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Ethiopia-Eritrea: The Two Victimized Farmers

The following was posted on the Awate Forum by Hayat Adem. We are bringing it to the frontpage.(AwateStaff)

I don’t know how to relate with the Greece and European crisis, but I reflected on the Eritrean Nakfa and Ethiopian Birr currencies and the issue of the village of Badume.

Let me tell you why I characterize the Birr-Nakfa currency as a last straw effect for the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both countries were benefiting from the Birr as a common currency while both were cursing it at the same time. The fact that Ethiopia’s birr was allowed to work as a legal currency in another country must be seen as an advantage to the issuer of that currency. Ethiopia was accessing Eritrea’s markets without needing to go through a dollar-medium. Port fees were being paid in Birr. All imports from Eritrea needed not pass through hard currency. Ethiopia had a leverage to influence Eritrea’s economy using its monetary policy as a tool and had differing macro-economic policies. Eritrea’s economy was then shaping up as export-driven open economy. Ethiopia’s economy was investment-oriented import-control, highly regulated one. Both had one currency but divergent policies and views.


When Eritrea was liberated and before it carried out a referendum, the Mengistu regime of Ethiopia left Eritrean banks empty. The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) transitional government rushed 150 million Birr to maintain just the basics of market and livelihood in Eritrea. That 150 million Birr was not a loan nor was it a declared aid. And later in the years, the regime and Peoples’ Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) owned business branches were able to borrow up to 2 Billion birr at different times directly from the Ethiopian banks. That direct borrowing was only possible because birr was a legal-common currency in both nations. Many Eritreans, including those who were acting individuals on behalf of PFDJ business companies were able to secure loans from Ethiopian banks. Eritrea and Eritreans were able to have direct access to huge Ethiopain markets. All imports and exports to and from Ethiopia and to and from a third-country through Ethiopia were so easy and smooth with the use of Birr under the existing policy of the time.

But Eritrea was impatient to declare divorce from the Birr and print its own note for a good reason. One is purely a policy issue and understandable. Eritrea wanted to exercise its own monetary policy, rightly so because it is one policy tool to manipulate and manage macroeconomic affairs. Eritrea didn’t want to continue depending on decisions coming from the Ethiopian national banks and bear the effects. The other reason has nothing to do with the economy and everything with image and pride projection. Money notes are also symbolic national tokens. As a new nation, Eritrea was ambitious of projecting and asserting its political identity aggressively to put herself on the map, and this, too is understandable. So Eritrea announced its plan to have its own money and rushed to print Nakfa and leave Birr.

Ethiopia welcomed Eritrea’s move to replace Birr by Nakfa. Why? Ethiopia believed then that the disadvantage of sharing Birr with Eritrea as a common currency far outweighed the advantage. Ethiopia thought Eritrea was unfairly maximizing gains at the expense of Ethiopian economy by abusing Ethiopian currency and products in black markets and practices of money laundrying, creating parallel markets for currency exchange and products and service. The Ethiopian authorities thought the coming of Nakfa was a good thing for the Birr and were visibly as happy as the Eritrean authorities.

If both embraced Nakfa, what was the problem then?

The problem was both were welcoming Nakfa for different reasons and those reasons became very important tand needed to be compromised or reconciled or transformed, otherwise, they would become a monster problem standing on the way. Eritrea wanted Nakfa without losing all the benefits and advantages it used to enjoy when it was using the Birr. Ethiopia wanted Nakfa to remove all unfair advantages of trade and exchange Eritrea was getting from using the birr. I have looked into ways I thought could have been better options (at least compared to what we had to go through and still yet), and it definitely was not a problem without a solution but for the parties it seemed it had to be handled the way they did.

So Eritrea insisted for Nakfa and Birr to float in both markets in parity and without restriction, and for any imbalances of accounts and value adjustments of the two monies, Eritrea suggested both banks do inventories every 6 month and clear them off. Ethiopia categorically rejected this proposal stating once Nakfa starts circulating, Birr and Nakfa will have two separate and fenced market grounds and every transaction onwards can only be effected through a medium (dollar, euro, etc) and only bank to bank (using LCs). We need to ppreciate that this was the only macro policy issue on which the two leaderships collided head-to-head since they became governments. It was the biggest macro inter-nation issue that brought them to a direct confrontation. All other differences before were not that big as an issue or if they were, the leaderships were somehow finding a way to work some common ground around them. So far I know this was, the only issue that seemed neither ignorable nor solvable without offending one side or the other.

So Eritrea strongly objected the use of banks and dollar to reconcile transactions and insisted on Addis to accept the parity and free circulation of Birr and Nakfa in both markets. When Addis Ababa failed to change its view, Eritrea insisted more strongly to at least write off the LC option and allow individuals to conduct transactions direct without having to go through the banks. Eritrea’s justification was that people of both sides interconnected and act as one market actors, and that both markets transact at micro scales and that they are more of traditional than modern. Ethiopia’s rejection remained firm and insisted that all transactions needed to be treated as two country transactions, and it would only treat it with the same policy it followed with other neighboring countries. However, Ethiopia came up with a minor concession proposal that it could allow 2000Nakfa/dollar transaction of border markets without banks and dollars. That was not good enough for Eritrea but it had to say “whatever” and leave it there.

There was another issue that both needed to agree on and solve. When Nakfa comes to replace the Birr, what happens to the Birr that would be recalled from the Eritrean market? It wouldn’t have been an issue if Ethiopia allowed Nakfa and Birr to work in parity but since Ethiopia blocked that option it now became an issue. Eritrea asked to be paid in hard currency for the collected Birr amounts citing the legal terms of “pay to the bearer” printed on the note itself. Ethiopia was, I would say either dubious or tactful (your pick) on this that it didn’t object and it didn’t agree. They said, “We agree to solve this in a reasonable and fair way based on advices and lessons from IMF experts and precedence of other countries that had passed though similar issues.” Eritrea agreed to Ethiopia’s proposal. Securing Eritrea’s agreement was critically important for Ethiopia because they needed to print a new Birr notes and coins at the exact time Nakfa comes out, it would have been impossible for them without the consent of Eritrea. Had Eritrea not agreed, the Birr collected from Eritrea’s markets to leave space for Nakfa would slip in to the Ethiopian market. This would have damaged Ethiopia’s economy because the economic price values of those notes were transferred to Nakfa, and now it was to be blended with a larger amount of value-carrying Birrr.

