Archive for February, 2008

Ethiopia and Eritrea face each other, and the danger of another devastating war stares us in the face. Can we afford to stand by passively?

Posted on February 12, 2008. Filed under: 0. Peace, 1. World Peace, 4. Peace in East Africa | Tags: , , , , , , |

Over 200,000 soldiers are amassed on both sides of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In spite of the fact that both regimes have declared that they have no intention to resume war, they are exercising their war maneuvers within shooting range of each other. The activities of the international peacekeeping force are hampered. Tension is heightened. Border skirmishes have flared up raising the specter of another horrific war flaring up. With these soldiers already in trenches and ready for assault, full-scale war can be triggered anytime

Eight years ego, Ethiopia and Eritrea waged a savage war which lasted for two years. This war over a barren piece of land cost the lives of over 100,000 people, resulted in hundred of thousands wounded and dislocated millions of civilians. People who were already ravaged by drought and famine were made to suffer the consequence of a heinous war. Even the architects of the war—President Isaias Afewerki and Prime Minster Meles Zenawi—characterized it as senseless. Yet the pointlessness of the debacle did not stop these two leaders from using innocent people as canon fodders and unleashing their full forces to destroy each other’s rudimentary infrastructure and to sow mines in the common folk’s farm land,

The last war ended in a stalemate. Both countries were pushed by the international community to agree to resolve their border dispute through a United Nations-sponsored binding arbitration. But when the Boundary Commission on April 2002 accorded the dusty town of Bademe to Eritrea, Ethiopia reneged on their agreement. A no war/no peace situation which has lasted now for six years was created,

For the six years since, the situation between the two countries has forced each side to waste millions of dollars and millions of man-years of labor that could be used to build their economies to fight off famine, disease and poverty. In addition it has spiraled downward, dragging the whole region into an abyss of conflict, disorder and tragedy. Ethiopia and Eritrea are fighting a proxy war in Somalia. Ethiopia invaded Somalia in support of the defunct Transitional Somali Government. To counter Ethiopia’s move, Eritrea, according to many observers, has supported the radical Islamist group known as the Union of Islamic Courts that aims to oust the transitional Somali government. The end result: a quagmire of war and the “worst humanitarian crisis in Africa,” according to UN reports. Moreover, this conflict is evolving into a perfect storm where clan, ethnic and national conflicts are being supplanted by an ominous religious conflict between the Christians and Moslems that threatens the whole region. This is what the leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts had in mind when they declared Jihad on Ethiopia last year. The United States’ involvement in this war which is an extension of its global effort against El-Qaeda could escalate the conflict into the mother of all Jihads.

The Eritrean and Ethiopian regimes are also fomenting armed conflicts by supporting and arming opposition groups in each other’s country. Eritrea is supporting the Ogaden Liberation Movement, Oromo Liberation Forces and so on while Ethiopia is arming anti-Isaias groups. These subversive acts, fostered by the two regimes for mere tactical gains, are steering the whole region into strategic chaos. Moreover, the venomous crude propaganda drummed up by the media of both countries is poisoning the relationship between these fraternal peoples who, for centuries, had lived and cooperated with each other in good times and bad times.

What is the root cause of this conflict and why is it burning unabated for so long? Can so much human agony, destruction of hundreds of thousands lives and squandering of resource be justified by the conquest of a piece of barren land? No. The truth is, this conflict is a diversion. The two regimes are whipping up this conflict because they have failed to answer the social, political and economic needs of their peoples. As long as these countries are locked in endless quarrels, the rulers are not held accountable for the shortcomings of their domestic polices. Instead, the ramshackle economy and social misery can be blamed on the state of permanent war. Deprivation of human rights and political freedom can be justified as necessary to national security. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the present rulers of the two states have no vested interest in bringing peace to this hapless region.

