By Owei Lakemfa
QUITE often, the news oozing out of Africa are those of booming guns, rumblings of hunger, cries of children, sighs of adults and the forlorn look of the aged and, of course, an inept leadership that has turned the continent into the headquarters of human poverty. But the news in the last few days and weeks are also of African leaders putting on their thinking caps to bring peace, as a step towards greater unity and development.
The icing on that cake is Sunday’s ‘Agreement on Peace, Friendship and Comprehensive Cooperation Between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea’ in Jeddah which brought to a final close, an armed conflict which began in 1961. We are also witnessing peace talks between Djibouti and Eritrea.
Earlier on September 5, an historic tripartite meeting had taken place in Asmara attended by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Somalian President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. A major significance of that meeting, is that Eritrea and Somalia that have had a decade old conflict over allegations that the former was supporting Islamist fighters in Somalia, talked peace.
The United Nations in accusing Eritrea of assisting Somalia terrorists, had in 2009, imposed economic sanctions and arms embargo. Now, the Somalian President says that embargo should be lifted as this would promote: “economic integration in the Horn of Africa”.
The Horn of Africa is one of the continent’s most vulnerable points. Ethiopia is embroiled in bloody internal conflicts that has turned it into a vast land area of internally displaced persons. Eritrea was at war with Ethiopia from 1961 to 1991 losing 575,000 persons. A second war from 1998 to 2000 saw it lose at least 19,000 fighters. Since then, it has been on war footing maintaining 124, 000 troops in the demilitarised zone and the border area with Ethiopia; a situation that has sapped its energy.
These, coupled with the UN economic embargo and an alleged involvement in the Yemeni war, has turned the small country of five million people, into one of the world’s largest source of refugees. Somalia is a failed state which has had no effective government since the 1991 removal of Mohammed Siad Barre. Parts of it, like Somaliland, has declared unilateral independence, the terrorist Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, better known as al Shabaab, controls parts of the country and frequently attacks the capital, Mogadishu, while the United Arab Emirate is trying to seize some of its infrastructure like the ports.
While tiny Djibouti is at peace, its waters are infested with foreign military bases owned by the United States, China, Japan, France and Italy, making it a virtual hostage to international military rivalries. It therefore makes common sense for the four countries to pursue peace rather than be at war.
A major figure in the Horn of Africa peace process is the youthful Ethiopian leader, 42-year old Abiy Ahmed who faces serious political challenges at home. He became a child soldier at 15, fighting in the ranks of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation against the Ethiopian military regime headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam. With the defeat of the latter, he became part of the new Ethiopian Army, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in its Intelligence and Signals Corps. He also bagged a PhD in Conflict Studies, and was in 2015, appointed Minister of Science and Technology.
There were serious protests mainly from his Oromo ethnic group who constitute the majority nationality in the country. The protesters amongst other demands, wanted the equality of all nationalities and the right to self-determination. After three years of bloody repression, then Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned on February 15, 2018. On April 2, Aby Ahmed became Prime Minister. Within weeks, he set free some 10,000 political prisoners including some on death row who had been convicted for allegedly being terrorists. He also wants to review the country’s Ethnic Federation law which is potentially explosive.
Ahmed had fought in the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea War in which over 50,000 Ethiopian soldiers were killed. As Prime Minister he promised to end the conflict with Eritrea. Three months after he became Ethiopian leader, he flew to Asmara for direct talks with the leadership. At the July 8, 2018 meeting with Eritrean President Afwerki, he accepted the 2000 Algiers Agreement which gave the disputed lands between the two countries including the symbolic village of Badme, to Eritrea.
The next day, both leaders signed a joint “Declaration of Peace and Friendship”. The Ethiopian leader said after the Declaration: “”We have tried war and found it useless… There is no longer a border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, because a bridge of love has destroyed it.”
It was this Declaration that led to Sunday’s Agreement. Both countries which pledged to respect each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, said they were engaging in the peace process in order to achieve lasting peace and cement their historical ties; establish comprehensive cooperation on the basis of complementarity and synergy and to contribute actively to regional and global peace and security.
The Seven-Point Agreement declared that: “The state of war between the two countries has ended and a new era of peace, friendship and comprehensive cooperation has started.” This formally brought the 56-year conflict to an end. It also provided that: “ The two countries will combat terrorism as well as trafficking in people, arms and drugs in accordance with international covenants and conventions.” This is significant given the allegations that while Ethiopian soldiers are battling the terrorists in Somalia, Eritrea was providing the terrorists support.
Perhaps, the country that stands to gain most in the peace process in the Horn is Eritrea. It has immediately restored air and telephone links with Ethiopia and may see its ports used once again by Ethiopia. It also has the opportunity to free most of its youths undergoing compulsory military service so they can embark on productive and development activities. Eritrea may also have the crippling UN embargo lifted while being at peace with its neigbours. Already, it has rejoined the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, IGAD.
Long suffering Eritrea, an ancient African kingdom, has virtually not known peace since Italy colonised it 128 years ago. The British seized it from the Italians in 1942 during the Second World War. Ten years later, the UN took Eritrea from the British, but rather than grant it independence, handed it to neigbouring Ethiopia as a Trust Colony. On September 11, 1952, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia signed the Eritrea-Ethiopia Federation Act which brought it under Ethiopian control.
The new peace moves and accords in the Horn of Africa, is a remarkable victory for our continent; it shows that there can be an African solution to our challenges.