It’s Time for Eritrea and Ethiopia to Bury the Hatchet

Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is inevitable because the irrepressible conflict is not going to last forever, we liked it or not
Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is inevitable because the irrepressible conflict is not going to last forever, we liked it or not

By Dawit Gebremichael Habte,

Mr. Herman Cohen, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has published an article titled “Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold” on 16 December 2013.

In his article, Mr. Cohen has done a commendable job in detailing the sequence of events that took place since Eritrea’s formal independence from Ethiopia. I also fully agree with Mr. Cohen’s recommendation to normalize the relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia “following the end of UN sanctions against Eritrea” and the normalization “would have immediate benefits for both countries.”

I only take exception with Mr. Cohen’s characterization of the “root-cause” of the “border-conflict” between Eritrea and Ethiopia. I believe Mr. Cohen could have served his readers better had he presented Eritrea’s relationship with Ethiopia in its proper historical and political context.

As part of his “root-cause analysis”, Mr. Cohen stated that “[t]he relationship [between Eritrea and Ethiopia] started to cool in 1997 when the Eritreans created their own currency, the Nakfa. They did this without arranging to establish a system of daily settlements for cross border trade between their currency and the Ethiopian Birrh,” implying that Eritrean government’s decision to issue their national currency without consulting the Ethiopian government was the root-cause of the “border conflict” between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

If we are to look at the issuance of the Eritrean currency as an isolated event, we might have sympathy to Mr. Cohen’s claim. But, we have to put Eritrea’s relationship with Ethiopia in its proper historical and political context in order to have better understanding of the “root-cause” of the “border conflict” that never was.

With respect to the successive Ethiopian rulers’ policies towards Eritrea, Emperor Haile Selassie openly declared that Ethiopia was interested in Eritrea’s land, but not its people.

Colonel Menghistu Hailemariam, Emperor Haile Selassie’s successor, on his part declared that he will “dry the sea in order to kill the fish”, using the “fish” as a metaphor for the Eritrean’s armed struggle for independence and the “sea” for the people of Eritrea.

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s last Prime Minister, in his part, while publicly telling the people of Eritrea “not to scratch their wounds”, in private, he was telling US intelligence officers such as the late Paul Henze, “we really hope that Eritrea can remain part of a federated Ethiopia.” Meles Zenawi saw Eritrea’s independence only as a political expediency.

The answer to the “root-cause” of the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia is found in Meles Zenawi’s interview conducted with his longtime supporter and US intelligence officer, Mr. Paul Henze, in April 1990. The interview was conducted one year prior to Eritrea’s independence in May 24, 1991. This is what Meles Zenawi had to say when asked what his preference would be when it comes to Eritrea’s independence:

“We look at this from the viewpoints of the interests of Tigray first, and then Ethiopia as a whole. We would like to see Eritrea continuing to have a relationship with Ethiopia. We know that Tigray needs access to the sea, and the only way is through Eritrea. Whether Eritrea is part of Ethiopia or independent, we need this access…”

Meles Zenawi was “not sure that differences among [Eritrea’s] different [religious] groups can be kept under control” once Eritrea declared its independence because, according to Meles, “[t]here are serious tensions between Eritrean Christians and Muslims”.

Meles Zenawi wrongly believed that Eritrea’s religious and cultural diversity would become a cause for conflict once Eritreans obtained their independence from Ethiopia. He could not have been any more wrong. Once independence was confirmed in 1991, Eritrean Christians and Muslims took themselves to the daunting task of reconstruction and nation building.

Unfortunately, this did not last long. In June 1997, Ethiopian military units started destroying farmlands and harassing farmers in the area of Bada and the towns bordering the Tigray region, the region where Meles Zenawi and members of his party hail from. About a year after that, in May 13, 1998, the Ethiopian Parliament led by Prime Meles Zenawi declared an all-out war in the name of a “border-conflict” and ended up seizing a third of Eritrean territory at the cost of tens of thousands in human lives. The mediations and peace process that followed the cessation of hostilities is well detailed by Mr. Cohen.

