Shifting the Blame
By: Yohannes Kifle
February 15, 2004

Sometimes one can’t help wondering what is it that entangled Eritrea in this cycle of horrendous violence with its neighbor, Ethiopia.  Apparently, quite a few intellectuals on both sides of the aisle, as well as foreign experts, shared their perspectives on this subject. Perhaps, to determine the origin of this periodic bloodshed, one has to re-examine some of the most important segments of history that coupled these two nations and led them into this predicament. Also, it would be helpful to look at the parties that were components of this continuing conflict and played a part, to some extent, continued to play a role in creating the current precarious situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Unfortunately, those nations and institutions that have claimed to be advocates of the rule of law were the very same nations that failed Eritrea back in 1952. Those nations and institution were also the ones that laid the foundation for the never-ending bloody conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.


Back in the 1950s, when the United Nations decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia, it was merely determined by the two Superpower countries – the United States of America and the British government. The United Nations was used as a facilitator to carry on the wishes of those two superpowers. Of course, the miscarriage of justice did not stop there. After ten years, the Ethiopian emperor decided to annex Eritrea against the will of the people of Eritrea. The overwhelming majority of Eritreans felt betrayed not only by the Emperor, but also by the international community for not doing anything to reverse the annexation. Without a doubt, the annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia was premeditated by the superpowers to benefit their foreign policy. The statement made by the late John Foster Dulles back in 1952 was a manifestation of as to how much the U.S. wanted Eritrea to be under the control of Ethiopia.  John Foster Dulles said: "From the point of view of justice, the opinion of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and world peace make it necessary that the country be linked with our ally Ethiopia." (U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 1952)


Reading the statement made by John F. Dulles, one can certainly conclude that the parties involved - including the United Nations, to determine the fate of Eritrea, were not interested in justice. Thus, their irresponsible action provoked a sequence of violence that lasted for over 30 years. Sadly, at the expense of Eritrea and its people, the world peace that was hypothetically to be attained and maintained did not include the region known as the “Horn of Africa”. Given the landscape of the international politics in the 1950s, one might not have found the statement made by the late John F. Dulles to be harmful. Though, the magnitude of the damage caused in the region, especially, to the people of both Eritrea and Ethiopia was immeasurable.  As a result, the two poor nations on the horn of Africa continued to be victims of the circumstances that were created by the misguided decisions made by the power brokers of the century.


Does the “linking Eritrea with our ally Ethiopia” sentiment still exist?


Although we may never hear another Secretary of State make the type of comment made by the late John F. Dulles, there are quite a few career diplomats, foreign policy experts, and former officials who may share that sentiment. One would hope that experts with that type of frame of mind would not be in a position to influence the current administration’s foreign policy. If John F. Dulles was alive to day, to witness the thirty-year struggle that resulted with Eritrea being an independent nation, he probably would have said that he wished he had followed his conscious rather than his political instinct. We, Eritreans hope that the so-called experts and individuals with ability to influence the foreign policy of this great nation would exercise their wisdom with justice and fairness in mind.  What had emerged in the region – the horn of Africa for the last forty years – the suffering and miscarriage of justice was derived from the shortsightedness of some of the leaders of the free world. Unfortunately, with all what history could offer, some foreign policy experts and officials of the former administration continued to make the same mistake their predecessors have made.  One needs to keep in mind that the only time the region enjoyed peace and prosperity for a sustainable period was only when the existence of Eritrea was not threatened.


Anthony Lake, the former National Security Advisor and former President Clinton’s personal envoy to the horn of Africa region was one of the key players to bring “peace” between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Lake, however, failed miserably on his endeavor to bring “peace” between the two nations.  Anthony Lake, who has the tendency to take the shorter but dangerous route to peace, has once again demonstrated his shortsightedness by ignoring justice and chose to side with the TPLF regime in Ethiopia.  As far as Anthony Lake is concerned, the “powerful” or seemingly to be the “powerful party” should be appeased and pampered to attain peace. Lake’s viewpoint found to be setting a dangerous precedent as it did in Cambodia.  Anthony Lake has a propensity to forget that it is justice not force that prevails at the end. The current situation between these two countries is the byproduct of Lake’s failed arbitration.


“Lake's myopia was the subject of a remarkable essay by Jacob Heilbrunn in the March 24th issue of The New Republic, which was published a week before Lake announced his withdrawal. According to Heilbrunn, Anthony Lake "is a curious choice to head the agency responsible for monitoring and challenging America's foes. He has, after all, been reluctant to acknowledge that foes even exist." Heilbrunn recalled a March 9, 1975 Washington Post op-ed column in which Lake "hail[ed] the Khmer Rouge, despite the common knowledge that they were slaughtering innocents...." In order to bring "peace" to Cambodia, Lake urged that the U.S. avoid antagonizing the Khmer-led forces in that country.”


