Addis Ababa’s recent call to Asmara to address the long-survived border conflict through negotiation is a remarkable move to enhance stability in the exceptionally unstable regions of the Horn of Africa. According to observers, the peace offer is part of Ethiopia’s current policy reforms to revive friendly relations with its neighbors.
Eritrea obtained its independence from Ethiopia following the 1993 referendum that made the latter a land-locked country. Nevertheless, however, the two neighbouring states couldn’t maintain a good neighbourhood policies. Due to contested territorial boundaries, Ethiopia and Eritrea emerged as rival states. In 1998, the border disputes evolved into a full-scale war which emerged as one of the deadliest territorial conflicts in the recent history of the region. Around 80, 000 people died during the 1998-2000 Ethio-Eritrean war.
Although the war comes to an end following the 2000 Algiers Peace Accord, permanent peace and stability hardly maintained between the two neighboring states. As part of the Algiers Peace Agreement a boundary commission, that was charged to investigate the disputed territories and demarcate accordingly, was established. The Eritrea-Ethiopian boundary commission finally comes to a decision that awarded the Badme town, flash-point of the conflict, to Eritrea. Although Addis Ababa accepted the decision of the commission in principle, preconditions put forwarded before the territories handoff to Asmara. Eritrea on its part rejected Ethiopia’s precondition and claimed for immediate hand over of the territories. This resulted in tensions that sometimes grew up into small-scale border conflicts in which hundreds of people lost their life.
After 18 years of unrest and border conflicts, Ethiopia’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has been presenting a new offer to address one of Africa’s protracted and bloodiest border conflict. As it is commented by foreign policy analysts, there were similar peace deal talks offered by previous Ethiopian governments. However, the recent call of the newly structured Ethiopian government is at a time when Addis Ababa has been undertaking major reforms on its domestic and foreign policies and strategies.
As it is asserted by various government officials, Ethiopia is ready to take the lead to promote its national interest using dialogue and negotiation. During the past several decades, Ethiopia and its neighbors have interfered in the internal affairs of one another. These interferences endangered the effort to promote mutual respect for national sovereignty and equality of regional states. This, in turn, affected the course of maintaining socio-economic and political interests of Ethiopia and its neighbors.
A prime illustration of the above-noted argument is the various accusations that Ethiopia and Eritrea made on each other against the interferences on the internal affairs of one another. Addis Ababa is frequently accusing Asmara on arming Ethiopia’s opposition groups and thereby destabilizing the country. Similarly, Eritrea also accused the Ethiopian government in sponsoring and sending anti-peace forces to create unrest and disorder. These accusation furthered hostility and suspicion between the two neighboring countries and lowered the possibility to address the dispute using the diplomatic channel.
Taking into consideration the multifaceted sufferings caused by the conflict and the stalemated peace process, on June 6, 2018 Ethiopia disclosed its readiness to fully accept and implement the 2000 Algiers Peace Accord. In his speech to members of parliament, the newly appointed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed asserted that “We are fully committed to reconcile with our Eritrean brothers and sisters and extend an invitation to the Eritrean government to start a dialogue and establish rapport”. Furthermore, Addis Ababa also asserted the critical importance of expanding economic ties with Asmara to maintain a long-lasting peace and stability in the region.
Asmara’s recent move in response to Addis Ababa’s peace offer is also another important development that can further the current peace deal attempt. On June 20, 2018 Eritrean president Isayas Afeworki (who ruled the country since 1993) noted that his government is working to send a delegation to Ethiopia to “gauge current developments directly and in depth as well as to chart out a plan for continuous future action.”
Although it can be early to guess the final output of this rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with the support of the international community current developments may lead to calm the long-survived tensions of the Horn of Africa neighbors.