By Teweldebrhan Kifle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tigrai Onlne - January 18, 2014
In the advent of the transitional governments in Ethiopia and the then de facto Eritrea in 1991, the landscape of urban politics for the ensuing few years had been dominated by the impending secession of Eritrea from its “motherland”. If other issues were put to the table, they were usually discussed in tangent; sheer extensions of that hype of national “disaster” where centuries-old myths shaped by the virtues of dying and killing for territorial integrity with little or no regard to the plights of the people that lived in those territories and those who carry the brunt of the wars through the sweat and blood of their children, squandered development opportunities as well as perennial environmental degradations which, in the end, reduced life to abnormality. Once the referendum was conducted, the waves of polemics started speciously waning only to reemerge in a short while ostensibly as a causation of the still inexplicable aggression of Eritrea after its merely seven years of toddling existence as a nation state.
The relative calm of the often-cacophonous Shewa elites in the wake of the de jure independence of Eritrea was partly due to the fact that the vast majority of Ethiopians were not moved by the ever malicious idea of war mongering: an archaic concept that put the nation in the thicks of socio-politico-economic turmoil and mayhem decades, if not centuries, on end. But when Eritrea invaded Ethiopia, the old genies once again let loose out of their confines and cast shadows not only on the behavior of the inveterate forces of discordance but also shook the hearts of some in the camps of the revolutionary democrats which had been the sole proponents of a peaceful settlement for the Eritrean mess. And since then, it has become quite common to observe people in the cyber space, which otherwise had been respectful of the Eritrean sovereignty, being duped with such disposition partly due to some sense of allegiance to and solidarity with the dissidents.
And still others with vested interests to use Assab as a political ploy in stirring waves of emotions with high hopes in mustering electoral votes by calling back the ever slumbering and too familiar patriotic adventurism which drained the meager resources the country could hardly afford. According to my observation, the views of the mainstream political opposition forces in Ethiopia as it stands now vis-à-vis Eritrea may be summarized as follows.
1.The Dissidents’ View
This group includes the 2001 dissidents of TPLF whom some of them now have become the leaders of the Arena for Justice and Democracy party and still others leading their private lives elsewhere. This group believed that the 1998 war was aborted short of meeting its all-out objectives. Firstly, Eritrea should have been cornered to a point of surrender, have it forcefully signed the boundary line dictated by Ethiopian terms as any victor of war would have demanded. Secondly, Eritrea should have been further forced to relegate Assab voluntarily if it wanted to survive in peace with whatever is left of it. It is said that that was the cost Eritrea should have paid for its grave miscalculations and blunder. For that reason it repudiated the Algiers agreement. This group also holds that the colonial treaties are void by default as Italy had violated them by invading Ethiopia in the later years. It has become quite clear afterwards that the dissidents had a motive in the war bigger than and beyond the legitimate self-defence which extends to the extent of revoking the Eritrean statehood with the veiled pretext of “strategicnational interests”. The members that established the Arena party have been showing their convictions and are now promising day in and day out to bring in Assab by “any means necessary”.
2. The Right-Wing Extremists’ View
This group embraces the positions of the dissidents view except it further attacks the EPRDF for letting Eritrea secede. It strives in maintaining the old patriotic hyperbole that Eritrea’s independence is an outcome of conspiracy, much less peoples’ revolt against injustices. It’s hypersensitive to any negotiations regarding borders be it with Sudan, Eritrea or anyone else until such time it wields state power. It considers itself as the altars of legitimacy where others are just there to retail the country patch after patch. It is oblivion to the fact that our neighbors have also the same stake and claims over their territorial lines. Borders can only be demarcated based on colonial agreements in a manner that brings about lasting peace and further cooperation. Sadly, this group thinks as if Ethiopia is the police of the horn that should bully its neighbors at whim. Its stand on Eritrea emanates from this mixed bag of territorial ambitions with utter disregard to lasting relationship and wellbeing of the people in either sides of the divide.
Why changing the rules amidst the game?