After the bloody war between Eritrea and Ethiopia ended in June 2000 both countries claimed victory. The people of both nations were glad it was over. After all, this war was responsible for the lives of 19, 000 Eritrean troops and over 150, 000 Ethiopian troops. Soon after, the Woyanes were forced to go to the negotiation table. After sacrificing nineteen thousands of men and women one can say that Eritrea was able to accomplish its objective. The war was fought to defend our territory and to preserve our independence. On the other hand, the Woyanes’ objective was to intimidate Eritrea into submission (using military force) to surrender the port of Assab or some form of concession from Eritrea to allow access to the sea. The insignificant town of Badme was the alleged reason to start the hostility against Eritrea. All of a sudden, Badme is not only significant it has become critical for the survival of the regime in Ethiopia. The war was not a minor border conflict that got out of control.  It would be absolutely preposterous to think any government, including the feebleminded woyanes would sacrifice 150, 000 troops and on the process spend three billion dollars to claim a town such as, Badme.  The concealed objective- capturing Assab is no longer within the capacity of the regime in Ethiopia; and the alleged reason for going to war with Eritrea – the town of Badme has been officially awarded to Eritrea. During the war with Eritrea, the link between its opponents and the regime in Ethiopia was the desire to capture the port of Assab. Now that access to the sea has to go through Eritrea, opponents of the regime in Ethiopia are not only holding the regime accountable for not delivering the concealed objective, to some extent, they are exploiting the issue for political gain, which brought a tremendous pressure on the Woyanes. To deflect the attention of its citizens and opponents, the bankrupted regime in Ethiopia had to come up with a "master plan".


With the mainstream media and the so-called experts (Foreigners and citizens) behind its propaganda campaign, the regime proclaimed military victory against Eritrea, which created the belief that its “military success” would be rewarded. The misleading propaganda was one of the main elements that shaped the minds of many Ethiopians to believe that anything less than access to the sea is not acceptable. Of course, the misleading propaganda was also one of the reasons that the peoples of both nations presumptions about the outcome of the war remained diametrically opposed. Now that the truth is unraveled, the Woyanes are having a difficult time to recover from the self-inflicted wound, that is, their decision to declare war against Eritrea and the quick declaration of victory, victory that remained elusive to this day. To justify their war adventure, they are desperately looking for closure.




In principle, it makes sense to normalize relation with our neighbors. In fact, after independence, Eritrea was willing enough to move forward with clean slate and agreed to a bilateral relation with the current regime in Ethiopia.  The two nations enjoyed a bilateral relation prior to the hostility that broke out in 1998. That relationship was unilaterally violated by the Woyanes, which brought these two nations to the present situation. It is in the best interest of these two countries to cooperate with each other in the future, however, it is not the future relationship of these two leaderships that we ought to be worrying about; it is rather the future and the well being of the people of both nations that should be the priority. The International community needs to realize that everlasting peace between these two nations is what should be the driving force behind the whole peace process rather than a face saving device that may create instability down the road between the future generations of both countries. 


Our government’s responsibility is to safeguard the interest of the nation and its people not to helping the reckless regime from the predicament it got itself into.  Unfortunately, there are enough institutions that are doing more than their fair share to save the regime in Ethiopia in every way conceivable, including rehabilitating the regime's tarnished image at the expense of the people of both nations.  The International community now has a glimpse of what the Woyanes are made of, regardless, failed to hold them accountable for their action. To find a lasting solution, the international community needs to act on quickly and decisively and force the regime in Ethiopia to cooperate with the EEBC’s decision, which is final and binding. At this juncture, we Eritreans do not want to hear about the importance of “dialogue”. The leadership of Eritrea was well aware of the importance of a face-to-face meeting. That was the reason why President Issays Afowerki insisted on a face-to -face meeting with the Woyanes back in 1998 and 1999.  If the Woyanes want to resolve this border issue peacefully, I sincerely believe that they have a peace partner – Eritrea. After all, unlike war, peace needs two willing parties to achieve it. Peace can only be attained once the final physical demarcation takes place. One thing the Woyanes must not forget is that, in spite of Eritrea’s unwillingness to engage them in another potentially devastating war, Eritrea and its people have the capacity to prevail any eventuality. Entertaining other schemes to achieve peace is not in the best interest of peace.  The vast majority of Eritreans are very much skeptical when it comes to some of the institutions’ motive behind this affection for “dialogue”.  If war brakes out between these two nations, the International community or the so-called “GUARANTORS” must be held accountable for not taking action to deter the hostility by forcing the Woyanes to join the civilized world. Eritrea should not be forced to “dialogue” with a regime that does not respect the rule of law. At this point, pushing for “dialogue” could only be interpreted as a mechanism to intercept the EEBC’s final and binding decision or to shift the blame on Eritrea.