September 21, 2004
Eritrea: A New country of enormous
opportunities and promising future
By Meeting Point International (Nigeria)
with just over three million inhabitants, is one of the world’s
youngest nations. The country’s population is divided evenly between
Muslims and Christians, and for most of Eritrea’s history there
has been very little sectarian tension. The adult literacy rate
is twenty percent, life expectancy is forty-six years, and eighty
percent of the population is rural. Eritrea was an Italian colony
until 1941 and then became a British protectorate. In 1952, a
UN resolution joined a reluctant Eritrea to Ethiopia in a federation;
it was annexed into Ethiopia under the emperor Haile Selassie
in 1962. After its protracted struggle with Ethiopia and being
hit by several disastrous droughts, Eritrea finally gained its
independence in 1993. In this struggle, one-third of the freedom
fighters were women.
veterans are highly respected in Eritrea and easily identifies
by their self-confidence and forthright manner. Many of them have
achieved prominence in contemporary Eritrean society: they are
teachers; they work in the ministries of health education, and
hold other positions of leadership.
30 years of devastation and protracted war along with the years
of recurrent drought left its economy in shambles, with much of
its infrastructure and the productive bases destroyed. However,
enormous efforts have been made by the Government of Eritrea to
rehabilitate, reconstruct and transform the war devastated socio-economic
systems while at the same time laying sound foundations for its
further development. Appropriate institutions to implement integrated
economic development policies based on principles of the market
economy have been adopted and strengthened.
private sector is encouraged to play a leading role in economic
development. Efficiency, competitiveness, decentralization and
balanced growth are the guiding Economic principles. Emphasis
is given both to domestic and foreign private investors so that
the private sector can contribute directly in the reconstruction
and development of the country. To this end, the Government has
created an atmosphere conducive to the overall economy by promulgating
new investment and other pertinent laws as well as appropriate
fiscal and monetary policies.
of pre-humans has been discovered in the Buia region of Eritrea.
The discovery may be one of the oldest ever found, and is similar
to the famous “Lucy” find. Evidence of human presence begins in
the 8th millennium B.C., beginning with Pygmoid, Nilotic,
Cushitic (the Afar) and Semitic (Tigrinya) peoples. In the sixth
century B.C., Arabs spread to the coast of persent day Eritrea,
in search of ivory and slaves for trade with Persia and India.
Their language evolved into Ge’ez, related to today’s Amhara,
still spoken by Christian priests in Eritrea and Ethiopia.
the 3rd and 4th century AD, Eritrea was
part of the Kingdom of Axum which spread from Meroe in Sudan right
across the Red Sea to Yemen. The capital of Axum was in the highlands
of Tigray (now a province in Ethiopia), and the main port was
at Adulis which is now called Zula in Eritrea. This Kingdom was
based upon trade across the Red Sea and was founded by Semitic
people originally from Arabia. Christianity was the predominant
faith of Axum introduced through contact with traders throughout
the 6th century A.D. the Persian Empire expanded and
with it went the expansion of Islam. In 710 AD Muslims destroyed
Adulis and the ancient Kingdom of Axum declined until it was reduced
to a small Christian Enclave. For the next few centuries, the
region settled into being a remote, isolated community only re-emerging
by the early 16th century as Abyssinia. The Abyssinian
Kingdom covered the Ethiopian highlands ruled by kings and peopled
by Christian Tigrinyans and remaining fairly isolated. The community
had little or no contact with the lowlands of the region which
was home to predominantly Muslim communities.
period in Eritrea’s history is highly contentious. Ethiopians
claimed Eritrea had been an integral part of historic Ethiopia
but though there are some common practices and religious beliefs
between Eritreans and Ethiopian, these ties do not extend throughout
Ethiopia. In fact, large parts of Eritrea, it would seem, were
linked to other empires. The Ottoman Empire and Egypt had relations
with the northern and eastern part of the country, and various
Sudanic Empires to the west and north-west have had their influence.
was subject to the expansionism of the Egyptians and some European
powers (French, Italian and British). In the early parts of the
century, Ali Pash invaded Sudan and gradually pushed on the Western
Lowlands of present-day Eritrea. By mid-century, European interest
in the area was increasing. The British had a consulate in Massawa,
and the French already had a presence. Italian missionaries were
established in Keren.
Tewodros II, who ruled Abyssinia from 1855-68, also had to deal
with rebel forces in Tigray and Shoa. Who chose Ras Kassa as their
ruler. Tewodros was defeated in 1868 after the British General
Sir Robert Napier had landed in Zula to release the Consul and
other prisoners held by the emperor. After Tewodros’s defeat,
Ras Kassa was crowned Emperor Yohanes IV in 1872. Yohannes’s forces
won a significant battle against the Egyptian at Gura in 1875.
first Italian mission in Abyssinia was at Adua in 1840, under
father Giuseppe Sapeto. He was the vehicle through which the Italian
government bought up pieces of land near Assab, initially on behalf
of the national Rubattino Shipping Company. But as the European
‘scramble for Africa’ gathered pace, the Italian government took
over the land in 1882 and began to administer it directly. They
also ousted the Egyptians from Massawa on the coast. However,
expansion further inland soon led to clashes with Eritrean Emperor
Yohannes. In 1887, Ras Alula’s forces inflicted a heavy defeat
on the Italians at Dogali, forcing them to retreat.
was a significant victory for Yohannes, who was also facing a
number of other threats on different fronts at the same time-not
only the Italians, but the Dervishes and Menelik, an increasingly
disloyal general. Yohannes was eventually killed after being captured
in battle against the Dervishes at Galabat. Following his death,
Ras Alula withdrew to Tigray. This allowed Menelik to be
named Yohannes successor in 1889 with substantial Italian backing,
instead of the natural heir, Ras Mangasha.
