BY SOPHIA TESFAMARIAM | SHABIT
Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, H.E. Osman Saleh in his remarks at the Second Italy- Africa Forum in Rome held on 24- 25 October 2018 said the following:
“…Four months ago, Eritrea and Ethiopia gave themselves, their peoples, the Horn of Africa, Africa and the world, a pleasant surprise, the gift of peace and friendship. They decided that the conditions and the time were right to end a sad and abnormal chapter in their relations and go back to normalcy, over the years, many had offered to mediate between the two countries to no avail… And when peace finally broke out, it did not require any mediation. The two countries did it on their own. Ethiopia accepted the Algiers Agreement unconditionally. Eritrea decided to send a delegation to Addis Ababa. A week later, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Eritrea and the Peace and Friendship Agreement between the two nations was signed… Many think that the peace was preceded by protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations. That was not the case. The first time that the two sides met and talked was when the Eritrean delegation landed in Addis Ababa. And it was not just a physical encounter. It was a meeting of minds…”
Diplomacy is said to be the currency of peace, and those who scoffed at Eritrea’s diplomatic acumen were caught off guard as the recent flurry of positive activities in the Horn region. In a very short period of time, in literally a few months, a peace declaration has been signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia. But Eritrea has also reached out to Somalia and Djibouti to find ways to enhance their bilateral relations and bring a stable peace to the entire Horn region. But far-fetched analyses on the Eritrea Ethiopia peace persist….
Some have insisted that it was not diplomatic acumen, but money that greased the wheels of peace in the region. That it was the influence of the Arab states – especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia (KSA). Some attribute it, without a shred of plausible evidence, to painstaking, year-long, diplomatic efforts by western countries!
The people and government of Eritrea neither lack intellectual capacity or wherewithal to engineer peace in the region – and only those who have forgotten, or are in denial, of Eritrea’s history and vast experience, could be reduced to such shallow analysis.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed inherited an Ethiopia which was, under the minority TPLF regime’s rule, reeling from deadly internal ethnic conflicts that brought the country to the brink of implosion that threatened to further undermine the peace and security of the entire Horn region.
It should be recalled that the nationwide protests that began in November 2015 in the Oromia region of Ethiopia and quickly spread to other regions bringing death and destruction and the displacement of millions from their homes and villages as protesters clashed with the regime’s security and other forces. The protests and the emergency rule where still in effect in April 2018 when Prime Minister Abiy took over the leadership in that country.
So when PM Abiy signaled his desire to normalize relations with Eritrea and expressed his country’s acceptance of the Algiers Agreement without any pre-conditions, it was a change in Ethiopia’s 20-year long belligerent stance. Eritrea did not hesitate to accept Ethiopia’s rapprochement. Contrary to what has been disseminated by the mainstream media in the past, Eritrea was not afraid of peace with Ethiopia. But the previous regime in Ethiopia was unwilling to make peace, it was more interested in coercion and hegemony.
Whether it was the external threats facing Eritrea or the internal threats facing Ethiopia that prompted the mutual acts of accommodation that culminated in rapprochement from both sides is as they say, neither here nor there at this point.
But there is no denying that peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia provides PM Abiy and his government the reprieve it needs to stabilize the country and address the simmering internal conflicts and other negative remnants of the old regime. It also gives the government of Eritrea a chance to channel its energies and resources to address domestic priorities. It is not up to the mainstream media, or any other external entity, to dictate Eritrea’s or Ethiopia’s priorities. It should not be forgotten that it was in spite of the gloom and doom scenarios painted that the two nations have prevailed and brought peace.
In the meantime, the borders between the two countries have been opened and there is free movement of people and goods. These confidence-building measures, so long as they are not abused, will add impetus to the peace process. The fast-moving developments have taken both friend-and-foe by surprise, and it is the naysayers, the conflict entrepreneurs, that are found crying foul. The self-serving lamentations by individuals and groups who benefited from stocking the anti-Eritrea rhetoric for the last 20 years are feeling the pinch.
The shrill they emit will subside as peace in the Horn of Africa takes a strong foothold. While there are some spoilers who want to dampen the atmosphere with negativity and suspicions, for the most part, the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia, the real stakeholders, have welcomed and demonstrated their desire for peace.
The friendly relations and contacts between officials of both countries have enhanced relationships between ordinary citizens, as is evident by the growing number of visitors to both nations. There are always risks in taking such bold steps, as there are many that would like the peace to fail, but only the two peoples can prevent the process from unraveling.
The decades-long externally induced geopolitical competition that suffocated both nations and squandered opportunities for real growth and development must be permanently shunned. The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia must not squander this golden opportunity to give peace a chance, to rebuild the confidence of the people in both countries, and enhance trade and other relations for the long-term benefit of both peoples and the region.
The Diaspora communities can play a significant role in bridging the divides and creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship between the two peoples and others in the region. They should work harder to bring renewed transformation in public sentiments in their respective communities. Both peoples should reject divisive sub-national tendencies and urge all to respect the sovereign rights, and right to self-determination of both Eritrea and Ethiopia. They should encourage policymakers to respond positively to the changes in the region and bring an end to the policies that exacerbated conflicts and created rivalries.
Eritrea’s principled, persistent and consistent stance, often portrayed as being a “stubborn” one, withstood and survived the 20-year long assault by various quarters. When war broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998, H.E. President Isaias Afwerki underlined that the imposed war will not come to an end and peace achieved easily; that it would entail great sacrifice, restraint, patience, and relentless hard work. It was a costly journey that tested the nation’s grit, but peace required it. Eritrea took on the challenge knowing its dividends would be generational. The same rings true today.
Changing the Horn of Africa’s reputation from one of turbulence and strife to a peaceful zone of growth and development is not indeed a choice, but a necessity, if the peoples of the region are going to realize their full potentials. Indeed when the Peace Agreement was signed in Algiers on 12 December 2000, President Isaias Afwerki’s prophetic words were: “the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia are not cursed but blessed to be neighbours”; stressing that the tragic wars should be seen as historical aberrations while enduring peace must be the norm regulating the ties between the two sisterly peoples.
Maintaining the peace will require even greater restraint, patience, and hard work. With peace, Eritrea and Ethiopia can now pursue initiatives to move their nations away from brinksmanship and rivalry to programmatic cooperation for development and prosperity. The international community can play a constructive role in the region and restore its credibility as an honest broker for peace by supporting the two countries as they embark on this difficult, but necessary journey to bring stable peace in the region. The future is indeed brighter, and what these two nations can achieve together is limitless…