The political elite outside of the ruling circles suffers from short sightedness. Even though many are convinced of the futility and stupidity of this war, they feel it is unpatriotic to take a stand against it. Most importantly, their privileged way of life is not directly impacted by the mobilization for war. Centered in urban areas and metropolises of the world, as far away as possible from the scene of the bloody conflict, the elites of these countries engage in myopic and futile political discourse. For some, it is national pride. Others hope that this conflict will wear out the present regimes so that their side can ascend to power. Some want to roll back a generation of struggle that has created the present status quo, while others would rather unleash the deluge than go back. Many are so intoxicated with ideologies of hate that they are insensitive to the human tragedy that this conflict has exacted—particularly since they and their offspring are not the ones directly suffering for this war. However, at long last, as the political fervor has ebbed over time, many are realizing that this conflict is much too dangerous to be justified by petty issues. The whole region is on the verge of imploding into total anarchy ala-Somalia if the next Ethiopia and Eritrea war is not stopped.

For the masses of Ethiopia and Eritrea, this war is simply an act against humanity. Those who have returned back to their villages after the previous war have barely put their broken lives back together, and now they live their daily life under the threat of another devastating war. They lack the rudimentary political rights and venues to express their indignation as their sons and daughters are forcefully conscripted to fight and die, as their peaceful villages are turned into theaters of war, and as millions of the old and the young are again forced into refugee camps for shelter. Even those far away from the conflict are affected by it. When the regimes that govern them spend billions of dollars in preparation for war, millions of their people perish year from famine, malnutrition and disease.

The international community has been a strong moderating force so far. It propelled these two belligerent regimes to agree to binding arbitration. The UN put its peacekeeping force between these hostile armies. Due to the lull in hostilities, however, international attention has been diverted to other crisis centers. The border demarcation committee disbanded without accomplishing its mission. Only a skeleton of the original international peacekeeping remains on the border. Moreover, the mandate of this nominal peacekeeping mission which was due to expire at the end of January 2008 has been extended to June 2008. If the UN leaves before a peaceful settlement has been achieved, the region will descend again into war. The international community has a tendency to wait passively until disaster strikes. But this is an ineffective policy. It is harder to undo harm once it has been done.

Fortunately, there is an opportunity to act proactively here. If the world community can be more forceful in exposing and condemning the belligerent acts of these regimes, if it can slap economic and military sanction on whichever side hinders the peace process, a peace agreement can be achieved at minimal cost to the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea and to the international community at large. The time is still ripe to take decisive action.

Any band of fools can start a war, but a determined persistent mass action is needed to bring peace. The path of war will only lead to mutual devastation, destruction and suffering. War will only result in an intensification of divisive forces that will tear at each country’s existence and viability. Forces that don’t have the best interests of either country will jump in and fuel the conflict, threatening to create more failed states.

The welfare of the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea and of the region as a whole will only be achieved through peace and co-operation. Differences should only be resolved through peaceful negotiations and give and take. The peaceful path will help heal old wounds and lay the foundation of fraternal relations. Both countries and peoples will be able to harness their energies and re-sources to solve the problems of underdevelopment, hunger, and disease, and lay the foundation for development and democracy.

  • Ethiopians and Eritreans in Diaspora, who realize this conflict is detrimental to the welfare of the peoples in the whole region, need to speak out forcefully against it. They should be spokespersons for the peace-loving Ethiopians and Eritreans who have no opportunity to speak for themselves. Members of both groups should hold joint demonstrations in all the metropolitan centers of the world for cessation of hostilities.
  • The international community needs to take a proactive stance against this impending war. The UN should come out with a strong resolution condemning the escalation of the conflict. It should reinforce and reinvigorate its peacekeeping force. It should unequivocally warn the two regimes that if either side hinders the activities of the peacekeeping force or provokes war by any means, it will be slapped with military and economic sanctions.
  • The international media needs to focus its investigative journalism on exposing the shenanigans of these regimes. According to Time magazine, this impending war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is one of the least covered international crises of 2007.
  • NGOs and peace advocates and individuals from all walks of life need to make their contribution to highlighting the plight of the peoples of the Horn of Africa. They need to create strong moral pressure to force the leaders of these two states to turn their energies from preparations for war to their moral obligation to stop this potential human tragedy from becoming a reality.


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