BY THE STREAM
A surprise announcement by Ethiopia’s prime minister to mend relations with neighbouring Eritrea is highlighting the rapid pace of his government’s agenda just eleven weeks since he was sworn in.
Abiy Ahmed of the ruling EPRDF coalition is offering to cede control of the northern border town of Badme and other disputed regions to Eritrea and abide fully by a peace deal that ended a two-year border war between the countries in 2000. At least 70,000 people were killed in the conflict. Relinquishing Badme to Eritrea would be in recognition of a UN-backed border commission ruling in 2002 that Badme belongs on the Eritrean side of the frontier.
Abiy says Ethiopia wants to put an end to nearly two decades of discord with Eritrea. So far the response from the Eritrean government, led by President Isaias Afwerki, has been muted. The country’s information minister has said in the past that Addis Ababa must first withdraw all its military forces from Badme and other occupied territories before a final peace accord can be agreed.
But while many Ethiopians agree with efforts to solidify a lasting peace with Eritrea and re-open the border, support has not been universal. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), one of four parties within the ruling coalition, said there was insufficient consultation inside the EPRDF’s 180-member council on both the peace offer and a separate plan to open state-owned enterprises to private investors.
Ethnic Tigrayans living in the northern border regions have also reacted angrily to the peace proposal as a betrayal of those who fought and died in the 1998-2000 border war.
The dissent from the TPLF, which has dominated the ruling coalition for nearly three decades, highlights the challenges Abiy faces to run a government that is inclusive of all Ethiopian ethnic groups.
In April he became Ethiopia’s first ethnic Oromo prime minister after he was elected by parliament in the wake of Hailemariam Desalegn’s resignation in February. He has so far ordered the release of more than 1,000 prisoners, many of whom were jailed within the last three years for their part in anti-government protests.