How the glow of the historic accord between Ethiopia and Eritrea has faded

A year ago Eritreans could hardly contain their joy as Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed touched down in Asmara. The city had seen nothing like it in a generation that knew war rather than peace. Men and women lined the streets and waved Ethiopian flags as Abiy arrived to seal a peace deal.
PROMOTEDThere Is An Easier Way To Earn An IncomeBecome an online trader with only a R3000 deposit and start earning by trading Bitcoin,forex, stocks and commodities online. Take free trading course.Vici Marketing | marketingvici.com

Less than a week later Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki made a reciprocal visit, landing in Addis Ababa to an equally rapturous welcome. In September a formal treaty was signed between the two leaders in the Saudi capital, Jeddah, witnessed by King Salman and the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who described it as an “historic event.”

The treaty covered a number of things. It ended the state of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia; declaring a new era of peace, friendship and comprehensive cooperation.

As part of this deal, there were two important provisions. One called for “the establishment of joint special economic zones. The other was a pledge to establish a high-level joint committee, as well as sub-committees where needed to guide and oversee the implementation of this agreement.

But there has been little apparent progress on either front. Economic co-operation was probably one of the key drivers of this reconciliation. These included plans to develop a massive potash mine that would straddle the border. But little has been heard of the project in recent months.


Much the same can be said of the joint committees that were given the job of sorting out the many issues bedevilling relations between the two countries.

What’s become clear is that the warmth of a year ago has largely gone. With little progress on implementing and institutionalising the relations between the two countries an air of uncertainty and suspicion is creeping back.

Disputed border

One of the sticking points between the two countries is the disputed border. The border was formally designated by the Boundary Commission established after the 1998–2000 border war. The conflict had many causes: rivalry between the liberation movements that had been operating in both countries and economic competition. But it was competing claims to the insignificant border town of Badme that was the spark that ignited the war. 

The two countries signed what became known as the Algiers Peace Agreement in 2000. The agreement made clear that the boundary commission could only make decisions based strictly on legal and historical grounds. This barred it from being able to allow for what might be considered just and fair — what’s known as ex aequo et bono.

As a result, the border the Boundary Commission came up with resulted in settlements being dissected and villagers separated from their farmlands. And it left some people on both sides of the border concerned at being transferred from one state to the other.

Changes could only be made by both countries agreeing to any adjustments. This was one of the questions that the joint commissions agreed to in Jeddah was meant to resolve. Others included the terms of trade between Eritrea and Ethiopia, for example exchange rates and economic relations which were seen as important contributing factors in the 1988 – 2000 border war.

Distractions

Rather than working to consolidate the peace, the leaders of both countries have drifted elsewhere. Ethiopia has been caught up in increasingly complex and bloody ethnic conflicts that have driven more than a million people from their homes. Coming to grips with this is taking much of Abiy’s time and attention.

He has also been working on behalf of the African Union to help resolve the political crisis in Sudan. Eritrea’s Isaias has also been to Sudan, but with a rather different remit. Welcomed warmly by by the deputy chairman of the Transitional Military Council, General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”, Isaias issued a statement that showed his agenda was quite different, as shown by his recent statement:

The Government of Eritrea requests the AU to refrain from internationalising and exacerbating the situation in Sudan. 

His approach isn’t difficult to understand. Isaias enjoys strong relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE both of which have been embroiled in a war in Yemen. Eritrea has allowed its ports and airfields to be used by both countries to prosecute this war. At the same time the Sudanese military provide troops to fight in Yemen and have been open in their support for the Saudi and UAE in their war aims.

Saudi Arabia was therefore alarmed at the challenge posed to the Sudanese government by the popular uprising in Khartoum and other Sudanese towns and cities.

Border remains tense

Even though the glow of last year’s events has faced,  Eritrea has nevertheless reaped many gains from the rapprochement with Ethiopia. One consequence is that it signalled the end of its international isolation. Limited United Nations sanctions were lifted and the country now holds a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, a body that frequently criticised its lack of adherence to international human rights norms.

Eritrea has also taken the chair of the Khartoum Process. This is a critical position, since it is the key forum in which African states negotiate with the European Union.

But the situation along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains tense. The Ethiopian government attempted to move its heavy artillery away from the border, but this was blocked by local residents of Tigray, fearful that there might be renewed conflict with Eritrea.

Their concerns are hardly surprising. Isaias has made vituperative statements about his immediate neighbours, describing the Trigrayan ruling party — the TPLF — as “vultures”, and accusing them of following a “toxic and malignant” agenda.

It is difficult to know how relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara will develop. The fear is that Isaias has gone back to his unpredictable ways, making any predictions difficult.

Martin Plaut, Senior Research Fellow, Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Martin Plaut
Martin Plaut works from London. South Africa, the Horn of Africa. Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies Martin Plaut has over 20246 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

Women are entitled to own land

Too many laws and customs in too many African countries still treat women as minors

UN Libya rights probe stalled due to cashflow problems

The UN is currently going through a serious liquidity crisis because many countries have not paid their annual dues, and it is therefore unable to fulfil all its mandates

Disaster as climate crisis, tectonic shift swell Rift Valley lakes

The current tectonic cycle squeezes out water from the Earth’s aquifers; the previous cycle caused water to drain out of thelakes into the Earth’s aquifers

US foreign policy may be creating instability in Africa

Sometimes, the best foreign policy might be not to get involved at all

Abandoned in Lebanon, African domestic workers just want to go home

Dumped by their employers, and then stranded by their governments, African workers in Lebanon just want to go home. But it’s not that simple

‘Pro-family’ campaigners ignore pregnant women dying during Covid lockdowns

Conservative groups are fighting efforts to expand African women’s access to healthcare. Do they care about women all the time, or only when they’re procreating?
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday