Ethiopia will accept and fully implement the Algiers peace agreement. ”The announcement, which came through a post on the Facebook page of the Revolutionary Democratic Front of the Ethiopian people, had the effect of a bomb. Ethiopian premier Abiy Ahmed and his government have opened their doors to peace by drawing a line on decades of conflict and tension with Eritrea, the announcement was not totally unexpected: on April 2, in his inaugural address, the prime minister had talked about the will to open a dialogue with Eritrea, but no one thought that it would pass from words to deeds in such a short time.
To understand how revolutionary the sentence has been, we need to take a quick step backwards. Eritrea becomes independent on May 24, 1993 after a thirty year old fight against Ethiopia of Negus Hailè Selassie and then that of the ”red negus” Menghistu Hailè Mariàm. An independence achieved also thanks to the political and military alliance with the ethnic group of Ethiopian Tigrins, who then went to power in Addis Ababa. At the beginning of the nineties, a period of friendship and collaboration is thus expected for the two countries. Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had been fighting comrades and shared the efforts of the liberation war. It was thought that they would collaborate in the reconstruction of the countries even considering that the two economies were closely intertwined. Things have gone differently. The tensions between the two nations grow and in 1998, due to a border dispute, an open conflict between the two nations broke out. In two years of war, between 60 and 70 thousand soldiers die. The fighting ceased in 2000. Addis Ababa and Asmara consented to the creation of an independent commission of the United Nations to define the borders. Both countries accept the results of the commission’s work, but Ethiopia does not withdraw its men from the disputed areas. In the years then the incidents between Ethiopian and Eritrean military departments follow each other.
Up to the statement by Abiy Ahmed. An opening that is part of a reformist strategy that the Prime Minister of Addis Ababa is carrying out in Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed is an Oromo, an ethnic group that has always been marginalized in the country. Since he took office, he has opened a dialogue with the most intransigent oromo fringes (which since 2015 have often violently protested against the government), promised economic reforms and, in fact, has re-launched the dialogue with Eritrea. A dialogue that could have profound consequences for Addis Ababa. Ethiopia does not have an outlet to the sea and, to export goods, it is forced to use the ports of Djibouti and Sudan. A peace with Asmara, in addition to reducing military spending (today Ethiopia still maintains several war-torn departments on the northern borders), would make the ports on the Red Sea of Massaua and Assab (now underutilized) available to Addis Ababa to Ethiopia from a dense road network.
Now the ball passes into the Eritrean field. So far Asmara has not responded to Ethiopian openings. For President Isaias Afewerki to sign a final peace with Ethiopia involves numerous risks in terms of internal politics. The Eritrean regime was founded and strengthened over the years precisely on the opposition to Ethiopia.
In the newborn Eritrea of the 1990s many refugees had returned, the country attracted investments, tourism and the mining sector promised prosperity, but the war against Ethiopia interrupted this positive trend. With the excuse of the impending external threat, Isaias Afewerki has suspended the Constitution, has no longer called elections, has arrested anyone who opposed him politically (including some of his collaborators), has closed newspapers and radios, the university has ceased ‘activity, has driven the NGOs accusing them of internal interference, forced to resign and then arrested the Coptic Orthodox patriarch Abuna Antonio. But above all, he created a disproportionate army in which young people, aged 17, are forced into a military service whose date of leave is unknown. In reality many of these soldiers are employed to build public infrastructure or to work in the properties of the commanders. A system that has produced poverty and emigration. Thousands of young people leave the country every year looking for luck in Europe or in the Gulf countries, often finding death in the desert, in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Gulf of Aden.
Will this politico-military construction stand up to the impact of peace? Isaias Afewerki accept the peace proposal? ”The end of hostilities – explains an Eritrean observer who wants to maintain anonymity – would lead to a growth of the country, but also to new demands from a population that is exhausted .. Isaias Afewerki knows this. President Ethiopia was a ”useful enemy” to consolidate the regime Knowing his cunning, it is not excluded that the dictator sign the peace with Addis Ababa, but immediately look for another front on which to fight. He has already found it: for months Eritrea has been harboring the ships of the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen in its ports Faced with a request from Riyadh to send troops to Yemen, how would Asmara respond? ”