A woman takes a selfie while holding on her head the flags of Eritrea and Ethiopia, during the celebrations for the arrival of the Eritrean President to Addis Ababa on July 14, 2018. (Photo credit STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
February 14, 2019
Statistics don’t lie, given that they are not tampered with and the presenter has no bias intention or has a conflict of interest that may sway his position one way or the other. As such, the writer, disclaiming no ulterior motive other than seen the realization and fruition of the ongoing peace process, will make his case statistically, thus highlighting the grief human loss that were inflicted on both people as a result of decades of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The letter was necessitated primarily in reaction to the ongoing discussion on various social media about the reckless acts of some Hardline Ethiopians and die - hard remnants of the Derg, who are trying to sabotage and derail the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace process by engaging in the old rhetoric of Eritrean ownership and go as far as including Eritrea’s map with Ethiopia. It’s also important that one recognizes and commend the few genuine Ethiopian brothers and sisters who came out on the social media to denounce the childish acts of these detractors.
Using basic math, the writer will try to convey important message to those who are attempting to incite violence and threatening yet another war out of sheer ignorance: that war is not and has never been the solution to our problem-real or perceived. Eritrean people did not choose war in resolving and solving their God-given quest for autonomy. It was imposed on them. Most of the casualties described on this article, if not all occurred within the Eritrean soil. Thousands perished defending their land. As such, if there is any group of people who should demand for apology and even compensation for all the human and material destruction inflicted upon them over the decades it would be the Eritreans.
One can say with confidence that most Eritreans are willing to forgive Ethiopia for the horrendous crimes it committed against them over false territorial claims and befriend and live in peace as good neighbors do. However, they cannot and will not forget its painful memories for the scar is deep and will always be there to remind them.
During the decades of protracted war between Eritrea and Ethiopia,, including that of 1998 TPLF war of aggression, thousands and thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans lost their lives. This is not counting those millions of people who died of famine and drought that was exacerbated by the endless fighting and those massacred. It is truly a catastrophe to put it mildly.
At the first glimpse of the numbers of casualties that will be described below one may get an impression that the death toll was much higher for Ethiopia. Superficially, that may seem the case. However, when we factor in the size of population of each country for a given event ( i.e 1961-1991 vs post 1998), and extrapolate the number of casualties into percentage, we see that the burden was much bigger for Eritreans. In other words, Eritrean people paid the heaviest price both during the struggle for independence (pre 1991) and in defending their borders (post 1998).
Human Casualty (1961 – 1991)
At the end of the Derg era in 1991, Ethiopia’s population was nearly 50 million. That same year Eritrea had a population of 3.1 million(1).
While cannot be confirmed with certainty due to lack of and/or restriction of media in the conflict area, the estimated figure of human fatality during the armed struggle for independence was thought to be over 60 thousands Eritreans and over 120 thousands Ethiopians(2). Converting these figures into percentage, we see that close to 2% Eritreans and 0.23% Ethiopians perished. Keep in mind this is just a rough figure of combatants killed in a battlefield and does not account for thousands of civilians who were killed mercilessly by Ethiopian soldiers (please refer to massacres and air raids of Ona, Weki Duba(75), Aqurdet(77), Sheib(87), Asmara(75), Massawa(91), Keren etc for details).
Due to lack of data from a reliable source, It would be difficult to show figuratively civilian casualty that was inflicted on both wars except to confirmatively highlight that Eritrean casualty are in tens of thousands while that of Ethiopia is figuratively small, if any.
Human Casualty (1998-2000)
During the 1998-2000 TPLF war of aggression, it is estimated that there were 19 thousands casualties on the Eritrean side and around 120 thousands casualties on the Ethiopian side(3)
The population of Eritrea and Ethiopia during the same period was estimated at 3.4 million and 62 million, respectively (4). That means on the latter part of the unfortunate war Eritrea lost almost 0.6% of its entire population while Ethiopia lost less than 0.2% of its population. In a lay term, 6 out of 1000 Eritreans were killed on the recent war defending their country while 2 out of a 1000 Ethiopians died invading another sovereign country. Again, it must be emphasized that these figures do not include civilian casualties which is expected to be much higher.
These figures may not seem such a big deal for those elites with huge population, who live a lavish lifestyle at the expense of poor peasants and minority groups, but for a country like Eritrea every life is cherished and one loss is one too many.
Why Do we Need Peace?
Shortly after World War II, when asked by a media why he was reaching out for his sworn enemy that inflicted severe damage to his people and country and making peace, this wise leader brilliantly replied that only those who have seen and tasted the ugly side of war truly quench for peace.
For decades the people of Eritrea have been victims of war and know firsthand the pain it inflicts on families and the population as a whole. These aforementioned wars between Eritrea and Ethiopia could have been avoided. There was just one problem. Until now (let’s keep our fingers crossed), Ethiopia was not blessed with leaders who cannot see ‘beyond their nose’; it lacked leaders who can genuinely think for the future of their people. As one of the remnants of the Derg regime was recently heard uttering a foolish request for “memorial cemetery” and a statue on Eritrean soil for his merciless killers; while another die-hard profusely denying the loss of his army in some of the major documented battles, we are being reminded that the realization of genuine peace between the brotherly people of Eritrea and Ethiopia will require more effort and resilience.
Today, as most Ethiopians and Eritreans galvanize support to the peace effort, there are few remnants of the blood sucking Derg and die-hard “Ethiopians” who are attempting to derail and obstruct the peace initiatives by singing the old reactionary song of expansionism and showing their obsession towards Eritrea.
The message of this article is primarily directed at them. As the statistics show Eritreans have been killed and maimed at much greater proportion because of poor leadership who misinformed the Ethiopian public to fulfill their expansionist dream. The trauma and the scar inflicted on Eritreans is too big and too deep to erase. However, Eritreans are willing and ready to forgive their adversaries, given that they meet them half-way: come clean and apologize for all the wrong doing.
Most importantly, Eritrea’s sovereignty must be respected. In contrary to the popular belief amongst the elites and misinformed others, Eritrea gained its independence through blood and sweat of its precious lives. It did not come about with the blessings of other actors either. It paid heavy price in attaining its rightful longing as a member of the United Nations. As such, it deserves its due respect.
With genuine peace and mutual respect between the two countries, the sky is the limit. Both countries have so much to offer to each other and beyond if and only if they work in strong partnership. Both should strive to use their natural resources for the betterment of their people first and foremost.
On the flip side, those who don’t draw a lesson from a past mistake are doomed to repeat it. Let’s all work together for bringing the badly needed peace and stability in our region if not for us for the future generation.