How Could a Lasting Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea be Achieved?

(Think Africa Press) –After more than a decade of low-level hostilities and sour relations, there are signs Eritrea and Ethiopia could be ready to talk again.
It has been over a decade since talks regarding the demarcation of Eritrea-Ethiopia border stalled, and relations between the two long-standing nemeses deteriorated into an effective cold war. Although the Eritrea-Ethiopia war officially ended with signing of the Algiers Agreement in 2000, relations are still marked by recrimination, sabre-rattling, and efforts at mutual destabilisation. Although each claims to be against another war, the risk of escalation remains high along their heavily-militarised border. Both sides continue to undermine each other’s stability, from allegedly supporting armed opposition groups to waging a proxy war in Somalia.
At the heart of this crisis is the ruling by the Boundary Commission which was established under the Algiers Agreement, a peace treaty marking the end of two years of hostilities. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission was tasked with defining the contested border, and both sides agreed to accept its decision. However, having initially welcomed the ruling in April 2002, Ethiopia reversed its position a few months later, displeased that Badme, the flashpoint of the war, had been awarded to Eritrea. Eritrea refused to agree to a new commission and negotiations came to a standstill. Tensions remained high and relations remained sour.
Since then, Ethiopia’s position has softened slightly from its claim that the border judgment was “unjust and illegal”; in 2005, for example, Ethiopia’s foreign minister wrote a letter to the UN Security Council in which he repeated Ethiopia’s earlier acceptance of the decision “in principle” and added that this “does not mean going back to the drawing board”. Eritrea meanwhile has continued to insist that dialogue cannot recommence until Ethiopia unconditionally accepts the border ruling.
This environment of mistrust and stagnation has defined the status quo for the last decade, with prospects of genuine peace seeming far away. Recently, however, there have been hopeful signs that this could be slowly changing with each side expressing greater readiness for talks.
If negotiations do restart, how could a lasting peace between these arch-enemies be achieved?

The flawed Algiers peace process

The first step in answering this question is to examine why the Algiers Agreement failed. On the one hand, there is some truth to the argument that neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea had any real interest in the process to begin with. But at the same time, there was also a multitude of real and complex issues which hindered any possible reconciliation.
First, the Algiers process foundered because it failed to address the root causes of the war. The conflict arose due to myriad historical, political and economic issues, but the peace process treated the conflict as a mere border dispute. By focusing on just the immediate cause of the war, it eschewed the deep political and economic controversies central to the war. This undermined chances of a durable solution from the outset.
Second, this narrow approach was exacerbated by a flawed arbitration process which focussed in on legal matters rather than political disagreements. Legal methods are inherently conservative and inflexible, and the clause of Algiers Agreement which said the boundary decision would be “final and binding” left no leeway for cooperation – instead, it propelled both parties into a zero-sum game.
The arbitration process was also weakened by contradictory rulings by different bodies. Initially, mediation initiatives concurred with Ethiopia’s stance that Eritrea had crossed the international boundary and should withdraw, but the Boundary Commission’s ruling, which awarded Badme to Eritrea, suggested Eritrea had not advanced beyond its borders. This was again complicated by the later ruling by the Claim’s Commission that found Eritrea responsible for igniting the war.

What are the prospects for peace?

