Going over the Eritrea-Djibouti Peace Agreement with a fine-tooth comb

An English rendition of an incisive Amharic article written by Meles A
Translation By Dilwenberu Nega
July 02 2010

The Eritrean Government also plays the role of a courier to a number of nations. Qatar, Libya and Iran use Asmara as conduit to channel all forms of support to foreign opposition groups, for whose loyal and obedient services the State of Eritrea is generously rewarded. In its report to the United Nations, the body monitoring Eritrea’s compliance with UN sanctions, it cited irrevocable evidence to suggests that Eritrea played a pivotal role in delivering support sent to Al Shabab in Somalia. Eritrea’s blatant use of ships and other assets belonging to Tamil Tigers, who had made Asmara their final stronghold in the face of mounting Sierra Lankan Government advance, spurred the Sierra Lankan Government to lodge a protest to the UN at Eritrea’s blatant interference in its internal affairs. The Eritrean Government, while declaring its contempt to the Sierra Lankan protest, nevertheless, refused Sierra Lankan request to open an Embassy in Asmara.

In another development, the recent much hyped Qatari-brokered Peace Agreement between Eritrea and Djibouti, has already encountered big challenges, with Eritrea resorting to its usual ploy of grouping a farrago of Djibouti opposition groups and carrying out sporadic attacks against Djibouti. Yet again, this is proof, if proof were ever wanted, that President Isaias never learns from past mistakes. This Eritrean wayward performance cannot be viewed as being confined to the Government of the State of Eritrea; it is rather, a manifestation of President Isaias’ mercurial temperament. For after all in Eritrea the Government and the opposition are two sides of the same coin or both are personified in the person of the President. Dan Kennel, an expert on Eritrean affairs, once quoted President Isaias as saying: “When I am faced with a challenge, I become adamantine, and I am, by nature, emotive.”

Goliath and David

Currently African conflicts are 3 dimensional. In a paper he presented to Nairobi University’s School of International Studies, a certain Kenyan Officer, Major Emana Ninabuta, cited rivalry for power, the race for natural resources and colonial boundaries-related issues as being the troika of conflicts in the continent. Eritrea, under the pretext of carrying out lines of demarcation, had committed acts of aggressions against Yemen and Ethiopia. While the issue of colonial borders can effectively be addressed in round-table talks, resorting to a frontal armed attack, however, is symptomatic of warmongering. In his “Conflict and Intervention” paper, William Zartman, Professor Emeritus at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University noted: “Though a nation, if it wants, can go to war with another nation as a result of border related issues, it would be beneficial if it were to avoid the temptation of going to war over this very issue.” Eritrea, no doubt, is ill disposed to pay heed to Zartman-like prudent advices. For how else can one explain Eritrea’s phasal aggression on Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti over the same border issue?

Djibouti and Eritrea share 110km common border. Over and beyond geographical proximity the two countries enjoy close people-to-people relations. Yet all these shared values meant nothing to President Isais his wayward behaviour had thrice brought the two sides on the precipice of an all out war. In 1995 tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti flared up when Eritrea bombed and then controlled Ras Dumera. Many believed, then, Eritrea inclusion in her map of this part of Djibouti, to be the root cause. Anyway, no other Eritrea-Djibouti confrontation has drawn such wide-spread interest as the one that keeps on unravelling under our eyes.

We all are aware, are we not, that seldom have Eritrea-Djibouti relations enjoyed respite from grave incidents which placed the two states at daggers drawn. It is an open secret that President Isais continues to harbour grudge and resentment against Djibouti for allying with Ethiopia during the Ethio-Eritrean war. Though the then President Hassan Gouled Aptidon of Djibouti had attempted to broker a peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, President Isais had turned down the peaceful overture on the grounds that as far as Eritrea was concerned President Hassan Ghouled did not constitute a neutral arbiter. In an interview with Addis Ababa’s “Efoita” magazine, President Ghouled Aptidon recalled pitifully how at a peace conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina-Faso, and President Isais treated him in a style and manner unbecoming of a Head of State. Soon after this incident, Eritrea recalled her Ambassador to Djibouti. The other action which exacerbated the already confrontational stand of the two states was Djibouti’s refusal to allow entry to the then Secretary General of IGAD, Eritrean Ato Tekeste Gebrai. However, no single issue has been as divisive to the two countries as Djibouti’s willingness for Ethiopia to have access to the Port of Djibouti, for such an arrangement had denied Eritrea of what it continually salivates for: revenue from use of the Port of Assab.

Eritrea had tried hard to woo the United States to open a military base in Eritrea. It had recruited the American lobby firm, Greenberg, at the cost of 50.000 USD per month to the Eritrean exchequer, to woo America’s military strategies to opt in favour of Eritrea, rather than Djibouti. According to Horn of Africa analysts, America was ill disposed to acquiesce to Eritrea’s offer because of two reasons: First, America would not place any trust on President Isaias’ mercurial temperament. Secondly, America knew very well that toying with the idea of closer ties with inconsequential Asmara, could lead to the loss for America of influential Ethiopia. The loss of America’s presence on its soil has, therefore, robbed Eritrea investment opportunities as well as the chance of ring-fencing her peace and security. Although Eritrea and Djibouti did manage to reconcile in 1999, they had not been able to bask in the basics of peaceful co-existence for more than a decade. Two years ago Eritrea mounted an unprovoked aggression on Djibouti, and it was alleged that Eritrean soldiers had occupied the commanding heights of Ras Dumera and its lake. According to Djiboutian, Eritreans first entered Djiboutian territory under the pretext of getting truck loads of sand for road construction, and later refused to leave. This accusation, of course, was flatly denied by Eritrea.