It is with great dismay that I hear the beating of war-drums by some segments of the Ethiopian intelligentsia, apparently aiming at steering public opinion towards war. Their writing and talks are reminiscent of the past regimes of Emperor Haile Selassie and Colonel Mengistu. Yes, like the leaders of these two regimes, some nostalgic individuals, the likes of journalist Tamrat Negara (interview with Sheger Times Media), are openly instigating Ethiopians for the invasion of Eritrea. Their goal appears to be grabbing the port of Assab or totally undoing the Sovereignty of Eritrea that was earned by thirty years of bloody armed struggle.
These nostalgic people appear to fantasize war as if it will be a simple affair, almost like a weekend picnic to Eritrea, espousing exactly the misleading stance of the two past regimes who drove hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians into a bloody war. In fact, Emperor Haile Selassie never explained to the people of Ethiopia the main reason for the Eritrean resistance, if not providing fictitious explanations such as rescuing Eritrea from the incursion by imagined Arab countries. He never informed the Ethiopian people that Eritrea was a federated country to Ethiopia, guaranteed by the United Nations, with its own Constitution, Parliament, Government and Independent Judiciary system, where the people elected their representatives and the three wings of Government ensured a democratic political system. The Emperor never explained to his people that Eritrea, the former Italian colony, should have been an Independent State after the end of the Second World War, just like the other two Italian colonies, i.e., Libya and Somalia. If it was not for the shenanigans of Haile Selassie and his allies, Eritrea would have been an Independent country immediately after the end of the Second World War. The Ethiopian people were also not aware about Emperor Haile Selassie’s sinister maneuvers to destabilize the democratic setup in Eritrea by undertaking economic and political sabotages, intimidating and arresting Eritrean politicians and outright killing of prominent figures who espoused the freedom of their country and people. After ten years of precarious coexistence under a federal framework, where the Eritrean population practiced peaceful resistance, the despotic move of the Emperor did away with the Eritrean flag, changed the name and form of Government and introduced a number of undemocratic rules and regulations. This prompted the Eritrean nationalists to change the peaceful resistance to an armed struggle that was launched in September 1961; just a few months before Haile Selassie annexed Eritrea in 1962. The armed conflict went on for thirty years.
Once in power, Colonel Mengistu also continued with the disinformation campaign of Ethiopians stating that it was the Arabs who were trying to capture Eritrea, and that the freedom fighters were few bandits who need to be captured and tied up with ropes and brought back to the Government. He even provided innocent Ethiopians with ropes for that purpose, and most of them perished in a war they never foresaw.
The Government of Mr. Meles Zenawi also fought a war with Eritrea, but the declared motive for the war was the protection of Ethiopian borders, and not the seizing of land or tampering with Eritrean sovereignty. Of course, the war was a stupid one, instigated by conceited people from both sides who refused to dialogue for peace, opting instead for armed confrontation that killed over one-hundred thousand young people from both sides. To make things worse, Meles’s party aggravated the war by introducing an illegal and cruel decisions to expel innocent civilians of Eritrean decent, even though many were Ethiopian citizens, who lived in Ethiopia for several generations. Another malicious element of Mr. Meles’ government was his refusal to recognize the border commission’s decision without any precondition that led to a no-war no-peace situation, thereby providing the Eritrean dictator an excuse to delay the introduction of democratic reforms.
Eritreans were subjected to many cruelties by Ethiopian Governments, of which the bulk of the Ethiopian population was not aware, including the act of Emperor Menelik who decided to mutilate about four hundred Eritrean prisoners of war of Adwa in 1896, by cutting off one arm and one leg of each individual; while, at the same time, decreeing that all Italian prisoners of the same war should be treated well and kept safely. The reason for this harsh decision by Menelik was apparently due to his anger against Eritreans for fighting on the side of the Italians, which is totally irrational as Eritrea was the colony of Italy, and its people were the subjects of the Fascist rule. As such, they were under the mercy of the colonial power, and were forcefully drafted to fight for Italy’s colonization programs in Libya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The irony of the matter is that, it was Menelik himself who recognized the now Eritrean territory as an Italian colony by signing the Treaty of Wuchale in May 1889!
The above is meant to refresh people’s minds of the belligerent stance of the past Ethiopian Governments, who deliberately hindered Ethiopians from obtaining the true facts about Eritrea and fed them instead with bogus information to suit their bellicose agenda. It seems that the present nostalgic people are trying to revive the same sinister attitude, that is feeding the Ethiopian people with false information and hopes, then take them directly to war. These people deliberately overemphasize the simplicity and certainty of victory of war and dismiss any rational argument. For those who were intoxicated with owning Asab, it is a clear-cut position: just go and grab the land at any cost, not even minding the international laws of which Ethiopia is a relevant member and an ardent supporter.
