(On the Ethio-Eritrea Border Issue)
First of all if Weyane and Shabia leaderships were enshrined with genuine national interest of the broad masses of Ethiopia and Eritrea, they had all grounds, means, and the will of the inalienable bond of the people to use their 1991 victory to re-institute federation or at least confederation for the common good of the two fraternal peoples. However, their short-sighted decision in their thirst for power brought about issues of resources, issues of broken ties and interdependence and disputes that brought about the border conflicts.
Then the Ethio-Eritrean border conflict could have been resolved peacefully by legitimate leaderships of Ethiopia and Eritrea and by honest arbitrators. However, while the Meles leadership was not honest to the national interest of Ethiopia, it started from his unconditional support to the secession of Eritrea since that leadership had no inert intention of keeping Badme or even the whole Eritrea in the Ethiopian borders. That leadership was forced to wedge war with Eritrea by outside groups especially the Tigray people; but not the Weyane headed by the X-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as was manifested in the split of the Weyane leadership on this issue. Even after the war ended in victory, the ill-intention of the leadership having no morale of losing tens of thousands of Ethiopian men-in-uniform committed itself to thwarting the victory and giving away Badme and other territories through Algiers agreements that were concluded on December 12, and June 18, 2000. Meles and his representatives agreed to unconditionally abide by the decision of the arbitrators while giving away one’s right to arbitrators was not necessary in the first place. It was clear that Meles and a handful of his cohorts dramatized this in the Algiers Agreements as a means to give away Badme and other territories to Eritrea. Once the agreement was made, the establishment of a Border Commission by the Organization of African unity in consultation with the United Nations, where the United States of America played a role, legalized its frame work. Since both sides agreed to abide by the outcome of the commission, and although the framework was legal, the disputable part was on the provision of tangible evidences and circumstances that had bearing on the decision.
Badme had always been part of Ethiopia. The only reason mentioned was the demarcation of that territory to the Italian occupation of Eritrea which by itself was considered null and void both by Ethiopia and the international community as well as Italy, the X-colonizer of Eritrea after its defeat. As Dr. Yakob Hailemariam pointed out on his article on ethiomedia, the Agreement and the Border Commission decisions were based on illegal colonial treaties which the UN abrogated in 1947, Italy renounced them after its defeat in 1941 and Ethiopia cancelled them in 1952 by Order 6/1952 published in the Negarit Gazetta.
While Eritrea was well prepared to win the dispute, the EPRDF delegates were either ignorant of the facts or showing symbolical representation but not to win the case as they did not stand for the national interest of Ethiopia. This was manifested in their request of Tsorana also to go to Eritrea while this was not part of the dispute. Ethiopian representatives for the Border Commission were 3 government officers and 6 consultants, respectively, while Eritrean representatives were 6 government officers and 8 consultants, respectively. Former statesmen like Prince Mengesha Seyoum who know border issues in detail were not included in the list. Total representatives of the Claims Commission on the Eritrean side were 40 while the number was 21 on the Ethiopian side. These alone reflect how much little attention was given to the matter by the Weyane leadership.
A leader can make an honest mistake that can harm the national interest of a vulnerable nation like Ethiopia where common long-lasting issues can be swallowed by overwhelming resentments, grievances rampant resistant movements on one side, and compromises and reconciliations are called upon to rejuvenate the national unity on the other side. The trend held by Prime Minister Abiy is commendable and unprecedented in the last forty years for the consolidation of our national unity. While reconciliation has a role of paramount importance for national unity, the hasty stand to resolve the dispute between the two countries might have two-folded shortcomings:
- The Ethio-Eritrean border issue is a national issue or the national interest of the Ethiopian people. A national interest cannot be given away by a political decision but different political methods can be used to come up to meeting the same national interest; least breaching national interest is failure of any political nature. Objective facts are very powerful to change any decision. Irrefutable Supreme Court decisions have been reversed several times in the world due to newly uncovered facts. By consideration of historical facts and all the human and material sacrifices, while the people expect a convincing effort to correct the mistake of the X-Prime Minister, Prime Minister Abiy’s declaration did not show any effort to uncover and forward any evidence that could compel to reconsider the decision of the Border Commission or used any mediation procedure before giving away the Ethiopian territories that include Badme, Zalambesa, Tsorena and others.
- It was expected that Prime Minister to use the Badme issue as a leverage for the Assab case. The ownership of Assabsea route was legitimized by the UN resolution # 390 in 1950 with the case of Eritrea before it was federated with Ethiopia. The fact that Assab was separately administered as one of the provinces of Ethiopia before 1974 adds the legitimacy. Moreover, the Assab case has more weight on the Ethiopian side of the scale as compared to the condition that granted Badme and other territories to Eritrea. Returning Assab back to Ethiopia has even more legitimacy and outweighs on the scale; so, it is not possible to see how the decision meet the balance of the scale. The Meles clique was blamed for being dictator and ignoring the interests of the Ethiopian people that includes the Afar people in regards to the Assab sea route. We do not know if the Prime Minister made any deal to return Assab to its legitimate owner, Ethiopia. We also do not know where and when the idea of Professor Tesfatsion Medhanie can produce fruit. What we can see now is that the prime minister followed the same Weyane trend by succumbing to the decision of the rubber-stamp parliament that had been nurtured by Weyane dictators and made in the image of Meles Zenawi.
It is not possible to see where the arbitrary decision to give away Badme and other disputed territories satisfies the pending question on Ethiopian side. It is not clear as to how the Prime Minister would address tens of thousands of people who lost their families and properties due to the Ethio-Eritrean border conflicts. Therefore the second fall to the Algiers’ lopsided decision remains questionable in regards to safeguarding the national interest of the Ethiopia.