Horn of Africa

Troubled Truce

The proverbial ink on the December peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia was hardly dry before reports of problems between the long-standing antagonists surfaced. Among the troubling signs was a vow by Ethiopia to renege on its promise of total troop withdrawal. The pact was meant to put an end to a two-year border war.

The U.N.-brokered agreement signed in Algiers is supposed to lead to a clear demarcation of the borders as well as investigate the causes of the dispute. A peacekeeping mission had already been deployed last summer after a cease-fire. Gamal Nkrumah, writing in Cairo’s semi-official Al-Ahram Weekly (Dec. 21-27), notes a “combination of adverse developments” has continued to affect the peace.

First, a divided parliament in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa was reluctant to ratify the treaty, while many Ethiopians feel betrayed. “[They] feel that their country has bent over backward to accommodate what they see as the unreasonable demands of the ungrateful Eritreans—an upstart nation which they are convinced should revert to the lowly status of an Ethiopian province,” Nkrumah wrote. “Ethiopian officials vigorously deny this, but Ethiopian opposition groups both at home and abroad incessantly voice this view.”

The Dakar-based Panafrican News Agency (PANA) confirmed the distaste of some Ethiopians for the pact. Although the port of Aseb, which was heavily bombed by the Ethiopian air force during the war, is well within Eritrea, some landlocked Ethiopians believe that it should be theirs. “The agreement is a total sellout,” one was quoted as saying in a PANA dispatch from Addis Ababa (Dec. 14). “I tell you, I foresee a time bomb in this accord.”

Ethiopia’s six opposition political parties have rejected the peace agreement as having been “done in a manner that put aside the interests of Ethiopia,” wrote Ayenewb Haileselassie in Addis Aba-ba’s Daily Monitor (Jan. 6). “[They] were telling us that the war proved to be a sacrifice for nothing when the... government failed to get Aseb…included in the deal. Depending on your political affiliations and biases, the war may or may not have achieved its purpose.”

And from the Eritrean perspective: “We have to qualify our enthusiasm [for the agreement] because we have been down this path before,” commented the Eritrean Internet publication Visafric, reporting from Asmara (Dec. 7). “The heart of the problem is that Eritrea is dealing with a slippery adversary, whose words cannot be trusted.” But this time, Visafric said, “we believe something has fundamentally changed, because the our part of the world…appear to have decided that enough is enough, and that the region must have an orderly demarcation of the border….There’s a newly discovered determination of the ...donor community that this wretched conflict must come to an end….It’s possible that Dec. 12 could very well herald the beginning of the end of the conflict.”