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What Triggered the Devastating Ethio-Eritrea War?

Ethiopia and Eritrea entered into a bloody war on Ginbot 1990 E.C (May 1998 G.C) when the Eritrean government invaded some parts in Northern Ethiopia, Tigray region (specifically Badme and Zalanbesa – though Badme is usually referred to as the flash point for the war). Some people have written about the main reasons that turned these two long-time friendly governments into arch-foes, but there is not still a clear understanding of what really caused it. Many people are unable to comprehend the hidden political and economical reasons that led to the fade out of the relationships of the two countries and finally caused the break out of a full scale war. As we all know, the two countries stayed in a full-scale war for two years from 1990 – 1992 E.C (1998 – 2000 G.C) but the no-war no-peace situation continues until this very day.


In this article, I’m going to provide the main causes that triggered the war which has cost tens of thousands of lives and Billions of Dollars from both countries.

According to some independent scholars, one of the reasons for the war is the difference in economic policy that arisen between the two governments when the Eritrean government introduced its new currency, the Nakfa. The Eritrean government insisted that Nakfa should be exchanged with the Birr (the Ethiopian Currency) in the same rate which was not accepted by the Ethiopian government that insisted the two currencies should be valued according to international standard and exchange rates. When they couldn’t reach an agreement, the Ethiopian government changed the Birr Notes which angered the Eritrean government officials.

Read Aloud:   Ethiopian airlines past and present

The second reason given is the absence of clear demarcation between the borders of the two countries. After Eritrea declared its independence as a country, known boarder agreements between the two countries were not made.  Things were running according to common understandings of the two sides without internationally binding and agreed-up-on demarcation on their border. Also, there were clear gaps in resources sharing between the two countries, such as a port outlet which is a hot topic of discussion among the Ethiopian people until now.

The third possible cause of the war is that the government of Eritrea wanted to build a unique Eritrean nationalism completely separate from Ethiopia. Because Eritrea was part of Ethiopia before it got separated, the people of the two countries are closely related in many ways – have become families due to marriage relationships, are culturally similar, have been together in social, religious, and other gatherings (celebrations) and generally share similar feelings in many aspects. The government of Eritrea saw this as an impediment in building a unique Eritrean nationalism and nationhood. On top of that, some section of Eritrea, though a few in number, didn’t support the separation from Ethiopia and were still opting to stay united with Ethiopia. The government of Eritrea doesn’t like such sentiments because they don’t go with its policy of building unique Eritrean nationalism and nationhood. The government of Eritrea instigated the war because it wanted to cut relations with Ethiopia to achieve its goal. On a similar note, the Ethiopian government was facing strong opposition from different parties for introducing Ethnic-based federalism and allowing Eritrea to go independent. Therefore, some Ethiopian scholars argue that the Ethiopian government saw the war as an opportunity to buy the heart of Ethiopian unity proponents and was able to line-up tens of thousands of people when it called people to join the military to defend their country from the Eritrean aggression.

Read Aloud:   An Open Letter to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn -Tedla Woldeyohannes, Ph.D.


A few years after independence, the Eritrean government started a forced conscription – declaring that every Eritrean should participate in a military training. This helped it to own a modern defense force and started to arm-twist neighboring countries to fulfill its political and economic ambitions.  This aggressive behavior of the Eritrean government is what has put it in war with all of its neighboring countries – Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Thus, one other reasons for the Eritrean government to aggressively invade lands deep into the Northern parts of Ethiopia and claimed them as its territory was because it knew the weakness and limitation of the Ethiopian defense forces.

The fourth reason for the war is the differences in the governance system the two countries practice in their respective constituencies. The Ethiopian government follows a decentralized Federal Democratic System of governance where the country is divided into federal states which have their own budget and government but all under the umbrella of a central federal government. The Eritrean government, on the other hand, follows a strictly centralized system of governance where every major decision flows down from the central government in a unidirectional way and every governmental body, be it in the upper, middle and/or lower government structure, is not a decision maker but simply implements what comes from above. The Ethiopian government, on other hand, labeled the Eritrean government as undemocratic for not providing freedom to its different Ethnic groups. Both governments saw this difference as something that can trigger a challenge to them.

Read Aloud:   Are We Selling The Nation Out | By Kebour Ghenna

As the nature of the subject under discussion is very complex (and information is hidden in most part), it’s not possible to list the causes of the war with 100% certainty. The reasons listed above are only some of the many that might have caused this devastating war. The two countries have been giving their own version of the story, but they mostly use it for propaganda purposes and lack honesty. In my next article, I’ll come up with detailed analysis of the consequence and the possible solutions of the war. Stay Tuned!


