Eritrea Owns Dialogue
By: Dr. Haile M. Mezghebe
November 17, 2003

In June of 1998, soon after Ethiopia officially declared war on Eritrea, I along with a fellow Eritrean Dr. Asgede Hagos and six Ethiopian scholars met with Prime Minister Melles Zenawi twice and President Isaias Afwerki once. We were hastily put together, out of concern and desperation about the potential devastating impact of the looming war on the brotherly peoples of both nations.

 I am will disclose certain facts that transpired during this mission add my personal analysis of some of the events to help demonstrate that many of the issues that are currently being debated are the reengineering and repackaging of the same lame arguments of 1998 except some of the players have changed.

I will start out by sharing some personal believes that have evolved over the last two to three years.

 1.The war was never about Babme. Badme was the surrogate issue for reversing Eritrean independence or drastically changing its political and geographic landscape to meet the needs of the current Ethiopian leadership.

 2.Demonizing President Isaias Afwerki and creating a leadership void was then and continues to be part and parcel of the Ethiopian master plan.

 3.The Clinton administration's mediation group became contaminated and highly biased in its deliberations and knowingly or unknowingly became a participant in the Ethiopian conspiracy, thus negating its role as an honest broker.

 4.President Isaias and his leadership pushed and fought hard for an early internationally supervised arbitration but he did not find a willing partner. His administration also advocated and pushed for dialogue to avert the war but his appeals were rebuffed using endless unworkable preconditions as a cover.

 5.The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia residing in the border are highly interwoven culturally and through intermarriages. If the Ethiopian leadership were to become engaged and commited to peace and aggressively demonstrate a willingness to bring about reconciliation and cross border trade, it would find a willing partner in Eritrea. If these were to occur, the local people will undoubtedly work out their differences and successfully resolve potential areas of conflict such as burial rights, grazing fields, etc. after the demarcation. Therefore, the Ethiopian leadership's repeated peddling of the hollow excuse that accepting the decision of the commission to demarcate will have an adverse effect on the civilians in the border is an insincere habitual mechanism of the Ethiopians designed to deceive the international community and to avoid implementation of the border ruling.

 Now, here is a synopsis of my observations based on some of the issues that were discussed with the leaders of both countries during the 1998 mission by a team of concerned Ethiopians and Eritreans.

 1.Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his group cleverly orchestrated a stage for the a conflict to take place around Badme followed by a quick and successful campaign of deception and misinformation aimed at the domestic audience and the international community by portraying Ethiopia as a victim of Eritrean aggression under its "renegade leadership".

2.The then American Ambassador and his staff openly became cheerleaders of this deceptive conspiracy and misinformation. The effectiveness and credibility of the US mediator group was seriously damaged because of their quick acceptance of Eritrea's "guilt" purely based on the arm twisting tactics and propaganda of the Ethiopian leadership. History will eventually determine the merits of (or lack of) the mediator team. Suffice it to say I personally am convinced that had the US team played an honest and fair hand during the early stages of this conflict, there is a good likelihood the war may have been averted.

3.Our delegation pushed hard to initiate a dialogue between the leadership of the two countries. President Isaias went on record to unequivocally state that dialogue and peaceful resolution was the only option and declared his readiness to meet with the Ethiopian leadership at any level, at any location and with out preconditions of any sort. Prime Minister Meles on the other hand was adamant in his belief that until the "aggressor" has been punished for his crimes and "status quo ante" has been established, he will not entertain dialogue of any type. On the issue of international arbitration, President Isaias clearly indicated his leadership group's willingness to step back and hand over all contested areas to a mutually agreeable third party awaiting a legal and binding solution to the conflict. Prime Minister Zenawi found this unacceptable. When asked by one of our delegation members if he would abide by an international body's demarcation decision conducted under terms
 acceptable to his government, PM Meles went on a lengthy discourse about his personal beliefs and moral values and the honored tradition of the Ethiopians to abide by the "rule of law" and that he would of course abide by such a decision. He actually went on record to state that "if such an international body were to determine that the Eritrean border extended all the way to Addis, he would vacate Addis and turn it over to the Eritreans to demonstrate his respect for the rule of law".

4.The level of denigration and vitriolic attacks on the person of the President Iasias, not only by the Ethiopian leadership and media but also by the US Ambassador to Ethiopia and members of the US mediator team were extremely frightening. The mediator team seemed obsessed by the desire to want to protect Meles the individual at any cost. It appeared that Meles's personal needs and political future took precedence at the expense of the needs of the two countries and their respective populations.This insanity of equating Meles's political sancty with the stability of the region continues in some western quarters. Demonizing and sacrificing Isaias was part and parcel of this scheme to give Meles a huge advantage in the playing field. It is interesting to see a resurgence of this same pathologic scheme as we witness an avalanche of current activities by the CIA operative's use of the US media, former friends of Eritrea and disgruntled or discredited Eritreans to advocate for the
 ouster and even sublimely for the killing of President Isaias.The whole thing is orchestrated to give Meles a back door exit from having to live up to his obligation of abiding by the binding legal decision on the border demarcation. For a man (Meles) who repeatedly screams the "rule of law" and for our nation, the US which advocates democratic processes and fairness, the US State Department and the CIA operatives have found themselves in an unholy alliance that in the long run can only harm the welfare and stability of both countries and indeed the whole region.

 Let us be clear that the people of Eritrea and its leadership have ownership of the principle of dialogue. Dialogue is like motherhood and apple pie. We are all for it. If there is to be durable peace and sustainable economic development as well as establishment of democratic institutions in the region, dialogue between the neighboring countries and their respective peoples is an essential ingredient. However, honoring the decision of a respected international body is an important precondition for such a meaningful dialogue to take place.

 Ethiopia must abide by the rule of law and allow for border demarcation to take place immediately. This will give both countries an opportunity to put this saga behind them and concentrate on eliminating poverty and begin the much promised economic and political development of their respective countries. I look forward to the day when borders between these brotherly peoples will become meaningless.

 Rewarding Meles with lavish financial aid and loans without setting preconditions is the wrong message. We are witnessing the replay of 1998-2000 where the international community and various NGOs poured in financial aid to his administration and they looked the other way while he used this financial cushion to purchase arms and prepare for war. And we all know that this war was devastatingly harmful to both countries despite the hollow proclamations of victory of this sort or another. The international community must not allow for this to happen again.

 Failure by the US and the EU to apply the needed political pressure on Ethiopia in implementing the decision of the border commission for fear of offending Ethiopia or potentially harming Meles's political career is tantamount to a betrayal of the highest order with dire ramifications of its own.