Drs Tsegezab Gebregergis, April 11, 2002
In March 2002, I wrote and posted an article in Asmarino.com under the title: “SHOULD ERITREANS CELEBRATE OVER THE HAGUE VERDICT? ” This article was written in response to the venomous and divisive article written by T.M. Negassi on January 29, 2002 under the title “A Call to All Eritreans and Friends of Eritrea“. In his article, T.M.Negassi called on Eritreans to celebrate the outcome of The Hague verdict before knowing even what the verdict was going to be. In reaction to his call, I advocated and argued in my article, among other things, that the delimitation and demarcation of Eritrea’s borders with Ethiopia is not an event that merits Eritreans to celebrate, especially when one considers the enormous costs the Eritrean people have paid for its realization. I said so because I believe the border demarcation between Eritrea and Ethiopia is an act that should have been accomplished in May 1993 using skillful diplomacy, rather than by resorting to war and by sacrificing 19,000 + of its best sons and daughters. Further more, it would be the most inappropriate for Eritrean democrats to celebrate at a time when tyranny, injustice and the flagrant violations of human rights have become the order of the day in Eritrea.
Hence, I suggested instead that Eritrean democrats should prepare themselves to celebrate when the unjustly imprisoned students, journalists, high ranking veteran fighters, wise elders and all members of the different opposition groups are unconditionally released from jail and freed. In short, I suggested Eritrean democrats to celebrate when all Eritreans political prisoners are freed unconditionally and a democratically elected people’s government and a sovereign parliament are established on the ruins and ashes of the PFDJ created totalitarian system in Eritrea.
I thus called upon Eritrean patriots and democrats that they should not be part to a dancing and drinking celebration that seeks to give legitimacy to the illegitimate PFDJ Eritrean regime. Nevertheless, I also reminded Eritrean democrats and other patriots that we should welcome The Hague verdict cautiously, that is, without fan-fare, provided the verdict is based on the Algiers agreement and reaffirms Eritrea’s internationally recognized borders with Ethiopia. I said so not because I believed the Hague verdict will secure permanent peace and stability between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but because I believed delineating and demarcating Eritrea’s borders with Ethiopia, though belatedly done, is a step in the right direction, one that will preclude future wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea reappearing under the pretext of a border dispute.
This article is a continuation to my March 1, 2002 posting. In this article, I will be arguing that the Hague verdict, significant and important as it is to Eritrea, irrespective of its outcome, does not and will not secure peace and stability neither between Ethiopia and Eritrea nor within Eritrea and Ethiopia. I will now proceed to explain my position.
TPLF/EPLF: FROM APPARENT FIRM ALLIES TO DEAD ENEMIES
Despite having fought side by side for over twenty-five years in the struggle to overthrow the military regime of Ethiopia, EPLF Eritrea and TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia have been engaged for two and half years in a bloody war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. The ferocious fighting that started in May 1998, ended when the two countries signed the formal Cessation of Hostilities on 18 June 2000 in Algiers.
However, since the fighting ended with the formal signing of the Algiers peace agreement in December 2000, The Hague based UN sponsored Ethio-Eritrean Boundary Commission has been busy trying to delimit the common borders of Ethiopia and Eritrea. After more than a year of intensive work, the Boundary Commission is expected to deliver its finale verdict on the “border dispute” on April 13 2002.
As is the case, the ruling of the Border Commission is expected to be based on the assumption and understanding that the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict was caused purely by a border dispute. For this very reason, that is, because The Hague based Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary Commission does not address comprehensively the root causes of the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, irrespective to whom its verdict favors, it will not secure peace and stability neither between Eritrea and Ethiopia nor within Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The significance and importance of the Hague verdict to Eritrea is, under the terms of the agreement, Eritrea’s borders with Ethiopia will be delimited and demarcated once and for all in a way which precludes Ethiopian future attacks against Eritrea under the pretext of a border dispute. In a way, after all is said and done, Eritrea will emerge from this agreement high headed and with internationally recognized borders.
However, for the reasons that I have indicated, the verdict of The Hague Border Commission is not capable of bringing a lasting solution to the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict. Hence, as far as I am concerned, the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict will remain unresolved as long as the multiple factors, which caused the conflict, are not – in one way or another – appropriately addressed and resolved. In other words, lasting peace and trust between Ethiopia and Eritrea could be achieved only, if and when the root causes of the conflict are fully addressed and fully resolved.