Eritrea had old and not-so-modern light industries at a comparative advantage over what Ethiopia had then. Ethiopia was a nearly 100% destination for nearly all Eritrea’s export products. Eritrea’s import share of produce from Ethiopia was also very large. In the meantime, Ethiopia started planting similar light industries to substitute imports. And Ethiopia started taxing and regulating Eritrea-bound outgoing produces while trying to shift the trade to a bank-to-bank system. Isaias Afwerki clearly spoke of disapproval of the Ethiopian “protectionist” policy at the expense of strangulating Eritrea’s economy. These things coupled with Nakfa/Birr-born complications were growing all kinds of pains and irritation, more so visibly on the Eritrean side. So, Eritrea wanted to influence change of policy to favorable conditions. When discussions and lobbying were not doing the magic, PFDJ started looking around on other options from under its table. This is clearly displayed on the personal letter exchanges between Isasias and Meles. You clearly see, Isaias initiating and bringing two clash points (Adi Mirug and Bada) into picture while Meles’ letter redirected the focus to the economic/currency issues.

“Shock and shake them”

So that they get back to their senses; that was all about it. That was Badume. It was not meant to be a total war. It was meant to be a measured dose enough to bring Addis to a favorable policy sense. The reason why Isaias was unreachable to Meles after the May 12, 1998 Badume incident was to let the event run its course and give enough shock to Meles so that he understands well to accommodate Eritrea. The reason why Isaias acted surprised and shocked when Meles took the case to his parliament was because it was not meant to be. The plan was: Meles and EPRDF top leadership get shocked enough; they feel so desperate and hopeless; they try to reach out Isaias, they try again, they try again, they try again; and when about to try something crazy out of desperation, Isaias calls back while EPRDF leaders were so weak, so confused and so helpless. Isaias acts god and the last savior, gives them a life line of hope, they behave well thereafter. Why did Isaias think that they would give him enough time to play with it and that they would not shoot right back? It is obviously because he knew well that they were not ready for that. Not only that, he knew that they would be in split and disagreement on what to do. He knew that they were split on the possibility of conflict with Eritrea and Meles prevailed dismissing the warning against the rest of the ones who saw it coming.

Exactly as Isaias planned it, Meles attempted to reach Isaias when Eritreans forces took over Badume. You can imagine how Meles might have felt disoriented on the development. He is the leader and he argued against what others correctly predicted, and it happened after six months. In a typical situation, that ends the political life any leader though Meles survived it. But Isaias might have gotten what he wanted to had he not overplayed it. If he was reachable the first or second time Meles called him immediately after May 12, he would have gotten what he wanted. But after Meles made his move and involved the parliament, things were moving on a different inertia and dynamics. Amazingly, Isaias always misses the right bus for a few seconds. It was the Nakfa!

Had sober and cool minds been in control of the situation, harmonizing the monetary policy favorably wouldn’t have been difficult. They could have come even with a new currency for both (neither Birr nor Nakfa) or surgically remove the problems in million better ways than by war. So why did Semere Tesfai describe Badume War as a symptom? How can you call a war a symptom?

If someone dies of a certain illness, the cause of the death is the illness but the death itself cannot be a symptom. Therefore, Badume is a consequence, not a cause nor a symptom. When the Badume clash went out of control, Isaias thought he still had on advantage and he tried to expand it quickly to Adigrat and Shire, and cut the Djibouti line. When Wuchu reported to the commander-in-chief that he was halted and at difficulty to go beyond Zalazmbessa and Alitienna, Isaias hanged on him with a single sentence order: “ab adigrat koynka dewlleley”, call me from Adigrat! Isaias still didn’t have any ambition of taking land from Tigray. He was just injecting some more doses to the shock for necessary effect on the part of Weyane. He was trying to punish hard enough. When that was not possible, he still thought he can bring the wisdom of Nakfa (the place)- the art of trench warfare- little cost for Eritrea maximum cost to the Weyane, and for nothing: “the Ethiopians can come and die one by one if they want”. The mentality was one like: And when the chifra Weyane know the futility of taking the lands back, they would come to terms. When Isaias wanted to pass this message in no uncertain words he said: better for the sun to die than for us to withdraw from Badime. Instead there was something that you could have done and still could do and you know it. But if want to fight to the last, you will lose and it is your choice. Such was the thoughts of Isaias then.

Semere Tesfai is so naïve and he is not looking for facts and analyzing them or he is trying to act so smart and he can supply his own facts. If Weyane was planning such a war to take Eritrean lands, lets count the events again. May 6, Tigriay militia killed some officers. Then nothing happens for 6 days. So how is any government planning to expand territory by just killing 5 or 6 officers and go silent for a week? Shouldn’t they open fighting on all fronts and speak the language of war right after they opened the war? Even after 6 days, the one who acted was the Eritrean army by taking Badume. How is that to be counted as a war plan from the Ethiopian side? If Ethiopia open the Badume war, we wouldn’t see them taking it in their parliament and discussing it, mobilizing people for drafting. How would they ask Eritrea to withdraw from Badume if they were on the offensive? Shouldn’t they simply act to evict the Eritrean army from that place? After the Badume incident, the next wave of clashes came after a month. How does that gap show the fact that a full fledge war was planned from the South? So much about Semer Tesfai’s impeccable argument…and that is leaving aside EECC’s evidence and clear ruling, and PFDJ’s acceptance. The ruling said Eritrea committed aggression on the night of May 12, 1998 and took over Ethiopian territory, dismantled Ethiopian local administration. Every analysis on that fateful crisis should start from this fact or else, it suffers from basic deviation and becomes pointless.