The stated objective of the war was to reverse aggression by freeing the territories occupied by the invading forces. And in the plan there was also a side-objective fully consonant with the spirit of the main objective which aimed at significantly diminishing the fighting capability of the enemy force to the extent that it wouldn’t become a future threat to the country. The agenda couldn’t have been any clearer than it really was. Why then the dissidents wanted to have such a moving target amidst the playing of the game? There was no any other agenda officially communicated to the public whatsoever regarding Assab at the time since the conduction of the war was transparent. One can argue even if that wasn’t an agenda in the startup, there still could have had a chance to make it a bargaining chip in the process as we had the upper hand in the war fronts. This conception is an exact replica of PFDJ’s arrogance that goes like the reason why Ethiopia let Eritrea get its independence was because of EPLF’s “unmatched” military capacity. This is really absurd and holds no merit. EPRDF’s take on Eritrea has never been conditional. You bet good or bad but it has never been conditional. The EPRDF I know is known for will fully changing tactics, strategies and polices but never negotiated on its founding principles: one among these principles being self-determination.
Seen from short-term benefits, the sexiest proposal EPRDF could have come up with at the time would have been fighting with Eritrea. This could have temporarily drawn a considerable euphoria that would extend the life of the war if need be. But that was wrong to do. That way EPRDF moved against popular sentiments and started the arduous task of reconstructing the country economically, reconciling difference among the various interest groups and convincing Ethiopians that self-determination of Eritrea is the best alternative in town to pursue and in the best interest of the Ethiopian people. This is a lasting and self-evident principle EPRDFites had been dying for as it is wrong to withhold people against their will. This belief is immutable and immune to temporary military foray or political expediencies.
It’s true that port is very important asset for any country. I would assume EPRDFites would have been exulted equally, if not more than, the next guy had by some kind of spell they manage to get back the Assab port. But war is not the method. War nullifies in thousand folds for every positive effect that ports would usher in. War is far costlier than the financial books would record. I am not insinuating that going to war for what is justifiably yours is wrong. But even if the claims are justifiably yours, war should be considered as an alternative of last resort. It’s nota matter one ventures at the drop of their hat. All I am saying is 30 years of anguish is more than enough to draw lessons. Let us not allow insanity perpetuates to our peril. Though the legal venue has a fat chance for realization, I admit that it is not that easy to dismiss at the concept level either. But let us not also forget that legal battles, even if they are won, don’t necessarily usher in lasting peace.
The way forward
All said and done, Eritrea remains the bugbear of the Ethiopian state. The EPRDF government has been expressing its readiness to engage Eritrea. Recently, suggestions are also surfacing from former US diplomats calling for “bringing in Eritrea from the cold”. These heavy-weight diplomats are also insinuating that Ethiopia must be encouraged to relinquish Badme as a good gesture in order the engagement bear fruit. These guys didn’t tell, at the time, their government to condemn the aggression when it matters most. Rather they appeased him all along the war instead of sending a clear message that the world wouldn’t tolerate such behavior. Now, they reappeared and are suggesting that the man be replenished with more ammunition to further escalate his project of destabilizing the horn and particularly Ethiopia. I take such advise is baleful, dangerous and serves no purpose for Ethiopia. It simply is like throwing a life vest for a sinking evil down in the high seas.
I sincerely believe that Isaias’ government should go at the earliest. I also believe engaging Eritrea at the moment goes against the interest of Ethiopia because it extends the life of the man in Asmara who has been unmistakably a menace to regional peace. He must be contained in hiscage until it slowly but surely sees his final days if the relative peace we enjoy today is to continue. But if engagement is a must, Badme shouldn’t be offered for bargain. Ethiopia was humbled enough to see Eritreans determine their fate through popular referendum. And any village under Ethiopia, or Eritrea for that matter, that demands to go either way should follow the same procedure of self-determination and the verdict of the inhabitants should be taken as final and binding. Other alternatives vitiate the long-term relationships of the two peoples and prone to ruin like a house build on a dune of sand.