By Kebreab Isaac W/Sellassie, Ph.D (London)
25 June 2018
Peace, namely the genuine and just peace, is the highest good of men and nations, the most fundamental value of a society. Human beings have a sacred right to this value of peace. The peace I aspire and wish to discuss here is the peace that opens and progresses to the positive peace: peace with good neighbourliness & cooperation, trust, justice and reconciliation.
The fact is that peace is the outcome of different factors and it becomes possible by addressing the preconditions. After the senseless proxy ‘border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ethiopia significantly evolved towards some level of political reform, pseudo-democracy and governance, and massive economic development, and it has demonstrated its readiness to implement of the final and binding verdict of the International Boundary Commission, with a call for friendly negotiation leading to meaningful peace between the two countries. However, as it stands, the position of the regime in Eritrea is inappropriate and it is questionable whether Mr Isaias in Eritrea will engage in a genuine peacemaking process. The full acceptance of the Commission’s verdict and supporting its implementation with a consensual and inclusive negotiation for a meaningful and lasting peace are key elements. This means, legal settlement awarded, its narrow and specific nature of judicial settlement, cannot accommodate the dynamic and more complicated issues of the needed conflict resolution. If one has the will to have genuine peace that leads to positive peace between neighbours, I believe it is fundamental to think about the key building blocks for peace. Among these are, assuring the bordering parties’ good relationships and communication, building trust and trading opportunities, consider elite’s personal characteristics & political realities and the readiness to commitment to common fundamental convictions. For us Eritreans, the urgency matter of Eritrea’s internal politics is separate from and a much bigger concern than the border issue; and is the primary responsibility of Eritreans. It is the purpose of this article to discuss this intricate case within an Eritrean perspective to long lasting peace.
1. Background to the ‘Border’ War:
Border issues are normal affairs, especially in Africa, as a result of the partition of Africa into territorial unit by the colonist power (the 1897 Berlin Congress of 1885-87). It is common to find today that a tribe is divided across several countries’ borders and many ethnic groups living together across porous borders. But why did Eritrea and Ethiopia go to war and what was the reason behind the peace deal instalment? Political scientists consider some driving motivations of war, such as the interest in power and armaments to maintain power, legitimacy issue, economic assets and for geo-politic concerns, for example the Horn’s gateway to Africa from Middle East. Thus, despite the existence of contested border issues prior to 1998, the so called Ethio-Eritrea ‘border’ war that started in May 1998 was more related to political and economic issues rather than the ‘border’ itself. It was just a pretext, a cover-up for personal power fantasy and vice behaviour of Mr Isaias who is unaccountable and not committed to both the cardinal principles of law and his wiliness to avoid war, and to a lesser extent the provocation of the Tigrai State Administration.
The two governments have aggravated their relationships in dealing with one another after the war ended in 2000. This in turn is tied to two things: firstly, the issues of responsibility for the destructive war between the countries and, secondly, the Eritrea’s PFDJ regime has increasingly become internally repressive and externally hostile to all neighbouring countries, particularly to Ethiopia. It went too far to rule in the country with no formal and accountable public institutions. Now, our chance is at a cross road. The chance of this third phase would be either to use it for genuine peace or leaving the case unaddressed properly so that the proxy war continues. We need to say no more to the cycle of war and proxy-wars. The only way for lasting peace is a fully engaged and negotiated conflict resolution, reconciliation and compensation, and creating and strengthening accountable national democratic institutions.
War is preventable; it can even be eliminated if the following preconditions are established, namely, a legitimate and transparent government, democratic institutions accountable for human rights violations, a platform for a broader and tolerate national & professional discussions to maximise the possibility for peace-education and cross-border cooperation contrary to the mere militaristic behaviour. The well-known fact that ‘democracies seldom experience war because the government in a democracy is responsive to the emerging needs of its citizenry’ reminds the clear linkage between good governance, peace and security. A domestically legitimate and democratically accountable regime of States would usually lead to greater transparency, cooperation and trust. On the contrary, a regime, which rules by despotism and lawlessness, like Mr Isaias, become prima facie dangerous for peace and security of both countries. If the government in Eritrea was a legitimate and constitutionally accountable regime in 1998, the nonsense ‘border’ war would not have happened, or otherwise it would have been settled peacefully by mediation soon after it had started.