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  • Kaddis

    Dear Hayat – great work and interesting conversations

    One thing missing which I tried to raise in the past, but dismissed by Saay as a non-existent claim, is the goods in-transit confiscated at the Assab port destined to Ethiopia at the start of the war. This article published in Addis raised it this weekend.

    Even if the two governments decide to resume trade including use of Eritrean ports – you can’t force the private sector who have lost trust big time.

    • Abraham Hanibal

      Hi Kaddis;

      The issue that you’ve raised here, including all claims of compensations between the two parties arising from the last war, have been investigated and settled by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission almost a decade ago. The two sides have compensated each other, and you’re essentially rasing a closed chapter.

      But in my opinion there is an important question of compensation that has not been settled yet, ie, all the foreign colonizers and occupiers including Ethiopia have to compensate the Eritrean people for the lost opportunities and destructions they’ve inflicted upon Eritrea. I hope this issue be raised when Eritreans manage to form a constitutional and truly representative government.

  • Fanti Ghana

    Hello Amde,

    To keep the promise of delivery on time I sacrificed a good portion of my leisure time this evening to finish translating the second video (PM Meles). It is done, and here it is, but all of it was 2080 words and it looked hectic (besides boring others to death). So, I am posting starting almost halfway where I think is relevant to our currency/war discussion, and I will post the remaining if requested by anyone.

    6: 40
    Reporter: As you briefly mentioned it earlier, there seems to be a problem [in your relationship] with Eritrea. During the struggle era the relationship between TPLF and EPLF and later during the early years of independent Eritrea, it is well known that the relationship was solid and very close. Is the source of the problem really the border issue?

    PM Meles: I won’t say the source of the problem is the border. As it is well known, even during the struggle the border was not demarcated. Also after Eritrean independence, for about 6 – 7 years, with the border still un-demarcated, the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea was very close. Although, we may not claim that the border issue had no role in the friction at all, I don’t think we can say that the border was the cause. Me, personally, what I believe is the cause of the problem is the nature and tradition of our understanding of one another. For instance regarding our economic relationship, I don’t think some individuals of PFDJ wanted it to be cooperative, friendly, and mutually beneficial based relationship.

    Starting from the beginning, there were those whose thinking was based on taking advantage, whether it was from those who came along with the organization [from meda] or professionals who came from foreign countries [as in Diaspora], there were those who did not want the kinship between Ethiopia and Eritrea to be based on equally beneficial and based on an equal footing. This, overtime, kept getting worst and worst. Toward the end, when Eritrea was preparing to issue own currency the problem came out glaring into the open. Starting just before it/he started the invasion, PFDJ’s news outlets started a campaign of blackmail. Weyane reneged, Weyane is planning to dismantle our economic ties, it doesn’t want to cooperate, and similar campaigns.

    Therefore, the presence of forces that did not choose the relationship to be based on mutual understanding is one of and the main spring/cause of the war. Second, there were also differences on regional policies. First they had arguments with Yemen that progressed into some shootout and at the time we had no choice but to side with Eritrean government, but also to make an effort to solve the problem between them peacefully.

    For example, they asked us for anti-aircraft weapons that may be near by and available since Asab could be a target for bombardment by Yemeni Planes and we supplied them with that. At the same time I had gone to Yemen and discussed with the Yemeni leadership about the need to end this peacefully. After that [he (implied)] argued with Djibouti. Also when they argued with Djibouti, we tried to defuse the tension. Then, as a third stage, both us and them [Ethiopia and Eritrea together] had a friction with the Sudan. Once we had a friction the pattern Eritrea wanted to follow differed from what we followed. We had an outlook which was based on whatever friction we had with the Sudan; we wanted a solution that does not contradict established international laws. They [Eritreans] side however had a different mentality including telling us that we must have adopted this kind of new behavior after we arrived at the imperial compound.

    So, with these kinds of saber-rattling behavior and because most of our neighbors and others do not distinguish between us we were being seen as associates of their behavior. This then was also one of the reasons that widened the gap between our relationships. And finally as the political and economic relationships kept getting intertwined, border issues which used to be none problematic, although un-demarcated, became also intertwined [with the rest of the problems mentioned]. So, the border issue can be taken as one of the reasons, but I don’t consider it as the main issue.

    Regarding those domestic or foreign elements of PFDJ you referred to as wanting to take advantage of you [Ethiopia], did you try to talk about it, to solve it?

    Yes, we were trying to solve it one of two ways. One of the ways was based on our understanding of Eritrea’s problems/issues. Even though we are both poor, Eritrea had been at war for 30 years and it was devastated. So, one of the ways was based on this reality. For example the Eritrean embassy’s main occupation was collecting foreign exchange currency through black market. We new these types of activities were taking place. But we didn’t believe get him catch him type steps were that important.

    We used to pay port service fees with Birr. So, then, where can he get the foreign exchange otherwise? [He is referring to the overlooking of the embassy’s activities]. If we tell them to stop this activity when we are able to pay them with foreign currency it would make sense, but now we thought it would be meaningless. There were other contraband activities also with those so called 09 [group]. We overlooked that too because given the shape they were in; we decided to let them until they establish a few things [stand on their feet].

    We believed eventually it will fix itself as we go on. There was also the Asab refinery which was not competitive with other similar refineries. But if it is closed those Eritrean employees who depend on that refinery will be the victims, so we agreed to help each other. We will let the crude we import be refined at Asab and Eritrea will get 20% of the refined fuel and pay for it with Birr and we will take the remaining 80%.