Italians then moved rapidly, taking Keren in July 1889 and Asmara
one month later. Menelik had signed the Treaty of Uccialli with
the Italians the same year, detailing the areas each controlled.
Just four years later, Melenik renounced the treaty over a dispute
arising from further Italian expansionist attempts. After more
military clashes and in the face of sizable Italian reinforcements,
Menelik singed a peace treaty. Italy then began establishing colonial
rule in the areas it controlled.
Italians initially used a system of indirect rule through local
chiefs at the beginning of the 20th century. The first
decade or so concentrated on expropriation of land from indigenous
owners. The colonial power also embarked on the construction of
the railway from Massawa to Asmara in 1909. Fascist rule in the
1920s and the spirit of ‘Pax Italian’ gave a significant boost
to the number of Italians in Eritrea, adding further to loss of
land by the local population.
1935, Italy succeeded in over-running Abyssinia, and decreed that
Eritrea, Italian Somali-land and Abyssinia were to be known as
Italian East Africa. The development of regional transport links
at this time round Asmara, Assab and Addis produced a rapid but
short-lived economic boom.
However, there began to
be clashes between Italian and British forces in 1940. under General
Platt, the British captured Agordat in 1941, taking Keren and
Asmara later that year. As Britain did not have the capacity
to take over the full running of the territory, they left some
Italian officials in place. One of the most significant changes
under the British was the lifting of the color bar, which the
Italians had operated. Eritreans could now legally be employed
as civil servants. In 1944,with the changing fortunes in world
war II, Britain withdrew resources from Eritrea. The post war
years and economic recession led to comparatively high levels
of urban unemployment and unrest.
When the British withdrew,
the fate of Eritrea was left in the balance. It was known that
the British favored partition- the north and west of Eritrea to
Sudan, the rest to Ethiopia, which suited Haile Selassie. After
initial presentations on the possible future of Eritrea, in 1949
the UN established a Commission of Inquiry with the task of finding
out what Eritreans wanted for their own future. For a number of
reasons countries represented on the Commission could not agree
on decision to recommendations. The eventual decision to
federate Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1950 reflected the strategic
interests of Western powers, particularly the United States. The
US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, put his succinctly
the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people
must receive consideration. Nevertheless the strategic interests
of the United States in the Red Sea basin and considerations of
the security and world peace make it necessary that the country
has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.
Autonomous Region 1952-1962
the same time Ethiopia had been strengthening its ties with the
United States, even sending troops to fight with the Americans
in the Korean War in 1950. Concerned that a weak Eritrea might
be vulnerable to a communist takeover, which would threaten access
to the Red Sea and trade through the Suez Canal, the United States
and other western powers, acting through the United Nations, promoted
the idea of Eritrea becoming part of Ethiopia. In December 1952,
the UN finally declared Eritrea an autonomous unit federated to
Ethiopia and hence turned Eritrea over to its most brutal and
oppressive ruler to date:
Selassie saw to it that the first three governors of the federated
unit were related to him. Ethiopia began to violate and undermine
the federal arrangement. Eritrea political parties were banned.
The agreed Eritrean share of customs and excise duty were expropriated.
Eritrean newspapers were censored. In 1956, Tigrinya and Arabic
were forbidden as teaching languages, and replace with Amharic.
Students’ protests and boycotts ensued, but were repressed. Ethiopia
formally, but illegally annexed Eritrea in 1962.
the next 30 years, Eritrea’s plight was virtually ignored by the
international community. Frustration at the lack of room for political
maneuver finally resulted in the launch of the armed struggle.
from guerrilla to an army
the first decade, attacks by ELF guerrillas were answered by Ethiopian
reprisals, often directed against any civilian population. Ethiopian
forces burned villages, sometimes massacring hundreds of villagers.
Waves of refugees began to pour into Sudan. As a result the sympathy
that might once have existed among some sectors of the population
for a close relationship with Ethiopia rapidly disappeared.
period 1970 to 1974, when the ELF and the newly-emerged EPLF fought
a civil war, is a bleak period in Eritrea’s history. This ended
when the revolution in Ethiopia made it imperative for the fronts
to hold a common position to confront any proposals that might
come from Addis. By this time the EPLF was establishing itself
as a powerful force. During 1974/75 it further strengthened itself
by successfully recruiting Eritreans with military training from
the Ethiopian police force in Eritrea, and from Eritrean commando
units which it had successfully defeated. A large influx of young
people joined the EPLF after 56 students were garroted with electric
cable in Asmara in January 1975.
mid 1976, began the launching of the ‘Peasant Army’ offensive
against Eritrea. The Eritrean guerrilla forces (estimated
to number 20, 000) managed to win considerable victories against
the occupying Ethiopians. The EPLF laid siege to Nacfa in September
1976. In 1977 they took Korora, Afabet, Elabered, Keren and Decemhare.
They also surrounded Asmara, Eritrea’s capital and organized the
escape of 1,000political prisoners from Asmara’s jail. The ELF
took Tessenei, Agordat and Mendefera. By the end of 1977, mainland
Massawa was in the hands of the EPLF, which now had captured tanks
and armored vehicles. They were close to final victory in early
1978, but had not planned on the Soviet Union’s crucial intervention
in the form of military aid for Mengistu’s regime in Ethiopia.
