The Ethiopian – Eritrean détente seemingly has come out of nowhere. The Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ahmed, announced he will fully accept the terms of a 2000 peace treaty between Ethiopia and Eritrea on June 5.
Since then, Ethiopia and Eritrean leaders and negotiators have been swept into a whirlwind of cross-border discussions and peace overtures.
The two leaders met for symbolic talks in Asmara on Jul 8, the first meeting between two leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea in two decades.
Effects of the peace deal
The war 1998-2000 war started as a border dispute over the town of Badme, which the Ethiopians now hold.
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The war has been compared to the First World War, where rows of soldiers had to walk through minefields, straight into the jaws of machine guns.
Over the course of the two year war, it is estimated that 50,000 Ethiopian soldiers died, whilst 20,000 Eritreans died.
One of the key terms of the 2,000 peace agreement was that Ethiopia would return Badme to the Eritrean side.
Apart from relinquishing Badme to Eritrea, the two states have pledged to take a number of steps in order to normalize relationships.
The two leaders signed a declaration last week which statement that the state of war was over, and that a new era of peace and friendship had been ushered in.
Both countries will establish embassies in the other country, and landlocked Ethiopia will have access to the Eritrean port.
They will jointly develop Eritrea’s Red Sea Coast.
Ethiopian Airlines announced that they would resume flights to the Eritrean capital of Asmara. The first flight is scheduled to be on July 17th.
The unexpected peace talks have also caused Ethiopian bonds to hit a 10-week high as investors see the potential of economic transformation in the Horn of Africa that would come with a peace deal.
The international community and many from the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora communities have lauded this decision.
The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said that the peace deal was a “wind of hope” in Africa. He further said that he believed that the need for sanctions on Eritrea will be obsolete after the completion of the trade deal.
Eritrea had sanctions imposed upon them in 2009 for allegedly supporting Somali Islamist groups in the Horn of Africa, which Eritrea denies. Ethiopia on the other hand has been a key ally of NATO and Western countries in the battle against Islamic extremism in the Horn of Africa.
Despite the cries of joy from many Ethiopians at home and abroad, President Abiy has faced backlash from those living in the town of Badme. The high human cost of the war and of safeguarding the town means that the residents are unwilling to relinquish it.
One resident, and ex-fighter, Dubale Getu, talking to Reuters, lamented the futility of the Ethiopians’ sacrifice: “Why did we fight for it then to just give it away? All this sacrifice for nothing? For this?”
Other opposition comes from the dominant Tigray ethnic group in Ethiopia. Up until Abiy’s election, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front was the leading member of the governing EPRDF coalition.
They have denounced any concessions to Asmara, and are worried for their interests if Badme is to be surrendered.
Though Abiy’s party now rules the coalition, he needs the consent of all parties in order to push through these reforms.
DPA contributed to this report