By Prince Kurupati
Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed is determined to bring to an end the hostilities that have existed for several decades between his country and neighbouring Eritrea. Prime Minister Ahmed said his country is ready to implement the 2000 Algiers Agreement, an internationally sponsored peace treaty and border demarcation signed by Ethiopia and Eritrea.
On the 4th of June this year, Ethiopian Prime Minister called a surprise politburo meeting. The agenda was not divulged when he called the meeting but it was crystal clear what the Ethiopian politburo had discussed as soon as the meeting ended as a statement was released which read, “Ethiopia will fully accept the December 12, 2000, Algiers Agreement, a peace agreement between the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia, which established a special boundary commission.”
The statement went further to state that the Ethiopian government had, “decided to open up Ethiopia’s economy both to Ethiopian and foreign investors by making partial or full privatizations in key state-owned enterprises including industrial parks, railway projects, sugar factories, hotels and other manufacturing industries.” However, though big, it was the announcement that the Ethiopian government was to honour the Algiers Agreement which caught the attention of many people.
Perhaps in order to understand how significant this is to the two countries, that is Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as Africa as a whole, let’s briefly revisit how this agreement came about back in 2000.
Timeline of the Ethiopia and Eritrea hostilities.
There is a great debate which still rages on to this day about the exact origins of the Ethiopian-Eritrean hostilities. However, be that as it may, many academics believe that Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991 did little if anything to resolve the underlying issues which had resulted in the nearly 30-year war between the two countries that erupted in 1961. It was (Eritrean independence), as stated by many at the very least a geopolitical success.
Due to this, it was no surprise in 1998 when a full-blown war erupted between the countries ignited by Ethiopia’s decision to march into Badme – a humble, dusty Eritrean market town with no apparent value. The war went on for two years in the process leading to the death of tens of thousands including civilians and displaced many others.
Regional, continental and international bodies in 2000 were forced into action after realising that the war was showing no signs of ending. In June of 2000, at a mediation meeting in Algiers Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea agreed to “permanently terminate military hostilities” and establish a “neutral Boundary Commission” that will have full authority to delimit and demarcate the boundaries. The two leaders agreed that the “neutral Boundary Commission” would have a final and binding agreement.
The final and binding agreement reached by the neutral Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruled in favour of Eritrea stating that Ethiopian’s invasion of Badme was in violation of the principle of sovereignty and it had to vacate the lands.
Ethiopia however, was not satisfied with the ruling and instead of ordering its troops to leave Badme, it sent more troops to the town. Eritrea understandably was angered by this move and it also mobilised its troops who stationed a few kilometres from where Ethiopian troops were settled. Ever since, these two countries have been living on the verge of war while on some occasions, rebel groups from either country believed to be sponsored by Peoples’ Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) from Eritrea and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) from Ethiopia clashed leading to the loss of life of dozens of people including civilians.
It is against this background that one can truly respect and admire the decision taken by Prime Minister Ahmed. Now, as has been stated by the Eritrean government, Prime Minister Ahmed has to go “beyond reconciliatory gestures or diplomatic pleasantries.”
What the honouring of the Algiers Agreement mean for the two countries
Easing of tensions
The first and perhaps most important benefit of Ethiopia honouring the Algiers Agreement is that it will go a long way in easing tensions and hostilities that have characterised the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea especially in the town of Badme. This will, in turn, lead to political and social stability. The BBC recently reported how the standoff between Ethiopia and Eritrea has caused the disintegration of families that live in Badme and also surrounding towns including Adigrat in Ethiopia as they live in constant fear of being attacked.
Re-opening the border for trade
On the economic front, Ethiopia’s honouring of the Algiers Agreement means that the people who live in close proximity to the Ethiopian and Eritrea border from either country can resume cross-border trading activities. Cross-border trading between these two countries was of huge commercial value to the residents of both countries and the re-opening of the border will mean they can resume their most important if not only income generating activity.
Access to ports
Not only will the residents of Badme and surrounding town in both Ethiopia and Eritrea benefit from cross-border trading once the Ethiopian government implements provisions of the Algiers Agreement but also the two countries stand to benefit economically. Before the start of the war in 1998, Ethiopia used to import various goods using the Eritrean ports of Assab and Massawa. However, that was disturbed by the political standoff between the two countries and Ethiopia had to resort to using the distant port of Djibouti and the less-than-reliable railway connection. The implementation of the Algiers Agreement, however, will see Eritrea opening its ports for Ethiopia once again. Ethiopia will, in turn, cut importation costs as it will use a more direct and shorter route for its imports while Eritrea stands to gain financially from renting its part of its ports to Ethiopia.
Removal of sanctions for Eritrea
In 2009, the UN with the support of the US and Ethiopia imposed arms sanctions on Eritrea. The sanctions were imposed as a penalty for what the UN termed “supporting terrorists”; Eritrea was allegedly accused of supporting and sponsoring al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. These allegations were however not proven. Despite this, the US went on to extend the sanctions last year. These sanctions have been crippling Eritrea in its endeavours to seek assistance in the form of aid. However, if Ethiopia stays true to its word and implements the Algiers Agreement, it’s likely that Eritrea will ask Ethiopia to lobby for the removal of the UN imposed arms sanctions so it can appeal for much-needed aid.