Whatever happened to the British Government’s sense of fairness and justice?
By: Dr. G. Ogbaselassie
August 19, 2005


Renewed Asmara-Massawa Road and Railway

The reason for writing this article is two fold: i) My deep concern about the threat of yet another senseless war between Eritrea and Ethiopia; and the possible contribution by the UK to avert the impending disaster; and ii) My observations of the British Government’s attitude towards Eritrea over the past 60 years or so. 

During a period of 40 years (1952-1991), Ethiopia’s notable contribution to development in Eritrea is the construction of only one secondary school in the capital, Asmara! On the destruction side, however, the list is endless – from dismantling and looting the Eritrean socio-economic base left by the Italians, to the destruction of vital infrastructure and natural resources, as well as the deportation, displacement, torture and killing of Eritreans in their hundreds of thousands


New Tekor Dam

In contrast, and in spite of enormous challenges, the Government of Eritrea, within the relatively short period of its existence, has made significant strides in the area of peace and security; religious harmony; control of corruption; infrastructure development (such as schools, health facilities, construction of dams, houses, roads, repair of railways, expansion of ports and airports); improving power supply including rural electrification; and expansion of the fishing industry. This would have been much more had it not been for Ethiopia’s relentless expansionist aggression.  


Prevent another destructive war

Currently, dark clouds are once again gathering along the Ethio-Eritrean border and the preparations for war are reminiscent of the events that led to the destructive war of 1998-2000. The ‘pretext’ for declaring war on Eritrea in May 1998 was the ‘Incident of Badme’.

 The world, however, knows very little about the series of “unilateral demarcations” inside Eritrean territory starting in 1992. By 1997, the newly acquired land in the Badme (West) area and Adi Murug (East) were put under Ethiopian military control.

 The 17 October 1997 issue of the “Weyin” magazine printed the new map of the Tigrai Kelil (Region), which was much more enlarged with the inclusion of large expanses of land carved out of Eritrea and two Ethiopian provinces (Begemider and Wollo). The new map was printed by the Ethiopian Mapping Authority and appeared in the new Ethiopian currency.

The colonial borders of Eritrea had been changed by the expansionist actions of the Tigrai authorities and all the elements of a border conflict were, thus, put in place.

The Ethiopian Government is well prepared for another war. The country continues to receive billions of dollars worth of donor assistance in terms of food aid, 65% budgetary support and debt relief, which amounts to ‘rewarding its war mongering attitude’. This generous support and the millions of innocent people that it could dispense with impunity are the reasons behind Ethiopia’s current confrontational stance. It is now working on a ‘pretext’ to unleash another military invasion of Eritrea. 

The EEBC decision on Badme

This time, the ‘pretext’ may be the harmless looking word ‘dialogue’. In the guise of ‘dialogue’, however, Ethiopia’s agenda is to undo the final and binding verdict of the EEBC and open it for negotiation. The Ethiopian Prime Minister is openly demanding for ‘adjustments’ and ‘give and take’ on a legally closed verdict. In the logic of the Ethiopian leaders, the purpose of ‘dialogue’ is for the international community to endorse Ethiopia’s demands. Eritrea’s participation in the so called ‘dialogue’ would only be to bless Ethiopia’s illegal acquisition of lands that are legally Eritrean, including Badme. If this does not happen, then Eritrea would be accused of refusal for ‘dialogue’, which would provide the ‘pretext’ for military invasion by Ethiopia.

 Following statements in November 2004 indicating Ethiopia’s acceptance, ‘in principle’, of the border decision, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) invited Ethiopia and Eritrea for a meeting in London on 22 February 2005. Ethiopia refused to attend and the meeting was cancelled. In its subsequent report to the UN, the EEBC said: Ethiopia insists on prior ‘dialogue’ but has rejected the opportunity for such dialogue within the framework of the demarcation process. This is the latest in a series of obstructive actions taken since the summer of 2002 and belies the frequently professed acceptance by Ethiopia of the Delimitation Decision.”

 We, Eritreans, know that the hidden agenda of the Ethiopians is no less than the reversal of the hard won Eritrean independence through policies of regime change; attacks against its key government institutions; weakening its national unity and religious harmony; attempts to control the port of Assab; and further impoverish the Eritrean people (ironically, at a time of global effort to eliminate poverty) through economic blockades and prolonged periods of ‘no peace-no war’ situation.