In his interview, Journalist Tamrat said openly that Ethiopia should invade Eritrea, and should not care about what the United Nations would say. Such an arrogance is dangerous. It is also a delusion. Tamrat is talking as if Ethiopia is a superpower, and trying to imitate Russia’s action in Ukraine, which is considered by world community as illegal. Don’t mislead people, Tamrat. Ethiopia is not a rich superpower like Russia; and you do not represent the God-fearing and peace-loving people of Ethiopia. Remember that you come from a developing country which in 2019 had 8.3 million people needy of food assistance, normally to be obtained under multilateral and bilateral assistance. Are you suggesting diverting funds from social and economic development towards your war, thereby aggravating the situation of the poor people? Are you also intending to send the children of the farming and working classes to die in your war, like what Emperor Haile Selassie and Colonel Mengistu did? Wise men say that only the starting time of a war is known, but not its end. I would have expected young people like you to be involved in alleviating people’s sufferings and addressing the unfortunate social unrest that is surfacing in your country. By the way, what makes you think that you will be able to start a war, win it and live in an occupied country peacefully. I know your hypothesis, when you thanked President Isaias for weakening Eritrea over the past thirty years, implying that the country cannot defend itself now, and that you can walk-in easily. Please, remember that there is no an easy war nowadays. Even though you may not care it will be the children of the masses who will die and suffer and that is very cruel and irresponsible.
There are also some subtly formulated self-styled legal arguments that aim to justify the snatching of Assab. For example, former air force General Abebe Teklehaimanot, says that the Ethiopian Government has the right to revoke the Algiers Agreement, as Eritrea has violated the security zone. Further, he asserts that the Government should demand for the international recognition of Ethiopia’s right of access to sea. What right? Demand recognition of access to sea for whom? Access to sea under what arrangements? This argument lacks some logical base. The only country that can give access to Assab and other ports in Eritrea is Eritrea itself. This country has won its independence by liberating its land and people militarily in May 1991; and then in May 1993 formally legalized this independence by a popular plebiscite supervised by the UN, in which over ninety-eight percent of the people voted for independence. Besides, what has the sovereignty of Eritrea to do with the Algiers Agreement which was signed in 2001 to regulate the unfortunate war between two sovereign countries? This is clear misinformation campaign, because there is no legal base that gives a country the international recognition of land of another sovereign country. This would amount to recognizing the grabbing of Ethiopian land by the Fascists in 1935 and of several European countries by the Nazis during the Second World War. No, land of a sovereign country cannot be violated by other countries if this world has to continue to exist in peace.
Fortunately, the majority of the Ethiopian people are peace-loving, and will not be misled by some nostalgic individuals. In addition, thanks to the ease of communication, the nostalgic group will be exposed by the Ethiopians themselves, hence they will not prevail. In fact, both the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea should be vigilant, and not allow governments or adventurous individuals or groups to take them to war. We have had enough of wars. We don’t hate each other, why should we fight? Eritreans do not hate Ethiopians, although they hated and dreaded the two regimes that led us into a thirty-year-old armed conflict. We also sincerely believe that the Ethiopian people do not hate Eritreans. There are touchy and remarkable stories of sympathy displayed by Eritreans towards the Ethiopian soldiers immediately after the end of the war in 1991; as well as similar sentiments expressed by Ethiopians during the expulsion of Eritreans in 1998/1999.
We do have a common enemy in our region, which is poverty, and we need to fight against it together. Both countries have many people suffering from hunger, malnutrition and poor health, and we have the duty to alleviate their sufferings by addressing their challenges. Once a democratic rule is installed in Eritrea, these two countries should cooperate and fight poverty by helping each other to achieve higher level of economic and social development.
Many people write and talk about the need for Ethiopia to use the port of Assab, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, until the war of 1998, Eritrea had let Ethiopia use the port of Asab at will. It was only the no-war no-peace status imposed by Mr. Meles Zenawi, and the refusal to dialogue by both governments that hindered the use of the port of Assab. There is no reason why Assab cannot be used by Ethiopia under a clearly spelled out agreement that is mutually beneficial to the two countries. What seems to worry Ethiopians is the security of use of the port for the long-term; and what seems to bother Eritreans is the surfacing of aggressive ideas that put into question the sovereignty of Eritrea on Assab. But there is no doubt that these worries could be addressed effectively if the two countries start an open and sincere dialog by declaring a goal for achieving a win-win situation. The recent agreement reached between Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afeworki, is hailed as a major breakthrough by the war-weary people of the two countries, who believe peace is finally at hand. However, as time passed by, the level of the initial enthusiasm is dwindling, mainly because people are concerned about the sustainability of the agreement as it lacks transparency. From the Eritrean side, there is a mistrust of the one-man show and decision, as portrayed by President Isaias, on a matter of paramount importance such as peace agreement with Ethiopia. The mistrust originates from the popular perception that President Isaias may not deliver an appropriate agreement. This popular impression was formed following the President’s statements that were deemed not congruent with the widespread sentiments of the general public. The people know that a half-backed agreement could become a cause for friction in the future. Therefore, there is a need to solve the domestic political problems in Eritrea, and then send representatives of a democratic Eritrea to discuss/negotiate openly with the Ethiopians. Dialogue between these two sisterly and democratic countries will certainly lead to a peaceful coexistence among the people and create conditions for solid cooperation in addressing the current developmental problems and in improving the standard of living of the people. War between these two countries has been tried, and was proven to lead to misery, sorrow and overall impoverishment. Let us become the promotors of peace and development of these two countries and of our region. The dark years of war should remain history – no turning back. No arrogant pretentions of an easy victory! No delusions of ending Eritrean Sovereignty!