By The Strathink Editorial Team
Ethiopia-Eritrea relations today are no better than they were seventeen years ago with the signing of the Algiers Peace Agreement.
It is a relationship defined by no war, no peace. Periodically fighting erupts along areas on the border—not enough to declare escalation but enough to remind everyone that all is not well.
President Isayas and his government continue to demand ending the U.N. sanctions—calling the lifting “long overdue”—despite the fact that the U.S. imposed further sanctions on Eritrea’s navy when a U.N. monitoring body found a shipment of North Korean-made military communications equipment heading from Pyongyang to Eritrea in 2016.
Young Eritreans are fleeing the country into Ethiopia at a rate of 5,000 per month, draining the country of its workers and its future.
Eritrea seems to remain stuck in time—its economy regressing, its political system functioning as a one-man show and the social fabric unraveling in an environment of fear, paranoia and hopelessness.
Some in the United States and Europe regularly express concern about the border issue—and not out of concern over the roughly 1,500 people living in this border outpost between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Eritrea is a rogue state that has been wreaking havoc across the region since its independence in 1995. Eritrea sponsors terrorist organizations such as Ginbot 7, al-Shabaab and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which compromise the United States’ counterterrorism efforts in a rough neighborhood.
Eritrea’s violent conflicts with Djibouti, Sudan and Yemen threaten to destabilize the strategically important Horn of Africa.
And Eritrea’s out-migration of at least 5,000 people a month is contributing to Europe’s refugee problem.
The U.S. and its European allies believe that resolving the issue of Badme will end the hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea, thus moving towards a more stable and secure region. Does this little border town hold the key for a durable peace in the Horn of Africa?
Following the 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Algiers Peace Agreement was signed ending the conflict. Both countries were awarded “wins” and “losses” based on the Agreement. The Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) was set up to “demarcate and delimit” the borders in dispute. Ethiopia agreed in principle to the decisions made by the EEBC, with the endorsement of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, and the parliament statements proclaiming Ethiopia’s satisfaction with and wholehearted acceptance of the decision.
Eritrea initially accepted the ruling of the EEBC as well.
However, despite the EEBC ruling that Badme was within Eritrean territory based on a series of colonial maps, Ethiopia balked at handing over Badme to Eritrea. According to the Ethiopian Government, the majority of people living in Badme identified themselves as Ethiopians. Before the war, there were approximately 1,000 people who identified themselves as Eritreans. However, it has been the question of delimitation versus demarcation that has been the sticking point for Ethiopia.
Ethiopia argues that the satellite imagery used to demarcate the borders are imprecise—lines cut through private homes, churches, even cemeteries cannot fully do justice to the people living in Badme. Ethiopia has insisted that an on-the-ground delimitation take place that takes into account the realities of the people living in this, under normal circumstances, insignificant village located on their border.
Whatever the legal case for the issue of Badme, however, is the bigger question for Ethiopia-Eritrea relations—will conceding to the delimitation of Badme, with the possibility of losing Badme to Eritrea, deter the Eritrean government from hostile acts against Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is betting “no.”
Since the war ended in 2000, Eritrea has continued to play a destructive role in the peace and security of the Horn of Africa. Eritrea supports groups such as Ginbot 7, al-Shabaab, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), among others—all actively working to overthrow the Government of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has accused the Eritrean Government of supporting the recent unrest in Oromia, as well as attempting to sabotage the Grand Renaissance Dam.
The two Americans fighting hard to lift the sanctions are former Assistant Secretary of State Herman J. Cohen and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Ambassador Cohen runs a lobby firm, Cohen and Woods International, which represents the Government of Zimbabwe and a shady group known as Democracy for Ethiopia. We suspect it is a cover for the Government of Eritrea.
Congressman Rohrbacher is a longtime supporter of the Eritrean Government and foe of Ethiopia based on his extended relationship with Eritrean national Gebremedhin Berhane. Mr. Berhane’s family property was confiscated in the 1970s by the Mengistu regime. When offered compensation by the government that overthrew the Mengistu government, Mr. Berhane was not satisfied with the amount and contacted his representative, Congressman Rohrabacher, expressing his dissatisfaction with the negotiated settlement.
Since then, Congressman Rohrabacher has used his position as a U.S. Congressman to promote the interests of Mr. Berhane’s country of birth while denying 100 million people essential aid. In Congressman Rohrabacher’s mind, the bank account of one Eritrean national is worth health and education assistance to 100 million Ethiopian people. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.
Congressman Rohrabacher has had time to propose legislation establishing a U.S. military relationship with the country labeled by the United Nation as a country whose government has committed crimes against humanity. In the meantime, he has built up an impressively notorious and treasonous record of siding with Russia on the Russia-Georgia war, defending Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and supporting Russia’s actions in Syria. He maintains a close and abiding relationship with Vladimir Putin, despite their known interference in the U.S.’s 2016 election.
We ask more sober members of the foreign policy establishment why the U.S. would want to lift sanctions on Eritrea and establish a military partnership with a country that provides a safe haven, finances, arms and training to terrorist organizations.
Now back to Badme and the border issue.
The border issue is certainly not what is keeping Ethiopia and Eritrea from normalizing relations. What is keeping Ethiopia and Eritrea from normalizing relations is the Eritrean President, Isayas Afewerki. As long as the Eritrean leader continues to engage in destabilizing Ethiopia and its neighbors, there will be no peace.
And if the U.S. thinks President Isayas wants the border issue resolved, it is mistaken. President Isayas Afewerki needs the conflict with Ethiopia to maintain the sense of insecurity within the Eritrean people.
Elections? A resounding no. Constitution? No. Indefinite military service? Collapsed economy. Eritrean mass migration? Name one of Eritrea’s intractable problems and President Isayas can explain why in one word. Ethiopia.
One day, Ethiopia and Eritrea will normalize their relationship. There will be free flows of labor and capital between the two countries. There will a hinterland providing exports shipped through a port resulting in economic prosperity on both sides of the border. Ethiopia and Eritrea will act as a common front in international and regional organizations to advance the development of the two countries. Joint infrastructure projects will be built, creating an economic powerhouse. Ethiopia and Eritrea will keep each other safe from terrorist threats.
Until then, no peace, no war, no matter.