BY FIKREJESUS AMHAZION (PH.D.)
This article is the third, and final piece of a three-part series that looks back at some of the important events that unfolded in Eritrea over the past twelve extraordinary months. Parts I and II reviewed events occurring from January to August. This article reviews events occurring from September to December.
In Eritrea, September is about reflecting upon the armed struggle for liberation, which was sparked by shots fired by harbenga Hamid Idris Awate at Mount Adal on September 1st, 1961. The 57th anniversary of that event was commemorated at the Expo Grounds during Festival Eritrea. The nine-day annual festival was celebrated with extra excitement this year since it coincided with the historic developments unfolding across the region.
On September 5th, Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed and Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed arrived in Asmara for a tripartite summit. The three countries’ leaders announced the “Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia”, which states that the countries will: bolster comprehensive cooperation that advances the goals of the peoples of the three countries; build close political, economic, social, cultural, and security ties; work in coordination to promote regional peace and security; and establish a Joint High-Level Committee to coordinate the efforts in the framework of the joint declaration.
Later that day, an Ethiopian ship docked in an Eritrean port for the first time in two decades. On September 6th, the Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara officially re-opened. President Isaias handed the key to PM Abiy and they jointly raised the Ethiopian flag as the Ethiopian anthem was played. Redwan Hussein was appointed as the new Ambassador to Asmara.
Notably, the joint high-level committee established during the tripartite summit conducted its first initiative by travelling to Djibouti on September 6th to hold discussions with President Ismail Guelleh. The committee was headed by the foreign ministers of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. The trip proved to be fruitful, as Eritrea and Djibouti agreed to normalize ties after a decade of tension and hostility.
Less than a week later, on September 11th, as part of Geez New Year celebrations, Ethiopian and Eritrean armed forces met peacefully to clear landmines, open border crossings, and celebrate the holiday. During the day, President Isaias and PM Abiy would officially open the Debai-Sima-Bure and Serha-Zalmbessa border points connecting the two countries, while days later, on September 15th, the Adi Quala-Rama road connecting Eritrea and Ethiopia through the Mereb River was reopened.
Unsurprisingly, these developments were met with great excitement by the people of both countries. The border openings led to the reuniting of friends and families, heavy traffic, and considerable trade and commercial activities.
On September 16th, in recognition of the vision, courage, and statesmanship they demonstrated to bring about peace, President Isaias and PM Abiy were presented “The Order of King Abdulaziz”, Saudi Arabia’s highest medal, by King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
President Isaias and PM Abiy also signed the Jeddah Peace Accord, further cementing peace and cooperation. The historic ceremonies were conducted in the presence of King Salman, the UN Secretary-General, the African Union Commission chairman, Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Minister of Defense, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and others.
The diplomatic activities continued the following day when President Isaias met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and with Djibouti President Guelleh. The two leaders agreed to establish a new chapter of cooperation and expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for its contributions. Two days afterward, President Isaias held talks with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
September’s other notable diplomatic activities included the visit by an Eritrean delegation, composed of Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab, to Russia to hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and President Isaias’ meeting on September 13th with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, who delivered a message from President Abdul Fatah el-Sisi.
President Isaias also received representatives of Amhara Regional State, who expressed their support for peace, while Eritrea’s Cabinet of Ministers held a meeting on September 28th to discuss developments in the region.
Locally, the month featured numerous events, including an educational progress assessment meeting; the drafting of a 2017-2021 strategic plan by the Ministry of Health to eradicate the prevalence of malaria; graduation ceremonies for the College of Arts and Social Sciences and the College of Business and Economics; the conclusion of a four-month certificate training program for Ministry of Information staff; training for teachers in the Central region, celebrations of Geez New Year and Meskel, and the commemoration of World Tourism Day, International Youth Day, World Contraception Day, and International Reading Day.
