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Eritrea and Ethiopia: Recap and Brief Commentary on Recent Developments

  • The following is a brief recap and commentary on the recent massive and rapid developments toward peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

 

1. These are truly momentous and exciting times. On Friday July 13th, H.E. President Afwerki gave a keynote address to the latest round of youth graduating from the Warsay Yikealo Secondary School, located in Sawa, where he announced that he will lead a delegation and pay official visit to Ethiopia on July 14th. Commenting on Twitter, Eritrea’s Minister of Information, Yemane Gebremeskel, stated “the visit will cement further [and] add momentum to the joint march for peace and cooperation set in motion by both [President Isaias and Ethiopia’s PM Dr. Abiy Ahmed].” Also commenting on Twitter, the Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, Fitsum Arega, stated, “The visit will strengthen the friendship [and] ties [between] Ethiopia and Eritrea. We thank H.E. President Isaias for honoring us with a visit [and] we welcome him warmly!”

 

The news follows the announcement from earlier in the week, on Monday, where Ethiopia and Eritrea declared their “state of war” over and agreed to open embassies, develop ports, and resume flights. The announcement on Monday came after Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, accompanied by a small Ethiopian delegation, arrived in Asmara, Eritrea, a day earlier to engage in historic talks with the Eritrean President, H.E. Isaias Afwerki. The Joint

Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia, signed by the two leaders in Asmara on Monday morning, states that:

1. The state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has come to an end. A new era of peace and friendship has been opened.

2. The two governments will endeavor to forge intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation that serves and advances the vital interests of their peoples;

3. Transport, trade and communications links between the two countries will resume; diplomatic ties and activities will restart;

4. The decision on the boundary between the two countries will be implemented.

5. Both countries will jointly endeavor to ensure regional peace, development and cooperation.

The agreement is only the latest step in a series of encouraging and significant developments between the two countries, after years of tension. It promises to present numerous and significant benefits for both nations, which are faced with a broad array of considerable challenges. Moreover, a normalization of relations between the two countries will undoubtedly help promote peace, security, and stability throughout the general Horn of Africa region, which has long been plagued by conflict and poverty.

Also on Monday, the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, who was visiting Addis Ababa, said that he believed the need for UN sanctions against Eritrea will no longer exist following its peace deal with Ethiopia. Speaking to reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Guterres stated, “The sanctions were motivated by a number of events that took place, (but) it is my belief that those events will no longer exist…If the reasons that led to the sanctions will no longer exist…they will naturally become obsolete.” Then the next day, the United Nations Security Council described the Joint Declaration, signed by the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia, as “a historic and significant” move with “far-reaching consequences” for the whole Horn of Africa region and beyond.

In a press statement on July 10th, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo stated, among other thins, “Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea will further the cause of stability, security, and development in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea.”. These expressions were broadly resonated in other similar statements issued by various countries – some at the level of Head of State or Government – in Africa and elsewhere as well as by international and regional organizations.

2. The benefits from peace should be significant. Both countries are faced with a number of significant challenges, and thus an end to the costly – and largely unnecessary – conflict and tension will allow the two to better focus their attention on addressing their various and considerable challenges. For instance, with peace and stability, vital human and fiscal resources can be used to combat poverty or promote development, rather than having to be diverted toward defense and national security. Indeed, both countries, and especially Eritrea, will have enjoy the political latitude to review, significantly reduce and reconfigure their defense and security architecture as the regional climate shifts from a perpetual state of belligerence to one of enduring peace and close cooperation.

3. Another important consideration is how peace and stability will significantly help promote investment, socio-economic growth, poverty reduction, and general development in Eritrea (and Ethiopia). Until the emergence of the conflict in 1998, Eritrea and Ethiopia enjoyed strong economic, cultural and security relations. Prior to the war, Ethiopia was Eritrea’s top export partner. Furthermore, Ethiopia had been using the Eritrean ports at Assab and Massawa at symbolic rates and without any hindrance, while even during the war, Eritrea offered the use of its ports to transport humanitarian aid to Ethiopia.

Simply, peace and stability between the two can reignite once-thriving cross-border trade and economic activities. Furthermore, the reopening of the Assab and Massawa ports to Ethiopia will immensely benefit both countries. For Ethiopia, this will provide it with the opportunity to diversity its port-outlets – mainly through Djibouti at this time -and reduce costs where applicable.

Moreover, peace and stability can help promote a number of high-potential sectors for Eritrea and Ethiopia. In this regard,, both sides will need to focus on economic sectors of complimentarity to augment the dividends to both countries in a fair and sustainable manner.

4. The developments in relation to the removal of sanctions against Eritrea are also particularly interesting. Specifically, they underscore the fact that the sanctions against Eritrea (which were imposed in 2009, and then broadened several years later) were never really or truly about Eritrea’s alleged support for terrorism. Beyond the considerable issue of the dubious legitimacy or basis for the original adoption of sanctions against Eritrea, recall that the pretexts for the sanctions have long been non-existent, with a long series of UN Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (UN SEMG) reports consistently concluding that they have found “no evidence of Eritrea’s support for Al-Shabaab.” The fact that they are now being questioned, as Eritrea and Ethiopia work toward forging peace and normalizing relations, illustrates how they were less about terrorism than other factors. Furthermore, consider the recent comments posted on Twitter by Ambassador Idd Mohamed, a Somali diplomat, who commented that, “As Former Alternate Ambassador of Somalia to the UN who participated all discussions and meetings between UN SC and IGAD member states, I can confirm the sanction imposed to Eritrea on behalf of Somalia by UN SC was politically motivated than factual or evidence based.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern warfare, defined war as the continuation of politics by other means. In the case of Eritrea, the sanctions and international politics essentially became a case of war by other means. The removal of sanctions thus is a key development, since not only did they unjustly hurt the people of Eritrea, their removal will help promote the country’s image (e.g. as an unstable political risk, which can deter investors) and encourage investment.

5. Finally, writing days ago, as Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea, I pointed out how the ongoing encouraging developments between the two countries would present both populations, particularly the youth, with a renewed sense of optimism and hope. Since then (as well as in the weeks prior), I have regularly and extensively discussed the ongoing and general developments at length with Eritreans, especially youth, from across the country. Invariably, the responses to the developments toward peace with Ethiopia have been positive and forward looking.

For example, according to Filmon Tesfalem, a young college student, youth mentor, and budding author originally from Mai Mne, a small town in southern Eritrea, located near the border with the Ethiopia, “This is very exciting. Peace is the fountain of development and prosperity, and it will impact all of us positively and in every which way.” Similarly, Estifanos Ghirmay, a successful artist, youth volunteer, and college student currently studying at the College of Arts and Social Sciences (CASS), located in Adi Keih, commented, “These initiatives are great. Working together [with Ethiopia] we have so much potential – in arts, education, economy, security, development… everything. Of course, challenges remain, but this is a great step.” Last, Ms. Hermon Tesfamariam, a college student and impressive scholar at CASS, who is originally from Asmara, happily commented, “I am so pleased. Peace is always good… the best is yet to come.

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