  1. you did not told us something new, Sir. this PR has been there for 2 decades. You simply copied and pasted from TPLF’s propaganda office.

    This is a cheap TPLF propaganda to disrupt the Ethiopian general public from the struggle to wipe the TPLF.

    Death to TPLF

    • Bravo Mot Le’WOYANE ….

      these guys are probably (woyane) diaspora agents and they want woyane to declare war on Eritrea. We know woyane don’t have public support and as a result it ain’t in a position to do that any more. Woyane will be digging its own grave if it start any war from now on. There will be no more woyane through out the country within few weeks if they dare to go to war. The writer of this article must be some kind of ወፈፌ to think about Eritrea at this time when the real enemy of the state is Woyane.የራስዋ አሮባት የሰው ….እንደሚባለው ነው።

  2. It is the economy stupid. The main reason for the war is that the devil worshiping tyrannical TPLF calculated that war with Eritrea is a very very profitable business with low risk for people of tigria origin as the vast majority of fighters were from south of the country.
    1. They wanted to take the position of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrea origin as the richest groups in Ethiopia. Eritreans were one of the wealthiest group in Ethiopia and Tigreans one of the poorest. At the time of Mengistu’s overthrow some of the most successful businesses were owned by Eritreans. After his overthrow, they were doing even better b/c the economy in Eritrea was doing well. For example over 50% of Ethiopian airlines employees were people of Eritrea origin. Tigrean people were very jealous and could not want to take over the job and businesses of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrea origin. The justification of war allowed them to loot Eritrean owned businesses and job by mass deportation of innocent eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrea origin to Eritrea. THIS IS A PERFECT CASE OF WAR PROFITEERING. The percentage of tigreans working for Ethiopian airlines before the war was less than 5 percent. Now over 90% of Ethiopian airlines employees are of tigria origin.

  3. Sorry sir:

    No, non, no abolutely not. I mean it and am speaking from my heart sir. Almost all the Eritrean diaspora i have met (bloody)hate Ethiopia and Ethiopians. It is unfothomable. Beware and be careful whenever you see eritrean around you.He us a snake in the garden and probably is digging a grave for you. I mean it sir. As far as Ethiopia is concerned Eritreans are a clear and present danger. Please beware, beware, beware. Survival is key.

  4. Sorry sir:

    No, no, no absolutely not. I mean it and am speaking from my heart sir. Almost all the Eritrean diaspora i have met (bloody)hate Ethiopia and Ethiopians. It is unfothomable. Beware and be careful whenever you see eritrean around you.He is a snake in the garden and probably is digging a grave for you. I mean it sir. As far as Ethiopia is concerned Eritreans are a clear and present danger. Please beware, beware, beware. Survival is key.

  5. ሻዕቢያዎች በአሁኑ ጊዜ እንደ ዘንዶ ተጠምጥሞባቸው ሲያበቃ ትንፋሽ አሳጥቶ የገዛ ህዝቦቻቸውን ሁሉ ለመሸጥ አብቅቷዋቸው ያለው ድህነት አይኑን አፍጥጦ እየመጣባቸው እንዳለ እያዩ እንዴት መለስ ከፍቶ የሰጣቸውን ሃብታም ምድርን አይውረሩ ተብሎ ይጠበቃል? (ለሽያጩ ምሳሌዎች፣ ፎቶአቸው ከላይ ተለጥፎ የሚገኘው የደቡብ አፍሪቃ ሻዕቢያውያን የመንገድ ተዳዳሪ ሴቶች ምስክር ናቸው::) ከወረራው በኋላ ደግሞ ወዲ ዜናዊ አስረስ፣ “ምሓዙትና ስለዝኾኑስ ይወሩና እዮም ኢልና ኣይተፀበናን ነይርና/ጓዶቻችን እንደመሆናቸው መጠን ይወሩናል ብለን አልጠበቅንም ነበር” የሚለው የአዞ እንባ ማወናበድ፣ በተለይም የትግራይን ህዝብ መወጫ የሌለው ውጥረት ውስጥ እንዳስገባ ከተገነዘበ በኋላ የወረወረው ማላገጥ ነበር:: ከጥቂት ወራቶች ቀደም ሲል ከመላ ኢትዮጵያ የተባረረው ሻዕቢያ እንዴት ብሎ ነው ለጓድነት የሚበቃው? ለጠፋው የሰው ልጅ ሂይወት እና እንዲሁም ንብረት ዋና ተጠያቂው መለስ ይሆናል:: ከዚያን በኋላም ነበር እርሱ እና ባለቤቱ ለብቻቸው መላ ኢትዮጵያን መዝረፍ የተያያዙት::

