What Ethiopia and Eritrea need to recognize in common

By IndepthAfrica
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Nov 4th, 2013
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Introduction

This article makes a short observation on the economic and political landmarks, as well as related geopolitical circumstances in regard to Eritrea and Ethiopia. The intention and attitudes of our leaders towards close relationships between our sisterly nations is being included in my writing. It has been so important to address our peoples with awareness over the facts and prospects prevailing around their nationhood. In other words, searching with patience into the realities that influence and impact our common destiny is essential. As such, Ethiopians and Eritreans together have to analyze the situation of both countries and exchange their concerns to bring peace. Those are the main potential factors to recognize and facilitate for bilateral needs and subsequent integration.

Let Eritrea get out of limbo

The governments of Mr. Isaias Afeworki and the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) are into fifteen years of predicaments leaving Eritrea and Ethiopia totally disconnected. As a contribution of the tricky and protracted conflict with Ethiopia, the Eritrean Government media have been reiterating for decades old rhetoric and outdated propaganda to keep its subjects engaged in lieu of freedom and human rights. The regime has been under heavy criticism from the international community for lacking of the rule of law and that the level of human rights violations is wide and deep trampling our Eritrean people. Despite all those oppressive experiences and various other despicable events and agonies, Isaias Afeworki has still a firm control over Eritrea and considerably in the diaspora.

The State of Eritrea exercises rhetoric towards a unitary system of government. I believe that can contribute a harmony and stability if a popular freedom such as social respect and the right of the individual are added into it. It is said that there have been quite positive efforts in constructing numerous mini-dams. They can help in conserving soil and water resources for agricultural developments and water supply for the public. Eritrea lacks hydropower and depends on imported fossil fuel with which is difficult to develop an economy. Considerable asphalted and accessory routes are being developed but it is said that many of these construction output lack durability and will not last long. Since the last couple of years, the government is dealing with mining operations for precious metals. So far, that has not yet made visible economic help to the people of Eritrea. For the last few years, the regime has been intimidated by some of the United Nations (UN) light sanctions against what they call Eritrea’s role in destabilizing Somalia and provoking Djibouti.

There are various diaspora organizations hating the draconian rule of Isaias Afeworki. They have held numerous ineffective gatherings in the cities of the diaspora. Over the last couple of years, a large bloc diaspora based opposition has convened several times in Ethiopia. So far, the Ethiopian government has supported the bloc financially and with media services. But always there are antagonisms within the social fabrics of Eritrea. Many in the opposition and civic communities still look disoriented with old psychologies about Eritrea and are putting the cart before the horse which is swaying into dysfunctional power conflicts with narrow insights. Many Eritreans have said that most of the conferences of the opposition bloc were divisive and disappointing. Ethiopia may not continue sympathizing with those hodgepodge Eritrean organizations. The stance of the opposition organizations that are squandering for decades, seem to be more emotional and sentimental than political. In other words, they have been mythical and sensitive rather than articulating reliable national principles. Lack of public transparency and courage, sharing of concerns and responsibilities has been complicating Eritrean politics and socio-economy. In this regard, Isaias Afeworki is not the only problem of Eritrea, the small state left in limbo.

Over the last couple of years, there are the youth movements in the diaspora. Most notably the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC) is growing in size. The youth generation and its movements beyond delivering propaganda and agitation, have to learn and evaluate the historical and political experiences so as not to repeat strategic mistakes again. The youth definitely needs advice and the experiences from reasonable veterans and other knowledgeable figures. Eritrea will still have to face ongoing instability and backwardness unless its people add domestically cohesive values and close cooperation with Ethiopia.

Today, a few reliable writers and other concerned individuals are thinking ‘outside the box’. They are trying to educate their people and shape the Eritrean future by identifying the historical circumstance and consequence playing Eritrea. For example, article by Mr. Yoseif G/hiwot “The Circular Journey in Search of Eritrea” which has been posted on Asmarino.com is more or less real, and a helpful lesson. I personally appreciate to reliable contributors for their courage and valuable time when many look like zombies living in fear and guilt. It is highly recommended for Eritreans to make a paradigm shift in views and geopolitical speculations to acquire realpolitik before the time and opportunities completely run out. It is very stressful to see Eritrea left behind while seeking animation in democracy, economy and education.