    The consequence for us that resulted from this arrangement was IMF’s objection, because they kept enquiring why while we could get the same amount of refined fuel from several free markets somewhere else for less do we insist on continuing. We tried and extended it as far as possible. Finally, once we were cornered, we had to stop and started to buy from the market. When we stopped this it was not because we thought that we were harming Ethiopia while helping Eritrea, we are each others kin and we are both poor, but Eritrea had been at war for 30 years. So, we had decided that some things should be left alone. The second way was to start from scratch and clear all potential issues as we go forward. We talked about this on several occasions.

    For example, the decision Eritrea printing its own currency was something we all discussed and agreed on. There were some questions that came up as a result of printing own currency such as what will be done with the Birr that will be then in Eritrea. Some Eritrean professionals suggested that it should be tallied and accounted for and you [Ethiopia] should pay us in Dollars. Our professionals had a different opinion. They suggested, among several options, inviting IMF professionals and asking how it was done in other countries with a similar issue.

    Regarding trade relation also the same. Goods will be imported and exported with no tariff into and out of both countries. Although we were in agreement in these plans, however there were still questions of implementation. For example, sales tax is paid for beer that is imported from Eritrea. If it pays taxes however, it cannot fairly compete with the domestic beer. So, they asked us to lift the sales tax from their beer. This was a problem, because technically the Eritrean beer would be given preference over that of Ethiopian. These were discussed extensively over the stretch of 3 -4 years on economic professionals and government leadership levels. Most of these differences were being solved over time except a few core issues that remained unsolved before the war. So, at least 50% of the reasons for the war were economy based issues.

    As soon as you thank me, I am resigning from this translation career. Holy moly!

    • Peace!

      Dear Fanti,

      Please don’t count an up-vote as a thank you; it is an encouragement not to resign. Well Done, nevertheless!!!


      • Fanti Ghana

        Hello Peace!,
        anKiH anKiH do abilkayo n’Abi?
        I changed my mind too. I made that dicision when I was tired, but now, I am beginning to realize the rewards too. Translating is really exhausting. I feel sorry for Memhir Saleh Johar for having to translate an entire book.

        • Peace!

          Dear Fanti,

          Haha I did, except that he fired you. I thought I had an opportunity to work with you as your assistant. This is what he said ” Fanti is fired. Fanti amno guzo endet yijemeral Chama adenaqfot menged lay Yeqeral.”

          I know translating is exhausting and time consuming; we are just lucky to have you and of course Ustaz Salih. I haven’t even ordered his new book; I will ask him if he can ship it for me or do it online.


          • Abi

            I fired Fanti here , he fried me somewhere else. He has 17 ” chamawoch” in the bag. I have none.
            I don’t want to go to masawa with “a flip flop”. There is a very high risk of losing it in the sand. You feel me?

          • Peace!


            Haha well, I am expecting him to say something; this is like Donald Trump biggest firing ever. Yap! We do not want you to lose it although Y’mefin Abebe zefen is deep enough to increase your heat endurance.


          • Abi

            We can make peace if only he let me have ” that chama”. You know which one, right? He can have the rest.
            “Congo” chama bizat min yaderglignal
            And chipolini lene yibeqagnal.
            Kebzat Tirat !
            You see I don’t need heart endurance. He does.
            Ende aqmiti…

          • Fanti Ghana

            Hello Abi.
            It is too late for me now, but Let me offer you a brotherly advice Abisha on what’s going on.
            If you are not careful, Y’Asmara Konjo can ruin you without lifting a finger. Look what happened to Semere A. My name has been mentioned recently, that means my days are numbered. And you have been primed with a few ‘kisses,’ so you will be dealt with soon. So, if I can’t part from chama 17 it is not by choice. No one can undo this spell except the owner. If I knew then what I know now, I would run as fast and as far away as possible. You have been warned!

          • Abi

            You are telling me I’m dealing with a black widow? Thank you for the warning. I’m in it to win it.
            Wend lij tamo enji ferto aymotim !!!
            YeAsmara ljoch ene eskemawqachew
            Ende Fiyameta beTam cheroch nachew
            Enen yemarekech liben yaTefachiw
            Yegnayitu eko nat yetedebeqechiw
            Biq bey aleme atchekgnibign
            Fanti yichelmbet enem qen yiwTalign

          • Fanti Ghana

            Hello Abi,
            (ከመቃብር በራፍ)
            ወርቃማ ጠባይዋ እንግዳ ሰብሳቢ
            ያልተሰማው ድምጽዋ ህሊና መጋቢ
            ያልታየው ዉበቷ ልብን አንገብጋቢ፤

            እንደ ቅድስት ማርም ሳትታይ ማራኪ
            እንደ ግብፅ ቋጥኝ ሳትናገር ተራኪ
            ኣለቃ ሳትባል ጎበዝ አምበርካኪ፤

            ወዮልህ ያልሰማህ ያላየህ ውበቷ
            አየ አንደበቷ ግብረ ገብነቷ
            አምላክ ባደረገኝ ሻማ ላንገቷ፤

            እንዳ’ፋር ቮልኬኖ እሳተ ጎመራ
            ተወርውሮ ይመጣል ፈንቅሎ ተራራ
            የሚያሳሳው ፍቅሯ እንዳዲስ ኣዝመራ
            እሷን ማግኘት ማጣት አሳር ነው መከራ፤

            እሷን መተው ማለት አስሬ መሞት
            በቁም መቀበር ነው የውርደት ውርደት
            በኔ ሞት ከመጣ ያንተ መደሰት
            አንተ ኑርልኝ እኔ ልሁን መስዋእት፤

            ወንድሜ ነህና ጋሻ መከታዬ
            አባብለኝና ጠራርገህ እምባዬ
            አይዞን በለኝ ላስታግስ ህሊናዬ፤

            በህይወት እያለሁ አልችልም በእውነቱ
            ህይወት ምን ዋጋ’ላት ለወንድም ካልሞቱ
            በል’ሺ ተዘጋጅ ለቀብር ስርዓቱ፤፤

    • Fanti Ghana

      Hello again Brother Amde,

      I am glad you got something out of this effort. I just learned that translation is really time consuming. I wouldn’t have volunteered if I knew it was going to take me more time than my lunch break. Haha.

