16 July 2018

Eritrea: 'How Can a Crazy One-Man Rule Work for Lasting Peace?'

Eritrea has reopened its embassy in Ethiopia after more than 20 years of emnity. Political scientist Mehari Yohannes believes the thaw in relations is a ploy by Eritrea's president to maximize his personal interests.

Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki (above right) re-opened the embassy on Monday in a ceremony attended by Ethiopia's new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed . The opening is further evidence of a dramatic and sudden thawing of the relationship between the two countries.

It was the first visit by Isaias, who has ruled Eritrea with an iron fist since 1993, to Ethiopia since 1996. In 1998, the two neighbors waged a brutal war over a scrubby border region, leading to tens of thousands of deaths and the severing of all ties for more than twenty years.

Last Monday, Ahmed and Afwerki signed a historic peace agreement. Direct phone lines between the two countries have been restored and Ethiopian Airlines has announced it will resume flights between Addis Ababa and Eritrea's capital, Asmara, on Wednesday.

DW talked on the phone to Mehari Yohannes, a political scientist based in Ethiopia, who doesn't trust Afwerki's motives for agreeing to peace.What do you make of the opening of Eritrea's embassy in Addis?

Mehari Yohanis: I think [Eritrea's president Isaias Afwerki] is trying to maximize his personal interests. Ethiopia is dealing with a dictator. You have no guarantees for the peace, for the terms of the agreement ... the dictator can tear apart the papers anytime he wants. How can this dictator be a peace partner for the Ethiopian government? The two countries are trying to mend their relationships, so opening their embassies is like a symbolic gesture to the world and to the people of the two countries.

Ethiopia's embassy says it has not yet opened its embassy in Asmara. What is the reason behind this? Because Ethiopia is the one who has been reaching out to Eritrea in the first place.

I don't know. Maybe there is no agreement between the governments or the government circle. You know, Isaias is a single-man government. He is a regime, a state by himself. He can decide whatever he wants. But in Ethiopia, the government has many constraints regarding passing positions. So there might be a challenge or disagreement regarding the opening up of the Ethiopian embassy in Asmara.

What guarantees are there from Eritrea or from Ethiopia that whatever peace deal was signed will actually hold?

It's a deep-rooted problem. There are so many complicated factors that have aggravated the conflict, which has been in deadlock for the last 18 years. Without accessing and restructuring and resolving these complicated factors between Ethiopia and Eritrea, it is simply a mere diplomatic game or a kind of diplomatic gambling.

If Eritrea needs true reconciliation or conflict resolution, there should be a mechanism to access the root cause behind the conflict as well as their plans. The [Eritrean] people should know what is going on regarding the country. A single man can't decide the fate of the nation. The regime in Asmara doesn't seem interested in resolving the border conflict because the border issue is like a bargaining card for Isaias. If he is not satisfied with Abiy's terms of agreement, he will fire the gun, and ... then he will use this to get a new conflict. After all, the regime in Asmara has no language of peace. ... Eritrea has no constitution, no parliament. This is simply a mafia government, a one-man government. How can one government under one crazy-man rule work for lasting peace and reconciliation?

Eritrea

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