When dealing with matters of “peace and war” between Eritrea and Ethiopia, we cannot undermine the historical and political misgivings Eritreans suffered in the hands of Ethiopia and the international community. Eritrea has been betrayed by the international community for the umpteenth time. Putting historical mishaps to the side, in 2000, Eritrea accepted a peace agreement that was drafted by Anthony Lake, President Clinton’s special envoy, and Susan Rice, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the time. Eritrea accepted the “final and binding” peace agreement to delimit and demarcate the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia in accordance to “pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law“.

According to the “final and binding” peace agreement signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia and witnessed and guaranteed by the United States and the UN, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission (EEBC) was explicitly forbidden from making any decisions “ex aequo et bono“. Once the Commission rendered its decision, however, Ethiopia rejected the decision and retracted on both conditions: it wants to negotiate the “final and binding” decision because it wants the court to decide “ex aequo et bono“. According to Ethiopia, the delimitation decision of the neutral commission was “illegal, unfair and unjust.”

Eritrean has proven its respect and adherence to the international law a number of times. It’s time for Ethiopia to do so. Ethiopia needs to abide by the “final and binding” Algiers Agreement it signed as first step to building confidence and trust between the two nations. It is also time for the international community and especially for the United States to let Ethiopia know that it must abide by peace agreements it signed. For the US and the international community to be considered as honest brokers, they have to be impartial and fair.

Mr. Herman Cohen’s recommendation for Ethiopia to vacate Eritrean territories it is occupying by force and for Eritrea to immediately start dialogue with Ethiopia is the best proposal that has yet to come from current or former US government officials. This is refreshing and needs to be taken to heart.

Ethiopians need to fully understand that the Eritrea that was illegally and forcefully annexed to Ethiopia in 1960 is no more. At the same time, irrespective of their historical misgivings and the repeated miscarriages of justice rendered upon them by the international community, Eritreans need to look forward to their peaceful coexistence with Ethiopians, their neighbors to the South. Both Eritreans and Ethiopians need to look forward to the peace dividend.

It is time for Eritrea and Ethiopia to bury the hatchet so that the people of both nations can realize the intrinsic and instrumental values of the peace dividend.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

  • Bisrat Ghirmay

    I think it is time the final and binding peace agreement to be reinforced and take effect by the guarantors of the peace process and international community at large to make sure that no body is above the norm and law of order, rather before Eritrea and Ethiopia they can bury their hachet .

    • Amba M

      What the international community you talking about ? You shabians are the one who disrespect and throw out the peace keepers and broke the international law and put your self above law . Another thing that can I assure is that you will never and ever get an inch of our land including BADME and you have the right to your day dreams .

      • Bisrat Ghirmay

        Amba – wedi may telamit
        After the Judges gave the verdict on the final and binding border dispute, the International peacekeeper have finished their mandate and they were asked to leave by Eritrean Government, just for the record, as far as you staying illegally on Eritrean land , mark my word excuse after excuse will not save you to stay hiding as a fugitive , you will be evicted very soon . Stick around

        • Amba M

          I gave you perfect answer to your comments above but deleted by your site that allows you guys only not to be challenged and say what ever you can say which shows you guys are back wards and at the tail of the World un civilized peoples.

          • Bisrat Ghirmay

            First and for most, you don't have a constructive and facts based comments, so I salute Tesfa news admin. for putting you into a House fly rubbish bin .

      • Yacob

        We don't want even milimeter of your land. However we not give our land to you. When the times comes for Ethiopia to return the land to the righful owner, compensation should be included.

      • isaac

        Wedge Fekera,

        we know how to fight our enemies, the past testimonies wars that our enemies have engaged with us have tought our enemies unforgettable lessons of wars not even not dare to play war game with Eritrea people at all, people like you know that from the past histories of engaging of wars with us, from those past experiences you know that Eritreans people are very resolute we can teach war tactics that will be the end of your MLLT or Weyanes regime if that comes to that point, we know how we liberated our land, and we how to liberate the lands illegally occupied by enemies.Eritrea fight not by missionary, not by foreign military experts, but by gallant Eritreans heroic that who are there only to liberate their lands. Enatie,Entie kay kewne daherai

        • challa

          ha…ha…you must be delusional…you an Arab slave, nothing more…

          • isaac

            It is fact true can be verified people like have been in salved for your enter life by masters name it the west,east, and others challah kedam ataio alesh yerdaka.
            the land braves adi hideri will shine forever

          • challa

            Dinkem alch, ayit…Issac you must be wasted to think like that…you better find another issue with Ethiopa if you want to attack. On this one you lost big time and you know it. Who is the Arabl slave and serving Arab interest, who is colonised by Italy, who is now licking Egypt's ass, is it not you looser? Think before you open your stupid mouth, my friend.