      I was caught between wanting to summarize and wanting to translate. Summarizing is scary (at least to me), because I know I will fail on distinguishing between what was said and what I thought was said.

      In addition to what they actually said, what I learned from the delegate’s choice of words and body languages is that they seemed to be trying to accomplish 3 things:

      1) They were trying to defuse the tension that may have resulted from rumors about “trade with Ethiopia is coming to an end.“

      2) They were reassuring the public that trade will continue even with the only method Ethiopia prefers, and explain the reasons behind their preferred choices. They were calming the public down by explaining that even the third choice, the bottom of their choices, won’t be as bad in the long run as it may seem in the beginning.

      3) To give the merchant hope that as the governments continue working on their policy differences, either Ethiopia will lean toward their preferred method or they will have devised ways to make LC based trading as beneficial as the other methods or even better in the long run.

      All in all, I think they handled it very well. Their effort to calm the public down is obvious, but one thing I could not resist thinking and asking myself about was whether these assurances were also directed at both governments—calm down we can still work it out (this may be important to understand the time table of events that led to the war), or whether they were extremely disappointed with the Ethiopian’s choice much more than they let out, or may be a little bit of both.

      Say for example if they thought that the Ethiopians chose the LC method not for its efficiency or advantage, but out of malicious intent against Eritrea (Guest 2 kind of hinted disappointment when explaining cross border petty trade), then one can imagine their disappointment. It seemed they were caught between two undesirable decisions to make. Expressing whatever was infuriating them and let people judge for themselves in one hand and their decision to want to contain the fire they were sensing was building up in the other.

      Either way I couldn’t help it but feel sad thinking about how difficult it must have been for that delegate. My final analysis of their body language is that they feared the worst, but they hoped for the best. They did great with sharing that hope with the rest of us.

      On the PM Meles’ interview his decision to explain the background track record about how they tried to help and cooperate probably was intended to address the accusation of ‘renegading’ that was popular among Eritrean news outlets by then. He gave concrete examples of how and when they tried to help including efforts Amde to iron out any sticking differences. So his points:

      1. We were cooperating in all aspects of our relationship.
      2. We were discussing about our differences, and managed to narrow them down.
      3. We were in the right track in handling our differences.
      4. The influence that caused the relationship to deteriorate came from few hardliners on the Eritrean side.

      I thought point #4 was interesting for two reasons. One: he trying to show that the guilty party on the Eritrean side was not necessarily the government as a whole but a few hardliners. Two: since it was obvious that we had our hardliners too, is it possible that he did not mention about our hardliners because he chose not to antagonize them even farther?

      One point I can say disappointed me was PM Meles’ decision to describe Eritrea’s “pattern of behavior” by bringing Eritrea’s disputes with Yemen, Djibouti, and the Sudan. Why that disappointed me was that I would have liked to hear him say that did not influence Ethiopia’s understanding of Eritrea’s behavior. You see, when someone who lies all the time tells you something, your initial reaction is not to believe them. So, when this one time they are telling you the truth, the chances are that you will discard it as another lie. You deny yourself from making the effort that should have been made to actually find the truth. Similar to this scenario I wish he would have addressed whether extra effort was made to listen to Eritrea’s grievances or whether he was influenced with “here they go again” mentality.

      Taken together, I couldn’t decide and point out the ‘guilty party’ with these data. I strongly believe that it was unfortunate that, as you mentioned, Amde, they run out of time. The culprit for running out of time probably was their rush to make national decisions based on the few hardliner’s position of both sides. Cooler minds that would give the cooler sectors a chance were badly needed precisely at time moment. The Ethiopian side gave too much emphasis to the idea of “they are taking advantage of us” as much as the Eritrean side gave too much emphasis to the “Weyane is renegading on us.” With all that I am I am not saying this to be ‘diplomat’ (astaraki), which is my usual intent and behavior, but I truly and sadly believe that this is one of those moments I have to say “we were just unlucky.”

      • Mahmud Saleh

        Dear Fanti Ghana
        You are the best. Honestly. The translation was just awesome, and your comments on the officials’ discussions were unprejudiced. If the article continues to be engaging, I will reinforce my stated position which is similar to your “theory” that the cause of the war is more complex than either Hayat’s “policy related” conclusion or Semere’s “wayanay Hasad” undertaking. But for now, I am really busy; I am here to say thank you.

      • Kim Hanna

        Selam Fanti,
        I want to add my thanks for this contribution and Amde’s inquiry and exchange with you. I and my fellow students have gained from your work. In fact, I will tell you that after an error and trial I was able to print the pertinent pages too.
        Thanks again.

        • Fanti Ghana

          Hello Brother KH,
          You are more than welcome. What I learned about translation alone made the effort worthwhile. To be honest, I was not prepared, and neither did I knew what I was getting into. I will try to pay attention from here forward when others translate something similar. I kept confusing myself with stating exactly what was said verses writing just the essence of it. If I just concentrate on the essence only what if I miss a vital point I am just unable to see but others could type curiosities kept distracting me.
          Thanks KH.

  • Abi

    Except the IMF involvement the rest was talk of the nation.
    Meloti was cheaper than Addis beer or Bedele. There was a common saying in those days, ” Ertrea esktlema Ethiopianchin tidma “. There was a cartoon of Meles on Tobiya magazine where he took bricks from every region of ethiopia and building eritrea.
    That ambasder of eritreans was involved in all kinds of criminal activities . Bunch of good for nothing criminals.
    What is funny is all these eritrean intellectuals pretend not to know these crimes. How do we trust each other again?
    Even haileTG was saying about two years ago that eritrean collected more in foreign currency than ethiopia sold coffee in foreign currency.
    The answer is ethiopian coffee was smuggled while eritrean embassy in addis was ground zero for black market.
    I’m glad eritreans waking up to see what was going on back then. They are also waking up to see the true colors of their government.

