Ethiopia, Eritrea war ends: How battling neighbours set an example for the world

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New Delhi | Published: July 23, 2018 3:45 PM

The end of the 20-year of brutal war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is an event that will be remembered in modern world history.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (second left) and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (centre) hold hands as they wave at the crowds in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday. (AP)

The end of the 20-year of brutal war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is an event that will be remembered in modern world history. The official announcement came after Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, visited Eritrea’s capital, Asmara on July 8. The moment which caught the world’s attention was when Abiy Ahmed embraced President Isaias Afwerki. The leaders said the countries would resume trade, economic and diplomatic ties, including reopening embassies and restarting flights.

According to the ‘Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia’, the two governments will endeavour to forge intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation. Transport, trade and communications will be resumed along with regional peace and development.

Eritrea and Ethiopia had been engaged in an intense war over their border since Eritrea gained independence from the Addis Ababa government in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war.

The official end of hostilities is expected to bring some stability in one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world. Eritrea has even appointed its first ambassador to Ethiopia in two decades. Reportedly, the standoff claimed 80,000 lives.

Things moved rapidly after 41-year-old Ahmed, a former Army officer who had fought in the war, became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in April. In June, he announced Addis Ababa would abide by the full terms of the 2000 agreement.

The beginning of the conflict

It was in 1993 when Eritrea broke from its federation with Ethiopia thus becoming an independent strategically located country at the mouth of the Red Sea on the Horn of Africa. Later, war broke out between the two countries over the control of a border town, Badme. The war created chaos and unrest and led to displacements of people and subsequently destroyed the economy of the conflict region.

Peace agreement of 2000

The two countries signed a peace agreement in the year 2000. The first agreement was on Cessation of Hostilities, which was signed in June. In December, a peace agreement was signed in Algiers, Algeria. This agreement mandated the establishment of a Boundary Commission to settle the dispute. What was seen as a peace-building moment through the boundary commission turned otherwise when the Commission gave its ruling after two years awarding Badme to Eritrea. Ethiopia refused to accept the decision without additional conditions and Badme remained under Ethiopian control, and the border kept erupting in clashes.

A 1,700-strong UN force monitored the 24-kilometer wide, 1,000-kilometer long buffer zone between the Horn of Africa neighbours under the December 2000 peace agreement.

Why is the region important?

Ethiopia is a landlocked region, and through the years of the war, it has been dependent heavily on Djibouti. Djibouti’s location at the confluence of the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean and the crossroads connecting Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have made it a very attractive piece of the geopolitical real estate.

The four states constituting the Horn are Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti — along with Yemen across the Red Sea have been described as one of the world’s pivotal regions.

The ending of the war is also crucial for Eritrea, as it has sunk steadily into economic stagnation and social and diplomatic isolation. It has been accused of serious human rights violations, the international pressure on its government also increased greatly after Eritreans fleeing the war and compulsory military service flooded European shores at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015-16.

Africa’s relevance for India

Africa is critical to India’s security, especially the Horn of Africa region, because of its proximity to India. Africa and Indian Ocean Region are central to the foreign policy of India. India has traditionally engaged with African nations through its soft power initiatives.

India is amongst the top trade, investment and development partner of Ethiopia which continues to be among the largest recipients of India’s concessional Lines of Credit in Africa.

The India-Africa summits have been organised by India to explore the resource-rich continent through bilateral and multilateral collaborations.

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