          • Isaac

            Your stink derbia weyane adi geganu never been salvaged by anyone. You know Eritreans guts, anyway you are cowards hiding behind screen trying man but you one of those who came with fun fair to invade Eritrea when they were taken as prison some male were women's outfits I sure you are one of them.

          • challa

            Ha…ha…keep on denying, looser. You must be one of the guys licking the Arab ass, as usual. Don't even try and compare your self with the pround and ever independent people of Ethiopia with the green, yellow and red flad. What a scumbag are you. What an embarassment you are. And, you want to talk about invading Eritrea. Thank Meles, he is the one who saved. Otherwise, you know what could have happend with our army close to Asmara in 2000. You looser.

  • Challa

    I guess it is time that the the Ethiopians who now call themselves 'Eritreans' wake up from their bad dreams and realize that they are Ethiopians and join there brothers and sisters.

    • Bisrat Ghirmay

      Challa – You sound drunk and wasted pal. Proud real Eritreans will never ever call themselves Ethiopians .

    • zdawit

      Woyo Challtu, we are dealing with real Ethiopia-Eritrea relationships, real international issue not Oromia-Ethiopia fiction. If you are not drunk you are day dreaming. Here is an Amharic proverb for you 'Mikegna yerasu megagna' Envy and jealousy is killing Ethiopians. Without Eritrean independence you will remain a tenant for Amara/Tigrian land lords in your own land starving for ever. Think about yourself before you open your mouth about Eritrea.

      • challa

        You know that the so called Eritrea is part of Tigray so an internal issue….Don't forget also your piece of land an creation Italy with any identity except eating past with fork – and can not be compared to the Oromo nation that has its own culture and language…It looks like your foget that your speaking Tigrigna, quoting Amharic proverbs and eating injera…get a life and forget this Eritrean shit…

        • Bisrat Ghirmay

          Jacob or challa
          You can hallucinate and day dream all day long about Eritrea , but your fate of desperation remains intact or unchanged for ever only to hurt your mental anguish and in

        • Halhal

          Challa you are nothing but another stupid Woyane beggar talking nonsense. You have being using Eritrea to save you skin but no more my friend. It is time for you to face the music from the 79 other Ethiopian ethnic group that you have been, torturing, robbing, imprisoning and murdering for over 20 years.

        • WediAsmara

          I will give you zero for general knowledge. You should know your history before strart commenting on someone else history. Learn read and be an open minded. ….CHALLA !!!!!!:-)

        • gmetkel

          first of all when u speak about the histry of eritrea the land of heroes , compering with ethiopia one of the poorest 10 countries in africa, your knowldge of histry looks very elementary .by eatting the same food ,& speaking similar language , it dos't have to be the same country . ( pasta ) is an international food nothing to do with the colonization of eritrea by italian . histry is made by human kind , & we eritreans , we made histry .because we fought against all odds and we won the war . please study more !

          • challa

            You think so, dream on my friend. The only history you have is eating with knife and fork from the Italians. You don't have any history to talk about and be proud of. You seceded becuase you received Arab support. It is funny that you guys always deny that. Loosers.

        • isaac

          You suffering from complexes of inferiority and identity crises,we Eritreans are proud our identity, we know where we came from and we will never ever be Ethiopians. challa in little abnormal mind. all Arabs they speak the same language and more or less same cultures these similarities does not qualified them to be one nation for example Libyans are Libyans and Egyptians are Egyptians, in very similar cases Americans can be Canadians. You do not most your proverbs originated from somewhere too. foolish people can not good arguments.

          Eritrea is for Eritreans only

          • challa

            I see irritation there, Isaac. It looks like you are loosing it by trying to justify your non existent identity. You are part of Tigray whether your like it or not and your Tigrayan brothers chased you away because they want to keep the economy for themselves. Who is inferior now, I guess your Hamasens.

