From: Biniam Tekle (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Nov 21 2008 - 08:02:23 EST
"With many not understanding the Eritreans, Djibouti President, Ismail Omar
Guelleh, and his international backers have sought to portray Eritreans as
crazy war mongers. On the other hand, Eritrea believes that Djibouti is
merely being used as proxy … The international mediators, including the UN
Security Council, have made little effort to conceal their bias against
The crazy Eritrea-Djibouti conflict
Written by Owei Lakemfa
Friday, 21 November 2008
Tragically, Djibouti is threatening to resume its border war with Eritrea.
In the first place, the "conflict" between the two countries is childish and
Going to war like they did on June 10 and 11, 2008 was a great disservice to
the African people.
The so-called dispute is primarily over a piece of land not more than one
hundred metres; that is a land mass the average Olympic sprinter can cover
in ten seconds.
The area disputed by these two tiny African countries is, itself, so tiny
that you cannot build a buffer zone.
You cannot even erect a tent on the disputed area that can accommodate ten
The temporary demarcation site on top of the Ras Doumeira Hill dividing both
armies is so tiny that soldiers on both sides can actually shake hands.
The International Herald Tribune reported that "The distance between the
rival armies is shorter than the barrel of a gun. Hundreds of opposing
troops are lined up on the border, staring each other down, from just inches
The hill itself is of no known historical, cultural, economic, social or
military significance to either country. So why the conflict, and the
eagerness to resume a stupid war?
The immediate events that led to the dispute began in January 2008. Eritrean
President, Isaias Afwerki, met twice with Djiboutian officials and briefed
them from the point on the hill where his country intends to build a
demarcation separating both countries.
The point he chose is the Ras Doumeira Hill. Doumeira itself comprises the
hill, a hill range and an almost abandoned tiny island.
Both countries had been colonized by Italy and France and both colonialists
did not make any demarcation; they merely acknowledge the hill as their
boundary. Eritrea and Djibouti acknowledge this, and generally accept that
the northern slopes of the hill are part of Eritrea while its southern
slopes are in Djibouti.
It is not clear why Eritrea wants to build an identifiable demarcation, but
it might not be unconnected with the boundary disputes it had with its
neighbours, including Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia.
It might also show Eritrea's discomfort with the presence of American and
French bases in Djibouti; in fact, less than ten kilometers south of the
hill are the "Seven Seas" which is the main American base area.
The Djiboutians have not disputed the Eritrean claims that their president
met with some Djibouti officials before beginning work on the demarcation
point. Their official claim is that the Eritreans asked if they could cross
the Djiboutian side to get some sand to build a road. "Instead, they
occupied a hilltop and started digging trenches".
Ordinarily, a war between the two countries would have been a no-contest as
Djibouti, with its 700,000 populace, cannot take on an Eritrea of five
million people backed by a highly disciplined army.
But an African proverb says that with human backing, the dog can kill a
monkey. With Djibouti backed by France, Ethiopia and United States, it is
not the case of the David Djibouti taking on the Goliath Eritrea, it is more
of the French and American goliaths watching to see if Eritrea will try to
roll over Djibouti. This is the point; the conflict is not really over a
tiny undefined border; it is actually a proxy war in the making.
Both countries are at the mouth of the Red Sea which has strategic military
significance for the big powers and is a gateway to oil supplies from the
Gulf to most industrialized countries.
But, while Djibouti is open and enjoys a lot of trade, its neighbour,
Eritrea, is an enigma to most of the international community. During the
cold war, the Eritrean war of independence was the only international
conflict I know where the Soviet Union, Cuba, the US and NATO were all on
one side; the colonial Ethiopian side, while Eritrea was abandoned.
The reason for this strange alliance was that the Eritrean Peoples
Liberation Front (EPLF), which led the anti-colonial war, was a Marxist
group, and the US, its allies and almost all the Arab States did not want
revolutionaries take over Eritrea.
On the other hand, Ethiopia, that had annexed Eritrea, was under Colonel
Mengistu Haile Marian who was running a Marxist regime.
The logic of the Soviets and Cubans seemed to be that it was better to have
a unified Ethiopia with Eritrea as a province under Mengistu than have a
small Eritrea which can be crushed by US, if it became an independent
The Eritreans fought their war of independence from 1961 to 1991 when it
militarily defeated Ethiopia. Since then, it had fought border wars with
Ethiopia which claimed 100,000 lives and Yemen - over the Hamish Islands.
It is also accused as being the main backer of Islamic Court forces (the
Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia) in Somalia who are fighting the
Ethiopian-backed Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
With these conflicts, and many not understanding the Eritreans, Djibouti
President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, and his international backers have sought to
portray Eritreans as crazy war mongers. On the other hand, Eritrea believes
that Djibouti is merely being used as proxy.
The international mediators, including the UN Security Council, have made
little effort to conceal their bias against Eritrea.
The 1897 treaty between Ethiopia and France in which the former recognized
the Ras Doumeria hill and area as French, will not be of much help. Ethiopia
did not, and does not, own Eritrea, so it cannot give what it does not have.
The solution is not technical or legal, it is political; how to get both
sides to agree on a consensus while, in the process, keeping away the
international hawks who may benefit from Djibouti-Eritrea war. This process
can be midwived by the African Union.
----[This List to be used for Eritrea Related News Only]----