewon Abay Asmerom,

Thirteen years ago this day, on December 12, 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a Peace Agreement in Algiers with representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the President of Algeria as guarantors and witnesses.

Based on this historic Agreement, an independent EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission) was mandated to delimit and demarcate the disputed Eritrea-Ethiopia border and the parties had said they “agree that the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission shall be final and binding.” When they signed the Algiers Agreement they were committing themselves that they “shall respect the border so determined, as well as the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party.

Alas, when the EEBC gave its final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions in 2002 and 2007 respectively, Ethiopia refused to accept it. As a result, it is in occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory, including the Eritrean border town of Badme. This is a clear violation of its treaty obligation. In a fair world one would expect the guarantors and witnesses to lean heavily on Ethiopia who is flouting international law. But that is not the case. In fact, the United States has been covertly and overtly encouraging Ethiopia not to implement the EEBC Decision and has been doing its best to help Ethiopia get away with murder.

In his 2007 memoir, “Surrender is not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad“, John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN, exposes Washington’s true intention.

“For reasons I never understood, however, Frazer reversed course and asked in early February [2006] to reopen the 2002 EEBC decision, which she had concluded was wrong, and award a major piece of disputed territory to Ethiopia. I was at a loss to explain that to the Security Council, so I didn’t.” P. 347.

Because of US Africa diplomats’ blunder, the only hope for peace and cooperation in the Horn of Africa was quashed and as a result the region continues to be the “Horn of Misery”. First the Bush Administration’s bully at the Bureau of African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, then Obama’s attack dog at the UN, Susan Rice, had been going after the victim, Eritrea, all in order to deflect from Ethiopia’s occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory in breach of the Algiers Agreement.

Nature of Africa’s Colonial Boundaries

Africa’s colonial boundaries were drawn by Europeans without regards to ethnic or linguistic divisions. Other than few exceptions[1], there was no concern on which ethnic or linguistic group ended up where. That is why one finds the Fulani all across the Sahel, from Chad to the Atlantic Ocean, over 17 countries in all; the Mandinka in about 12 west African countries, the San in over 8 countries of Southern Africa, the Berber in seven countries in North Africa, the Chewa in 7 countries of East-southern Africa, and the Somali were divided into five former colonies: Djibouti, British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, the Ogaden now under Ethiopian occupation, and the Northeastern District of Kenya. Furthermore, a myriad of ethnic groups where cobbled together in these former colonies. Ethiopia ended up with over 80 ethnic groups, and newly independent South Sudan is home to over 60.

As for the borders themselves, some of them do follow physical geography (rivers or mountains), the overwhelming majority, however, were made of imaginary astronomical boundaries (lines of latitude or longitude) 44% of the time, pure mathematical lines 30% of the time and human or physical geography lines 26% of the time. In one of its deceptive moves, Ethiopia has been mocking the EEBC, for upholding the colonial treaty border by saying “it violates human and physical geography”. All these when 3 out of every 4 miles of African colonial boundaries do not follow human or physical geography. The true reason for Ethiopia’s stand however is as what S. B. Jones put it in 1945:

“The goodness or badness of a boundary depends as much upon the general situation as upon the details of delimitation and demarcation. A boundary, like a human skin, may have diseases of its own or may reflect the illnesses of the body.”—S.B. Jones, Boundary Making: A Handbook for Statesmen, Treaty Editors and Boundary Commissioners. NY, 1945.

The same is true with the Eritrea-Ethiopia border and the EEBC decision. It is Ethiopia’s hidden motive and America’s active encouragement that is preventing Ethiopia from taking a positive step towards peace not the Decision or how demarcation is done.

Ethiopian Time-Old Deception Continues

After the passing of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi a year ago, people had hoped the new prime minister, might be more for peace. But that was not the case. He is proving to be as anti-peace as his predecessor. In an April 2013 interview with the CCTV, the new prime minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, claimed: “Our immediate neighbor, of course our cousins much more than anyone else in the Horn of Africa are Eritreans” and for this reason he was ready to go to Asmara to talk peace. But it was clear it was a ruse. The premise of his interview, that “Eritreans are more cousins to Ethiopia than anyone else in the Horn of Africa”, was as deceptive as any Abyssinian could have put it.

Geographically, Eritrea is not the only immediate neighbor of Ethiopia. There are five other neighbors that compete for that honor. Of Ethiopia’s close to 3,330-mile long boundary, nearly 1000 miles is with Somalia, about 550 with South Sudan, about the same length (540 miles) with Kenya, around 450 with The Sudan, and another 220 miles with Djibouti. Ethiopia’s boundary with Eritrea accounts for only 17% of the total length of Ethiopia’s boundary, or about 570 miles. This means Eritrea as an immediate neighbor, one of six, is not any closer, much less “much more than anyone else in the Horn of Africa” to Ethiopia!