      • Tegegne Gebissa

        You are one of die hard shabians that think proud Ethiopian Oromo people believes your propaganda and loose their identity like yours given to you by Italian and try to transfer your sick mentality to the rest of proud Ethiopians that live peacefully with the rest of their Ethiopians brothers and sisters . But with you shabians accept our no peace no war that we gave you and enjoy for the rest of your life.

        • Halhal

          You are not "Tegegne Gebissa" . You are deadbeat Woyane beggar who is disguising himself as Oromo. The only way Woyane stooges can live in peace in Ethiopia after looting, imprisoning and murdering Ethiopians for over 20 years is to change theirs names to something that sounds like an Oromo and or Southerner name. In the not to distant future, you will be living under an assumed identity but you will still beg, lie and try to loot. Nasty Woyane

          • challa

            Woyane chased your away, Halhal and you seem to be still angry about that…

          • Yonas Melake

            don't be resist and judgemntal I am half Ethiopian & Eritean People diserves Peace, after all we all are East African Brothers.War is not the solution. Don't decive your self.I was born in addis but growing up in Germany but I love both Ethiopia and Eritrea. we Jest need a peacefull President like nelson mandela.

    • zdawit

      Really you are ok with no peace no war situation? 'iyebedawhat tankelafalech' yelal yearada lij. Is it not because of no war no peace with Eritrea, that you are mortgaging your fertile lands to Indians, Chinese, Arabs for hundred years for a penny? Why is poor landless young boys and girls to be servants allover the Middle East and Africa? Mamush wakeup from your childish thoughts, it is Ethiopia which is bleeding from no war no peace situation, more than Eritrea. On the contrary Eritrea proved itself it does not need Ethiopia to stand on its feet, while Ethiopia still begs for food every year. According to UN Ethiopia is still the second poorest country in the world! What a shame.

      • zdawit

        Challa No I was thinking the countless Ethiopians who perished in the Gulf of Eden and Red Sea trying to reach Yemen. If Eritrea is creation of Italy, you are a creation of Menelk. Zeraf yeminilik asker! Unlike you Oromia, Eritrea recreated itself in 1991 with their blood and sweat, burying thousands of Ethiopian soldiers in the Red Sea. Read about Fenkil oprtation.

  • John

    Eritreans have already accepted the results of the border commission´s decisions, hence have no hatchet to bury. The title is a bit misleading. It should rather read: Ethiopia should realize, she´s neither above the law nor is she the region´s superpower. Ethiopia should wake up from this fantasy and realize her people are one of the most poor and uneducated in the world. Ethiopia should realize, she´s known for starvation and misery of biblical proportions and is the shame of Africa. Ethiopia should realize, shortly, that she´s the curse of the region.

    • Halhal

      I agree with you John
      We have no hatchet to burry nor do we hold any grudges against Ethiopian and Ethiopians. In my opinion, we are more than happy to live in peace, help each other as required and long as Ethiopian rulers and thier supporters leave us alone and stop scheming and plotting to rob and murder us. The ball is in their court.
      However, the real issue is that various Ethiopian rulers believe Eritrea belongs to them and that they can pillage, rape and murder Eritrea and Eritreans, carve any piece of our country any time they wish to do so. If they want peace, stop playing games and get the hell out of our land and then we can talk and make peace.

      The Haliesellasie and Mengistu regimes murdered thousands of Eritreans and at various times they tried to change the map of Eritrea by making Assab part of Wollo. The beggar woyane regime has various maps to that they have been sketching, including inventing an opposition group from Afar who claim Assab is theirs and they can take it and join Tigray. Enough is enough. No one is going to come and tell me my hut belongs to them. They will have to kill me before they can change the title to their name. The worst of all Ethiopian rulers is the current Woyane regime, a bunch of beggars who have no moral values whatsoever. They are willing to sell their grandmother if gets them a meal or two. They will have to murder the 99.8% Eritreans who voted for independence before they can claim any piece of Eritrea.

    • Ycaob

      I agree with 100%

  • saimon

    Mr dawit not only meles zenawi had a wish on eritrea to stay with ethiopia confedrated also Isias afewerki has said it in his 1993 speech in Addis