In a statement made last night (June 5), the ruling coalition declared that it will fully accept the terms of an agreement signed in 2000, which ended the war between the two nations over a disputed border. Recognizing the deal is a huge step forward in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the political fight that has rattled on for decades.
From 1962 to 1993, Eritrea was ruled as a province of Ethiopia, and the two nations amicably separated after a vote in 1993. But that decision left Ethiopia landlocked, which kickstarted a bitter rivalry and raised questions over national pride, and regional dominance. The unrest helped catalyze a war in 1998, which erupted over the town of Badme, which both sides claimed as their own. The brutal battle killed around 70,000 people.
However, after the war ended, a boundary commission awarded the contested town to Eritrea, a decision Ethiopia refused to accept. Since then, diplomatic attempts to get both sides talking have faltered, leading to years of no-war, no-peace stalemate.
Seeking to reverse all this, Addis Ababa appealed to the cultural and historic ties between the two countries.
“The suffering on both sides is unspeakable because the peace process is deadlocked,” Fitsum Arega, chief of staff to prime minister Abiy’s office, said on Twitter. “This must change for the sake of our common good.”
The contention between the two nations hasn’t been helped by the authoritarian stance that both countries took over the last few years. Eritrea, led by president Isaias Afwerki since independence, grew to be a reclusive state. The country’s human rights track record remained abysmal, as it regularly subjected citizens to arbitrary arrests and harsh treatment.
The one-party state also promoted a national conscription service that drafted citizens for an indefinite period of time, forcing them into “slave labor” conditions. And because of the repression, many Eritreans fled to neighboring countries, Europe, and Israel, making them one of the top refugee contributing nations in the world. Ethiopia’s ruling party also repressed its own people to stay in power, leading to over two years of deadly protests that eventually ushered in the election of Abiy Ahmed in late March.
On his maiden speech to parliament, the 41-year-old leader appealed to Eritrea’s government, saying he was willing to “resolve our differences through dialogue.” As part of the reforms, Abiy also lifted the state of emergency, released political prisoners, and announced plans to open up state-owned enterprises in telecommunications, aviation, and logistics for private investment.
While expressing his enthusiasm about the move to reconcile with Eritrea, Abraham T. Zere, the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile, says the response from officials in Asmara, which is yet to manifest, will be crucial in the coming days. “That will certainly shape the whole discourse,” he said.