Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Ethiopia and Eritrea: An elusive peace on the cards?

October 29, 2012

By Aaron Maasho

Ethiopia and Eritrea are still at each others’ throats. The two neighbours fought hammer and tongs in sun-baked trenches during a two-year war over a decade ago, before a peace deal ended their World War I-style conflict in 2000. Furious veRed Sea, UNrbal battles, however, have continued to this day.

Yet, amid the blistering rhetoric and scares over a return to war, analysts say the feuding rivals are reluctant to lock horns once again. Neighbouring South Sudan and some Ethiopian politicians are working on plans to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

Asmara has been named, shamed and then slapped with two sets of U.N. sanctions over charges that it was aiding and abetting al Qaeda-linked rebels in lawless Somalia in its proxy war with Ethiopia. However, a panel tasked with monitoring violations of an arms embargo on Somalia said it had no proof of Eritrean support to the Islamist militants in the last year.

Nevertheless, Eritrea’s foreign ministry wasted little time in pointing a finger of accusation at its perennial rival. “The events over the past year have clearly shown that it is in fact Ethiopia that is actively engaged in destabilising Eritrea in addition to its continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory in violation of the U.N. Charter,” the ministry said in a statement last month.

The Red Sea state was referring to Addis Ababa’s open declaration in 2011 in which its late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his country would no longer take a “passive stance” towards its rival following Eritrea’s alleged plot to bomb targets in the Ethiopian capital during an African Union gathering of heads of state.

Then foreign minister (and now premier) Hailemariam Desalegn followed up on the rhetoric soon afterwards by disclosing his government’s support to Eritrean rebels. Meles and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki were once comrades-in-arms, even rumoured to be distant relatives. Ethiopia’s late leader rubber-stamped a 1993 referendum that granted independence to the former province after their rebel groups jointly toppled Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta two years earlier.

The love affair did not last long. The pair fell out spectacularly after Eritrea introduced its own currency in 1997 and Ethiopia responded by insisting on trading in dollars. Their economic spat aggravated already simmering border tensions, which culminated in Eritrea deploying its tanks months later and occupying hotly disputed territory that was under Addis Ababa’s administration.

Ethiopian troops breached Eritrea’s trenches nearly a year later and retook contested ground – namely the flashpoint town of Badme – before a peace deal was signed. What then followed is the sticking point that remains today. An independent boundary commission awarded Badme to Eritrea in 2002 but the ruling is yet to take effect. Ethiopia wants to negotiate its implementation and warns that delimitation of the border as per the finding would unreasonably split towns and other geographical locations into two.

Asmara on the other hand insists on an immediate hand-over. The bickering has evolved into a proxy war and diplomatic skulduggery as both sides attempt to bring about regime change in the other. But despite the harsh words, mediation efforts are in the pipeline. Deng Alor, neighbouring South Sudan’s Minister for Cabinet Affairs, told Reuters on Wednesday his newly-independent country is about to embark on rounds of shuttle diplomacy between the capitals of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both countries, he said, have given their blessing.

A handful of Ethiopian members of parliament are also devising a similar initiative, local sources say. Addis Ababa has never ruled out mediation. But even though Eritrea publicly dismisses any idea of a thaw in strained relations before the Badme spat is resolved, recent developments might change its mind, some believe.

Ethiopian analysts think Asmara now realises that its neighbour may easily adopt a more belligerent stance following the sudden death of Meles, who they say stood firm against a potential slide towards full-scale conflict. And of course not all Ethiopians express enthusiasm about an independent Eritrea, the creation of which left their country without access to the Red Sea.

Some diplomats say the chances of both sides making drastic concessions from their current positions remain slim. So will the mediation efforts finally yield a deal?


1000 young Eritreans flee across the border each month into UN refugee camps in Ethiopia. Not a single Ethiopian crosses into Eritrea. Ethiopia no reason to blink, with double-digit economic growth last 8 years in a row.

Posted by Ras-Mitat | Report as abusive

While We appreciate the South Sudanese for their goodwill gesture, they may be seeing the situation from a simplistic and technical aspect the problems rather than the psychological aspect which has been there for over a century and hard to resolve…From the day colonialists set their feet in eritrea and poisoned the minds of Eritreans, it was a known fact that we were set for a long bloody ride never to respect each other and that is exactly what has been happening since…Had Eritrea’s quest for independent been genuine and independence alone was their goal, the last thing Eritreans would have in their mind after 30 bloody years would have been war regardless of who is at fault and it would have been easier to draw lines and trade according to international law and move on there after. but one just needs look at their record of skirmish with all neighbors since independence alone…What the South Sudanese or any one who wants to mediate doesn’t know is there is a whole lot of egoistic problem specially on the side the colonized due to the distorted sense self importance they have developed as result of the superficial modernness in relation to the feudal ethiopia they encountered after they were freed from their Italian slave masters. We therefore have been unable to move on regardless of how much Ethiopia compromised by allowing itself to be land-locked, unheard in any country’s history..The fact that Eritrean identity itself was forged out of a misguided desire to prove myths, many Eritreans are finding it difficult to accept a post independence reality of a poorer than Ethiopia Eritrea..That is the part the South Sudanese don’t seem to understand and they probably with all the good intention think they can solve what only time can solve..This problem needs a long term and psychological approach which is to wait until a better generation is born out of a long and a painful lesson…As an Ethiopian and given the relative peace and development Ethiopia has enjoyed since the departure of Eitrea,I would prefer things to remain as they are right now, because it is too risky for Ethiopia and it has every advantage for Eritrea to revive from death before their attitude chnages..Enough is Enough!

Posted by hagereseb | Report as abusive

Ethiopian’s have a life expectancy in the mid-50′s Eritreans live until they are 66. Eritrea doesn’t beg for food.Ethiopia receives more aid than any country in Africa from the US. Eritrea has cut off all food aid from the US. Ethiopia says it is growing by double digits but cannot feed its own people or contain its AIDS epidemic. Eritrea is the hope of Africa its economy is growing rapidly. I don’t want Ethiopians contaminating our beautiful Asmara, Massawa, Keren, or Assab or any party of our country. Viva Eritrea the home of heroes down with the Ethiopian donkeys

Posted by Rufael | Report as abusive

Quick off-topic question: Is the blog going away? And where is the Reuters Africa website?

Posted by michaelbnelson | Report as abusive

The deadly impact of war on a country and its citizen is total disunity, mistrust and economic decline in investment in resources that will be to better the life of citizens.However, the life expectancy is short and interesting as basic amenities is destroyed with weapons that is far from human deference.

Posted by joachimokoye79 | Report as abusive

The women and children are those who suffer more during war crisis,so stop the war and embrace peace.

Posted by joachimokoye79 | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see