As well, a delegation of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions visited Eritrea from September 1st to 4th, while an Eritrean delegation attended the Horn of Africa Women’s Forum in Vienna. Notably, Eritrea also began an €11.7 million project to provide modern, affordable, and sustainable solar energy to the previously off-grid villages and rural towns of Areza and Maidma.
At the end of the month, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister addressed the UN General Assembly, calling for the unjust sanctions to be lifted and demanding compensation for the economic hardship. As well, Eritrea reiterated its support for Somalia during a high-level meeting held in New York and attended by the UN Secretary-General.
Eritrea’s exciting developments continued in October. On October 12th, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte arrived in Asmara, where he met with President Isaias and other government officials to discuss bilateral relations. Two days later, on October 14th, President Isaias led a high-level delegation to Ethiopia for a two-day visit. There, he would meet with PM Abiy to discuss developments and also jointly-inaugurate the Omo Kuraz III Sugar Factory in southern Ethiopia. Then, on October 19th, President Isaias hosted a Russian delegation headed by Mikhail Leonidovich Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Discussions focused on strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation.
Notably, on October 17th, the foreign ministers of Eritrea and Ethiopia, Osman Saleh and Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu, headed to Mogadishu for an official visit. The visit was part of the ongoing developments in the region and continued the process begun by September’s Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Cooperation between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Eritrea and Ethiopia expressed their unyielding support for the Government of Somalia and its political progress. They also reaffirmed their respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all three nations.
A week later, Osman Saleh and Dr. Workneh met with Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy during the second Italy-Africa Forum, held in Rome from October 24 to 25. The meeting focused on Italy’s contributions to strengthening peace and cooperation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the stability of Somalia, and the region.
While New York is the city that doesn’t sleep and Paris is the city of love, Asmara was staking its claim to be called the city of peace. Following the numerous peace and reconciliation agreements concluded over previous months, on October 21st, the Ethiopian government and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) signed a peace agreement.
In October, the UN General Assembly elected Eritrea to serve on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the UN body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the globe. Eritrea issued a statement outlining that it was proud to serve on the Council and did not take the responsibility lightly.
As well, a UN delegation headed by Mr. Dereje Wordofa, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, visited Eritrea to discuss the country’s progress and strengthening cooperation.
As ever, the month was filled with an array of important community, development, and local activities, including a seminar on malaria in Foro sub-zone; the inauguration of a 6 million Nakfa potable water project in Logo Anseba sub-zone; a seminar on environmental sanitation in Barentu; the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the National Association of Eritrean War Disabled Veterans; the commemoration of International Teacher’s Day, International Day of the Girl, and World Food Day; a training program for the Ministry of Agriculture’s staff members in Gash Barka; a graduation ceremony at Barentu School of Assistant Nurses; an engineering workshop conducting by the Embassy of China in Eritrea; and a high-level delegation of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers participating in the founding Congress of the Horn of Africa Confederation of Trade Unions, held in Ethiopia.
In a highly anticipated interview on November 3rd, President Isaias discussed the significance, progress, and regional ramifications of the historic peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Less than a week later, on November 9th, President Isaias and Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed visited Ethiopia to meet PM Abiy and discuss the progress of the “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship” signed in September in Asmara.
In a sign of the dividends of peace, Days after, on 17 November, President Isaias received a message from Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya. In his message, President Uhuru congratulated Eritrea for its recent developments also extended an invitation to President Isaias to visit Kenya.
One of the year’s most important events occurred on November 14th, as the United Nations Security Council rectified a nine-year miscarriage of justice and unanimously lifted the sanctions that were imposed on Eritrea in December 2009 and expanded in 2011. The decision sparked large, colorful celebrations by Eritreans, both in the country and abroad. Who could begrudge them this moment, since they had fought so long and hard and remained firmly committed to their principles and values? Various countries, as well as several regional and international organizations, sent messages of congratulations and support to the people and Government of Eritrea.
