First Things First: Let’s Call a Spade a Spade
Dr. Tesfay Yohannes
February 26, 2004

I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s (EEBC) decision being ‘final and binding’. Dialog, is a new lingo that is polluting the political atmosphere and creating unnecessary confusion; it has become a breeding ground of new problems.

Any civilized society would choose dialog over anything else to resolve differences; there is no question about that, I personally would vote against anyone who does not want sit down with an adversary and resolve problems. Nevertheless, there has to be a problem to resolve in the first place and that problem has to be clearly defined. Once that is done, dialog has to be given a chance. If dialog is entirely exhausted and both parties decide to go for arbitration after a bitter war as in the case of Eritrea and Ethiopia, case is closed for dialog. After arbitration, if the party that does not like the outcome of arbitration calls for a dialog again, there would be no end to the problem. Although dialog makes one, civilized, asking for a continued dialog after every loss of an argument is the most unethical and uncivilized act that holds a solid position at the negative end of the ‘Civilization Spectrum’.

Most conflicts are resolved through dialog, but they have to be timely. Prior to the war and right after the first Ethiopian offensive, Eritrea repeatedly asked for a dialog to resolve problems. Ethiopia’s position was as solid as a rock. It sang the same tune, ad nauseam, “There will not be any dialog until the status quo ante (May 1998) was restored, or else, we will use force (not dialog) to resolve the situation.” Furthermore, Eritrea declared that it would demilitarize not only Badme and its environs, but also whatever Ethiopia claimed to be disputed land, and would have a dialog at any level to resolve the situation. Ethiopia’s singing of the same tune continued non-stop, “There is not going to be any dialog until… status quo ante… status quo ante … status quo ante, or else we will use force.” I have never heard anyone in my life repeating that statement so many times. Dialog was timely at that point and would have saved thousands of lives. On the contrary, Ethiopia made good of its threat, the offensi
ve started, and the results were the worst disaster in recent history. Ethiopia finally gave dialog a chance after all the devastations. Both nations dialoged out until eternity under the auspices of UN, AU, EU, USA, until a boundary commission (EEBC) was formed and gave its final ruling which both nations agreed to be final and binding

Ethiopia celebrated the ruling for days before Eritrea; big festivities were held in a spectacular fan fare. I was absolutely dumbfounded to hear Ethiopia suddenly shifting gears from forward high gear to reverse, almost instantaneously. Is that possible? Rhetorically, may be, if you have an ostensible motive; but in reality, absolutely not.

Now, Ethiopia wanted to have a dialog! That is ridiculous! But then again, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. What is the subject of the dialog? Is it about how to expedite the implementation of the EEBC decision? That would be fine. How to be good neighbors after implementation? That would also be fine and dandy. How to …blah… blah? Fine…blah … blah. But when no subject of discussion or dialog is clearly defined, how could there be any genuine and honest dialog?

As recent as February 16, 2004, the Ethiopian Premier, Meles told reporters "We in Ethiopia are suggesting open-ended dialogue with a view to ensure sustainable peace with Eritrea.”

An open-ended dialog? Isn’t that sad? It took about five years and over 70,000 dear lives in addition to millions of dollars to close the open end; now Meles wants to re-open it? Unbelievable! I honestly think that this is a joke; he is making a mockery of the whole world in general and the Security Council in particular.

It was a positive move by the UN Security Council to issue a statement that it was disappointed with Ethiopia's rejection of an independent EEBC ruling and to express concern over the deadlock in the peace process; likewise, it is equally soothing to hear most of the guarantors of the Algiers agreement and other independent nations voice their agreement that the EEBC verdict is final and binding; however, a spade has to be called a spade. Alluding that open-ended dialog might be acceptable can only exacerbate tensions in an already volatile situation. Furthermore, including Eritrea, as a contributing partner in the deadlock is not only unfair but also encourages Ethiopia to stick to its guns firmly and not accept the ‘final and binding’ ruling.

Eritrea and Ethiopia had exhausted dialogs at all levels and went for arbitration. If Ethiopia wants to have additional dialog after hearing the verdict, it has to be with the EEBC, which by the way, it did. As the whole world witnessed, dialog (actually name calling by Ethiopia, "EEBC decision is illegal, unjust, and irresponsible") took place until the EEBC said that it had had it with Ethiopia and there would not be any more dialog; the ruling was final and binding, period.

There has to be a political chronology in resolving problems and implementing solutions. Naturally, if the whole world agrees that the EEBC verdict is final and binding; first and foremost, both Eritrea and Ethiopia have to accept it. If one country does not want to accept it, several methods have to be applied to make it happen before proceeding with the next step on the chain of events. Ethiopia has made it crystal clear that it will not accept the EEBC decision. Eritrea on the other hand, endorsed it unconditionally. Obviously, the first thing that the Security Council and the guarantors of the Algiers agreement have to do is, to urge, convince, or if necessary force Ethiopia to accept the decision. Following that, events have to happen in their chronological order. Digressing from that order and falling for Ethiopia’s gimmicks will only augment the animosity and can be a cause of yet another disaster.

Sending Mr. Axworthy to resolve the border issue would have been appreciated had it been genuine and honest, as he said; however, the statement he made after concluding his visit in Ethiopia was very disturbing.

“To me, there are two parties to this dispute, and the two parties must take the responsibility of resolving it.” Axworthy continued “If one of the parties has decided not to participate in it, it slows down the efforts of the international community to be helpful.”

Reading between lines, he has already given Eritrea a hefty strike.

The EEBC decision clearly showed that both Eritrea and Ethiopia did not get all the land they claimed. Nevertheless, Eritrea did not dispute the decision and accepted it unconditionally. Ethiopia and only Ethiopia disputed the EEBC decision. Going to Ethiopia to urge, convince, or persuade it to accept the decision would have been appropriate and fair. Blaming Eritrea, although it has accepted the EEBC decision, is almost as unfair as blaming a rape victim for not willing to have a dialog with the rapist, after bitter court hearings, re-living the experience, and the final verdict.

Though it is very hard to swallow, if and only if Mr. Axworthy is that naïve and was not aware of the developments since the EEBC ruling, I can forgive him; however, the Security Council and the guarantors of the Algiers agreement have always been on top of every development.

These are the kinds of things that make a person want to holler. Alas! Mr. Axworthy’s mission is a façade to a slow death of the Algiers agreement. I only feel sorry for the millions of people in Eritrea and Ethiopia whose fate depends on these decisions. The big brother who is supposed to protect them and put the fire out is actually re-igniting it. Lord have mercy! That’s all I can say.

Final Word: Peace is the ultimate wish of all civilized human beings. I would love to see peace at any cost, be it forsaking one’s land or otherwise. However, if two rivals pay so dearly over a dispute and neither one wants to budge, arbitration has to be the only alternative solution. Obviously, one party and sometimes both parties might not like the final decision; nevertheless, there has to be an end. Both parties have to fully accept the decision and abide by the agreement they made prior to the final decision. Accepting the decision has to have precedence over anything else that follows. After accepting the decision, any sort of normalization can be carried out. If one party abides by the law and accepts the decision, that has to be acknowledged; furthermore, the party that does not accept the ruling has to singled out as the cause of any developing impasse; a spade has to be called a spade. Moreover, measures have to be taken in order to pressure the resisting party to abide by the law. Obstructing the implementation process by allowing further dialog is tantamount to opening a Pandora’s box and that is a very risky business.