How Ethiopia’s peace offer caught Eritrea’s regime by surprise

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki cannot afford to ignore Ethiopia’s peace offer.

by Abraham T Zere

On June 5, Ethiopia announced it would fully accept and implement the 2000 Algiers Peace Accord that ended its border war with Eritrea. It also said it would accept a 2002 ruling by the UN-backed Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), which awarded several disputed territories, including the town of Badme, to Eritrea. Ethiopia had been ignoring the commission’s ruling and refusing to withdraw its troops from these territories for the past 16 years, making the demarcation of the border practically impossible.

Addis Ababa’s announcement last week was welcomed as a major step towards permanently calming the deadly tensions between the two warring neighbours.

Celebrations and concerns

Eritreans in the diaspora celebrated Ethiopia’s announcement as if it was a national holiday – a second independence day of sorts. They were happy because they assumed the statement would start a normalisation process between the two countries, which could encourage the Eritrean government to finally abandon its policies of militarisation and loosen its iron grip on the population.

But, as the days passed and the Eritrean government remained silent on the subject, the Eritrean diaspora’s enthusiasm and joy transformed into disappointment and anger.

 

Rare reports from inside Eritrea indicated that Eritreans still living in their homeland also welcomed the news. Of course, Eritreans in the country were not able to celebrate Addis Ababa’s surprising declaration openly. “We have been beaten down to submissiveness and even lost the language of celebration,” a contact in Asmara told me. “People have been waiting for state approval to celebrate it officially and openly.” He asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

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The response from independent experts who have been working with the Eritrean government was also prompt and clear. Lea Brilmayer, a professor of international law at Yale Law School, who led the Eritrean Boundary Commission and later the Claims Commission, told the Voice of America: “If the statement was made in good faith and they [Ethiopia] implement it, that would be great”.

But Addis Ababa’s unexpected move was not necessarily welcomed by all.

Eritrean residents of the Tsorena sub-zone in the border area, where the Border Commission had awarded several villages to Ethiopia, have openly expressed concerns. One of their representatives anonymously spoke to Australia’s Radio SBS Tigrinya via telephone and pleaded with the two governments to consider his community’s unique concerns.

Meanwhile, ethnic Irobs living in the border area between the two countries currently under Ethiopia’s rule organised a protest to condemn the decision to accept the boundary commission’s ruling. Irobs say the implementation of the “arbitrary” borders drawn by the border commission would divide their community between the two countries.

Despite these concerns and protests, most observers expected an enthusiastic response from the Eritrean government, which appeared to have finally gotten what it always wanted. Yet, no official response has come from the Eritrean state to date.

When contacted by Reuters on the day of the announcement, Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel claimed that he had not yet seen the Ethiopian government’s statement, so could not immediately comment. A day later, when pressed to comment on the issue on Twitter, Gebremeskel simply said, “Our position is crystal clear and has been so for 16 years”. He did not elaborate.

Other officials from the Eritrean regime also chose to stay quiet about the announcement that carried the African nation to headlines around the globe. This was not surprising; as in Ethiopia, Eritrean officials do not usually comment on such issues before receiving some guidance from more senior members of the regime. Only after Gebremeskel’s tweet did some of them began sharing – albeit vague– opinions on the issue.

Eritrean regime caught off-guard

Under President Isaias Afwerki‘s ironclad rule, Eritrea has become increasingly isolated from the international community. In 2009, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the country, which are still in force.

In 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea accused Eritrean state officials of committing “crimes against humanity”. For decades, things have been getting worse for Eritreans thanks to the short-sighted policies of the country’s repressive and reclusive government. The state has also become increasingly militarised under Afwerki’s rule.

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The Eritrean government blames Ethiopia and the international community for all its problems and refused to take any responsibility for the grave situation the country is currently in. In their 2017 report submitted to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Eritrean government once again tried to blame all its wrongdoings and failures on “the border war with Ethiopia that erupted in May 1998 and the subsequent ongoing existential external threats and belligerencies against Eritrea”.

But today, the Eritrean government appears to be caught off guard by Ethiopia’s unexpected readiness to resolve the long-standing bone of contention between the two countries. The Eritrean regime seems confused, unprepared and clueless about how it should respond to Ethiopia’s peace offer. 

Ethiopia’s call for normalisation and peace put President Afwerki in a very difficult position, as it undermines his current strategy of blaming Ethiopia for his repressive rule. Afwerki kept the country under tight control for two decades by using the “Ethiopia threat” as an excuse. Even if not fully convinced, many Eritreans were coerced to accept those fears as “legitimate” and stoically withstand years of economic hardship, political repression, and military obligations that are akin to modern slavery.