Recently, there seem to have been improved prospects for peaceful resolution. The death in August 2012 of Ethiopia’s long-time leader Meles Zenawi – whose personal rivalry with Eritrea’s president Isaias Afewerki stoked hostilities – has raised hopes of a return to the negotiating table. After taking office, Meles’ successor, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, expressed a willingness to travel to Eritrea to talk with Afewerki without preconditions. And in December, Afewerki reportedly requested mediation by Qatar, which previously brokered an agreement to resolve a border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti in June 2010.
Several other issues could also push both parties to end the low-level conflict. After the Algiers Agreement, both governments sought to settle unfinished scores. In the protracted cold war, however, there was a clear winner and loser. Ethiopia managed to seize the status of regional hegemon, leave Eritrea diplomatically isolated, win the support of major powers such as the US, and get UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea. Eritrea, meanwhile, suffered economically, lost the upper-hand in the legal border battle, and came to be seen as a pariah state, accused of sponsoring regional instability and terrorism. The regime in Asmara is now in a struggle for its own survival. Its military capability is checked, external pressure remains high, its economic situation is dire, and there appears to be simmering domestic dissent as exhibited by several high-level defections and an army mutiny on 21 January, 2013.
This could suggest that Eritrea is more likely to agree to talks, but this is not necessarily the case and there are still many hurdles remaining. Firstly, there is baggage of the past, contrasting political and national interests, and the ongoing rivalry. Secondly, Ethiopia’s strong position could make it less willing to compromise. Thirdly, peace efforts may not even be in Afewerki’s interests. Afewerki’s regime has been subjecting Eritrea to political repression and economic hardships all in the name of defending against Ethiopian annexation. Reconciliation with Ethiopia would undermine this strategy and confront the regime with an array of challenges such as demobilisation, a return to constitutionalism, and a move to democracy – all so far postponed given the alleged existential threats facing the country. For Afewerki, a ‘no war no peace’ status quo might well be preferable to a peace that could cost him his power.

How peace could be achieved?

Firstly, any initiative should uphold the terms and achievements of the Algiers agreement. Although its legal and political instruments have expired, the accord has not been abrogated. Eritrea in particular seems committed to the treaty and upholds its integrity. The agreement continues to provide a framework within which Ethiopia and Eritrea can settle their differences.
Secondly, any peace initiative should go beyond previous negotiations in seeking a comprehensive settlement of the root causes of the conflict – both economic and political. One major contention is land-locked Ethiopia’s claim of a “right of access to sea” either through incorporation of some Eritrean territory along the coast or guaranteed lease of the port of Assab. Previous fears that Ethiopia could claim access to the sea by military force make Eritrea’s insistence that Ethiopia unconditionally respect Eritrea’s territorial sovereignty all the more salient. The lease of Assab to Ethiopia would likely be in Eritrea’s economic interest, but a history of Ethiopian (previously Abyssinian) attempts to annex the country mean mistrust is high. Any peace effort must come up with an intelligent way to address this and other complex issues.
Finally, a sustainable peace process should emphasise long-term reconciliation and cultivate the right environment for the normalisation of relations and possible future cooperation. Alongside formal negotiations, informal channels could also be important in this. Non-official Track II diplomacy involving civil society, community elders, religious leaders and others could provide an effective peace-making mechanism. It has the advantage, amongst other things, of laying the foundation for a more durable peace through broad social reconciliation by dealing with historical-political grievances and the deeper roots of inter-communal conflicts. Unlike more adversarial formal proceedings, it could help thaw hostilities between two governments locked in the pride and prejudice of their kin communities.


  1. I thought Zehabesha is an Ethiopian web site, wow I was wrong and it is an eri web site:Ethio and eri flag stood together? equally?

  2. What kind of peace?, shabya lost the war , period. ertrea is a fake identity , it has been forgotten by the whole world, there is no any attention about that , simply shabya wants an attention.
    ertreans are Ethiopians, period , 1+1= 2 , shabya just became the weapon of arabs the historical enemies of Ethiopia, when the game is finished , they just ignored shabya.
    Any way my brothers and sisters ertreans , do not be fooled , learn from mistakes , come back to your Ethiopian identity , like zerayderes, moges asegedom, aberha deboche , work for unity beat shabya,
    At the same time we will beat all woyanes, and the so called tribalists .

    • Gemoraw……how do you say eritreans are ethiopians? “Yaynachew qelem alamarenim teblew altebarerum endie”…………… beselam Tiru gorebiet hunen endiet menor enichilalen biley maseb alebih….

