Frosty, delicate relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia over a border dispute have now come to an end, thanks to the valiant efforts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. A much-awaited peace agreement, which had seemingly appeared to be an impossible feat, was signed on Monday as the two decades of armed conflict have now been normalized.
The two-decade hostilities had strained relations between the neighboring countries that had set in motion a severance of trade ties, diplomatic ties, and even families were separated. When the Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed travelled to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, he was very keen on bringing out tangible results and restoring the relations that had existed between Eritrea and Ethiopia. As a reformist, he has exuded traits of a change-maker, even in the most unlikely scenarios. The peace agreement is an attestation to this, strongly aided by the zeal from the other party, as shown by Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki.
The new peace agreement which has been welcomed with overflowing good reception and enthusiasm lays out a brand new, seemingly solid plan to re-establish telecommunications and transport links, opening up embassies, and resolving the border dispute which has been at the heart of the conflict since the late 1990s. Families separated by the conflict could not believe the new development – they never thought something of this pacified nature could finally materialize. Families divided by the conflict were now able to connect with each other via telephones for the very first time since the conflict ensued. Shishay Wores, an Ethiopian journalist, was contacted by her sister in Eritrea.
In understanding the positive implications of this noble development, a brief outline of the events causing the animosity between the two countries is imperative. When Eritrea attained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, five good years of cordial relations between the two countries followed. But this was halted when clashes erupted over a border area called Badme in 1998. The contested territory was said to rightfully belong to Eritrea, after confirmation from a United Nations backed commission. Ethiopian troops were ordered to leave the territory. However, Ethiopia never fulfilled this, thus fueling the prevailing tense and severed relations between the two countries. From that, the two countries never found a point of convergence politically.
Eritrea has always taken the stance of continuous conscription, one of the reasons attributed to the huge droves of Eritrean migrants leaving the country, among poor humanitarian conditions, a struggling economy. Eritrea has been accused of fomenting conflict in the region by supporting Islamist groups, something which the country has always vociferously denied in the strongest terms. Ethiopia has turned to be an ally of both the West and China, while Eritrea has been isolated, with Isaias Afwerki turning a dictator too.
This new development now suggests a normalization of such tension, and positive growth is expected in the region. This deal means that Ethiopia can now use the smaller nation’s coastal port, gaining the coveted access to the Red Sea. The Red Sea is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes for goods and oil from Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal. A fault line that has worsened things in the region will be removed, where the US maintains a heavy military presence and has made major investments in peacekeeping to secure trade routes and stop the spread of terrorism.
This peace agreement sets a good precedent in terms of peace efforts in other parts of Africa. The African Union (AU) says the normalization of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea is a boost for peace and security in the Horn of Africa region and on the continent as a whole. The AU’s view is also shared by the European Union (EU). This, hopefully, will inspire other players in other parts of Africa to speed up their peace efforts at ending conflicts which have ravaged property, human lives, livestock, crops and other infrastructure. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the breakthrough, calling the peace agreement "illustrative of a new wind of hope blowing across Africa."
"Breaking a twenty year old deadlock in bilateral relations, it raises unprecedented prospects for reconciliation and paves the way for enhanced regional cooperation and stability in the Horn of Africa," the EU statement issued by foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini read in part. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the current chairperson of the African Union, praised their courage, saying on Twitter that they were "doing the right thing for their people."
What’s now left is the full implementation of this peace deal so as to achieve lasting peace. The issue of the border must be navigated carefully, in order not to undo the valiant efforts achieved by this peace agreement. If this is done, the positive implications highlighted here will be realized.