Soviet Union intervened in December 1977. The Soviet navy, by
shelling EPLF positions from their battleships, prevented the
EPLF from taking the port section of Massawa. A massive airlift
of Soviet tanks and other arms allowed the Ethiopian army to push
back the Somali forces in the Ogaden, and by May/June 1978 these
troops and heavy Armour were available for redeployment in Eritrea.
In two offensives, the Ethiopian army re-took most of the towns
held by the Eritrea fronts.
the EPLF the return to the northern base area was ‘a strategic
withdrawal’. It minimized civilian and military casualties. It
also allowed the EPLF to give battle at strategic points of its
choosing, to evacuate towns and to remove plant and equipment
to its base area.
the ELF the story was different. In attempting to hold territory
its casualties were high. The balance of military power between
the fronts had now shifted strongly towards the EPLF. Recognizing
its weak position, the ELF began in 1979 to respond to the Soviet
proposals. In return for its agreement to autonomy within Ethiopia
the ELF was offered the reins of government in Eritrea.
again broke out between the ELF and the EPLF. The ELF’s military
defeat was total. ELF fighters either changed sides or fled to
Sudan, and the EPLF became the single from with a military presence
in Eritrea. The EPLF successfully resisted offensives in 1982
and 1983. Its lines held and the morale and confidence of the
EPLF were given massive boosts while the Ethiopian army was demoralized.
Its net effect was to strengthen the range of military equipment
at the EPLF’s disposal.
most of the war, Ethiopia occupied the southern part of Eritrea.
The EPLF had to settle in the inhospitable northern hills towards
the Sudanese border. These hills became a safe haven for the families
of soldiers and the orphans and disabled. Consequently, much of
the regions around Afabet and Nacfa in Sahel province became home
to makeshift homes, schools, orphanages, hospitals, factories,
printers, bakeries, etc. in an attempt to live life as normally
as possible under extraordinary conditions. Most structures were
built either into the ground or in caves to avoid being bombed
by Ethiopian jets. The steep narrow areas were chosen as they
were the hardest for the jets to negotiate.
the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union informed Mengistu that
it would not be renewing its defense and cooperation agreement
with Ethiopia. With the withdrawal of Soviet support and supplies,
the Ethiopian Army’s morale plummeted and the EPLF began to advance
on Ethiopian positions. 1988, the EPLF captured Afabet, headquarters
of the Ethiopian army in northern Eritrea prompting the Ethiopian
Army to withdraw from its garrisons in Eritrea’s western lowlands
EPLF fighters then moved into position around Keren, Eritrea’s
second largest city.
1990 the EPLF had captured the strategically important port of
Massawa, and they entered Asmara, not the capital of Eritrea,
in 1991. The Ethiopian army under Haile Mariam Mengistu (an army
officer who deposed Haile Selassie 1974) intensifies the war against
Eritrea, but it was easily defeated in 1991 after Mengistu fell
was at 10:00 a.m. on May 24, 1991 that Asmara residents realized
EPLF fighters had entered their city. In a spontaneous outburst
of happiness and relief, Asmarinos flung open their doors and
rushed into the streets to dance in jubilation, some still in
their pajamas. The dancing lasted for weeks.
a conference held in London in 1991 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary
Democratic Front (EPRDF), who were now in control of Ethiopia
having ousted Mengistu and were sympathetic to Eritrean nationalist
aspirations, accepted the long process towards independence and
international legitimation of Eritrea as a country in its own
April 1993, a referendum was held in which 1, 102,410 Eritreans
voted; 98.8% endorsed national independence and on May 28 Eritrea
became the 182nd member of the UN. Later that year,
Eritreans elected their first president, Isaias Afwerki, formerly
secretary-general of the EPLF.
it is now eligible to receive international aid to help reconstruct
and develop its shattered economy. Since establishing a provisional
government in 1991, Eritrea has been a stable and peaceful political
entity, with all political groups represented in the transitional
war has had a devastating effect on Eritrea. Around 60,000 people
lost their lives, there are an estimated 50,000 children with
no parents and 60,000 people who have been left handicapped. However,
there is now great optimism with people pulling together to rebuild
the country. The National Service, announced on July 14th
1994, required all women and men over eighteen to undergo
six months of military training and a year of work on national
reconstruction. This helped to compensate for the country’s lack
of capital and to reduce dependence on foreign aid, while welding
together the diverse society.
The border conflict
Eritrea’s independence in 1993, a boundary commission had been
established to cover the Yirga Triangle (Badme) and other disputed
areas. In 1997, the Ethiopian authorities issued a map of the
Tigrayan Administrative Region which confirmed Tigrayan expansionism.
The map proved to be the end of the good relations between Eritrea
and Ethiopia, and resulted in an armed conflict in August 1997
and all-out war in May 2000, when Ethiopia occupied large parts
of Eritrea. An estimated 1.1 million Eritreans have been displaced
by Ethiopia aggression and an estimated 100,000 Ethiopian and
19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed in this two-year war.
June 19th, 2000 both parties agreed on a ceasefire
and on December 12th 2000 a peace agreement was signed
in Algiers. A 4200-strong multinational UN peacekeeping force
(UNMEE) was deployed for the de-mining and demarcation of the
April 13th, 2002 the Permanent Court of Arbitration
in The Hague published the conclusions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia
Boundary Commission. The lands bordering the Yirga Triangle, areas,
including Badme in the Central zone and Eastern Sector and border
town Tserona have been awarded to Eritrea. The border towns Zalambessa
and Alitena (Central Sector) and Bure (Danakil Depression) were
awarded to Ethiopia.