More deceptive, however, is the fact that PM Hailemariam Desalegn claimed that Eritreans are the cousins of Ethiopians “much more than anyone else in the Horn of Africa“, than the other FIVE neighbors of Ethiopia. Any way one likes to dissect it, this statement is false.

PM Hailemariam is being deceptive both from the ethic as well as linguistic facts. Definitely an Ethiopian-Somali would not agree with Hailemariam’s assertion. An Eritrean cannot be “a cousin much closer” to him than a fellow Somali speaker that happens to be a citizen of Djibouti or Somalia! The same with a Borona Oromo. An Eritrean cannot be “a cousin much closer” than his fellow Boran brothers in Kenya. How about the Anuak? Is an Eritrean “a cousin much closer” than the other ethnic groups in the Horn who share the same language with him? Ethnic groups like the Shilluk of South Sudan, the Luo of Kenya and Tanzania, and the Acholi of Uganda?

In short, PM Hailemariam Desalegn was only reading from the old Abyssinian script. “Ethiopians who border the other five neighbors do not count!”? For too long Ethiopianity has been only equated with an Abyssinian (Amhara + Tigrayan). Only the Tigrean and Amhara, who have been taking turns to rule Ethiopia, are the ones that count. An Oromo sociologist, Dr. Solomon Wako, had put it eloquently 25 years ago. “In Ethiopia: Abyssinian + Others = Abyssinian.” Meaning other Ethiopians do not count. In Ethiopia neither the concept of a melting pot nor the idea of unity in diversity exists. That is why Ethiopian food, Ethiopian dress or even Ethiopian facial features are associated with that of the Abyssinians and the world’s ignorance is not helping.

Definitely the atrocities the Abyssinians had been committing on Eritreans are not one of cousins. Alula, a notorious Abyssinian war lord had killed nearly two-thirds of the Nara and Kunama population in the 19th century. This was not an act of cousins. Haile Selassie massacred thousands of innocent civilians; that was not an act of cousins. Mengistu’s tanks were driven over innocent infants and the elderly. That was not an act of cousins. Thousands of Eritreans were victims of indiscriminate napalm and cluster bombs. That was not an act of cousins! And when the current regime of Ethiopia, led by Meles, was deporting nearly 100,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin, and desecrating graves of Eritrean freedom fighters, it was not an act of cousins!

As a southern Ethiopian, Desalegn belongs to a group that has no ethnic or linguistic proximity to Eritrea, and his closest cousins are most likely in Kenya, Somalia or South Sudan. It is ironic that he chose to read from an old script written by Haile Sellasie and Aklilu Habtewold to deny Eritreans their independence in the late 1940s and Meles and his Tigrean cohorts to deceive people.


On this 13th anniversary of the signing of the historic Algiers Peace Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the regime in Ethiopia has a chance to choose the path of peace. The politics of the Horn of Africa shouldn’t be taken as a zero-sum game. There is a lot Ethiopia can gain when the Horn of Africa in general, and Eritrea in particular lives in peace and prosperity. Ethiopia should be able to see that life is a shared-sum game more than a zero-sum. By unconditionally vacating the sovereign Eritrean territory it is occupying, Ethiopia can find a genuine neighbor in Eritrea that could help it live in peace in the region as well as with itself. Ethiopia has the potential to be the breadbasket of the region, than what it is now, a basket case. Living true to its treaty obligation is the first step.

The guarantors of the Algiers Agreement also have the moral obligation to nudge Ethiopia to choose peace. Pouring billions of aid dollars into Ethiopia, a party that is flouting International law, is helping neither Ethiopia nor the cause of peace in the Horn of Africa. Instead it is setting bad precedents. Agreements are entered to be respected not to be ignored when one party thinks it does not suit its agenda. Thus, it is about time that those who put their signatures on the Agreement see to it that the Agreement is meticulously implemented. They should help the parties, Ethiopia and Eritrea, travel the path of peace and bilateral cooperation.
[1] The Kunama of Eritrea was such an exception. The 1901 Anglo-Italian treaty and the 1902 trilateral treaty between (England, Ethiopia and Italy) specifies that all of the Kunama were to remain inside Eritrea. Here is the word of the treaty:

“The new frontier follows this river [Setit] to its junction with the Maiteb, and joins the Mareb at its junction with the Mai Ambessa. The line from the junction of the Setit and Maieteb to the junction of the Mareb and Mai Ambessa shall be delimited by Italian and Ethiopian delegates, so that the Canama [Kunama] tribe belongs to Eritrea.”

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