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( The Eritrea-Ethiopia peace process is a priority for Europe

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Eritrea-Ethiopia peace process is a priority for Europe

Article by Romano Prodi on Il Messaggero of 19 June 2018
    Among the many forgotten wars that have bloodied the world in recent history, there is one that we Italians should never have forgotten: the bloody conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

    Between 1998 and 2000 there were almost a hundred thousand dead for a territorial dispute over the so-called Badme corridor, a territory of no importance because it was limited in extension and almost deserted. One of the typical wars driven by domestic political motives, a war conducted by two leaders of the same tribe of "Tigrini", two leaders who had fought together the liberation struggle and who, at least in the popular image, were even considered their cousins. A war that, despite not having been repeated as bloody episodes since then, has never turned into peace, also because Ethiopia has always refused to accept the decisions of an international arbitration (the so-called Algiers agreement) which, in 2002, assigned the controversial territory of Badme to the sovereignty of Eritrea.

    The human sacrifices and the tremendous military expenses of this conflict have seriously hit the two countries and especially Eritrea, which, with the six million inhabitants, has found itself fighting against a country that counts a hundred million.

    For years every attempt at pacification has been in vain and I myself can testify how, despite repeated and welcome my attempts at dialogue , it has been tremendously difficult to open a real peace process. After the numerous and frank meetings that I have amicably and repeatedly had with the two leaders commuting between Asmara and Addis Ababa , I was forced to note that the gap between the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was still too deep to be filled in a short time. The untimely death of Meles made it all the more difficult as his successor did not have the strength to lead Ethiopian politicians to a peace process.

    At times, however, history suddenly reopens new perspectives: in a few months, entirely unexpected events have happened.

    The first event (incredibly passed in silence in Italy) occurred last March when UNESCO proclaimed the Asmara World Heritage. A decision that should have sparked our attention and enthusiasm because the capital of Eritrea is still today the most Italian city of all Italian cities. Until the beginning of the Second World War, over fifty thousand Italians residing in Asmara have in fact completely redesigned the city according to our architectural forms. The ensuing isolation of the country has strictly preserved them as such. At Asmara you can still breathe the air of an Italy of eighty years ago: the Dante pharmacy, the Bologna hotel, the Fiat building, the old and no longer functioning "Littorine" and the Circolo degli Italiani, where unfortunately ( also for our negligence) Italian is spoken only by the over seventies.

    This declaration by UNESCO may also seem of little importance but has brought, through culture and beauty, Eritrea closer to the international community and has been the first step of a thaw that then took on an unexpected speed.

    The elections of last April in Ethiopia have in fact marked the victory of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no longer Tigrin but of the Oromo tribe, the most numerous but until now completely marginalized by political power. Already in the settlement speech, Ahmed had not only expressed a program of economic opening but had also expressed a willingness to start the peace process with Eritrea. Only a couple of months have passed and on June 5 the bomb announcement has arrived: the government of Addis Ababa was ready to accept the decisions of the Algiers protocol and to return Badme to Eritrea .

    It is not yet taken for granted that this will automatically lead to peace because too many have been the years of hatred and because the end of the conflict would necessarily lead to a change in Eritrean domestic politics, also long dedicated to the fight against Ethiopia. Ethiopia's openness to accepting the Algiers agreement is nevertheless a new, extremely important fact to facilitate the conciliation process.

    A certain encouragement towards the possible end of the conflict has been carried out by American diplomacy which, in parallel with the events described above, has exercised a strong presence to facilitate the easing of tensions between the two countries. Of course, we do not know what the American commitments have been to them, even if the United States is very interested in peace progress, especially in order to be able to face the fight against Somali terrorism , which greatly benefits from the state of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The new Chinese base of Djibouti also makes the chessboard of the Horn of Africa even more important.

    In this context I believe that it should be a priority for Europe , and much more for Italy, to favor by all means this initial but promising peace process in an area where our constructive presence has long been desired and expected.

    Romano Prodi is an Italian politician who served as the 10th President of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004. He served twice as Prime Minister.He served twice as Prime Minister of Italy, first from 17 May 1996 to 21 October 1998 and then from 17 May 2006 to 8 May 2008.He is considered the founder of the Italian centre-left and one of the most prominent and iconic figures of the so-called Second Republic.

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