    • Amde


      The more I think about it the more cringe worthy this Meles interview is.

      Can you imagine the US President stating that his administration knew the embassy and commercial interests of the ruling party of Mexico were committing serious crimes but he let it happen because they are poor? That would be grounds for impeachment.

      As Prime Minister of Ethiopia, he would never make these kinds of statements in the Amharic press for sure. He really stuck his neck out for Eritrea. On the flip side, this is probably why he took a hardline position on Eritrea after the war. How could he trust Isayyas ever again?


      • Abi

        Not only that . He turned the other way when the poor ethiopians were inhumanly deported from ethiopia. He was working as a Vice President of eritrea sitting in addis.
        As you said he tried to over correct the situation. Honestly what makes me sad is not the corruption or the money laundering business. It is only money. Money comes, money goes. What makes me furious is the lives we lost between us because our leaders were sleeping together. Or may be we had only one leader for both countries from asmara.
        Meles eventually did extremely well for ethiopia. However, those lives should be saved at any cost.

  • Abi

    Dear Saba
    Ethiopian coffee was not imported to Eritrea. It was smuggled. Which is a crime.
    Once you have the coffee, illegally of course, it doesn’t matter at all if you export it as eritrean coffee, process and package it and export it or use it for local consumption.
    As one of the bank officials said as an example, 100 quintal of coffee purchase of coffee should be approved without LC. Imagine if there are 100 coffee merchants purchasing coffee 100 times a year, and smuggled it to eritrea,that is 1million quintals of coffee. This is , in my opinion, a very conservative estimate considering the situation in those days.
    It is a green gold, baby!
    Last Easter I was helping my eritrean neighbor filling a barrel with used clothes to be shipped to eritrea. We hid cooking oil, sugar and , of course, coffee in the clothes.
    No more N3 to load coffee.
    There was a better and legal way to do it . They didn’t choose that route.

    • Peace!

      Dear Abi,

      Obviously you are sharing your personal story, not providing any evidence. I thought you are a truth teller -;)


      • Abi

        I have told my personal story regarding the used clothes before. Everyone does it . No big deal.
        Regarding the coffee business, it is not personal. it is national or may be international story since it involves two countries. I gave my personal estimate. you can give yours.
        The 100 quintal coffee is mentioned by your bank officials as an example. That is a one time purchase without LC. If you think my number (1 million quintal per year) is exaggerated, let me hear yours.
        Don’t expect me to be politically correct or lie. I can be wrong. Correct me peacefully .
        We lied too much. Look where we are. Let’s tell the truth for a change.
        Peace !!

        • Peace!

          Dear Abi,

          Gashe Atqotu tolo endiarju. You are a truth teller; I was just being a bit sarcastic. Honestly you could be right, but I just didn’t think your evidence is compelling.


          • Abi

            QuTa yefara new.
            This is a peaceful song for you.
            “Ante lij, ante lij yegorebetachin
            Emaye teqoTach atmTa betachin
            Enatish biqoTu biferTu ende embuway
            Yefesese wuha yitafesal woy?

          • Peace!

            Dear Abi,

            At’m Ta Betachin .. are you sure that’s a peaceful song? En’ie M’leh Betachin’ma hulie K’ftnew beteley LegorebeTachin B’nqotam Ban’qotam.


          • Abi

            Tigren lemeqoTat man liwedaderew
            Jebenaw yimeskir yeminteketekew
            Yetgre jebena sigenefil ayten
            Berachinin zegan dehna hunu bilen
            Esatun qensut bunaw endayfela
            Yegenefele elet agul new behuwala.
            Yefesesew buna esatun kaTefaw
            Gerebet hedeh new esat yemtchirew
            Gorebetochihm esat yemayferut
            SiqeTaTel kayu zelew new yemigebut
            YeEsat eratoch
            Huletum dedeboch

          • Peace!

            Dear Abi,

            Gash Abi, Altechalum, Y’he Hulu Yetgre Buna Sele Kemesu New? Lihonem Aychlim M’kniatu Yetgre Buna K’Ethiopia import Yargnew new-;) S’lezi Mistiru B’takaflun des Ylen neber. Yhen Zefen legabzeh, enjoy!!


            Big fan of Mesfin, RIP!!

          • saay7

            Hi Peace:

            I know the video was for Abi but I heard it and …. ترجمه والنبي Maybe SGJ can help; he likes scratchy Amharic music:)


          • Peace!

            Dear Saay,

            Hahaha… My bad! Well, I will find him one. I guess he is done for today:)


          • Abi

            Thank you. That is what I call a peaceful love song. That song is a perfect fitting for my proposal to meet every awatista at masawa. So far only Fanti promised to show me his country.⛵️He will be my personal guide. I’m honored.
            Yazlign qeTero bota mireTina
            Masawa wey Addis lay enTeTalen buna.
            BTW, there is no secret in what I wrote. It is as straight forward as Abi.

          • Peace!


            Y’hen Zefen Kewedekew, count me in I am willing to be Fanti’s assistant-;) and yes, Your comment was straight forward us usual (again my sarcasm) otherwise, Y’e Mesfin Zefen Algabzhim Neber. Yehen Yemesele zefen Lemanem Aysetim.


          • Abi

            Thanks a million. I feel loved. Fanti is fired.
            Fantin amno guzo endet yijemeral
            Chama adenaqfot menged lay yiqeral.