2. An Eritrean Perspective for Lasting Peace
The International Boundary Commission delivered its final and binding decision on 13 April 2002, and the parties in principle accepted the final and binding verdict of the arbitrary commission. Since the delimitation on the map was to be followed by the parties’ agreement on the details of implementing the physical demarcation, it is high time for its implementation. I commend the Ethiopian ruling party, the EPRDF, for its peace efforts made and its firm stands towards the sovereign people of Eritrea (for PM Dr Abiy Ahmed and so to both his predecessors). However, it is not difficult to note whether Mr Isaias would be an honest partner of peace or not, and this is discussed below. Otherwise, the Algiers Peace Agreement is a valid treaty of rules governed by international law and has legal consequences on the parties.
From an Eritrean perspective, the verdict of the boundary commission could be supplemented by a necessary means. While Algiers Agreement as a border dispute settlement by legal means focuses merely on implementing the court order, the approach to peace-building or conflict resolution takes a wider consideration, including the structure of national system as the root cause and conflict transformation in order to avoid the recurrence of violent conflicts. So, we Eritreans need to step up towards the positive peace which includes the presence of trust, good neighbourliness and cooperation. Secondly, border issue is an international issue but also the extension of the national system. However, it has increasingly become evident that one of the enduring factors that contribute to conflict is the tendency or structure of a national regime - aggressive and unaccountable regimes like the one in Asmara. So, what are the prerequisites for establishing peace in terms of positive peace? Should Eritrea’s domestic democratic and legitimacy issues, which were the main contributor, if not the instigator of the ‘border’ war itself, be ignored and focused on international border instead? I believe it will be absurd and naïve to think like that. The constructive political development and the peaceful transfer of power in Ethiopia deserve to be admired and is a historic achievement. On the contrary, what is prevailing in Eritrea is well known to everybody and needless to discuss here.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Eritrean territory and Eritreans are under absolute control and oppression of the tyrant. There is neither constitution nor a functioning parliament. There are over 350 prisons and thousands of political prisoners, enslavement and mass exodus, tragedy in Sian deserts and Mediterranean Sea, to mention few. The UN for Human Rights Commission has accused Mr Isaias’s elites of crime against humanity, one of the egregious crimes. Referring to this devastating situation, an Eritrean elderly man said, “under the oppressive party (higdef), every day in Eritrea is a day of death, of killing; kidnapping and arresting incommunicado are taken as normal in Eritrea”. Therefore, the need to change this serious destructive condition is an urgent matter for us, Eritreans, and border issue, though necessary, may even become a secondary to this.
3. The Unveiled Enemy of Peace
Peace is a condition directly related to the leader’s characteristics and the prevailing political structure produced by such a leader. Political psychologists such as M. Hermann, argues that the personality characteristics and the thought processes of an individual leader matter a lot. The PFDJ is a one-man led group and that man, Isaias, is not and will not be a person of peace and harmony. Rather, as many have already stated, I am also of the view that he is a sadist. He cannot live in a peaceful socio-political atmosphere. He is not the type of leader who values peace and peace embracing leaders. To mention a few of his recent attitudes, after he instigated the Ethio-Eritrea ‘border’ war without approval of, or even discussing with Eritrean parliament and a cabinet, he personally refused the Rwanda-US peace plan and as well as Ambassador Beraki Ghebreselassie’s conscious formal advice to accept the Rwanda-US peace framework. He did whatever he wishes without any concern for what the consequences and without legal mandate from the sovereign Eritrean people. Even the 2000 Alegiers Peace Agreement itself was the product of two main factors: i) Isaias was forced to sign the Peace Agreement only because of the advancement of Ethiopian military and the displacement of number Eritrean people, and ii) the pressure made on him by the then Foreign Mister Mr Haile Woldetinsae (Deru’e), and whose negotiation skills brought the Algiers Peace Negotiation to the table.