Locally, Eritrea continued to make history and add to its proud sporting legacy. From November 21st to 25th, Eritrea hosted the inaugural Africa Cup of Cycling. The competition featured teams from across Africa and saw Eritrea dominate, leaving little doubt as to who is Africa’s cycling superpower.
Other important local activities taking place during November included a workshop on tourism in the Anseba region; the launch of the national measles and rubella vaccination campaign and distribution of Vitamin A program; a training program on cartographic information systems for staff of the Ministry of Agriculture branch in Serejaka sub-zone; the Third Congress Meeting of the National Association of the Mentally and Physically; a tour of inspection for over 100 forestry and wildlife experts conducted by the National Forestry and Wildlife Authority; a seminar by the NUEYS for youth workers in Barentu; and the observance of World Antibiotics Awareness Week, International Day of Bacteria, World Diabetes Day, and International Children’s Day.
The last month of an extraordinary year began with President Isaias holding talks with the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, on December 4th at Denden Hall. Encouragingly, despite the decades of challenges presented by previous US administrations, President Isaias expressed Eritrea’s readiness for constructive engagement and strengthened relations and cooperation with the US in various sectors. During his visit, Nagy also greeted U.S. Embassy employees, engaged representatives of the diplomatic and international community, and toured some of Asmara’s beautiful sites. Subsequently, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Makila James, visited Eritrea from December 14th to 16th.
Following the October meeting of President Isaias with the Italian PM, the Eritrean leader also held talks with Claudia Del Re, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, on December 5th. Notably, the Vice-Minister was accompanied by representatives of various Italian businesses. The latter attended a discussion and presentation by government officials showcasing opportunities for partnership and investment.
On December 13th, President Isaias made a historic visit to Somalia to meet with President Mohammed. The two pledged to strengthen their nations’ historical relations through further cooperation in all areas. From Somalia, President Isaias headed to Kenya, following up on an earlier invitation from President Kenyatta. The two would discuss Kenya’s role in supporting peace in the Horn of Africa and the possibilities for strengthening trade and investment between Eritrea and Kenya.
Notably, President Isaias also met with the Eritrean community in the country. Subsequently, President Isaias held talks with Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on December 17th.
Eritrea’s positive role in the region was on display as leaders of the ONLF, in accordance with the peace agreement it reached with the Federal Government of Ethiopia on October 21st in Asmara, departed from Eritrea to Ethiopia.
While cycling is like a religion in Eritrea, soccer is one of the most popular sports. On December 4th, the President of the Confederation of African Football, Dr. Ahmed Ahmed, accompanied by a delegation of officials from the football federations of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti, visited Eritrea.
The delegation held discussions with the local federation and sporting bodies to explore ways of expanding the game in Eritrea and strengthening the relationship between the governing bodies of the countries. Then, on December 16th, Eritrea’s youth national team played host to South Sudan for an international friendly match. Showing great skill, tenacity, teamwork, and organization, the Red Sea Camels put in a dominating performance, winning 3-0, and bringing smiles to the throngs who packed the Cicero stadium.
Other notable local activities included the establishment of the China Alumni Association by Eritrean graduates from Chinese institutions; a two-day national conference on community-led sanitation at the Asmara Palace Hotel; the annual meeting of the Executive Board of the East Africa Athletics Federations; the 5th Annual Pharmacovigilance Conference; the inauguration of a 2 million Nakfa potable water project in Adi Musa; an Eritrean delegation’s participation at the Intra-African Trade Fair, in Cairo; the observance of International Day of Disabled Persons, World AIDS Day, and International Human Rights Day; and nationwide Christmas celebrations on December 25th.
Adding to the several awards they received during the previous months, President Isaias and PM Abiy were awarded the 2018 “Imam Al Hassan Bin Ali Award for Promoting Peace”, by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE, at the 5th assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi.
On December 31st, Eritreans across the nation and throughout the world enthusiastically celebrated the end of a historic year. As the clock wound down on 2018, many Eritreans began to look forward to 2019 with the expectation of further developments, progress, and positive change for the country and the region.