          • Fanti Ghana

            Hello Abisha,
            I am still here brother. I even watered down my love potion to give you a chance to catch up. What more can a friend do?
            Yilkunis feTen feTen bel siga-sigawun iyayeh Tinkish-Tinkishu endayamelTih.

          • Abi

            Wend lij bila new siga yishalewal
            ATint lewusha new sitagel yameshal.
            Tinkishochun meTeh esktaqeblen
            Yadere afash honen enTebqalen.
            Yemashila Tinkish bereha yadegech
            Eswa ketegegnech alem zeTegn honech.
            Fanti, the good thing is someone already confirmed to be Tinkish than kimir siga.
            Good times !

    • saay7


      Now you have done it. Dawit is going to show up here with his authoritative links and data which show Eritrea never exported coffee 🙂


      • Abi

        I was expecting you to show up. I know you and mezmure dawit call it ” urban legend “.
        I miss him. He disappeared after the Geneva protest.
        It’s been 2 days since Hailachin commented.
        Where is Sem?

  • Ted

    Hi Saba. Abi’s love/hate relationship with us goes way back. It is like uneasy feeling watching Anaconda and a puppy getting along in the same cage. At the end of the day Anaconda going to be anaconda(stupid Eritreans). As you see and know Abi is fond of Eritreans for long time. He hangs around Assab hotel(Eritreans hub). It is were he saw the Dollar exchange by PFDJ people;). The Coffee thing, he picked it up from Gebru Asrat’s war pamphlet at Mekele Hotel. It is a good improvement for a Gondere to be there with us other than seba Berenda.

  • selam

    Dear saba
    Don’t ask evidence , evidence by its own definition is not acceptable by our weyane cadres and some ESHI GOYTAYE , By definition DIA should dissolved in 2004 but yet we are making endless marketing on who make the most idiotic blame game propaganda . From 2001 until now their god knows how many blame game we have played. Instead of focusing to the real issue forumers are just dragging us down . Can we trust the old politicians wuth our issue of suffering , i do not trust them because they are too weak to go beyond the blame game. To be exact they have no game plan or what so ever. Let them sit in a chair that says walk the talk on the back side of it. They are busy travelling from AWASA to x knows where. Their air ticket expense is enough to fund us sit and talk but they are wasting the money.

    • Rahwa T

      Dream Selam,

      “… forumers are just dragging us down”. You are acting as if you are a progressive lady. Personally, I never saw you walking forward. In fact it is difficult to know where you are camp is. In my opinion, majority of the forumers would agree with me that if there are people who disrupt the normal flow of discussion, you are one of them few. You are the one who drags down the walk.

      • Amde

        Dear Rahwa

        Don’t get upset with her. She is fighting tooth and nail not to have this topic explored.

        One way if interpreting the evidence is far is to say Eritrea’s Nakfa issuance set in motion a set of events that led to War. So in retrospect how it was rolled out was a spectacular policy blunder in Eritrea’s part.

        Another way of interpreting is to say Shaebiya ignited a war when its smuggling and other rackets in Ethiopia got shut down. Knowing how much of Eritrean economy was dominated and run by the “09” companies, I suspect many Eritreans will find it a plausible explanation.

        Selam protests too much. She runs out of ways to say “lie” and “liar”. Just count how many times she says “lie” or its derivatives in a paragraph. I call that the Selam Truth Index… the more she says lie, the more she validates the truthfulness of the topic.


        • Rahwa T

          Dear Amde,

          It is one of the most interesting discussions I enjoyed at Awate. I learnt a lot, to be honest. It was interesting to read the different views and opinions (and expert explanation) from different corners. It is clear that nothing will be changed on the ground as we are simply discussing on a problem that became history. Thanks for and its few great forumers. The topic for this discussion is emanated from the Semere Tesfay’s article. Most readers show little interest from Semere’s article, of course, there were claps from Selam and her likes. And your question on the economic aspect the conflict inspires our great sister (HA) to write a long and detailed response. The views and explanations from you and many others were superb. Yet, this was so bitter and unpalatable for Selam. She tried everything to cut it short including insulting the AT fore entertaining a comment-turned-article from a lady she hate most.

          Amde, you have noticed her typical character. She likes the words “lie” and “liar” very much. Sometimes she ‘comes’ to with her mother and brags as if she was the only girl brought up under a good care, “no
          lie”, “no-whatever-any- of- the- ten-commandments”.

          I hope more interesting views and ideas will be added before this discussion goes to its final space.

          በተረፈ ፈጣሪ ዓዋተ ቤት መተን እናንተ አያሳጣን የጠፉትንም “አለን” ያስብልልን ፥፥


  • AMAN

    Dear Awates,
    I have a piece of news for you.
    The US government, unlike the previous years is for the first time to
    establish COUNTRY TO COUNTRY relationship with Ethiopia. So far
    the US has only been making relations with the country only through its
    sub-contracting agencies under the departments of the US government. And
    sadly many Ethiopians used to think as if the US government has direct
    relations with Ethiopia even though there are some consular and other service
    agencies in the US embassy. The present Obama visit is to signal and signify
    the first time ever US – Ethiopia government direct relations unlike the indirect
    relations through sub – contractors of the US administration departments which
    the government never fully acknowledges.
    Many Ethiopian supporters of the past regimes were duped into thinking US and
    Ethiopia have established government to government relations while it was only
    indirect relationship through agency/department sub-contractors.
    ( Refer : The Op-Ed of the Ethiopian opposition paper “The Reporter”)

  • selam

    Dear T.T
    As arrogant as you are , you have also this habit of making lies , may be it is in the water you drink in the south deep in weyane depo. Look I and nitricc don’t agree on all things but i can see nitricc is creating headache for some naive forumers , he never change hisstand like some people in this site. Eriteeans are not the once who are making lies like 150 million , ask your weyane cadre hayat to bring prove about the 150 million and also the 2 billion birr , she is born to
    make lies on behave of weyane by that behavior she hopes to get some support from Eritrean side likeThe ESHI GOYTAYE and some old losers . What she forget is that she has no prove and she knows she is making lies over any given numbers . You expect me tobuy such lies , no i will not go on the side show of these lairs . Lies can make you grow some fat on yoyr belley the thing is you will not run too long. Lets hayat present a prove of these 2 numbers and lest also her argue on basic ffinancial terms and products instead of weyane filled hypocrisy. She is the most frog in the site with making lies . Let her prove what she put over there. Off course she has very few funs around that’s the only reason her comment get prometd unless it is full of lies. I will stop to remaind you of your lies . Others who think the war was the result of money or any economic misunderstanding , you are lacking any evidence . Some one who has evid2nce should come out and present or stop defaming people’s political views.

