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Ethiopia and Eritrea: War or Peace?
Ethiopia and Eritrea: War or Peace?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Ethiopia Must Continue to Help Stabilise South Sudan
Ethiopia Must Continue to Help Stabilise South Sudan
Report 68 / Africa

Ethiopia and Eritrea: War or Peace?

The next few weeks will go far to determining whether Ethiopia and Eritrea resume a path toward war – which took some 100,000 lives between 1998 and 2000 – or solidify their peace agreement.

Executive Summary

The next few weeks will go far to determining whether Ethiopia and Eritrea resume a path toward war – which took some 100,000 lives between 1998 and 2000 – or solidify their peace agreement. Ethiopia must decide whether to allow demarcation of the border to begin in October 2003 even though the international Boundary Commission set up under the Algiers agreement that ended the fighting has ruled that the town of Badme – the original flashpoint of the war – is on the Eritrean side. The outcome will have profound implications for both countries and the entire Horn of Africa, as well as for international law and the sanctity of binding peace agreements and arbitration processes. The international community, particularly the U.S., the African Union (AU), and the European Union (EU), all of which played major roles in brokering the Algiers agreement, need to engage urgently to help Ethiopia move the demarcation forward and to assist both parties to devise a package of measures that can reduce the humanitarian costs of border adjustments and otherwise make implementation of the demarcation more politically palatable.

The two warring states agreed at Algiers to establish the Boundary Commission and accept its judgement as final and binding. The Commission made its ruling in April 2002. After a series of technical and political delays caused largely by Ethiopia’s objections, in particular to the disposition of Badme, it announced in July 2003 that physical demarcation on the ground should begin in October. On 12 September, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), which monitors the border, and called on both parties to fulfil their commitments under the Algiers agreement by creating “the necessary conditions for demarcation to proceed, including the appointment of field liaison officers”, providing security for the demarcation process, and pursuing political dialogue.

The governments of both Ethiopia and Eritrea face harder line elements that believe too much has already been given away in the peace process and are unwilling to countenance further flexibility. Many Ethiopians are determined not to cede any territory to Eritrea after having allowed its independence. The most potent mobilising factor for Eritreans is the threat of encroachment by Ethiopia on their hard-won sovereignty. For Ethiopians who opposed Eritrean independence, the threatened loss of Badme is emblematic of the loss of Eritrea, while for many Eritreans the fate of that town of 5,000 cannot be separated from their worry that Ethiopia may one day try to regain access to the sea. For both sides, losing Badme would make the sacrifices of the 1998-2000 conflict much harder to justify.

While neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea wants to return to combat, incidents of isolated violence have been occurring with increasing frequency along the border, as have reports of incursions by troops into the neutral zone. There is no real dialogue between the parties. Each views the other’s government as decaying and its military as weak and unprepared. Each supports elements of the other’s opposition, and, perhaps most dangerously, underestimates the will of the other to hold together if there is a new military confrontation. All these are attitudes eerily similar to those that prevailed prior to and during the war.

The integrity of the peace agreement is on the brink of being compromised. Despite its renewal of the UNMEE mandate and its correct insistence that the agreement be implemented immediately and without renegotiation, the UN Security Council remains relatively unengaged and preoccupied with other responsibilities. Washington, which negotiated the agreement in tandem with the AU, has largely ignored the issue, despite its interest in regional stability. The AU has remained largely silent as well.

The international community cannot afford to look away and hope for the best, however. Vigorous diplomacy is needed now. While the parties should not be permitted to deviate from implementing a Boundary Commission decision that both agreed would be “final and binding”, creative solutions can be found to make implementation more politically acceptable by reducing the security and humanitarian impacts while demarcation proceeds. These diplomatic efforts should not be the prerequisite for implementation. But an early demonstration that the international community is serious about finding ways to soften the losses perceived by both parties would be a positive inducement for constructive action. Timing is important since an Ethiopian decision not to cooperate with the October schedule could set in motion a rapid deterioration of the situation, and a small incident – whether unplanned or provoked by either side – could easily escalate out of control.

