Like almost all conflicts, the one that was raging in northern Ethiopia during the past two years was fought both on the ground and along the information front. Within the latter battle, a recurring, ever-present element was disinformation. In fact, disinformation remained central and dominant since the very beginning of the conflict. At the same time that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) initiated the conflict with its unprovoked November 2020 attack on Ethiopia’s northern command outposts, the group’s supporters coordinated to launch the #TigrayGenocide hashtag campaign.
Today, even while the large-scale conflict in northern Ethiopia is purportedly over, the disinformation and blatant falsehoods continue to swirl. Now they aim to characterize Eritrea as a scheming “spoiler” and hope to portray it as innately disappointed or ill at ease with the potential for peace. In addition to being extremely dangerous and highly irresponsible, these claims are completely misguided and far from the truth.
Peace is cherished
Eritrea deeply treasures genuine, lasting peace, particularly because the country has experienced numerous difficulties and been on the frontlines of externally-imposed wars and instability. To be certain, over the decades, war has never been the country’s desire or preference. Far from it. Instead, the country has regularly been forced to take up arms in order to attain its freedom, defend its territorial sovereignty, and maintain its independence. Having sacrificed so much, borne a tremendously heavy burden, and paid extremely high costs in blood and treasure as a result of war, Eritrea isn’t against peace – it cherishes and values it.
Contrary to the claims of detractors accusing the country of destabilization and labeling it a “spoiler”, there is no threat to Eritrea from lasting peace in Ethiopia. The opposite is true. It does not see or approach the regional situation in the Horn as a zero-sum game or opportunity to gain benefits at others’ expense. Rather, it has regularly articulated that the fates of the countries of the region are closely-linked and intertwined; the establishment and maintenance of peace and stability in one have positive spillover effects and will allow others to reach greater heights. Eritrea’s proactive efforts to institutionalize initiatives toward regional peace, cooperation, and integration alongside other countries across the region are demonstrative of this outlook and approach.
In 2018, the powerful winds of change, optimism, and hope swept across the region. Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a much-celebrated agreement on peace and cooperation. The agreement was met with unreserved elation and euphoria by the peoples of the two countries, offering scenes and memories never to be forgotten. It also augured great hope and aspiration for a new positive chapter in the region, characterized by mutual goodwill, friendship, progress, and cooperation across numerous areas and sectors. The establishment of enduring peace now will help to allow the various provisions of that historic agreement to be pursued with greater vigor and dynamism.
Of course, peace, which includes the complete disarmament of the TPLF, will also have profound security implications for Eritrea. In 1998, the TPLF, then at the helm of power in Ethiopia, launched an aggressive expansionary war against Eritrea. Despite having agreed to peace with Eritrea over two decades ago, the TPLF went on to militarily occupy Eritrean territories, regularly made calls for the overthrow of the Eritrean government, and boldly proclaimed its intentions to carry out “military action to oust the regime in Eritrea.” More recently, as part of the war it launched in November 2020, the TPLF planned to invade Eritrea to carry out “regime change” and incorporate large swathes of sovereign Eritrean territory into the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. It shelled numerous Eritrean villages near the border, kidnapped civilians, and indiscriminately launched missiles at heavily-populated cities, including Asmara, Eritrea’s capital.
Accordingly, the removal of a longstanding regional scourge and existential threat can only be regarded as a positive development for the region.
Peace offers great promise
Having withstood decades of war and foreign aggression, peace additionally provides great promise for Eritrea. Lasting, genuine peace and stability will offer a vital boost to its economy, encourage foreign investment, and allow the country to singularly focus its attention and resources from occupation of its sovereign lands; resultant and intermittent military; and, national security threats to promoting socioeconomic development and nation-building.
Despite its relatively small size, the country is blessed with vast potential and an abundance of resources. Peace will allow it to leverage its huge comparative advantages, including its extractive industry, blue economy, tourism sector, and locational/geostrategic endowments, among others.
Here, it is useful to recall how after winning its independence in 1991, with minimal foreign aid or external influence, Eritrea embarked upon the monumental task of reconstructing and rebuilding its war-shattered country and economy. Despite the sheer scale of the challenge, the early signs were promising and the period was marked by high levels of optimism. Numerous schools, hospitals, dams, and other critical infrastructure were rehabilitated or constructed, access to water, telecommunications, education, and healthcare were improved, and a large-scale demobilization of the country’s armed liberation forces was begun. Additionally, from 1993 to 1998 (when the TPLF launched its war of aggression), some economic diversification was achieved, inflation was kept relatively low, and the nation’s gross domestic product grew at an average annual rate of 11 percent.
While only a snapshot of the period, this does suggest that with the conditions of lasting peace and stability, there is considerable potential – and ability – in Eritrea for significant socioeconomic growth and sustainable development. Ultimately, if genuine, lasting peace can help the country to fulfill this significant potential, it can only be most welcome.
Those that gained most from conflict remain against true peace
The past several years and even decades of conflict and instability inflicted a great toll on Eritrea and much of the wider region. At the same time, however, some parties benefited greatly – financially, politically, or in terms of accruing power and influence. Today, as then, it is them, and not Eritrea, that are against a genuine, enduring peace that would put the hopes, aspirations, and interests of the people of the region front and center.