Most Ethiopians have a mixed feeling about the breaking news on EPRDF’s decision to accept the unconditional implementation of the April 13, 2002 ruling by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary commission.
The war cost about fifty to seventy thousand Ethiopian lives. It is expected that the causality on Eritrean side would be in the same range. We also know that the root cause of the war is deeply intertwined with the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front’s (TPLF) strategy of forging unsacred marriage with the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) during their armed struggle with the then government of Ethiopia, the Derg.
Reckon that Ethiopia and Eritrea are far more than just neighbors because the two people share long history, culture, language and identity. Eritrea is comprised of nine ethnic groups: Tigres (40%), Tigre (30%), Afar (10%), Beja (5%), Nara (5%), Saho (4%), Bilen (2%), Kunama (2%) and Rashaida (2% Arabic speakers). Leaving the debate about the percentages aside, the following ethnicities are also found in Ethiopia: Tigres, Afar, Saho, Kunama, Bilen/Agew and Tigre in Eritrea is a language derived from Geez. Afar in Eritrea are people that live over 1,100 kilo meters of the Red Sea coast. The same people live in Afar region of Ethiopia. Since the countries share a border of over 1,000 kilometers, the announcement of Dr Abiy, if succeeds, should imply amicable settlement of the Badme situation through meaningful dialogue, and a reunion of thousands of families currently separated by the artificial border.
The condition ‘if succeeds ‘could be appended with multiple possibilities. Before, I comment on the desired outcome per me as an Ethiopian, I would like to talk about my two significant concerns. First, comes the degree of appeasement by the rulers in Ethiopia when dealing with aggression by neighbors. In the Ethio-Eritrean war, the aggressor was Eritrea! Even if the panel at The Hague awarded Badme to Eritrea, it has established an important fact; the Eritrean regime was the aggressor. It is ludicrous that the border commission has not awarded any form of meaningful compensation to Ethiopia. History is full of cases where the aggressed is provided with reparation. According to a report by BBC, in the counter offensive by Ethiopian forces, over a quarter landmass of Eritrea was taken over. Ethiopia had the perfect opportunity to assert its claim militarily not only on the contested territories but on its ownership of Port Assab. That did not occur, and as a result we still have frustrations because of the following important, but still unanswered questions.
As a victor why did Meles chose not to dictate the OAU’s peace framework? Why did he surrender the border issue for a judgment of arbitrators after a victory on the ground? Why did he provide arbitrators with evidence that counted against Ethiopia’s interest, and why sign the Algiers Peace Agreement on December 12, 2000, handing out the fruits of the total victory to Eritrea? What about the thousands of lives lost, not to mention the material resources the country has been forced to waste? Why didn’t he at least legally claim Assab, the natural and historical port of Ethiopia? And why is the peace process expedited by Dr. Abiy, in his sixty something days as Prime Minister, possibly through a pressure by TPLF, when both Meles and Hailemariam sat on the issue for years?
Second, Ethiopians cannot forget the negative impact of TPLF’s inappropriate marriage with EPLF until the war broke in May 1998.Before the war, those who associate themselves with Eritrean People Liberation Front had taken undue advantage of the situation, the highest manifestation of which was, Eritrea appearing in the world stage as top Exporter of Coffee. I am confident Dr. Abiy is not a type of Prime Minister that sells the interest of its citizens short. The mixed feeling now is from a pessimism and suspicion as to what TPLF has in store for Ethiopians. This is what Americans would call, what is the catch here? The further consolidation of power by Dr. Abiy is key in overcoming this concern.
It is great that Dr. Abiy is extending his positive message of peace to Eritrea. Given 2 billion dollars of average port fees a year, the use of port Djibouti has cost Ethiopia at least 54 billion dollars over the last twenty seven years. Port Assab is Ethiopia’s natural, historical and free port. Ato Esayas must understand that Dr. Abiy must succeed in his peace endeavor with Eritrea. It is not a matter of choice! If Dr. Abiy doesn’t succeed, then Ethiopia will be free to open the Pandora box, and pick its most wanted outcome of totally abrogating the decision by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary commission. The no war no peace situation should be acceptable to Ethiopia after it takes over Port Assab forcefully, and it can. Meles’s conclusion that Eritrea will only feed its camels at Port Assab is absurd, irrelevant and dishonest since Port Assab is the natural, historical and free port of Ethiopia!
The only right course of action by Eritrea is to accept Dr. Abiy’s invitation for peace, and genuinely cooperate with him in a brotherly spirit. Ato Esaias, must come to his senses, stay away from mischiefs and instead genuinely cooperate to work in tandem towards a joint economic & democratic progress, and possibly a confederation that can ultimately lead the two people in the long run, to an acceptable Federation. This is not a choice! There is no other option! Ethiopia cannot continue being the most populated land locked nation in the world. Eritrea is really left with two options .i. immediately solve the Badme situation amicably, settle the port issue by allowing Ethiopia’s free use of the port, and meaningfully cooperate towards Confederation / Federation. ii. Face the inevitable war and forcefully let go of Badme & Assab for good. His Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Abiy should be considering the abrogation of the agreement should Eritrea fail to work towards a lasting peace, and solidarity with Ethiopia.
Yes, the ball is in Eritrea’s court but let’s not be blind and fail to see when the ball bounces, or if it has already bounced! Our choices are pretty clear!
Melaku from Atlanta.