The Horn of Africa, in general, and Eritrea, in particular, has long been a focal point of strategic interest to global powers. For much of its history, the strategic location of Eritrea has attracted international attention. Much of its past has been marked by foreign aggression, isolation and sanction, all of which were totally unnecessary and unreasonable. As a result, the government and people of Eritrea were forced to choose the hardest way of resistance to preserve their independence. The resources of the country, including its work force, have been mobilized to defend against foreign aggression and hostility. The purpose of this article is to share my observation about the 2018/2019 events from the standpoint of peace and negotiation. Within the framework of a checkered history and the past seventy years in particular, Eritrea has literally tasted only eight years of peace. The first seven years of independence plus one year of peace following the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018.
After two decades of extraordinary resistance and patience, a wind of change started to blow in mid-2018 that nourished the hopes of Eritreans and the community of the entire region. In a televised address on June 20, 2018, President Isaias Afwerki announced the government’s plan to send a delegation to Ethiopia, the first official high-level diplomatic contact ever since the TPLF instigated conflict in 1998. This courageous and generous decision marked the beginning of a rapid rapprochement that effectively ended the two-decade long conflict. On July 2018, Eritrea hosted the newly elected and visionary Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has taken corrective measures in the relations with Eritrea that was adulterated by the TPLF. In the historic Asmara peace and friendship agreement the two leaders issued a landmark statement declaring: “The state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has come to an end.” The growing relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia have stimulated higher expectations and have positive spillover effects on the region. Today, Eritrea finds itself on a new chapter of peace and cooperation. After twenty years of strained relations with Ethiopia, the people of Eritrea are enjoying peace.
Eritrea has been strengthening its relations with countries of the region, notably Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya and the Gulf states at an unprecedented pace. Somalia and Eritrea are now enjoying good relations committed to recover their historic relations. The reciprocal visit of the presidents of the two countries is an indication of the warm relation. Eritrea also made a modest contribution in solving the internal problems of Ethiopia by creating a platform for discussion among the opposing parties in the country.
According to the ‘Peace Talks in Focus 2019’ report that analyzed the peace processes and negotiations that took place in the world in 2018, forty-nine peace processes and negotiations were identified worldwide. The largest number of cases was reported in Africa, which accounted for 45% of the peace processes identified in the world. The game changer peace processes and negotiations Eritrea entered with Ethiopia and the remaining neighboring countries has created positive dynamics in the region. This crucial breakthrough that effectively ended the twenty years unresolved dispute was preceded by confidence-building measures. Trust and confidence between the parties is the backbone of any sustainable peace. When parties fail to consider how the peace agreement should be implemented in practical terms, trust can be undermined and hope can evaporate quickly. Besides the signing of the agreements, in Asmara and Jeddah respectively, the two countries restored their diplomatic, economic and communication facilities. The official diplomatic engagements were augmented by the exchange of cultural troupes. An Eritrean cultural troupe went to Ethiopia months back and was recently reciprocated by an Ethiopian cultural troupe’s visit in Eritrea. To ensure that the peace agreement is properly implemented and trust between the parties is maintained, the government of Eritrea is playing a proactive role in various fronts.
The function of peace should not be restricted to the resolution of the conflict. It must include the transformation of the existing social, economic, diplomatic and political conditions at national, regional and international levels. The bilateral and multilateral engagements of Eritrea played a modest role in the transformation of the region’s volatility into a stable and friendly environment. The prevailing peace and its prospects respond to the developmental needs of the entire region. Peace and development reinforce each other. There can be no development without peace and peace cannot be sustainable without development. Peace provides for the people a sense of security, stability and welfare. In short, national development is impossible without peace. Peace, directly and positively changes the quality of life or welfare of the people. For the last two decades, Eritrea has been faced development challenges ranging from military aggression to unjust sanction. 2018/2019 has become the first year of peace for Eritrea to channel its resources and attention to development in a relatively stable environment.