Thoughts on the Newly Found Peace Agreement
Breaking news: Eritrea and Ethiopia have cut a Peace Deal The unexpected rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea has led to the signing of a peace agreement on July 9, 2018 and the peoples of the two
Breaking news: Eritrea and Ethiopia have cut a Peace Deal
The unexpected rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea has led to the signing of a peace agreement on July 9, 2018 and the peoples of the two countries were ecstatic at the newly found reconciliation. The expression of their uncontainable joy was witnessed by the huge numbers of festive Asmarinos who received the visiting Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and by another huge number of Greater Addis Dwellers who welcomed the President of Eritrea with equally festive mood. The world must have been stunned and moved to see an overjoyed people, with so much love and affection to give to each other. The people celebrated the end of the state of war together, in spite of the material distance between them, confirming, once more, that the war was between the governments, but not between the two people.
The Joint Agreement and People’s Hope
On July 9, 2018, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea decided to embark on a path of peace, and issued the following joint agreement (JA):
- The state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has come to an end. A new era of peace and friendship has been opened.
- The two governments will endeavor to forge intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation that serves and advances the vital interests of their peoples;
- Transport, trade and communications links between the two countries will resume; diplomatic ties and activities will restart;
- The decision on the boundary between the two countries will be implemented.
- Both countries will jointly endeavor to ensure regional peace, development and cooperation.
The good news has put the people in high spirit, but as the euphoric situation subsided, many started to feel uneasy about the hasty advent of peace. Indeed, one cannot blame the people given the broken promises of the past, when the two governments proclaimed that there will be no more war after the demise of the Derg. But, to the dismay of the people, a bloody war broke out only seven years after the collapse of the Derg. Again, the present two governments are asserting that there will be no war anymore. How can the people be sure that the smiling and assuring faces of the politicians are now telling them the truth? As usual, the people have no way of verifying the genuineness of the political moves, and have to wait and see and pray that things will be alright this time. The broken promise is still fresh in their minds, and they may forgive but not forget the betrayal by their governments. Of course, the populace is always patient, and will not be discouraged by the failure of the past, but they should be vigilant and firm on their demand for the delivery of the promised goods, i.e., a lasting peace and prosperity.
What are the Dividends of Peace?
The JA, which consists of a half-page document, is essentially a set of statement of objectives, and is not amenable to any sort of analysis. The speeches of the two leaders do not shed any light either. Therefore, commenting on dividend of the JA to each country has become difficult, and many Eritreans have resorted to all kinds of speculation, most of whom concluding that the agreement is more favorable to Ethiopia. Is this factual? Let us try to see whether there is any merit in this claim. Examining the JA with this intent is not easy for lack of information. However, some extrapolation could be made based on what every single item will bring to each country, taking account of their social, economic and political status, as well as their aspirations and outlooks.
Item one, related to the ending of the state of war, is of supreme value to both countries. Item two, regarding the forging of intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation, will benefit relatively more Ethiopia than Eritrea, at least in the short-to medium-term. This is so because the huge economic and technological advancement of Ethiopia will give it an edge on competition. It should be understood that the Eritrean economic and social sectors will also benefit, albeit to a lesser extent, due to the depressed state of these sectors. For the same reason, item three, related to the resumption of transport, trade and communications links (including access to the Eritrean ports), will generate more benefits to Ethiopia than Eritrea. Already now, the opening of the air routes has enabled Ethiopian Airlines to fly in Eritrea and to reduce its flight operating expenses by avoiding costly detours. Access to the ports will also benefit Ethiopia economically, politically and strategically more than the royalty payment that Eritrea will obtain from the use of its ports. Item four, regarding the implementation of the decision of the boundary between the two countries, is of great value to Eritrea, as this has commanded top national priority throughout the past twenty years. For Eritrea, the resolution of the border issue is the most important item, because the settlement of this issue will enable it to change the war-triggered extraordinary border defense to normal patrol. This in turn will release huge human and material resources to be used in development programs. In addition, as a small country, Eritrea will be better off when it establishes clear and unequivocal borders that do not lead to future disputes and conflicts. This does not mean that Ethiopia will not benefit from the final demarcation of the boarder, but this country, which has already a number of border issues with its neighbors, appears to have a gradual approach in resolving border issues. To the contrary, Eritrea’s interest is to deal with the border issue swiftly and decisively. Item five, endeavoring to ensure regional peace, development and cooperation, has a broader objective and is broadly important to both countries; but relatively speaking, this item is more important to Ethiopia than Eritrea, considering its political position and regional ambition.
The above extrapolations are not based on any scientific principles, but should not be far from reality. Nevertheless, they are useful in giving us some context for discussion. From the above, it is clear that three items stand out as most important: item two and three to Ethiopia and item four to Eritrea, in addition to the mutually beneficial item that ended the state of war. Therefore, Eritrea should put as its top priority the final resolution of the border issue, and make it a condition for the establishment of economic and social ties, access to ports and opening the air and road routes. What is being argued here is whatever has been started in executing the JA should be considered temporary until the border issue is settled. Currently, the implementation of the decision on the boundary is a nonspecific statement, and needs to be articulated to respond to Eritrea’s national interest. The implementation of the decision on the boundary should be time-bound, and its progressive implementation should become a condition for the finalization of these two items. From the outset, Eritrea’s interest would have been better served if the JA incorporated such concepts, but there are still opportunities to introduce such ideas during the preparation of an implementation plans.
