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Decoupling the demand for transition from the discourse about landlocked-ness at the 11th hour

Red Sea - Ethiopia Eritrea Relation
Google map of the Horn of Africa

By Minga Negash

The Eritrea-Ethiopia relation has once again come to the limelight. The situation is back to the “no war no peace” situation, but Ethiopia is in a much weaker situation now than it was in 2014. By 2014 Ethiopia had about five options. Today the choices have become fewer. The geopolitics of the region has dramatically changed. The sticky points in the Eritrea-Ethiopian relation were/are historicity, the relevance of colonial treaties to resolve contemporary transboundary problems, and the process in which the EPRDF led transitional government of Ethiopia disposed the Eritrea problem in 1991/1993. 

The problems have not gone away, they are resurrecting themselves, breaking the ‘bridge of love’ between President Isayas and Prime Minister Abiy. Even at the 11th hour, a fresh look at the complex problem is important. A new round of war of words has started. The pro-government Eritrean diaspora media has opened programs to lure angry Ethiopians and Eritreans on both sides of the fence are much busier with Ethiopian affairs than their own. There appears to be a realignment between few Ethiopian opposition individuals in North America and the pro-government Eritrean diaspora. The group that has been an ally of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the fight against TPLF is now playing games that some describe as “chameleon politics.” On the Eritrean side, rumor has it that an Eritrean opposition group is welcomed in Ethiopia. The realignments appear opportunistic, not strategic. They neither resolve Ethiopia’s landlocked-ness nor bring improved governance and prosperity to the two countries.

The demand for transition from ethnicity to a better diversity management and accountable government were the two core issues that brought the demise of the EPRDF government in April 2018. Prime Minister Abiy came to power on an institution of ethnicity but promised better diversity management and peace with Eritrea. To date Prime Minister Abiy’s track record has been dismal and catastrophic (UN September 18, 2023 ; Semafor November 19, 2022; Human Rights Watch August 9, 2023; Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, September 23, 2023). The peace agreement with Eritrea which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize has collapsed. In November 2023 Abiy is trying to change the domestic political discourse. Landlocked-ness is now a chorus of state and party media in Ethiopia. Some youtubers attribute Abiy’s change of direction as a mere ploy to gain support from Ethiopian-ists, subdue the Fanno movement, and exploit TPLF Generals’ retaliatory behavior for Eritrea’s gruesome atrocities in the Tigray war. This attribution is too simplistic for the complex problem. Of course, loose cannons, late comers and self-serving authors create more confusion.

Like the Algiers agreement, the Jeddah agreement (September 2018) between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been unknown to the public. The Ethiopian diaspora reacted quickly against the Algiers Agreement and the same issue tore apart TPLF. Enough has been said, written and petitioned about the flaws of Algiers agreement. It did not serve peace. The Jeddah agreement is facing the same fate. It is not serving peace. 

A leaked first page document (see Fentale Media) indicates that it has two important parts: (a) a security pact and (b) economic cooperation clauses. The security part refers to “joint military operations against mutual adversaries,” and “representation in key security institutions of each other (military and security apparatus).” The economic cooperation part has two important clauses (i) “state access to port (Ethiopia) and access to Ethiopian export items (Eritrea).” The rest of the agreement refers to how “investors from both nations will have an equitable right in each other’s territories and citizens of both nations will enjoy full rights in each other’s countries such as work permits and visa free movements.” If the leaked document is authentic, one can see that the agreement is unbalanced and is a bad “contract.” It permitted Eritrea to be a party in the Ethiopian civil war. Prime Minister Abiy has made serious mistakes in handling Ethiopia’s foreign and security policy. If Ethiopia had a functioning parliament, it would have formally rejected the Jeddah agreement and reprimanded or conducted a vote of confidence against the executive. Now Abiy is realizing his scandals. 

Ethiopians are demanding for an accountable government and resisting the auto-cratization of power through the securitization of ethnicity. This demand should not be confused with Ethiopia’s claims for a seacoast. In other words, opponents of Abiy cannot gain from allying with Eritrea without compromising Ethiopia’s interests. Like in the past they will only serve as instruments for the emerging proxy war. Furthermore, caution is necessary to avoid the repeat of the expulsion of ordinary people from each other’s territory and the start of yet another meaningless war between the two countries. 

Editor’s note : The article first appeared on P2P forum. Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com 

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