TO THE BORDER DISPUTE BETWEEN ERTIREA AND ETHIOPIA
1991 ( victory of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) on
regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam) many former Ethiopian guerrillas
have moved into the Badme region to farm small plots of land,
displacing many Eritrean farmers who were already there. This
process slowly resulted in Ethiopian domination over these Eritrean
territories, forceful eviction of Eritrean framers from their
properties and looting of their animals. In August 1997, Ethiopian
troops occupied the Eritrean village of Adi Murug under the pretext
of pursuing “terrorists”. In the same month Ethiopia expelled
Eritrean citizens from their homes around Badme. These expulsions
and destruction of crops and other property continued throughout
the next year. Two rounds of fighting followed in 1998 and 1999
and in May 2000 Ethiopia launched a full-scale invasion into western
Eritrea, destroying newly constructed plants, offices, hotels
new Tigray map
territorial claims are based on a recently published new map of
the Tigray administrative zone. In the map shown below the new
1997 Ethiopian map ( which was posted by the Ethiopian embassy
in Sweden) is superimposed on the map of Eritrea in the CIA fact
book of Eritrea. It can be easily seen that by drawing this new
map Ethiopia is administratively occupying a part of Gash
Setit and part of Akule Guzai, violating the legal borders, established
by treaties signed with Italy in 1900, 1902 and 1908. (anyone
can compare this new Tigray map to any other map on the internet
ands simply verify it is a fabrication of the Ethiopian government,
see e.g. the “ political map of Ethiopia” used in Ethiopia geography
books in the 70’s).
of Ethiopia’s illegal map
overlapping areas in Gash Setit and Akule Guzai were then ‘occupied’
by Eritrea in May 1998 and are referred to as the Badme and Zala
Ambessa front. But whereas Ethiopia is demanding to return
the ‘occupied’ territory, Eritrea is only defending her legally
established border! Subsequently, Ethiopia embossed this new change
in its new currency notes issued in November 1997. The arrow
on the Ethiopian 100 birr note below points to the ‘new’ Ethiopian
map. A similar impertinent reclamation of land will not be easy
to find in the world’s history.
the aggression, although first ‘administrative’ was initiated
by Ethiopia. Ethiopia continues to demand that Eritrea must unilaterally
and unconditionally withdraw from the areas Ethiopia claims, and
that Ethiopia administers these areas as a precondition. If not,
it goes to war.
first victim of Ethiopian aggression were the groups of Eritrean
peasants who were displaced by Ethiopian militia. Unarmed Eritrean
colonels were sent to negotiate with the local officers in Badme.
They were welcomed with gunfire and shot in cold blood. And on
May 6, 1998 Eritrea re-captured Badme and reversed the Ethiopian
aggression. So, here we see a thief (Ethiopia) threatening the
legal owner, who is protecting his property (Eritrea).
position has been for a quick demarcation of the border by a mutually
acceptable technical team in the presence of a third party to
witness the process and to act as a guarantor of the outcome.
manifesto of the TPLF on “ Republic of Great Tigray”
new map of Tigray is based on the 1976 TPLF manifesto, which defined
who a Tigrayan is, the land that the TPLF considers to Tigray,
and the final destination of the TPLF. The following comprises
some important contents of the manifesto.
Tigrayan is defined as anybody that speaks the language of Tigrinya
including those who live outside Tigray, the Kunamas, the Sahos,
the Afar and the Taltal, the Agew, aned the Welkait.
geographic boundaries of Tigray extend to the borders of the Sudan
including the lands of Humera and Welkait from the region
of Begemidir in Ethiopia, the land defined by Alewuha which extends
down to the regions of Wollo and including Alamata, Ashengie,
and Kobo, and finally the lands of Eritrean Kunama which includes
Badme, the Saho (close to the conflicting area of Zala Ambessa)
and Afar lands including Assab.
final goal of the TPLF is to secede from Ethiopia as an independent
‘Republic of Greater Tigray’ by liberating the lands and people
TPLF manifesto is of the same tenor as the German manifest on
‘das Gross Deutsche Reich’ just before WW2. It likewise
bases territorial claims on the assumption that border corrections
are justified to incorporate ‘its’ people into a newly defined
(read: enlarge) state.
Implementation of this manifesto ( the so called
TPLF ‘hidden agenda’ started in 1992 when Ethiopia was divided
in 7 ethnic regions ( and Tigray expanded its territorial with
60 %) by trimming fertile land from Beemer and Wollo) was followed
by the 1994 adjustment of the Ethiopian constitution, allowing
every ethnic region to secede on grounds of self-determination
and the 1996 pull out of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia (which
until that time supposed TPLF forces to stabilize the Ethiopian
federation) on request of the TPLF based government resulting
in the 1998 occupation, both administrative and by force, of Eritrea
territory and deportation of 75,000 ethnic Eritreans, mainly from
Tigray and Addis Ababa.
“I was picked up at night, thrown into prison,
not allowed time to pack. I asked what my crime was. ‘You’re an
Eritrean,’ they said.” (Amnesty International)
(*) Tigray Peoples Liberation Front
Red Sea port Assab had played an important role in the negotiations
between Italy/ Eritrea and Ethiopia. Emperor Melenik II did not
demand access to the port. He did not want to be dependent on
Italy and made a treaty with France in 1897. Once of the things
that were arranged in this treaty was that a railway that was
to be build from the port of Djibouti in French Somalia to Addis
Abeba. In 1917 the first trains were running. The railway was
sufficient for the modest Ethiopian imports and exports.