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If Ethiopia does follow through with its stated intention to accept the Boundary Commission’s 2002 verdict, it’s doubtful that Eritreans would accept any further fearmongering from the Afwerki administration regarding Addis Ababa’s actions and intentions. If Afwerki attempts to dismiss or undermine this long-awaited gesture from its neighbour, the population may openly turn against the regime.

Eritreans have been demonstrating their willingness to make amends with their neighbour for a very long time. Over the last few years, many Eritreans actively defied their government by travelling to Ethiopia to visit friends and family on Eritrean passports via a third country. These visits helped the Eritrean public hear from the Ethiopian people directly and diluted the state-controlled media’s hateful rhetoric about Ethiopia.

Today, there is a real opportunity to reach a peaceful resolution of this long-standing conflict. If the Eritrean government tries to ignore Addis Ababa’s peace offer, it will find itself taking a stance against not only the Ethiopian government but also the Eritrean people.

Source: Aljazeera

7 Comments

  1. The useful idiot toyboy of Miraim is now actively lifting his shirt to appease Dr.Abiy? My inclination of Dr. Abiy is he might be persuaded by the dying TPLFist to elist the toyboy but SOUNDS he has no time to this kind pf losers and he cannot afford to dilly dally again.

  2. @ Abraham T Zere

    The title of this article should have been ” How Woyane cannot afford to ignore Eritrea’s offer to withdraw its woyane troops from badame.”

    There should have been no war for this town in the first place. Badame was in fact within the territory of proper Eritrea. 80 % of the people who used to live there was Eritreans before the war and they were all kicked out by woyane post the war. It is mostly Tigrean settlers who are protesting saying like
    “ስንኖር ኢትዮጵያዊ ስንሞት ኤርትራዊ አንሆንም” These people were not Ethiopians and will never be Eritreans either.

    They need to go back to where they originally came from. They need to leave Wolkait , Tsegde and Tselemt area as well. No Ethiopian should die for badame any more and woyane as an organization should face war crime tribunal in the Hague and should be held liable for thousands soldiers who died for this senseless war.

  3. I am not quite sure if the Eritrean dictator Issayas Afeworki is willing to accept the legitimate peace offer extended by Ethiopia. The survival of his regime is solely dependent of by fear mongering, telling the Eritreans, Ethiopia has no good intentions towards Eritrea and therefore his regime must stand on a war footing in order to keep Eritrea safe from the Ethiopians, in effect galvanizing ambivalence, anxiety, hate, belligerency within the Eritrean population and societies towards the nation of Ethiopia, in general and therefore I am very skeptical of Mr. Afeworki honoring the Ethiopian peace offer, however there is no question that, Issayas will be under extreme pressure pressure from the international communities and actors who would like to see the nations be at peace. Well! as they say the ball is in Eritrea’s backyard and under Issayas’s watch.

  4. I am an Ethiopian whose relatives were recently uprooted from Ilubabor and Wollega simply because they are Amharas. Although my relatives and thousands of others are uprooted with their property being burnt or confiscated, the government did not take any action to stop this evil act.

    The attention of the government and private media is only about the Algiers agreement of cessation of hostilities b/n Ethiopia and shabo land.

    THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION IS: IF I AM TOLD TO LIVE AND WORK ONLY AT MY BIRTH PLACE [ETHIOPIAN CONSTITUTION], WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT BADME? I RATHER CARE MORE FOR HUMERA LAND ANNEXED BY WOYANES. I WISH THE SHABOS TAKE NOT ONLY BADME BUT ALL OF THE PROPER TIGRE LAND.

    THAT WILL GIVE ULTIMATE PEACE FOR THE REST OF ETHIOPIA

  5. Alebachew evil,

    keep dreaming mind you, you lost the war and battle with Eritrea because of your silly attitude! as simple as that, nothing much!!! Let me tell you something about Ethiopians, your brothers and sisters I meet(in Ethiopia) who were in the army who have lost limbs and spent their time in Eritrea desert they have everlasting fear of the guys who wear jacket and shorts with AK47, so lets have no illusion here, your brothers have a genuine fear but fear of respect and acknowledgement because they believed in their cause, whatever it might be!!you are having a nightmare and fear of Eritrea and Eritreans and yet now you are gambling by Ethiopia in the name of TPLF, the dying organisation of feeble and insignificant lumpen people is on death row and make no mistake the true Ethiopians and Eritreans are going to bury you for good, no more trying to play amhara oromo or agame or Eritrea, you are done now prepare yourself to be with the Chiwawa racist son of a b Melles. bye bye agame you can change your name produce Eri nik but you are on death row waiting to be dispatched 2 meter under

  6. wedinkaf
    I am no much for a small brain typical eritrean bluffer and therefore I will put you in your place to find your equals and insult at one another.
    Ethiopia lost the the war ??? what a preposterous lie!
    under normal circumstances I don’t generalize, however you delusional eritreans are a born liers.

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