Ethiopia’s growing economy demands extensive cooperation

The EPRDF government was the first in its kind to declare and allow the practice of free speech and a free press that obviously allow the presence of numerous opposition parties in the country. Its apparent tolerance towards handling and facilitating some of the emotions of the opposition was also undeniable. But there have been growing critics that the ruling party is eroding its commitments towards the press and social media by restricting and jailing some members of opposition parties, other political activists and journalists in the country. But the EPRDF defends itself by saying that some people are violent and misusing the freedom. I think to some degree it may sound right.

The EPRDF ruling party is significantly arranging the Ethiopian economy towards self-sufficiency. The country is called Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and the government’s economic policy has been open and cooperative with so many countries in the world. It has been describing short and long terms socio-economic plans for growth and transformation of Ethiopia. The government is offering start-up capital to initiate its people. For example, many of the younger generation are working together in a creative and communal order and shared interests. However, a methodology for family planning to encourage adequate economic, employment and social services is important to Ethiopia. The effort made by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in developing the Ethiopian economy is considerable. He was spokesman for Africa in several economic and climate conferences. Mr. Meles died in August 2012 at the age of 57 and was given the highest ranking burial ceremony in the world of hypocrisy.

One of the main national tasks Ethiopia has embarked is the building of the Millennium Mega Dam in the highly sensible watershed of the Nile Basin. This has a great international focus with rumors about its advantages and disadvantages. The mega dam should be a very challenging investment for Ethiopians and the country at large. It also requires geopolitical and economic cooperation. I believe Ethiopia will not undermine the dependency of the Sudan and especially Egypt on the Nile River as she likes to use waters for mutual benefit. The country is the main contributing into the Nile and deserves fair water sharing with all her riparian nations. The downstream countries ought to agree with the fundamental principles of the Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement to ease the tension of hydro-politics and make their water sharing fairly reliable. Actually, there is somehow diplomatic tolerance between the Nile riparian states. However, major conflicts of interest over water resources will be inevitable.

Although the size of the Ethiopian economy is growing well, there is no doubt that some major national policies by the Government can concern and frustrate many people as well as most of the opposition. Some suggest that the EPRDF ruling party not to sideline the opposition if the Developmental State Policy is to be effective. Of course the EPRDF ruling party would need to gently shape-up ethnic policies to fit into a social sphere of national governance which is also virtue for individual rights and responsibilities. It is congenial that Ethiopians respect the ethnic languages and traditions in the country while holding their national territorial integrity. A review over the Ethiopian virgin farm lands policy so as to accommodate sustainable development and careful approach to handle Eritrea are also paramount.

Prime Minister Hailemariam and his powerful incumbents together would need to maintain certain prerequisites by welcoming broader initiatives for national consensus in order to overcome political and economic challenges and attain the desired goals. An inclusive participation of concerned opposition parties, effective community members and other individuals over those issues will bring much more confidence and sharing of responsibilities. As a result, Ethiopia can enjoy extensive domestic cooperation including the diaspora and aggrandize productivity for a sustainable socio-economy at the national level.

National elections in Ethiopia will have to be peaceful and trustworthy, adhering to the public consent to achieve the state power, or maybe to share it with others. When demonstrations are required, they have to be peaceful and address topics relevant to governance or social issues without instigating hatred against certain ethnicities or carrying proxy demonstrations. This is very important to raise public engagement in a fair democracy and bear confidence in the opposition parties. Incumbents would resist in self-defence as not to give up power when they feel they are in danger and do not see a safe exit strategy in place. It has to be seriously presumed that the progress which is being made in the economy is really changing the image of Ethiopia for good. The prospects and security of millions of people would be in jeopardy if political and social harmonies are not maintained in Ethiopia.

What have our leaders said?

The need to bring Ethiopia and Eritrea together through cooperation has historical, ethical and geo-economic behaviours. It has been a serious public concern to see the grave relationships and their impacts despite an alliance to overcome political and economic challenges. The Ethio-Eritrean deadlock has been controversial and embarrassing to its mediators. That will carry more serious national and geopolitical consequence if not urgently addressed. But, with insight and wisdom, it is possible to coordinate both for a peaceful future. “Let the bygones be bygones”. I think an assessment of historical concerns under those patterns to get into a societal amnesty can open a smooth atmosphere to bring agreements for mutual progress.

