An Idiom will not save Meles Zenawi’s Day
By: Huriy Ghirmai
November 30, 2004

Meles Zenawi has not accepted the EEBC ruling. His government still says that the Boundary Commission’s decision was illegal and unjust and that his government will not allow demarcation to take place according to the ruling. In other words, he has more clearly than before stated that the implementation of the EEBC decision – meaning the demarcation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia – will not take place unless it is amended. This, we all know, is contrary to what the Algiers Agreement specifies and therefore illegal.

This is fact. This is the only truth. Any claim otherwise, including all the media reports that followed Meles Zenawi’s dribble presented to the Ethiopian toy-parliament the other day, is so absurd it might as well be a result of a game of Chinese Whisper.

Consider this.

Eleven months ago, in January 2004, Chris Mullin, UK’s minister for Africa, said in a press conference in Addis Ababa, "We are looking to Ethiopia to accept the border decision in principle and enter into dialogue." He reiterated further, "We are calling on Ethiopia to accept in principle the decision to be on equal footing on moral grounds with Eritrea, who are now having the upper moral ground." A case of nudge, wink, take the hint.

That was in response to an ever-present question as to whether the UK and the EU would impose sanctions against Ethiopia for rejecting the final and binding EEBC verdict. That was a tip. Now, the Woyane in Ethiopia have come out and said exactly what they thought Chris Mullin and the international community wanted to hear.

‘Ethiopia accepts, in principle, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission decision.’ Meles said. Asked for an interpretation of the report afterwards, he said, “We are coming down from the high moral position […] of rejecting something that we consider illegal and unjust, into a less moralistic, more pragmatic position.” Where have we heard that before? Meles was simply echoing Mullin; only he, for good measure, stated that it was Ethiopia who maintained high moral ground; hint taken.

But something smells here – or rather, something really stinks.

Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is not about moral high or low grounds. It is about a decision that only the full implementation of which will ensure a lasting peace between the two countries. No prerequisite is required for its implementation except for both parties’ cooperation in creating conducive environment so that demarcation can take place. Anything and everything else, including dialogue and normalisation of relations, will come after that – in good time. To expect any normalisation of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia while Ethiopia still occupies sovereign Eritrean territory is absurd.

Ethiopia’s ‘acceptance’ of the EEBC decision would have been seen as a good thing had it been complete. The Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling is more than a document that needs to be accepted or rejected just as that. For the ruling to make any meaningful contribution to peace between the two countries, both parties have to make sure it gets implemented. The entire premise of the decision has to be realised in practice and only the complete and unconditional demarcation of the border can ensure that.

We Eritreans, and surely the international community, have a historical reference where the Woyane are concerned. If Melse Zenawi has been solidly consistent in one thing it is in his disposition to try and deceive ad infinitum. As his latest manoeuvre suggests, it is clear to all, certainly to the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia, that he is merely trying to bamboozle us all into believing that he strives for peace. How dissolute of him to think that he can do his trick with a play on words? Meles Zenawi may think he has said enough to protect his regime against possible sanctions by the international community, but the fact remains that he still stands on the wrong side of international law.

‘In principle’ is just an idiom – it will not change facts. If you agree with something in principle, then you agree with the idea in general; but that does not mean you support it in reality or in practice. Meles Zenawi has stated and restated that Ethiopia was accepting the EEBC decision in principle and only in principle – not in practice. What’s more, he has made it more than clear that his government will not allow demarcation unless there is dialogue involving discussion about ‘give and take’. So what’s new? This does not really warrant headlines such as ‘Ethiopia backs down…’ and ‘Ethiopia accepts border decision…’ and so on.

By accepting the EEBC decision in principle only the Ethiopian government has shown plainly that it objects demarcation and therefore complete implementation of the ruling. Without demarcation the ruling becomes just an interesting document fit only for sitting on some shelf. Accepting it in principle means accepting it on paper – not in reality; conversely however, accepting it wholly will mean supporting peace. Eritrea has done the latter while Ethiopia still stands in the way of peace.

The international community cannot afford to be fooled by Melses Zenawi’s words of bewitchment. The EEBC decision is still final and binding. Bringing on a series of additional prerequisites into the scenario now will only undermine a decision enshrined in international law. The consequences will be bad for all. This latest Woyane choice move from that old bag of tricks of theirs is not driven by a genuine wish for peace – rather it’s just a trick shot solely aimed at hoodwinking the world; and sadly, fanned by an overzealous media, the international community seems willing to be taken in by this con.