The establishment of a legitimate national order and a democratically accountable ruler is completely missing in the Eritrean context. The relationship between the Eritrean people and the self-crowned despot Mr Isaias Afewerki is comparable to a company director owning the property. There is no human dialogue between the two parties, let alone a genuine dialogue with Ethiopia. Again, the question is up to us Eritreans. Can Mr Isaias, the enemy of peace, master of killings and war become a person of war and peace at the same time? The time we are passing through now is a serious and an embarrassing for us Eritreans. [……] About two-thousand years ago, a young man promoting a peaceful change for social justice through commitment and love said, “new cloth had not yet shrunk, so that using new cloth to patch older clothing would result in a tear as it began to shrink. Similarly, old wineskins had been ‘stretched to the limit’ or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again therefore risked bursting them” (Matt. 9:17). Any person with a good human sense can understand that peace and violence or despotism cannot dwell together. Peace is a very expensive and has a sacred value, and cannot be expected from a cheap and an enemy of peaceful people or be delivered in old wineskin, like the despot Mr Isaias is trying to do.
The feeling of responsibility towards oneself and others is regarded as the corollary to the nature of man who lives in a relationship and is moral by his nature, too. Likewise, a sensible leader also understands that leadership is not only power but responsibility and service. The people of Eritrea must be offered an option to choose to live in peace and dignity and avoid war as their inalienable right. Few years ago Mr Isaias said “I do not care if a family or Church is cut into two sides of the border; … JUST CUT IT”. … Similarly, over 350 young Eritreans perished in the Mediterranean Sea (near Lampedusa) in a matter of a day and he did not even recognise them as citizens, let alone as his children. There are many similar colossal crimes committed by this self-crowned leader. He tends to demonstrate his political affairs and his power as unlimited ones. I doubt whether Mr Isaias is still with a sound human sense. On many occasions it has become evident that he himself has renounced his humanity. I think he has lost his sanity. If anyone disputes this analogy, then please prove it.
I have no doubts in PM Dr Abiy's enthusiasm for and commitment to peace and reconciliation, and what the essential prerequisites for these are. Once again, while we wish to remind him the moral duties he has towards the Eritrean victims because moral duties operate across the borders, we also kindly request his solidarity in support of the voiceless Eritrean people. Performing peacemaking task in this particular time of the Eritrean people could also provide a test for the leadership of PM Dr Ahmed. For us Eritreans, trying to believe that Mr Isaias could do something good and peace for the people of Eritrea and our neighbours is self-deception. I am sure that Eritreans cannot expect peace from an enemy of peace, from a sadist and self-crowned despot, as one cannot expect to get water from a rock or desert, and honey from fly. It is therefore high time to act for ourselves to live in peace and dignity and with our good Ethiopian people as neighbours and brothers. We need to stand up for ourselves together. ሕዝቢ ኤርትራ: ብህልኽ ንዝዓበደ: ንክብሪ ሕዝብን ሰላምን: ቅንጣብ ሓላፍነት ዘይስምዖ: ናይ ሓደ ውልቀ-ሰብ መጻወቲ ኪኸውን: ስቅ ኢልካ ዘይርአ: ኣሰካፊ ጉዳይ እዩ::
4. The Prerequisite for Lasting Peace: People-to-People Negotiation and Legitimate Government Committed to the Fundamental Convictions
There are a lot of valued reasons why a negotiation is necessary in implementing the ‘border’ peace deal, if ‘border’ be the case. This is in spite of the disputed border and land, the people in the trans-border and peace in both countries being the goal. First, judicial settlement is not dynamic task and rarely satisfies both parties; hence its awards would result in a win-lose scenario. Without an engaged or genuine negotiation, the implementation of the court’s verdict and the win-win situation will remain incomplete and the two governments will soon start to fight a proxy war. Moreover, war, the ‘no war’ and ‘no peace’ situation is not an option. Secondly, technically speaking, the Algiers Peace Agreement fundamental focuses was on settling the ‘disputed land’; it did not take into consideration the issue surrounding and between the societies (static villages or non-static population) living along the disputed borders. In the case of Ethio-Eritrea border conflict, participation of the local community to the win-win situation of a conflict resolution process is a strategy paramount important. This is because the people divided along the border have common identity and so, cross-border trade and communication is part of their daily life. They are not static; they operate in interaction with the other segments of society, maintaining strong linkages beyond the border or the scope of single-State structure. This is why the process of ‘conflict resolution’ is much more important and practical than ‘conflict settlement’ case. Thirdly, the quality or nature of the two neighbouring countries as it stands cannot contribute to sustainable peace, if peace is the goal, the parties have to negotiate to eliminate the threat of peace by committing themselves to certain homogeneity of internal structure and fundamental convictions needed, to mention few.
