28 July 2018

Eritrea: Ethio-Eritrea Thaw - PM's Greatest Achievement

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Four months back, I wrote that the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) deserves credit for understanding the public's sentiment and choosing a leader amongst the reformist Team Lemma. That man, of course, is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) who was selected to be chairman of the ruling party.

Many of us wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. We believed that many of Ethiopia's problems are too broad to address in months or even years. We also wished him luck after his remark to normalise relations with Eritrea.

Now that the rapprochement with Eritrea is fast coming to a full circle, I am as awed as I am proud. Furthermore, it gives me hope that we are seeing the end of a political system of governance that has held democratisation back. Although there remains much work to be done in making the government more transparent, there is hope now in that the current administration appears to be employing policies that it believes to be in the public mind.

Despite the many obstacles that remain, The Prime Minister is proving himself to be a man of his words, which is a winning card for him and his party.

What was interesting to see is how the people of both nations felt about the Ethio-Eritrean thaw. There are still unfortunate conflicts going around the country, and the security apparatus is in disarray, but it is hard not to notice that Abiy's philosophy of reconciliation and positive-sum, Medemer, has received acceptance by many Eritreans and Ethiopians.

Abiy's arrival in Asmara, the culturally significant capital of Eritrea, as witnessed on our Tv screens, was touching. He, and the delegation he led, were greeted by thousands of joyous Eritreans.

On this historic day, protocols were broken. People hugged and kissed the Prime Minister. Some suggest that this could have created unexpected problems, but I believe it showed the kind of nostalgia and love that Eritreans and Ethiopians share despite two decades of political and border disputes that kept them apart for almost two decades.

It was also notable how altruistic Issayas, both in Asmera and Addis Abeba, appeared to be, pointing to Abiy as the engine that brought about the warming up of the relations.

In that moment, it was possible to see that establishing peace between the two nations is easier said than done. This may be naïve to say, given the crucial economic and border issues between the two countries, that the relationships have to be carefully looked at. Suffice to say that it is often easier to implement policies when the public is fervently behind it.

Expressions of emotional opinions on social media and during gatherings were just as touching. Though the countries share historical and cultural backgrounds, many families were separated during the war, and as a result, were unable to see each other in person or be able to speak over the phone.

It was an extension of the possibility of getting together and speaking with their loved ones that flowed into the streets of Addis Abeba on Issayas' arrival. I was proud to see Ethiopians let bygones be bygones and show the love and respect humans should share for each other, let alone those that shared a country until their separation some 25 years ago.

Geopolitical and economic reasons may have been at the heart of it, but Issayas did reciprocate the respect that his country was afforded. It is said that he was overwhelmed by the sense of heartfelt companionship that was extended to him by Ethiopians and could not help to feel the same way about Ethiopians.

This may very well have been true. His speech at the Millennium Hall was short, but it delivered a strong message.

I agree with what Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, said, "Isaias's advisers have told me that at this stage ensuring stability in Ethiopia is more important to them than rushing to finally end the old stalemate over the border," in an opinion piece published by the New York Times on June 22, 2018.

These were powerful words, which I wish are true. Ethiopia needs the help, and together with Eritrea, it is possible to forge a democratic future that brings prosperity to both nations.

Eritrea

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