How Ethiopia, Eritrea can forge a new relationship

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This morning after a night of thousand thoughts for our beloved continent Africa I found it important to lift up a lead on Four key issues that will need to be resolved for the neighbours to normalise relations.

As you must all be a ware that In 1991, as the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, I led peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrean separatists.

The negotiations ended a nearly thirty-year war and established Eritrea as an independent state.

These outcomes were a geopolitical success, but they did not resolve the bitter acrimony between the two countries. And since that moment, the relationship between these neighbours has been frozen in hostility.

It has included a 1998-2000 border war, shadowy intelligence efforts, and accusations of tacit support for rival militant groups.

Both sides have maintained a heavy and expensive military presence along their border, and a once vigorous economic relationship has totally dried up.

Yet a détente may finally be emerging, driven by the arrival of a new Prime Minister in Addis Ababa, Abiy Ahmed.

On 6 June, the Ethiopian government announced it would finally implement the 2000 Algiers Agreement, an internationally sponsored peace treaty and border demarcation signed by Ethiopia and Eritrea.

“All that we have achieved from the situation of the last 20 years is tension,” Abiy later remarked. “We need to expend all our efforts toward peace and reconciliation and extricate ourselves from petty conflicts and divisions, and focus on eliminating poverty.”

The prime minister referred to Ethiopians and Eritreans as “brotherly peoples” and expressed hopes for “economic ties between Asmara and Addis Ababa”.

The centrepiece of this move is the highly symbolic town of Badme, a disputed territory which Ethiopia illegally occupied in 1998, sparking the border war.

As part of the peace agreement, a Hague commission declared Badme part of Eritrea, but Ethiopia never accepted this decision and continued to occupy the town.

Ethiopia’s pledge to cede Badme to Eritrea is therefore deeply momentous. Eritrea has consistently stated that all issues would be on the table for negotiation as soon as Ethiopia withdrew from Badme, a symbol of Eritrean resentment since the last war ended in 2002.

This means that, in theory, the door is now open for bilateral discussions. It is hard to overstate how positive a friendly relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea could be for the region, which has been dogged by poverty, famine, and insecurity.

It is too early to say if and when such talks could be held, but these are the key issues that would need to be resolved as priorities for the partnership to move forwards.

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