    አሁን ያለው ቀዳሚ ጥያቄ፣ ከዚህ ከገባንበት ውጥረት ወጥተን እንዴት በሰላም እንኖራለን ለሚለው መልስ መሻት ቅድሚያ ይኖረዋል::

  6. I not sure why people like this is ‘writer’ spend a great deal of time and energy to write such garbage. We all knew that Badme was part of Eritrea… and that’s what the international court ultimately decided. Also, the THRUTH (as carefully researched documents show) is that TPLF decided to get rid of Shabiya using Ethiopian resources, simply because TPLF leadership knew that they can’t have a free rein in Ethiopia while Shabiya is next door. They knew Shabiya does not subscribe to Ethnic based policies, which they told openly to TPLF leaders. Anything else is just an outcome of the conflict… not more. So, please stop lying to the Ethiopian people.

  7. Sorry folks there was a typo error on my previous post. I said.

    “Tigrean people were very jealous and could not want to take over the job and businesses of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrea origin.”

    I meant,

    Tigrean people were very jealous and could not WAIT (NOT WANT) to take over the job and businesses of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrea origin.

    Also, I should have said Trigrean elite and hard core tyranical TPLF supporters, not everyday trigrean people. Everyday trigean are just as much a victim of devil worshipping TPLF leaders as are all ethnic groups of Ethiopia. AFTERALL TPLF STARTED BY CANABILIZING ITS OWN PEOPLE. Image a father and mother eating their own kids. That is what TPLF leaders did to tigria people in 1984. THEY CANIBALIZED OVER 500,000 Tigrean people.
    Lastly, the economy of tigria regions bordering eritrea has been a mess and disastrous since the 1998-2000 war. Most of those regions were doing lots of business with eritrea prior to war. After war, no trade only episodic fighting and the biggest industry in those tigria regions are TPLP elite controlled refugee camps, cash cow of TPLF.
    TPLF elites shuttle a significant # of refugees to Sudan after receiving thousands of dollar from the refugees family in US or Europe. Most of these refugees end up dying n Mediterranean sea, there organs harvested and sold in Israel or rich arab countries or will be sold as slaves in Libya or beheaded by ISIS.

  8. Bisrat,

    Generalization is always wrong. You are generalizing 110% and wrong 1000%. Do the math. Every group of people have a good and bad people. There are good tigreans, amharas, oromos. eritreans and Gambelas and bad tigreans, amharas, oromos, eritreans and gambelas. Also, most of the eritrean in diaspora hate TPLF elite in particular and the trigrean people in general. THEY DO NOT HATE OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS IN ETHIOPIA. Remember, TPLF/tigrea is not EHIOPIA. They hate TPLf and tigrean people b/c almost 100% of them have a family member that died during 1998-2000 war or one of more their family member was deported from ethiopia after their house, property and life saving was looted by criminal TPLF elite or they were forced to become refugee b/c of the disastrous economic condition in eritrea after the war. The economy in eritrea was booming before the war.
    I disagree with eritreans in diaspora who hate all trigrea people b/c they are generalizing like you and 1000 % wrong like you.

  9. Mr. Truth,
    Does it matter to know who really started the war? The simple fact is two morons were killing their own brothers and sisters and singing about it. Regarding Bisrat’s comment, it is absolutely the truth. Eritreans (not all) do hate and consider themselves to be superior than the rest of us. I have got friends that are born and raised in Ethiopia who consider themselves Eritrean and at that very militant towards Ethiopians. Therefore, what or who started the Ethio-Eritrean war is meaningless at this stage. The fact remains they are still at a stand still with hundreds of soldiers across their borders. Using the stalemate to justify their stay on power. I have no idea as to why politicians are so blind to support either EPLF or TPLF knowing how sadistic these regimes are. Just read the human rights report for this countries. It makes you shiver. The beatings and torture that is being carried out in these countries is similar to what Nazi Germany’s Gestapo was doing to the Jews. Hell to such regimes!!

  10. could not bother to read all through but the first line tell it all why waste time.

    Typical article crafted t DEDEBIT with DEDEB analysis by a certain deluded individual but it is customary to Ethiopian leaders to re-write history according to their dim knowledge just to be in power.
    when will be accurate Ethiopian history to be written?nay is the answer.

  11. this is neither an expert analysis nor revealing anything new. The writer seems to have used some cut and paste mechanism to patch-up some incoherent hodgepodge to feel important. Judging by his introductory bluff, it is advisable that he doesn’t spend anymore time or energy on a subject he definitely seems to have an absolute zero clue!

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