 To achieve its sinister objectives, Ethiopia is once again using a combination of ‘bullying’ and ‘disinformation’ tactics, areas in which its leaders have accumulated a great deal of expertise, as well as the likely support from the ‘spin’ factor of the international media.

 In the 1950s, the Eritrean people have suffered by the actions of the UN and international community. The UN decision to Federate Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1952 led to 30 years of bitter and destructive armed struggle for independence.

 In the 1998-2000 war, we have paid dearly in life and resources to resist a naked Ethiopian aggression. In December 2000, the Algeries Agreement was signed in front of representatives of the ‘guarantors of peace’ - AU (OAU), UN, USA, EU (including UK), Algeria, Nigeria and South Africa.

 In April 2002, the EEBC delivered its Delimitation Decision, which was soon endorsed by the Security Council. Over three years on, Ethiopia has maintained its refusal to cooperate with EEBC to implement the border demarcation.

 Whereas, the response by the EEBC to Ethiopia’s refusal to respect its treaty obligations was firm, the response from the guarantors of peace, the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General continues to be one of appeasement. In particular, the sudden appointment of the UN SG’s Special Envoy, Mr. Lloyd Axworthy, in compliance to Ethiopia’s demands for an alternative mechanism, has become a facilitating factor for yet another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is sad to see two highly respectable and honorable gentlemen messing themselves up in Ethiopia’s shameful maneuvers to escape facing the moment of truth – the demarcation of a border that places Badme in Eritrea and the exposure of Ethiopia as the main cause of instability in the Horn of Africa.

 As for the ‘guarantors of peace’, it seems they are waiting for war to break out before they raise a finger. But, it will be too late by then. Their citizens would have been advised to leave the area and the UN peace keeping force (UNMEE) would have withdrawn. Once more, the bombs of destruction would fall on Eritrea and its people. Yes, it would be 4 million Eritreans against 70 million Ethiopians, but the truth and the law are on our side. If there is no other choice, we will resist aggression and occupation. We will pay dearly in blood and bones, but we will prevail in the end as Britain did against the massive military might of Hitler. 

 Observations of the British Government’s attitude towards Eritrea

 During the Second World War, when the British army moved from The Sudan to attack the Italian forces in Eritrea, leaflets were distributed by air urging Eritrean conscripts to desert from the Italian army and promising the Eritrean people British support for their independence. In the bloody, but decisive battle for the town of Keren (Feb/March 1941), tens of thousands of Eritrean soldiers deserted their positions and simply melted to their villages. The British army defeated the Italians in Keren and without further resistance drove to control the capital, Asmara. The British promise for support of Eritrean independence, however, never materialized.

 Instead, Britain supported the UN unequal arrangement, which Federated Eritrea with Ethiopia; and together with the UN, watched for 40 years while the Eritrean people were savagely brutalized and their country pulverized with destructive weapons provided to Ethiopia by both the Western countries and the then Soviet Union.

 The British attitude towards Eritrea after its independence in 1991 is even more surprising. To my knowledge, except for limited technical assistance for the education sector (1992-96), there has been no notable or visible development or humanitarian assistance to Eritrea since independence. Britain has the resources and the experience to transform the educational system in Eritrea or assist in the development of fishing industries along the Red Sea coast. Sadly, there has been no expression of good will, so far.

 Britain is an active contributor to Ethiopia’s humanitarian and development assistance needs. This is a noble response within the context of the global initiative to prevent hunger and death from starvation, including Ethiopians. The question is ‘should the international community carry the burden of feeding people whose government is openly preparing for war to kill a final and binding ruling by the EEBC on border demarcation?’

 High level British officials, including Ministers, have close contacts with influential Ethiopian government officials. The British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair himself, has made the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Mr. Meles, a member of his special Commission for Africa.

 Surely, the British Government is in a strategic position to do more to assist the Ethiopian government choose the path of lasting peace for the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia by allowing for a full and speedy border demarcation.

 Whatever happened to the British Government’s sense of fairness and justice when it comes to Eritrea?