Let me be clear and to the point here. If, for example, it could be established that the current Ethio-Eritrean conflict was caused partly by Ethiopia’s lust to have unfettered access to the sea, and partly by Eritrea’s need to have free access to the Ethiopian markets and resources for its economic development and that the border dispute was brought in only to conceal the most pressing economic issues that caused the conflict, then these issues should be seriously and openly addressed and resolved. There is no other road to genuine peace and stability in our region other than by tackling the issues that brought the problem: just in the same way one cannot hope to cure a disease without killing the germ which causes to it.
It is for the above reasons that I believe the task of the Boundary Commission would have been historic and significant had it been mandated not only to delimit and demarcate the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia as entailed in the Algiers agreement but also to address all of the pertinent issues that directly or indirectly contributed to the 1998 Ethio-Eritrean conflict. Furthermore, the Boundary Commission should have been given the mandate to insure that democratic election in both Eritrea and Ethiopia in which all opposition groups fully participate is followed in the post-border delimitation and demarcation period under the supervision of UN and the African Union, so that the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples could decide who should govern them.
It is my firm belief that in the absence of some fundamental changes in the character of both the Eritrean and Ethiopian state and the total overhauling of the hitherto antagonistic domestic and external policies followed by the two governments, lasting solutions to the Ethio-Eritrean conflict and to the internal conflicts raging within Ethiopia and Eritrea will not be possible. On the contrary, in the absence of the urgently needed radical changes, conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia and within Eritrea and Ethiopia among government and anti-government forces will increase and could eventually contribute to regional instability.
However, given the anti-democratic nature of the two regimes ruling both Ethiopia and Eritrea today, it is most unlikely that changes, which favour democratic rule and accountability, will take place in the post-Ethio-Eritrean border delimitation and demarcation period. It therefore appears to me that the political scenario that will emerge in both Eritrea and Ethiopia will be characterized by an increase and proliferation of all kinds of grievances; societal strife; conflicts induced by acute lack of democracy and violation of human rights; rapid decline of economic growth and the fall in the standard of living of the common folk.
What is more, other than the conflicts induced by economic factors, there would be also other destabilizing factors in the post-border delimitation period for both governments. As is the case, TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia is already housing and actively engaged in supporting a united front of ten splinter groups of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) that have the goal to overthrow the EPLF/PFDJ Eritrean Government. The Sudanese government of Omar Al Beshir is also tacitly supporting the TPLF/EPRDF government’s covert and overt plans to overthrow the PFDJ government of Eritrea. Since the Tigrian led Ethiopian government considers the EPLF/PFDJ led Eritrean government as a hindrance to its hegemony in the Horn of Africa, and since it also believes that the EPLF/PFDJ government is militarily and politically very much weakened as a result of the two and half year war, it is expected to provide an all-out support to the Eritrean opposition groups based in Ethiopia in order to accelerate the overthrow of the PFDJ Eritrean regime. In so doing, the TPLF/EPRDF government of Ethiopia is hoping to replace the PFDJ government by an Eritrean regime amenable to it.
In its part, in order to counter and frustrate the plans of the TPLF/EPRDF regime, the PFDJ Eritrean regime is also expected to increase its support to the just struggle of the oppressed nations and nationalities in TPLF/EPRDF ruled Ethiopia. This will be especially the case for the just struggle of the oppressed Oromo and the Somali people of the Ogaden for the realization of their brutally denied right to self-determination. Hence, in the process, the relative capacity of the Eritrean and Ethiopian states to address people’s grievances through non-violent means and channels is expected to completely erode, thereby the two states will become openly terrorist regimes.
For the above reasons, it appears normalization of relations between PFDJ Eritrea and TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia in the post-demarcation period will not be feasible. On the contrary, all the signals coming from both Ethiopia and Eritrea seems to indicate that EPLF Eritrea and TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia are poised in the post-delimitation and demarcation period to enter into a cold war of the type we observe today between India and Pakistan – that is, a tit-for-tat arms race, which could easily be transformed into a terrible all-out-war. It is also possible, though most unlikely; that the two troubled regimes, dictated by the political instinct of survival, could resume their unholy alliance in order to jointly decimate their internal political opponents.
Nevertheless, it is certain that, irrespective whether there would be cold war or resumption of unholy alliance between the EPLF and TPLF/EPRDF governments, life and politics in general, and the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in both TPLF/EPRDF Ethiopia and EPLF/PFDJ Eritrea will never be the same again. Indeed, the struggle against the undemocratic rule of both the EPLF/PFDJ and TPLF/EPRDF regimes will grow by leaps and bounds, irrespective of the outcome of the Hague verdict.
So, please no drinking and dancing parties when the EEBC announces its verdict on April 12, 2002.If you do, you would be very regretful later.
Tsegezab Gebregergis, contributed and has sole responsibility for the content on this page. For comments you can contact the writer by e-mail: Tsegezab Gebregergis