In 1928 Emperor Haile Selassie made a treaty with Italy and Ethiopia
got a free zone in the port of Assab and Dese in Ethiopia.
When the railway to Dijbouti was blown up at several places in
the war with Somalia, Assab became Ethiopia’s most important port.
Especially because Ethiopian rebels kept sabotaging this railway.
In 1991 (after having ousted Mengistu), liberated Eritrea got
nearly exclusive control over Ethiopia’s access to the sea. In
the negotiations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Eritrea guaranteed
that Ethiopia could use the port of Assab on the same terms as
Eritrea itself. This has some logic since Assab is 750 kilometer
from Asmara and the core regions of Eritrea which are served by
the port of Massawa. In the meantime Ethiopia is reconstructing
the railway to Djibouti with French help.
Main ports in the Horn of Africa
Ethiopia’s five outlets to the sea
X of the Law of the Sea Convention provides the terms and conditions
by which landlocked states and their coastal neighbors could and
should operate. Landlocked states like Ethiopia have rights of
access. But the coastal state does not have to surrender part
of its sovereign territory. Ethiopia should not try to be above
the law or consider itself a special state with natural rights
to its own seashores.
note that it is inequitable for Eritrea, to retain two ports while
the larger and densely populated Ethiopia remain landlocked. Ethiopia
is not the only land locked country in Africa. In Africa only
there are more than twelve land locked countries besides Ethiopia
while there are five in Europe and six in Asia. What problem are
they facing? As far as we know virtually nothing. They are not
suffering any adverse consequence as a result.
Ethiopian arguments to take Assab by force are rooted in the belief
that the Afar people living in this area should be reunited with
the Afar people living in Ethiopia. This argument goes further
than claiming parts of Eritrea. It also means claiming parts of
the former French colony Djibouti. These claims however are contradictory
to the 1964 OAU Summit in Cairo.
the parties reaffirm the principle of respect for the borders
existing at independence as stated in resolution AHG/Res. 16(1)
adopted by the OAU summit in Cairo in 1964, and , in this regard,
that they shall be determined on the basis of pertinent colonial
treaties and applicable international laws”
Ethiopian argument would undermine virtually every border on the
African continent, including Ethiopia’s own borders with other
neighboring countries (Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan).
between the two countries has come to a halt due to the conflict.
Ethiopia has yet to suffer shortages or significant price rises
as a result of using ports other than Assab for its supplies.
It looks like the Ethiopians have miscalculated the time it would
take to end the conflict in their advantage and are now de facto
landlocked as a result of their own aggression.
investments in the past will be worthless as long as they cannot
use the port of Assab. That is the reason why Ethiopia is trying
to fight itself a corridor to Assab, to conquer “their” main port
(the third front). Why not use the ports of Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya,
Somalia? Too expensive? Do the conditions not satisfy them? So,
if I find the airfare of Ethiopian Airlines too expensive it is
justified to hijack the plane?
real reason for the Ethiopian (read TPLF) efforts to control Assab
may very well be the fact that the only asset now landlocked Tigray
is missing to declare independence is a port.
Introduction of the Nakfa
1997 Eritrea introduced its own currency, the Nakfa. The introduction
was necessary to implement its own monetary policy, and the logical
continuation of Eritrea’s strive for further independence of Ethiopia
( as tool of economic policy and as another confirmation of its
hard-won liberation). Ethiopia however prohibited both currencies
to circulate freely in both countries, insisting that for all
but small local trading ( all trade transactions in excess of
US $ 250), hard currency should be used which both sides lacked.
This Ethiopian arrogance further disrupted trade between Ethiopia
and Eritrea. The new policy effectively banned cross-border livestock
exports by farmers and small traders, leading to depressed livestock
prices and trucks soon were backed up at border crossings, while
shops waited to unload at Assab.
consequence of this new Ethiopian trade regulations, the control
of borders, as well as their position suddenly became a matter
of importance, where the exact position of the frontier had previously
been of little significance to the local population.
of a united Ethiopia and Eritrea emphasized the intertwining history
of those two countries. While it is true that strands of Eritrea
and Ethiopia early history intermingle, particularly under the
highland kingdom of Axum, it generally manifested itself with
Ethiopia rulers exercising authority over and making periodic
incursions into Eritrean lands to collect slaves, plunder and
rape. In May 2000 history repeated itself ( destruction and ransack
of Barentu and Tessenei by Ethiopian “ defense forces”).
a shop, plundered by Ethiopian soldiers, shortly before the looting,
the owner was killed by Ethiopian soldiers in Sheshebit, some
10 kilometer from Shilalo. (from: Berhe’s picture book (B.Berhane).
was the fifty year of Italian rule that irrevocably separated
Eritreans from Ethiopians. Under the Italians, Eritreans made
great strides into the twentieth century and the Eritreans began
to develop a collective consciousness of being a people with connected
past and a common destiny and the Eritrean nationalistic culture
Eritrea exists not only by virtue of Italian creation but also
by an explicit Ethiopian renunciation. The relatively modern concept
of an Eritrean national identity grew its deepest and most intractable
roots during thirty years of Ethiopian cruelties of occupation.