  • Abi

    I have seen eritrean trucks with their new license plates all over addis loading everything including coffee.

    Selam asmara tsbuqti
    When I and Ted talk, more often than not, it is coded. Don’t be alarmed. ” Lost in Translation?”
    You said “we are back.” I say welcome home. We didn’t want you to go in the first place.
    Enjoy the legendary ethiopian hospitality !

    Take it easy.

  • Hayat Adem

    If Fanti can gracefully handle 16+1, I’m sure he will be okay to share me with especial friends. The emebete thing is always tempting. But, the absence of a visible “kimir” may disappoint you should that be your main asset of attraction to women.

    • Abi

      17 women means a full team with reserve. I suggest you stay on the reserve bench. If you insist to play , play defense. Never , ever play goalie. Fanti is a deadly attack known to put the ball between the sticks.

      Kimir? I thought you forgot about it.
      Kimir yemiwedew gebere bicha new
      Mirtun kegelebaw leyto endiweqaw
      KeSiga kimir milas yishalegnal
      Tewatna mata yaqolamiTegnal.
      Sibal alsemashim anchi yene emebet
      ” The closer the bone, the sweeter the meat?”

  • Tewelde G/mariam

    To attribute the 1998 Ethiopian Eritrean war to some sort of economic disagreement between meles zenawi and isaias afewerki is unwittingly play right into the trap these two con artists had set up in order to blur the real cause, or to replay the old Amhara elites self- serving mantra that Eritrea cannot economically sustain itself. Had either of these been the true cause, woyane could have readily demarcated the border and then closed off its border convinced Eritrea would fall apart starved to death.

    No, the mystery cause was not economy; it was the undoing of Eritrean independence to build abai tigray, but the route taken was not straight but circuitous purposely chosen to mislead both people, Eritreans and Ethiopians, into slaughtering each other under the false assumption of safeguarding their respective Sovereignty.

    The seed of the mystery cause can be found in the Abai tigrai manifesto put out by woyane in 1977. Of the three marked off for incorporation in the manifesto to make Abai tigrai, the two, Alamata and Humera, were annexed, not of course through brute force but through legal subterfuges, using Ethiopian parliament whose entire membership owed their existence to their subserviency to woyane.

    Obvioualy, the third marked off in the manifesto for incorporation was Eritrea. And since the two were incorporated, it was just a matter of time and creating of the right condition and means to incorporate Eritrea. But skeptics may reject my argument citing woyane’s historical recognition of Eritrean colonial question and independence and its seventeen year collaboration with EPLFs against derg.

    My answer to the skeptic is: Zb’E Ksab Zhalfelu Yhnks. The core agenda of woyane is building Abai tigrai. And the enemies of that strategy are Ethiopia and Eritrea. Woyane opted to ally itself with Eritrea was for two reasons:
    1. It was too weak to wage two front war, against Ethiopia and Eritrea.

    2. Isaias afewerki, the leader of the EPLFs , had identical long agenda.

    The woyane recognition of Eritrean colonial question and later, as sovereign country, were , therefore, all measures secretly agreed upon with isaias afewerki to hoodwink the EPLFs into letting down their vigilance as evidenced by their acquiescence to oust ELF in alliance with woyane and to the disposal of Badme to ownership of woyane. Little did they have inkling that by so doing the two, isaias afewerki and woyane, were planting a bomb that they would explode at opportune time in the future to annihilate Eritrea.

    Yes, Eritreans must know that the handing over of Badme to woyane was the harbinger of the illegal and unnecessary war of 1998. You can verify the certitude of my view under the following questions:

    1. Why did isaias afewerki personally handed over Badme, an integral territory of Eritrea, to woyane?
    2. Why did he deny the Eritv crew from showing the footage they filmed as woyane was inhumanely and forcefully removing Eritreans from Badme, their land?
    3.Why didn’t he seek the counsel of the OAU or UNSC instead of violating International Law, and knowing full that the country and its army were ill prepared for any war?

    4.Why did he take over to personally command the war at the third woyane offensive during which woyane soldiers penetrated deep into Eritrea territory and attacked EDFs from their rear end? If this were not an act of betrayal , what was it?

    5.If indeed he responded to woyane invasion, why wasn’t able to present his facts on the ground to convince the Eritrean Ethiopian Claim Commission instead of acquiescing to their ruling that he was the aggressor?

    6. Why didn’t he plead with the UN to establish a Commission in accordance with the Algiers agreement to investigate the causes that led to the war in order to exonerate himself if he had the truth as he would us believe?

    7 etc.

    • Fanti Ghana

      Hello Tewelde G/Mariam,
      That is a lot of “brain.” If we all start thinking along those lines, we will have a region that is gone mad in no time. The simplest explanation is usually the truth. I don’t think they can be that sophisticated and that miserable at the same time. I like the way you organized it though.

  • Abi

    Call it a transitional government, a de-facto government, a ghost government, any name you want, the name change doesn’t absolve it from assuming responsibility. If some party changes its name after committing a crime , do you think it is free from being responsible?
    if that is how it works, it is easy to weed out pfdj just by changing its name to derg.
    Tell me more.