In 1991, Mr. Meles Zenawi and Mr. Isaias Afeworki received a warm applause from many countries especially the West because both united and deposed the socialist oriented system in the country. Undeniably, the pro Soviet Derg regime was fervent to the unity of Ethiopia. However, many people had the hope that Ethiopia and Eritrea would exercise to resolve their resentment between each other, and move forward for a mutual progress. Both Meles and Isaias knew early the consequences of disunity and noncooperation. (Read ‘90 Interview of Meles Zenawi: on Independence, Isaias and Eritreans, posted on Asmarino.com, April 13, 2013. That was part of the interview with Paul Henze in 1990).

Isaias Afeworki, an architect of the EPLF, and the kingmaker of his government, told to official public media reporters in 1994 in Addis-Ababa that it would not take time to move Ethiopia and Eritrea into a confederation. There are similar old and more recent stories about his intention to get along with Ethiopia. For example: in a publication of October 2009 by the Eritrean Ministry of News and Information, it was mentioned that Isaias Afeworki sought a close cooperation with Ethiopia by correcting the past mistakes. Mr. Isaias gave an extensive interview to the Ethiopianreview.com in May 2009, in Asmara. During his statement, he said that” there was no border threat at all” and “the sky is the limit for Ethiopia and Eritrea integration, ”The article by Dawit Wolde-Giorgis “The Way Forward for Ethiopia and Eritrea” can be helpful to understand Isaias’s interests and attitudes; no matter that the contacts between Mr. Isaias and Mr. Dawit were informal. But those words and intents of Isaias Afeworki may generate a mix of surprise and vagueness to the general public due to his leading role during the unfortunate bloody wars of the country as well as his obsessive and severely undemocratic behaviour.

Nevertheless, despite the possibility to reclaim those aforementioned stories to prioritize mutual progress and stability, the two leaders turned against each other after a few years into their sympathy. As a pretext of the controversial issue between the two governments, Ethiopia and Eritrea entered into the senseless border war that cost innumerable lives and resources on both side. The conflict has caused big divisions and incarcerations especially, between authorities within both governments. Prime Minister Meles and President Isaias had finally confessed that the border issue was not the source of conflict between their governments.

The two governments are obsessed with supporting political opponents to provoke each other, disregarding the impacts to both sisterly nations. In many cases, an association based on the strategically short sighted notion “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” does a lot to suppress one’s own country than benefitting from it. Isaias’s foreign policies such as the Nile issue and the conflicts in Somalia have been contradicting the Ethiopian diplomatic norms. It is very important for political contestants to behave in country-wide good principles, interests and examine consequence.

In November 2004, the Ethiopian Government came up with five points, which are still being reiterated to deal with the border issue and called the Eritrean Government for a dialogue. Eritrea says no dialogue unless the 2002 border ruling made by the Boundary Commission is implemented. This deadlock has been a controversial and embarrassing to its mediators. Obviously, the gimmickry border issue between Eritrea and Ethiopia has proven to be a sham that will not satisfy any body. It is quite regretful that both governments of Isaias and Meles could have used their golden age to avoid their miscalculations and devise visionary policies to build confidence over the nature of reciprocity between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

As the ongoing consequence of disagreement with Eritrea, the populated country pays hundreds of millions of US dollars annually to Djibouti only for commercial access through the small portion of the Red-Sea. Ethiopia may also experience hardship in maintaining her national security due to the lack of reliable access to the Red-Sea. On the other hand, Eritrea has been frustrated and hampered economically because she is not benefiting from its Red-Sea. Still, the EPRDF ruling party is carrying out huge infrastructural investments especially on rail way transportation with Djibouti.

Most importantly, Ethiopia needs a potential geopolitical cooperative plan with Eritrea to enhance her large economy and national security. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s cooperation with Djibouti would have to be continued pertaining to bilateral interests. Trilateral agreements between, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea may be necessary to apply for trade and port services. Trilateral agreements between Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia would be helpful to accommodate mutual economic and security conditions. Ethiopia deserves good relationship with Somalia. Generally speaking, Kenya and Ethiopia have always been good neighbours with each other.

