Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
President Afwerki and Ethiopian PM Abiy reflected on progress made since 2018 peace deal, while govt’s harsh COVID-19 measures continued to raise concerns over food security. Eritrean information minister 11 July said that “progress achieved” since Eritrea and Ethiopia signed Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship in July 2018 had not been “fully congruent with expectations and aspirations” and regretted that Ethiopian troops remain present in Eritrea; President Afwerki 18 July received PM Abiy in capital Asmara where they took stock of progress and obstacles in implementing peace declaration; both sides agreed to bolster bilateral cooperation. During UN Human Rights Council session 30 June-17 July, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea Daniela Kravetz said there had been no significant progress this past year in Eritrea’s human rights situation; she also expressed concern that “COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the situation of famine” in parts of Eritrea, and urged authorities to ensure that “emergency food supplies reach all segments of the population”; UK-based Eritrean human rights group 15 July said ethnic Afar people faced “mass starvation” in Red Sea region in south east, where govt has imposed drastic coronavirus restrictions since April, and called on international community to put pressure on Eritrea to supply Afar community with food “as soon as possible”.
Eritrea’s youth exodus has significantly reduced the young nation’s human capital. While this has had advantages for the government – allowing the departure of those most dissatisfied and most likely to press for political change – the growing social and political impact of mass migration at home and abroad demands concerted domestic and international action.
Change is in the air in Eritrea, a highly authoritarian state, but any political transition will require internal political inclusion and channels for external dialogue if it is to preserve stability and improve Eritrean life.
To prevent Eritrea from becoming the Horn of Africa’s next failed state, the international community must engage more with the country.
The Ethiopia-Eritrea impasse carries serious risk of a new war and is a major source of instability in the Horn of Africa, most critically for Somalia. Following Ethiopia’s refusal to accept virtual demarcation of the border by the now disbanded Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC), Asmara unilaterally implemented it and forced out the UN peacekeepers (UNMEE), significantly raising the stakes and shattering the status quo.
The risk that Ethiopia and Eritrea will resume their war in the next several weeks is very real. A military build-up along the common border over the past few months has reached alarming proportions. There will be no easy military solution if hostilities restart; more likely is a protracted conflict on Eritrean soil, progressive destabilisation of Ethiopia and a dramatic humanitarian crisis.
The fragile peace maintained by Ethiopia and Eritrea since they signed a comprehensive agreement at Algiers in December 2000 is fraying dangerously. With a costly two-year war now followed by nearly five years of stalemate, patience on both sides of the border has worn thin, and there are worrying signs that the countdown to renewed conflict may have begun.
A 12 June clash between Eritrea and Ethiopia comes as the Horn of Africa’s two most implacable rivals face a crossroads.
Originally published in Slate Afrique
Originally published in Política Exterio