Rethinking the Ethio-Eritrean peace deal

Source: Eritrea digest

By Selam Kidane, Posted On December 31, 2019

Of all the words that have been used to describe the Ethio-Eritrean peace deal, surprising is the one that I agree the most with, however what surprises me isn’t necessarily what many have been surprised by. I didn’t believe that DIA [Dictator Isaias Afwerki] would agree to it but I wasn’t surprised that he did. I was surprised that no one was alarmed by his open declaration of why he did it. He openly claimed that it was now ‘game over’ for TPLF [Tigray People’s Liberation Front] and hence it was appropriate to start talking to Ethiopia. I was surprised because that was the precise mentality that caused him to engage in the war of 1998 in the first place. DIA miscalculated that the TPLF led EPRDF [Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, umbrella for ruling coalition) was so unpopular and wouldn’t get any support for war with Eritrea from fellow Ethiopians, 20 years on ‘peace’ was accepted for the same reason…

Not surprisingly this ‘peace’ has been going round and round in circles unable to go anywhere. For the jubilation that was on display on the streets of both capitals no one can be blamed for thinking this is the most phenomenal thing to have ever happened in our horn of plenty (misery) and hence a Nobel Peace Prize (no less!). I think the reason for this can be enshrined in two critical sayings, one in Amharic and one in Tigrigna that aptly capture the mentality that seems to be driving this ‘peace’ building effort.  Before I go into these I will briefly say where I don’t see the peace accord going and why.

The peace accord hasn’t resulted in restoration of normalcy in Eritrea and that is blatantly obvious and has resulted in all sorts of awkwardness when according the peace accord a Peace prize. People who are interested in Eritrea (including us Eritreans) are divided into two. Those who believe there is peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea and those who wonder where the much heralded peace is. If you believe there is still no peace then you have many problems, but squaring circles isn’t one of them. If, however you think there is peace then you have many questions with no answers or at least questions that can only be answered by those who can also answer the question ‘how long is a piece of string?’.

A year and a half on the peace accord hasn’t resulted in the restoration of ‘normal’ relationships with Ethiopia either (and no: an incoherent IA trying prancing about in Ethiopia every so often is not progress either!) …the border is shut, there are no formal trade links, the security arrangements are not clear, currency abnormalities are too obvious… the terms of the peace deal continue to be opaque…there are no implementation committees, cross-border commissions and institutions actualising the much heralded affair! More crucially everyone avoids talking about the very flash points that triggered one of the deadliest wars that our world has ever seen.

I also would like to mention where the peace deal is also not going… people-to-people-relationships… because all-of-the-people-to-all-of-the-people is not currently possible and that brings me to the mentality that is driving the respective leaders and the two sayings I talked about earlier.

Let me start with the easier one of the two, this one I think fits the approach of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and maybe even most Ethiopians seem to be using as a guide to the relationship with Eritrea: የትም ፍጪው ዱቀቱን አምጪው loose translation could be something like who cares when the mill is as long as it results in flour. Not too dissimilar to ‘the end justifies the means’. It seems that neither Dr Abiy nor many Ethiopians care how the peace with Eritrea is reached; this nonchalance causes them to praise Isaias Afwerki even as they deplore the very actions perpetrated by him (if/when perpetrated elsewhere), it seems that the commitment to justice and fairness isn’t a principled stand and ‘unfair’ is only so, when it is against those that matter to them (in other words not Eritreans)… the problem is you can’t sell yourself to the devil and win peace… it really is that simple and the proof of the pudding is the fact that the big words and massive gestures and loud cheers of 18 months ago are faint distant memories with only faint impact. The quieter cheers and bigger gestures from last week will go the same way too. In short in its current format the peace deal will not progress beyond the easy reach fruits that happened overnight in the summer of 2018.  Pop singers crisscrossing the airways and airwaves will not translate to student exchanges across universities because we in Eritrea don’t have universities… we will not see journalists of the free press crisscrossing to make documentaries comparing and contrasting peace dividend because Eritrea doesn’t have any press (other than propaganda press), neither will we see parliamentarians cross fertilising solutions to common difficulties because, in Eritrea, Parliament disbanded many, many, many moons back at the start of 2002! And we certainly won’t see civil society groups and human rights organisations across the two nations sit together to discuss monitoring of the peace process (you have already guessed why so save me from the anguish of spelling the sorry state in Eritrea out!)… In short Isaias Afwerki has nothing to offer to effect peace and prosperity!

Basically all of the above begs the question why the hell Isaias Afwerki accepted ‘peace’? Well, I have the answer in the form of an Eritrean saying that is difficult to translate ክልተ ጎራሓት ሓሙኽሽቲ ስንቆም. Now I have already said it is difficult to translate succinctly, so you will have to bear with me. The story goes that two connivers agreed to travel together (or meet on a journey) and the traditional sanction dictates that they share the provisions they have… so they would normally start consuming the food one brings and progress to the other. Both would assume that the other one would carry similar quality and quantity of provisions, however these being connivers of similar tilt they connive to outsmart the other by carrying ash instead of food in their sack. The idea was that they would consume the food brought by the other while the one whose food is being consumed thinks that there will be similar provision in the other sack, the trouble, however, is that they both think the same and hence their two sacks are full of ash (empty promises) and no food! DIA thought that the provision in Abiy’s sack was enough to see them through the journey and he’d get whatever he wanted as long as he goes along carrying a promising looking sack. Sadly for the peoples of both countries, both leaders had nothing more than empty promises and nice words in their sacks and now there is nothing other than the same empty words…

If I had a penny for every time I was told that Isaias Afwerki is an Eritrean problem… or rather a problem for Eritreans, I would be spending the winter somewhere nice and warm! This would be true if Eritreans hadn’t established our case for his crimes against humanity… these allegations make him a problem for all of humanity (as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee found) and particularly for those who want to enter into deals with him and still come out smelling like roses…we in Eritrea are not asking Abiy or anyone else to deal with Isaias for us… we are simply pointing out that the only way to peace is peace!

Isaias Afwerki accepted the peace deal as he thought it gained him victory over people he considers his arch enemies (TPLF) and he will not settle for anything less…he is used to locking his enemies in dungeons to never be heard from again he even erases them from video footages and arrests their underage children and elderly parents for good measure… he will not be satisfied unless his vengeance is satisfied and then more and he doesn’t care what happens in the process… (I present the social, economic and political status of Eritrea as a case in example)…

Bottom line is… Ethio-Eritrean peace will not be realised whilst Issias Afwerki is intact, unless Ethiopians break their country apart to prove to him that it indeed is ‘game over for TPLF’… I know there are many Ethiopians who think that, that is not a bad thing at all, but they ought to remember that this effectively means civil war in Ethiopia to satisfy Isaias Afwerki to actualise peace with Eritrea… that in a nutshell is what I mean about the means to an end…

It really is time to rethink the Ethio-Eritrean peace deal… let’s start the journey again: yes to peace but not by any means… If Ethiopians continue to only be interested in the end result they will soon find that IA has nothing but ash in his sack and not just any ash but the rubble from burning Eritrea and Eritreans, and that is the ዱቄት that they are asking Abiy to deliver!

Selam Kidane

Dec 31 2019

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