4 July 2018

Eritrea: Meaningful Participation of Border Communities for Effective Normalization

Photo: Skilla1st/Wikimedia Commons
Map showing the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Successive consultations with border communities and other pertinent stakeholders is something the government of Ethiopia should give utmost priority to normalize its relations with Eritrea and bring sustainable peace, political scholars say.

Recently, the Ethiopia government has proactively decided to fully implement the Algiers Peace Agreement, and called on the Asmara regime for dialogue to solve the two decades long standoff between the countries. Following the invitation, a high-level Eritrean delegation composed of Foreign Minister Osman Salih, Special Advisor to the Eritrean President Yeamne Gebreab, and the country's Ambassador to the African Union Araya Desta paid a visit to Ethiopia last week.

Speaking to The Ethiopian Herald, Peace and Security Studies Assistant Professor at the Ethiopian Civil Service University, Dr. Getachew Zeru says that the delegation's visit to Ethiopia opened a new era of cooperation between the two countries.

The Assistant Professor states that the delegation's visit is a 'historic act' and it is a turning point in the history of Ethio-Eritrea relationship.

According to Dr. Getachew, the visit comes at a decisive moment in the history of Ethio-Eritrea relations, and heralds the end of the two decades long stalemate between the two brotherly countries.

The visit is the result of Ethiopia's readiness for peace, and its desire to collaborate with Eritrea in various fields as well as to boost confidence by averting mistrust and suspicion, the Scholar adds.

He describes the call Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed made to normalize relations with Eritrea as a 'landmark' decision that paved the way for the two countries to come closer for negotiation. "It is a very good start to build trust and reach some agreements on peace and development," Dr. Getachew stresses.

For Addis Ababa University Public Policy Professor, Dr. Costantinos Berhutesfa the visit manifests Ethiopia's commitment to work together with Eritrea.

Stating that how the delegation's visit is a show of Eritrea's political will to cooperate with their brothers and sisters here in Ethiopia, the Professor says that the two leaders need to make forward moves for their countries, and cooperate to solve the challenges they face. "It is necessary to neglect the past, which is full of problems and full of mistrust," he points out.

Dr. Costantinos notes that the two countries move for peace and reconciliation has paramount importance in transforming their relations to cooperation and partnership instead of hesitation and confrontation.The presence of Eritrean delegation in the Ethiopian capital is a big step in consolidating the two countries' people-to-people and governments relations, besides its role in bringing peace and stability in the East African region, according to the Professor.

Stating the visit is a good beginning to bring peace in the two countries, Dr. Getachew points out that the Ethiopian government needs to establish closer partnership with Asmara in political, economic and social spheres to avert suspicion and maintain normalization.

He says: "While the incumbent needs to employ social diplomacy to enhance the two countries people-to-people ties, the economic cooperation should prioritize Ethiopia's move to diversify its port outlets and to strengthen the two countries' trade relations."

According to the Assistant Professor, the normalization discussions are expected to set arrangements for a restoration of Ethiopia's access to Eritrea's two ports, capitalizing on the existing high-quality road from Massawa to Ethiopia and the relative closeness of the Assab port to the capital Addis Ababa.

Prior to the emergence of conflict in 1998, Ethiopia and Eritrea enjoyed strong political, economic and cultural relations, and thousands of people were employed in both countries. At that time, Ethiopia was Eritrea's top export partner and had full access to Eritrean ports.

For his part, Political Science and International Relations Assistant Professor at Mekelle University, Meresa Tsehaye says that the normalization process would create a good opportunity to Ethiopia access to international markets and politics take advantage of the unrestricted use of Eritrean ports.

He further states that opening the door for Eritrean investors to involve in Ethiopia's wider investment opportunities, and paving the way for them to take part in the relatively big Ethiopian market needs to be the component of the peace agreement to revitalize the two countries' strong economic ties.

Dr. Costantinos indicates that Ethiopia needs to give due attention to reach a mutual security guarantee agreement with Eritrea that enforces the two countries to refrain from supporting and financing armed rebels.

The Professor stresses that substantive partnership with international, continental and regional organizations such as UN, AU and IGAD would have a principal importance to transfer the peace endeavors to regional economic integration.

"Forming entities equipped with the necessary expertise and resources is crucial to institutionalize the peace building efforts, and execute the normalization in a such a way to ensure Ethiopia's national interest".

The scholars highlight that the development of border regions is something that deserves equal attention and the re-opening of the border with Eritrea to trade activities would have a paramount importance in bringing the two countries border communities closer.

Above all, meticulous tasks should be made to enable the border communities to become the engine of peace efforts and ensuring their overwhelming participation would be instrumental in speeding and sustaining the normalization process. By doing so, Ethiopia will be in a position to re-establish its symbolic political, economic and social relationship with Eritrea, which will serve as the cornerstone of peace and development for the East African region in years to come, they comment.

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