Where should Eritrea Focus on and what Strategy Should it Follow?
Following the chats on the internet and social gatherings, sentiments of suspicion are being voiced by many Eritreans vis-à-vis the new rapprochement, and are prompted by fears that the peace agreement may pose a challenge to Eritrea’s sovereignty and/or lead to a bad deals. The people’s concern is essentially based on the unprecedented jovial and concessional mood portrayed by President Isaias during his visit in Ethiopia, and his uncharacteristically dovish stance towards its leaders. The ambiguous expressions and speeches given by President Isaias are indeed perplexing. But dwelling on these points will not help the country, and there is a need to focus on the right way forward, and endeavor to define approaches, procedures and interventions needed in implementing the peace deal fairly. We should outline the rationale for executing the agreement that safeguards the interest of Eritrea and its people.
From Eritrea’s point of view, the peace agreement should aim at establishing a lasting peace, while protecting the national interest of Eritrea. Resolving the border issue for good is an integral part of this goal. All concerned Eritreans, in whatever capacity, should work towards the achievement of this goal, by clarifying ambiguities, identifying potential pitfalls and explaining where the interest of the country lies. This task should be normally carried out by an all-inclusive representative group that has the legitimacy and the mandate to speak on behalf of the various constituent groups of Eritreans in the Diaspora. Until the emergence of such an organization, a volunteer could be sought from the many Eritrean civic and people’s societies to become a focal point and receive ideas and suggestions from concerned Eritreans, with a view to putting them together and transmitting the same to the stakeholders. The messages should: i) illustrate the current peace agreement and its implications; ii) propose ideas for better implementation of the peace deal; and iii) expose potential problems to peace building, with a suggestion on how they should be dealt with. For instance, Ethiopian Airlines has started its flight in Eritrea, but what currency will the Eritreans use to purchase a ticket? And what will be the exchange rate between the Nakfa and the Birr or another foreign currency? Continuing trade and communication prior to determining such important parameters, is like jumping in the dark. If they have been agreed upon, but kept secret, this is a red flag and should be exposed. In addition, given Eritrea’s weak economic and technological-base, its citizens should be protected against unfair competition. Such messages should be conveyed openly as they could attract the attention of honorable people from both sides.
Since our aim is to achieve an ever lasting peace, there should be no destruction of any nature; no deviation from the main focus; no rancor-based actions; and no scoring of points of any nature, as this could blur our vision. Likewise, we should refrain from interfering in the Ethiopian politics or siding with any political or ethnic group, but deal with all the relevant entities seriously and civilly. It should be understood that the topic we are dealing with is of national importance, relevant to our future generations, hence individual or group interests have no place in the dialogue. In this regard, the current attacks on TPLF by supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government are short-sighted. Once we are going for peace, the issue of fighting any faction in Ethiopia should be over. We may not forget the cruelty of the TPLF leaders (not the people of Tigrai), but the fact remains that peace has been signed with Ethiopia. We should move on, and concentrate on the finalization of the peace process with lucid mind. Since the topic we are dealing with is peace, we should engage with Tigrai and its people for the resolution of the border issue. Besides, before the TPLF leaders became enemies of Eritrea, there is one point to be said in their favour: they have delivered on one of their promises, i.e., to support Eritreans to freely decide the fate of their country in a referendum; and when the overwhelming vote was for independence, the TPLF-led government was the first to recognize the independence of Eritrea in 1993. It is fair to recall positive facts too in order to have a balanced view of the weird-decade of the nineties.
Operationally, we should convey to the Ethiopian side, in plain words, that an unfair deal will not be long lasting as this could be rejected by successive Eritrean governments; and such an event would send the two countries back to turbulent relations, which is undesirable. We should also take lead, whenever feasible, in suggesting approaches and actions that can advance the implementation of some items of the JA. For instance, the implementation of the decision on the boundary should start immediately, in all the three sectors (Western Central and Eastern) where there is no contention, and at the same time prepare a plan of action on how and when to demarcate the remaining “hot” areas. There is no reason to wait for the demarcation of the entire boundary (about one thousand km long) at the same time. One can conceive of a continued process of demarcation as the areas become ready, but there must be a deadline when the entire operation should be completed.
The above write up is meant essentially to provide talking-points for those interested in thinking about the way forward, and contribute to any initiative regarding the implementation of the peace process. It is also hoped that particular practitioners may develop some of the above suggestions and give them more of a professional bend. By the way, our people are religious and God fearing, hence let us encourage them to ask the guidance of the Almighty through their prayers in the mosques and churches in our country and else war.