Ethiopian rule was a continuation of colonialism and has accelerated
the formation of national consciousness. EPLF could not have survived
without a deep-seated resentment against Ethiopian domination.
was at 10:00 a.m. on May 24, 1991 that Asmara residents realized
EPLF fighters had entered their city. In a spontaneous outburst
of happiness and relief, Asmarinos flung open their doors and
rushed into the streets to dance in jubilation, some still in
their pajamas. The dancing lasted for weeks.”
April 1993 a referendum was held in which 99.88% of the Eritrean
population voted for national independence.
Imperialistic tendencies of Ethiopia
the map presented below speak for itself. It was found in a German
history book published in 1978 (A. Bartnicki and J. Mantel-Niecko,
Geschichte Athiopiens). We have added the names of the present
Ethiopian administrative regions to the map. The map is the very
convincing proof that Ethiopia is entertaining secret ambitions
of Ethiopian imperialism 1883-1991
rests on the Amhara and Tigray community which are still in the
process of establishing dominance over the entire territory of
the state. Oromo and other tribal opposition is “controlled” by
employing troops from these regions in the war against Eritrea,
where they are either slaughtered by Eritrean or by their own
troops. It is likely that the territorial unity of the unhappy,
famine-and war-wrecked country is at serious risk.
wants to project an image of a regional power and impose its will
on its neighbors, which will be very difficult on an empty stomach.
will this war end?
increased popularity of Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia’s Prime Minister)
in Tigray and Amhara because of this war makes it hard for him
to stop the fight. He and his TPLF clique might not survive a
peace that gave Ethiopia only little gain. The expected result
of Ethiopia’s recent adventure of expansionism is far less than
they calculated on forehand. It may therefore be expected that
the stake will be higher and higher before the negotiations start
so as not to disappoint his Tigrayan supporters. Meles Zenawi
is now demanding that his territorial claims will be guaranteed
before negotiations can take place. This has to be Ethiopia’s
arrogance to the fullest sense!
might even wait for Eritrea to bleed to death hoping it will be
the end of Isaias Afwerki, who once was a close personal friend
and brother-in-arms when Eritrean and Tigrayan Liberation movements
fought side by side against the Dergue (the Amhara based ruling
committee in the 70s and 80s) resulting in Eritrea’s liberation
and TPLF control over Ethiopia. The price of Meles Zenawi’s ‘victory’
will be paid by the more than 11 million people in Tigray and
Wollo who are at the brink of starving to dead, in the meantime.
But ironically, the war has strengthened the position of Isaias
Afwerki, as President.
has accepted an OAU peace plan under which both countries would
withdraw from disputed territory, but Ethiopia has questioned
the technical arrangements, thereby continuing to sabotage the
peace process. True stability can only come in the Horn of Africa
if Ethiopia will show real commitment to peace.
the rest of the world applies pressure on Ethiopia to make peace,
the war looks set to continue. The rest of the world should make
it clear to Ethiopia that it is better to feed ones people than
squander resources for war. The world should stop its financial
contributions to Ethiopia now that the money is used to engage
in armed conflict instead of development and nutrition of its
History will hold the TPLF responsible
the death of millions of their people
regarding delimitation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia
April 13th, 2002 the Permanent Court of Arbitration
in The Hague published the binding conclusions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia
Boundary Commission. The court concluded that a large part of
the Western border sector will be awarded to Eritrea (near the
Yirga Triangle). Area in the Central zone and Eastern Sector and
border town Tserona have also been awarded to Eritrea. The border
town Zalambessa and Alitena (Central Sector) and Bure Danakil
Depression were awarded to Ethiopia. Despite Ethiopian claims
of victory, the controversial town of Badme, the site of the first
flare-ups in 1998, was given to Eritrea.
Since Badme village (as opposed to some other parts of the Badme
region) lay on what was found to be the Eritrean side of the treaty
line, there was no need for the Commission to consider any evidence
of Eritrean government presence there, although Eritrea did in
fact submit such evidence. Moreover, even some maps submitted
by Ethiopia not only showed the distinctive straight line between
the setit and Mareb River, but also marked Badme village as being
on the Eritrean side of that line. The Commission must also observe
that the Ethiopian invocation of the findings of the OAU in respect
of Badme in 1998 (Comment, para. 1.4, footnote 4) failed to mention
the OAU’s express statement that those will be determined at the
end of the delimitation and demarcation process and, if necessary,
map of the decisions of the EEBC
hastened to declare that it had won all the land it had claimed,
to convince her citizens that the sacrifices and the loss of 150,000
lives have not been in vain.
Solomon Enkuay, Speaker of the Tigray Regional Assembly, has declared
in advance that he would not accept any compromises.
shall not accept any decision that attempts to alter the reality
on the ground in the face of clear solid evidence. Once more,
we await justice but we will not be bound by any unjust decision
that is based on appeasement and compromise.”
Ethiopian opposition party EDP also announced that it would resist
any decision that would not include the transfer of the Eritrean
port of Assab to Ethiopia. On 19 May 2002, the opposition Ethiopian
Democratic Party mobilized over 10,000 people in Addis Ababa main
square to protest the Court’s decision, demanding that the Assab
port be included in the Ethiopian territory.