Nairobi/Brussels, 24 September 2003

Commentary / Africa

Ethiopia Must Continue to Help Stabilise South Sudan

Addis Ababa can win economic and security gains if it perseveres with its impressive commitment to peace efforts in South Sudan. With its new two-year membership on the UN Security Council, Addis Ababa has the opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action. 

Ethiopia’s commitment to peace-making in South Sudan has been critical for regional stability. It has much to gain from continuing this engagement, including a secure border and trade with a stable neighbour. But achieving lasting peace after South Sudan’s two-year-long civil war is a long-term undertaking.

Ethiopia has shown strong leadership and a level of direct involvement in peace efforts in Sudan and South Sudan that few countries can match.

The African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) peace talks on the conflicts are held in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa led the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, a regional body) peace process on South Sudan and is a guarantor of the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS). It deploys peacekeepers to the UN Mission in South Sudan and is the main contributor to the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (on the Sudan-South Sudan border). It is also expected to be the lead contributor to the 4,000-strong UN Regional Protection Force (RPF) based in Juba.

Ethiopia’s two-year membership on the UN Security Council (UNSC) should be an opportunity to better connect regionally-led political processes to UN action.

Implementing the ARCSS and the Regional Force

Following the July 2016 fighting in Juba, ARCSS has been reshaped, and the RPF and national dialogue process created to reinforce its principles. Concerted support is required from Ethiopia, fellow IGAD member states, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC, overseeing ARCSS implementation and reporting to the IGAD heads of state) and the UN to reduce conflict under an inclusive government.

These processes, and the RPF’s role in supporting them, are fluid and interconnected. For example, a successful negotiation between the transitional government and an armed group increases the chances of successful dialogue between communities caught up in the conflict. There is now a window of opportunity to shape and provide capacity-building to efforts to make the new South Sudan transitional government more inclusive.

Given the trust deficit that exists between South Sudan’s government and opposition figures, the UN’s RPF has a role to play in helping create conditions conducive to ARCSS implementation and national dialogue.

Ethiopia’s support for talks between these parties makes it a critical partner in supporting inclusivity in Juba. For this to take place, the RPF must deploy and demonstrate its worth. In addition to JMEC, the RPF provides a direct link to Ethiopia and other IGAD leaders in their oversight of ARCSS and efforts to form a more inclusive government.

On the sidelines of the forthcoming AU summit, Ethiopia and IGAD leaders should consider what can be done to expedite RPF deployment and how it can be better tied to political engagement to support genuine efforts toward greater transitional government inclusivity.

Mutual Security and Prosperity

Ethiopia’s mediation and peacekeeping efforts also support stability at home. During Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s 28 October visit to Juba, he and President Kiir made assurances that they would not support rebels in either country ­– a critical restatement of a mutual understanding between the two countries.

Ethiopia’s border with South Sudan hosts cross-border communities that experience multiple, overlapping communal tensions that can lead to violence. A large Murle raid from South Sudan into the Gambella region last April required the Ethiopian army’s temporary deployment into South Sudan to secure the return of abducted children and to monitor both sides of the border. This took place during a separate period of intercommunal conflict in Gambella, which was exacerbated by the large numbers of refugees in the region.

Supporting South Sudan to reduce political and communal conflicts along their shared border – which requires effective and inclusive governance from Juba – will improve security in Gambella and reduce refugee inflows, which tend to exacerbate intercommunal tensions in the border region.

Violence and displacement are detrimental to the mutually beneficial cross-border trade that was growing fast before South Sudan’s civil war started in 2013. Stability and security can enable development rather than humanitarian crisis in the impoverished border regions and beyond.

Ethiopia should not waiver in its commitment to ensuring a peaceful South Sudan and use the many tools at its disposal – IGAD, ARCSS, JMEC, the RPF and its term since January on the UN Security Council – to support an inclusive and stable government in Juba. Successful peace-making will ensure greater stability in Ethiopia and facilitate sustained trade and economic development – which is to everyone’s benefit.