I am delighted to follow the media during Africa’s 50th anniversary held in May 2013 in Addis-Ababa; which is intended for continental cooperation as well as integration. Of course that dream would require several more decades to achieve reliable developments because each country has its own particular situation and international challenge to deal with. African leaders and its people as a whole have to adopt a culture of peaceful transfer of the state power to help build a stable economy and solid social development. A regional geopolitical integration has been a trend of our time for economic, social and security reasons. Such is the young organization of the countries in the Horn of Africa, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) established in 1996. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), since July 2001, is an economic program for sustainable development in Africa. That is great! But those African prospects will take many years to bear a fruit.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desaglegn during the December 2012 interview with CCTV News said “Eritreans are not only our neighbours but our cousins, more than anyone else in the Horn of Africa”. That is right and respectful statement. Mr. Hailemariam urges the Eritrean people to push their government for a dialogue with Ethiopia. Before that interview, Hailemariam Desaglegn had told Al Jazeera News in December of 2012 that he is ready to hold talks with President Isaias Afeworki. He mentioned that his predecessor Meles Zenawi had repeatedly asked for negotiation with Asmara. “The most important thing for us is to fight poverty…to have regional integration. If we two do that, it will be much more productive,” Prime Minister Hailemariam added.

In the early of September 2013, the then Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis had an interview with Ethiopian Television (ETV) English Program. During the previous regimes of Ethiopia, Mr. Girma held various high government positions in the country including over 20 years in Eritrea. Now, the President is 89 years old and his term was ended in early October 2013. When he was asked by ETV Mr. Tefera Gedamu, “What do you plan to do after you leave office? Some of the points that the President made were: “I have intended to go to Eritrea and tell our guys there, isn’t enough we are apart, let us get together again! The people of Eritrea are very good friends and same family with Ethiopia. Eritreans are very nice people, really! Leadership matters! At least we can be good neighbours”. His Excellency Girma Woldegiorgis has stated his views with great attitude towards Eritreans.

Ways to settle our national concerns

There should be a way out of the controversial border issue that I would call it an everlasting dogmatic predicament, which is making our peoples suffer. It demands a careful diplomatic approach, or heavy pressure from the public. However, to promote a close bilateral cooperation for strong relations, Ethiopians will have to come together and approach the whole of Eritrea in a wise and peaceful manner. Ethiopia will have to play a leading role to examine critics and opinions of any government in Eritrea. Actually, listening to concerns of President Isaias Afeworki, opposition parties and insightful individuals in respect to topics for peace and bilateral progress is essential. However, all those have to be initiated without any double standard or improper advantage over weak Eritrea. On the other side, any government in Eritrea will have to declare the rule of law, and allow conditions to raise public awareness about effects of circumstantial and regional politics challenging Eritrea. The status quo by itself is a good lesson for both sides; especially for Eritrea.

The Red-Sea is the main resource for Eritrea and essential to populous Ethiopia. It is also known that sea power has a significant role in world conflicts. Ethiopia needs close relationships with Eritrea to enhance her economic development and national security. Eritrea will have to secure various interests from Ethiopia and animate the deteriorated economy. It would not mean that they only have bilateral interests concerning the Sea, but extensive demographic and economic attachments between each other. I think international laws and regulations such as access to the sea, security and some norms regarding the exploitation of territorial resources may not guarantee or bring a win-win resolution. It rather would pose on-going tension and proxy conflicts.

There is a swaying nature because of inalienable social and economic attachment between ethnic societies along the extended mass of the Eritrean Red-Sea, and other communities including the disputing border areas between Eritrea and Ethiopia. There are also similar situations of ethnic and regional instability requiring common cooperation rather than rivalry competition. We know there are hundreds thousands of Eritreans who reside in Ethiopia contributing into the economy while making their living. Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees have been sheltered in the country till other means or destinations may be found. Over the last couple of years the Ethiopian Government is allowing hundreds of Eritreans to attend higher education in its own country. Our Eritrean people have more social freedom and the privileges of owning properties in Ethiopia than any other country in Africa. Of course, anywhere, there would not be a smooth course without certain obstacles or challenges, regardless whom to blame. More significantly, it cannot be denied that all the above examples are of inalienable interests between our two peoples.

