It was a series of local frontier disputes that sparked off the 1998 – 2000 border war. These were conflicts over where fields ended, who had rights to pastures and other small scale issues. They were allowed to fester. They were not the only reason for the war – but they exacerbated differences.
Now Tigrayans are asking for a mechanism to resolve such disputes and to try to find a means of softening the border demarcation that has to take place. Certainly there are local issues to be resolved.
As they warn:
If the negotiation of outstanding issues are not institutionalized, stake holders including people in the border areas do not participate and made to be main actors, and a lack of transparency persists, Ethiopia may not succeed in its endeavour for lasting peace.
Sustainable Peace for Ethiopia and Eritrea: Beyond Borders (Statement from Concerned Scholars and Civic Societies)
This statement is prepared by concerned Ethiopians from Tigray – a regional states bordering Eritrea – and submitted to the Ethiopian public at large.
From the outset, we would like to associate ourselves with those striving to bring sustainable peace and economic cooperation between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We would like to express our readiness to further assist such efforts in any way we can.
We whole heartedly support the search for a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Eritrea because it will first benefit the peoples of Ethiopia and its neighbours. More so, peace with Eritrea will significantly help the population the border areas which had shouldered the brunt of the war between the two countries. We would like to contribute our share to make these efforts productive.
Since the coming of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia seems to be under the spell of change, included is the nearly two decades long standoff between Ethiopia and Eritrea.To this effect, the Executive Committee of the ruling party – EPRDF issued a statement of intent to engage in negotiation with the people and government of Eritrea. Subsequent to this, the State of Eritrea responded positively to the calls from Government of Ethiopia and sent its delegation to Addis Ababa. The discussion among Ethiopians is on-going, while the popular reaction to this decision from various parts of Tigray including from the border areas of Tigray is rather forewarning.
Last week Prime Minister Dr. Abiy led high level Ethiopian delegation that visited Eritrea. The President of Eritrea is expected to pay a reciprocal visit to Ethiopia. Although the border issues seemed to have been saved for another day, the two leaders are reported to have signed multiple substantive agreements aiming at normalization and cooperation. This is a huge development. Even if the details of the agreements are not made public yet, we are closely following the recent rapprochement and exchange of visits by the two governments and also taking note of the symbolic progress made by the recent high-level exchange of visits.
This statement highlights the concerns arising from revisiting the recent history and the barely discussed current initiative. The manner of the current rapprochements and talks strongly rekindles our memory of the relationship that existed between 1991-1998. Relationship that was short on clarity and coherent policy. Relationship based merely on the good intentions and naïve aspirations.
This Statement aims to encourage the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and all Regional States particularly those bordering Eritrea (Tigray and Afar) to take thoughtful deliberations and well-considered decisions with regard to peace and normalization with Eritrea. This proposal points to better and win-win options for building sustainable peace and mutually assured developmental cooperation for the two fraternal peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It also highlights the key outstanding issues that need to be earnestly addressed the statement lists the key principles upon which such process needs to be anchored.
More importantly, this statement asserts that sustainable peace between the two countries is fundamentally intertwined with good border governance and the attainment of sustainable development in borderlands. Without the active participation of communities in the border areas, implementation of any agreement on border issues will be difficult. The statement,thus, calls for an inclusive, and transparent consultations of those who know the issues best and those who will be affected most.
The statement advances two key recommendations:
1/ Side by side with the current rapprochement any serious decision of the Ethio-Eritrean situation the Federal Government and the neighbouring two regional states need to deliberate, prepare and adopt principles for the resolution of all issues first with broad consultations at national and local level and then begin the process.
2/ Negotiations with Eritrean Government on the demarcation process should be conducted aftera thorough studies are done and broad-based consultations are conducted with key stakeholders including experts.
Our Concerns and Lessons from History
The most important lesson is that our immediate past should inform our search for a peaceful solution to the Ethio-Eritrean war. An arrangement reached based on the goodwill of two the governments alone will have dire consequences. While the initiative in and themselves are indeed long overdue, it is important this initiative to bear fruit, and bring sustainable peace that can be effectively implemented, sufficient trust need to be built between the two countries, and the populations in the border areas. This by necessity requires thoughtful, reasoned and calculated approach. Thus, we advance the following key and specific recommendations.
Key recommendation: develop a clear, and comprehensive roadmap for resolution of the Ethio-Eritrean conflict after conducting a thorough study and broad-based consultations among key stakeholders including experts and needs to be clear and open to public scrutiny.
We think that the following issues are critical for the realization of sustainable peace and future cooperation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
* Urgently convene and facilitate national and local level consultation forums where all stakeholders could be engaged on a roadmap for sustainable peace with Eritrea;
* Based on such roadmap, urgently develop Declaration of Principles (DoP) that could guide the resolution of outstanding issues discussed;
* Urgently convene and facilitate consultations between populations in both sides and exchange of visits in the border areas in particular in Tigray and Afar regions prior to any agreement on demarcation;
* Bordering Regional States must always sit as part of the joint bilateral border commission meeting between Ethiopia and its neighbouring countries, so do Afar and Tigray regional states and be consulted and fully engaged in the any agreements pertaining Eritrea;
* While the expedited normalization process will bring about a substantial benefit to the border regions. But if the negotiation of outstanding issues are not institutionalized, stake holders including people in the border areas do not Participate and made to be main actors, and a lack of transparency persists, Ethiopia may not succeed in its endeavour for lasting peace.
July 14, 2018
Halyot (Concern) for Societal Change (CSO based in Ethiopia)
Teg’ezo (Advocacy) for Justice and Democracy Reform (CSO based in Ethiopia)