  3. Belasho,Gemoraw
    An Afar proveb afr said :”What has seen fire and wants to go back to fire is the pot”
    Do you think that there is one people in the world who accept to return under colonialism after independance.Stop your arrogance ertra is an independant country.

  4. From GETACHEW REDA (editor Ethiopian Semay
    The only way to achieve peace between Eritrean bandits and Ethiopia is to remove and arrest the TPLF banda group who conspired with Eritreans against Ethiopian sovereignty and are re- establish an Ethiopian nationalist leaders back to power, so that the nationalist will destroy the Eritrean bandits to leak their bleeding wounds one more time for ever.
    It is coming! Their final death will come when they demand Badime by force. That time, I hope we remove TPLF (some Tigrayans who clean the dirty ass of Eritreans who are confused and lead by Eritreans covering under the name Ethiopian citizens inside TPLF) and manage to re-establish nationalist Ethiopian civil and military leaders that can kneel down the empty mouth bandits of Eritrea by force so that they will come to the table to talk what we want them to hear! Until, force is applied, no other option must be taken.
    All those cry babies inside Ethiopian opposition and some foolish and wushi-washy International lawyers like the dumbly YaKob (who helped TPLF with Beyene Petros when TPLF took power) and his likes (the so called Unity party lead by Merera and Gidada , Gebru and Seye)) who fool the Ethiopian people that they will bring back our sea ports and lands preserved since Axumit era – to the Haileselassie the great and all the way to the Derg era- through the “International Law” must be told with a loud and clear tones “get the hell out of our business and take your International law book back to your shelf!!!!!!!” Do you hear me my people?! These kind of lawyers and political party leaders are good for nothing, No law in this planet is effective until you have the power in your hand.
    See Northern Korea? If it could have been Iraq with no nuclear power Obama and the European craze would have gone into N. Korea before 10 years ago. Amazingly and shocking- N. Korea is currently threatening Us, Japan and all …! Is that not strange!
    Force is always decisive! Eritreans have violated our rights with the conspiracy of the Tigrayan Weyane banda organization calling itself “TPLF”- therefore, they claimed to the world that they got land locked Ethiopia by force and got their freedom by force (do not laugh at their freedom please!) – Therefore, it is our turn, we have to unlock and re-open our sea ports and liberate the people who are taken hostage by bandits through our might FORCE!!!!! (I know the Eritrean Sebhat Negga will bring the TPLF fighters to Eritrea hills back to defend them again as he vowed it on his interview- but- he too will be in jail or expired like his bay Meles Zenawi for good). You have to understand that no International law suit in the UN, or peaceful conference, drinking and eating together with Eritreans as some fools believe is effective to achieve peace. Of course Eritreans like to create peace with us- because they have all the advantages. Short live to the TPLF banda elements that we are the abused- not the Eritreans. So why not, sure they will jump and kiss us all the way from hair to our feet to exploit us again. So, repeat this word twice FORCES! FORCE! Is what the only option is to achieve peace. Destroy those bandits who sack our brothers and sisters blood in the hills of Eritrea and MaSawa with the help of the Tigrayan bandits. We are alive- if not our children will fight back to bring what was given to them by TPLF banda group. That is what I am writing a book now- so next generation will destroy these bandists one more time so crippled their spine as they are suffering now because of our blow devastated their jaw from the consequence of the battle of Badime, Aiga and so forth. They just have to pray I will not be in the coming government. I meant it!!!! This will be good news for Sebhat Negga and his Eritrean stooges inside TPLF and some of the Tigrayans who clean their dirty Ass. So that they will use this as scare tactic “look the Dergs are coming, the Asab group are coming tio take your children to war- as if they didn’t take thousands of Ethiopian troops to Badime and made them perish after they told us “no more war with Eritrea if Eritrea is free”. Fool me ones – not twice buddy! Ethiopians need to stop being fooled by this peace, peace junky talkers! Thanks Getachew Reda (Editor Ethiopian semay)

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