In light of all the aforementioned realities and socio-economic trends, it will be easier and relevant to focus on the political, economic, and cultural problems jointly, in a broad spectrum, rather than apart. Our peoples can adapt to structurally needed changes under visionary and proactive leadership who can correct political and social discrepancies. Proper understanding of good and bad attitudes of our leaders towards their own people and country can matter a lot. Thereby comparing and identifying as to how, when, where and why things went wrong can accommodate common atmosphere to tolerate and negotiate our national problems. It demands common or proper awareness including the aspiration of truth to revise national policies in order to transform our diverse population into a mutual socio-economic and geostrategic stability for today and the future generations.

A Part of our national concerns is that some people who pose narrow ethnic views, casual economic interests, spurious or proxy mentalities are short-sighted and may not like to see these two sisterly nations come together. Myopias and grudges that do conceive emotions of hatred can pollute public security and obscure our hope for peace and mutual interests. Enmity or obsessive behaviors will not solve national problems but rather result in a cycle of revenge and destruction. Concerning these unfavorable attitudes, our peoples have to verify carefully harmful rumours and threats rather than taking them as is. It has been very essential to raise the awareness and courage of people to achieve unity and social justice.

Most importantly, the Ethiopian and Eritrean peoples in general do have the responsibility for rapprochements to accommodate the two nations in a communal manner. Of course many scholars and other benevolent people on both sides would like to see the two sisterly nations come together. The diaspora including myself would have to develop the values of courage and sharing of concerns while understanding realities. The main solution to conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as within their own territory is to teach people that they can coexist in harmony. That is why reconciliation is about people who resolve their critical problems for a better future. Ethiopian Prime Minister and current chairman of African Union, Hailemariam Desaglegn, during the 50th anniversary of the founding of OAU/AU, told reporters that “you can choose a friend, but you cannot choose a neighbour”.

A few writers and commenters seem to jump on the wagon and advance for regional integration while they neglect the process and essential characteristics required for a wide range of integration. A process of economic and social integration in the Horn of Africa is a good prospect in the long run. That will require the Horn the next several decades to make it happen. Therefore, the need to bring Ethiopia and Eritrea in close cooperation is critical and would have to come first. It is imperative to bring the two sides together to prioritize their security and guarantee interests while being engaged into the East African, and Africa wide integration.

Conclusion

Care and respect towards each other should prevail first in order to achieve our reciprocal prospects. In line of proper attitudes, Ethiopia and Eritrea have to inspire a genial atmosphere to exchange their economic and security concerns. Both countries would have to conduct empirical approaches and make major policy amendments to reconcile their differences and praise the idea of bilateral socio-economic integration. In this regard, especially Eritreans need careful understanding or would be fated to lose many things they need, which is going to be much worse than the status quo. Eritrea cannot afford consequences from braggadocio talks or sick mentality.

Furthermore, the Ethio-Eritrean issue require a geopolitical approach and responsibility in relation to the East African economic and strategic framework. A reliable third party such as the African Union will have to be involved to facilitate progress during discussions and witness substantial negotiations between the two disputing parties. At least, both countries can live side by side in peace and alliance if they recognize the nature of conflicts between them in a consensual manner.

By embracing Eritrean circumstantial opportunities, Ethiopia can build economic and geostrategic factors to adopt a bind full and stable nationhood, as well as more proactive and influential foreign policy. As I see it, Tigray as an Ethiopian region will benefit from much more confidence and stability when Eritrea is in harmony with Ethiopia. That will also contribute to the best interest of all the Eritrean people in economy, peace and progress. A close cooperation with Ethiopia would eventually bring Eritrea a favourable condition to get out of limbo and reconcile within herself.

Procrastination should be avoided for economic and the surrounding geopolitical reasons. In my own speculation, a geopolitical arrangement might happen under certain pressure to forge economic and strategic interests for the surrounding region. But such a short-sighted alternative can neither satisfy the Ethiopian range of national interest nor realize Eritrean reliable benefit from the Red-Sea. More seriously, if Ethiopia and Eritrea are not able to breakthrough their differences in a special mutual manner, then both risk the loss of unquantifiable human and material resources at any time. Let political, economic, and social consensus be made for peace and progress.

Note: I wrote the following article which has been posted on Asmarino.com and Nazret.com since March 2010. Please read it to help you understand what Mr. Meles and Mr. Isaias exactly said, and much more… http://asmarino.com/articles/616-approaching-reciprocity-the-border-issue-as-a-symptom

We trust in the aspiration for reconciliation!

Amanuel Tesfaselassie Muhzun E-Mail: atmwiseup@hotmail.com

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