Ethiopia has agreed to abide with whatever decision is arrived
at by the International Court, in a surprise turn, Ethiopia rejected
the EEBC ruling as “unjust and illegal” and filed a 21-page memorandum
demanding that the boundary commission rectify boundary delimitation
by redrawing the boundary to give Ethiopia sovereignty over town
on the Eritrean side of the line.
well-considered decision of the Court of Arbitration in The Hague
appears to cut deep in the self-esteem of Ethiopia. Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi cannot explain the loss of Badme to his people and
sabotages the demarcation of the border on the ground. By initially
accepting the international committee’s decision on the delineation
of the border with Eritrea, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi lost much
credibility in the eyes of the TPLF and among the Tigrayan population
in Tgray. This pushed him to then harden his tone toward Eritrea
and to take control of the TPLF again. The beginning of another
round of Ethiopian incursions into Eritrean lands?
of the Eritrean government
The crisis between Eritrea
and Ethiopia is rooted in the violation by the Government of Ethiopia
of Eritrea’s colonial boundaries, and to willfully claim, as well
as physically occupy, large swathes of Eritrean territory in the
south-western, southern and south-eastern parts of the country.
This violation is made manifest in the official map issued in
1997 as well as the map of Ethiopia embossed in the new currency
notes of the country that came into circulation in November 1997.
Ethiopia went further than laying claims
on paper to create a de facto situation on the ground. The first
forcible act of creating facts on the ground occurred in July
1997 when Ethiopia, under pretext of fighting the Afar opposition
brought two battalions to Bada (Adi- Murug) in south-eastern Eritrea
to occupy the village and dismantle the Eritrean administration
there. This unexpected development was a cause of much concern
to the Government of Eritrea. Eritrea’s Head of State subsequently
sent a letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister on August 16 1997,
reminding him that “the forcible occupation of Adi-Murug” was
“truly saddening”. He further urged him to “personally take the
necessary prudent action so that the measure that has been taken
will not trigger unnecessary conflict”. A week later, on August
25 1997, the Eritrean Head of State again wrote to the Prime Minister
stressing that measures similar to those in Bada were taken in
the Badme(south-western Eritrea) area and suggesting that a Joint
Commission be set up to help check further deterioration and create
a mechanism to resolve the problem.
efforts to solve the problem amicably and bilaterally failed as
the Government of Ethiopia continued to bring under its occupation
the Eritrean territories that it had incorporated into its map.
Our worst fears were to be realized when on May 6 1998 on the
eve of the second meeting of the Joint Border Commission, the
Ethiopian army launched an unexpected attack on Eritrean armed
patrols in the Badme area claiming that they had transgressed
on areas that Ethiopia had newly brought under its control. This
incident led to a series of clashes which, coupled with the hostile
measures that were taken by the Government of Ethiopia, resulted
in the present state of war between the two countries.
Ethiopia’s unilateral re-drawing of
the colonial boundary and flagrant acts of creating facts on the
ground are the essential causes of the current crisis. In light
of these facts, Ethiopia’s claims that it is the victim of aggression
are obviously false and meant to deceive the international community.
Indeed, Ethiopia to this day occupies Eritrean territories in
the Setit area in the south-western part of the country.
Ethiopia’s blatant act of aggression
is clearly in violation of the OAU Charter and Resolution AHG/RES
16(1) of the First Assembly of Heads of State and Government held
in Cairo in 1964. Unless rectified without equivocation, Ethiopia’s
refusal to abide by the OAU Charter and decisions, and its continued
occupation of undisputed Eritrean territory will open a Pandora’s
box and create a cycle of instability in the region. The acceptance
of Ethiopia’s logic will not only affect all African states, but
will indeed backfire against Ethiopia itself, since its sovereignty
over much of its territory, including on the Ogaden, is based
on the same principles of international law.
A simple border dispute
has assumed this level of conflict because of Ethiopia’s
continued escalation of its hostile and provocative acts. Among
The declaration of war by Ethiopia’s Parliament
on May 13 1998;
The launching of an air strike by Ethiopia
on June 5 1998 on Asmara.
The imposition of an air blockade and maritime
access to Eritrean ports through the threat of incessant and indiscriminate
The mass expulsion and indiscriminate arrests
of thousands of Eritreans from Ethiopia.
In spite of all these,
Eritrea has been restrained and committed to a peaceful
solution of the dispute. In this vein, it has already presented
constructive proposals (see further). The proposals center on:
The demarcation of the entire boundary between
the two countries on the basis of borders established by colonial
treaties, the demilitarization of the entire border area pending
the establishment of appropriate ad hoc arrangements
for civil administration in populated demilitarized area in the
In addition, considering the state of war that
exists between the two countries, the Government of Eritrea has
been calling- and continues to call- for: an immediate and unconditional
cessation of hostilities, the star of direct talks between the
two parties in the presence of mediators.
Proposal for a Solution Submitted by the
Government of Eritrea
The Government of Eritrea and the Government
of Ethiopia agree that they will resolve the present crisis and
any other dispute between them through peaceful and legal means.
Both sides reject solutions that are imposed by force.
Both sides agree to respect the clearly defined
colonial boundaries between them. In this respect, both sides
further agree that the actual demarcation of the borders will
be carried out by a mutually acceptable technical team. In the
even that there is some controversy on the delineation, both sides
agree to resolve the matter through an appropriate mechanism of
The demarcation of the borders shall be affected
speedily and with in an agree time-frame.
Both sides agree to be bound by this agreement.
IMPLEMENTATION OF MODALITIES
The UN Cartographic
Unit, or any other body with the appropriate expertise, shall
be charged with the task of demarcating the boundary in accordance
with existing colonial border treaties.
for the demarcation of the boundary shall be six months. This
time-frame may be shortened or prolonged subject to justifiable
technical reasons. The requisite time-frame shall be designated
as AN IMTERIM PERIOD.
boundary shall be accepted and adhered to by both sides.