There is a need for a bottom-up approach to resolving the issues and involving the grass-root communities. More than anybody, the blood-related communities in the border are capable of resolving the issue with traditional justice and love to each other. We have outstanding features of traditional peace settlement of disputes, resolving conflicts and reconciliation, whether it may be on land, between communities or tribes. Community elders, religious leaders and representatives of villages perform these traditional mechanisms. We have witnessed this kind of tremendous and touching performance of resolving conflicts in Eritrea, between Tzen’adegle and Tor’a, in Erob and in Wajir (Northern Kenya district). So, in order to complement the Algiers Peace Agreement and result a meaningful peace and stability between the two countries and one people, border communities should be given the opportunity to play their role - similar to the above positive experiences of bottom-up models of conflict resolution. It was even wrong and unwise to decide to settle the border dispute by mean of an external body, the arbitration headquartered in The Hague, while the traditionally skilled local people who know the existing physic and natural (hills, rivers and local trees) signposts of the frontier (hills, rivers, etc.) are still living there. However, this mistake is left for history to judge.
The much-needed negotiating peace building opportunity should recognise and include the following options and criteria:
Other prerequisites for durable peace are providing compensation and facilitating reconciliation, as well as to political will to good neighbourliness and cooperation, and certain homogeneity of internal political structure and fundamental convictions. The EPRDF of Ethiopia introduced a policy to help Eritreans reclaim their property lost or left in Ethiopia. But no similar action was taken by the Government of Eritrea. This needs to be developed and refined cooperatively. Certainly, peace at national and cross-border level is linked to the establishment of legitimate national order, a democratically accountable ruler and good neighbourliness. In the end, the lack of these elements could be the main cause for the origin of conflicts. So, only if these conditions are achieved, can the two countries have durable peace and produce fruitful multi-dimensional work.
I believe that there are no unsolvable problems between Eritreans and Ethiopian, whether it may be at the border itself or issues caused by the border. In fact, it is my humble view that it is possible to rebuild our good relations and recover the golden time that we have lost warring against each other. However, like or not, Mr Isaias Afewerki cannot live in peaceful society, if not in war, chaos and turbulent situation. As long as the dictatorial and antagonistic nature of Mr Isaias continues to rule, there will be no peace, even if the border has demarcated. So, undertaking people-to-people and/or people’s representatives negotiating for lasting peace will not be possible while Isaias is in power.
The border arbitration at The Hague complicated the border case further because, firstly, the border was not the real reason for fighting; and secondly, the lack of political will from the two governments. Having said this, however, there is no question about the validity of the Algiers Peace Treaty. Now it is time to implement, time to make peace, but wisely and without making further complication. Genuine and just peace is the highest value of people. It should not be seen and judged by the short-term benefit for the parties. Politic is both the art of living together and the only possible peace, and that peace is our shared destiny. One obvious and scientific fact is that Mr Isaias Afewerki cannot live in a peaceful environment. Besides, negotiation and people-to-people working towards peace will be impossible as long as he remains in control of the people’s power. We need to demonstrate that Isaias is the only enemy of peace by not contributing to his provocative agendas. A government is the servant of the people and its common good, and not vice versa. Eritreans should not leave the way open to demagogues.
There is great demand for peace among the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia, particularly those living in and across the porous borders of the two countries, drawn by the old colonial masters. Therefore, we must stand hand-in-hand and say, enough to the cycle of war and displacement; our peoples need to step up to build trust, a shared vision and principles, which consider the intra- and inter-state structures adaptable to sustainable peace. Who would wish to live in constant conflict with oneself and with others? Who would like to live alone, in isolation and without a good relationship and cooperation? We are part of the IGAD family, too, which has the noble objectives of the Horn’s people at its core.