If there are segments
in the boundary whose delineation is under controversy, the matter
shall be resolved through an appropriate mechanism of ARBITRATION.
details relevant to the practical implementation of the DEMARCATION
process shall be annexed to the agreement.
as a measure for defusing the crisis and expediting
the demarcation of the borders so as to ensure a lasting solution
shall be accepted and adhered to by both sides and expediting
the demarcation of the borders so as to ensure a lasting solution
shall be accepted and adhered to by both sides.
begin by the Mereb-Setit segment; proceed next to the Bada area
and be implemented throughout the entire boundary in accordance
with this phased pattern.
shall be implemented through the involvement and monitoring of
observers. The team of observers shall be composed of the forces
and commanders from the facilitators as well as representatives
of both sides.
be completed within the time-frame of one month.
The issue of civil administration
in populated demilitarized areas shall be addressed through appropriate
ad hoc arrangements that will be put in place for the interim
When the INTERIM period
comes to an end following the completion of the demarcation of
the entire boundary between the two countries, the LEGITIMATE
AUTHORITIES shall regain full jurisdiction over their respective
The details regarding
DEMILITARIZATION and its implementation modalities shall
be included in the main agreement as annex.
A full INVESTIGATION
of the incident of May 6 1998 shall be conducted in tandem
with the demilitarization process.
agreement, signed by both parties, shall be deposited
in the UN and OAU as a legal agreement so as to ensure its binding
background to the conflict
published By Le Monde diplomatique
Two years ago the two governments set
up a secret committee to decide what was to be done about the
disputed areas. It was able to achieve very little apart from
noting the contentious points. On paper, the Eritreans have a
better case. In declarations of 14 and 20 May 1998 they are only
claiming the colonial border, in other words the line drawn at
the beginning of this century between the kingdom of Italy and
the Ethiopian empire. The frontier was defined by a serried of
international agreements after the defeat of the Italian troops
in Aduwa in 1896, based on a tripartite treaty which Britain,
Italy and Ethiopia singed on 15 May 1902. This defines the western
and central part of the border where the recent incidents occurred.
From west to east, starting at Khor Um Hagger on the Sudanese
border, the frontier line follows the river Tekezze (Setit) to
the point at which it meets the river Maieteb, then runs in a
straight line to the river Mereb in he north, at its confluence
with the Ambessa. After that it runs along the Mereb, crossing
most of the central plateau, then along its tributary, the Melessa,
to the east and finally along the River Muna.
There is no indication that the Ethiopian
government is disputing this line, which has remained unchanged
since 1902. It appears on all Ethiopian official and tourist maps,
including those given to foreign ambassadors by the foreign minister
in Addis Ababa on 19 May this year.
The Eritreans, however, are accusing
the Tigrayan local authorities of using another map published
in the Tigrayan capital, Mekele, in 1997. In this map, small enclaves
to the north of the Melessa-Muna line (Tserona, Belissa, Alitenia)
and a larger enclave to the west of the straight between Tekezze
and Mareb, in Badme, are shown as part of Ethiopia. It was here
that the trouble flared early in May.
1902, the Badme region was virtually uninhabited. At the time,
Badme was the name of a plain which the border ran across. Situated
below the Abyssinian plateau, it is an extension of the Eritrean
region of Gash-Setit, a semi-arid lowland area stretching westward
as far as Sudan.
In the last few decades, the area has
gradually been settled by farmers from the Eritrean and Tigrayan
high plateaus and the Kunamas, the earliest inhabitants, have
villages there. When the United Nation federated Eritrea with
Ethiopia in 1952, the 1902 line became irrelevant. Ras Mengesha,
the Tigrayan ruler, paid very little attention to it, developing
agricultural settlements administered by the Tigrayan district
of Shire on both sides of the border. Since then, the area has
been periodically disputed. In 1976 and 1981, for example, it
was the scene of clashes between the Eritrean Liberation Front
(ELF) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The two rebel groups united to fight
against Colonel Mengistu’s government and the problem was temporarily
shelved after the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) took
control of the Eritrean resistance. In1987 the Mengistu government
further complicated the issue by changing administrative boundaries.
At the end of the war, in 1991, the Tigray still regarded the
area as theirs, although it was patrolled by soldiers from both
countries. The intergovernmental committee was then faced with
a situation that was very clear on paper-the “colonial” borders
were officially accepted by both states, as well as by the Organization
of African Unity and the United Nations-but highly complex in
practice, especially since all the Kunama tribes’ territory had
been incorporated into Eritrea under the 1902 treaty and the Kunama
clearly took very little notice of an imaginary straight line
drawn across the plain.
In the central border region, the small
enclaves already claimed by the TPLF program in the 1970s had
been in the same ambiguous position since 1991. But, at least,
this western and central part of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border
is clearly defined on paper, which is more than can be said of
the line to the east, along the Red Sea, separating the Eritrean
Dankalia region from the Ethiopian Afar region as far as Djibouti.
According to the 1908 treaty in which this border was established,
it was supposed to follow the coastline at a distance of 60 kilometers
and a joint committee was to mark it out later in the field. But
when the UN opened the files forty years later, they found no
record of a demarcation.
between the former Italian colony and Ethiopia are fairly well
known locally, but they are still disputed in a few places, notably
Bada Adi Murug, which the Ethiopians occupied last year. The border
runs right through a small fertile region overlooking the Gulf
of Thio in the distance, to Burie, on the road to Assab.