The governing party of Ethiopia announced last Tuesday that it would “fully accept and implement” the 2000 Algiers Peace Accord with Eritrea. The agreement was initially brokered following the 1998-2000 war over border disputes. Ethiopia’s decision to comply with the terms of the accord as well as its acceptance of a 2002 border commission ruling has the potential to sooth regional hostilities and end oppressive policies in Eritrea should the latter choose to cooperate.
The Eritrean government has used the conflict to justify repression, with Human Rights Watch reporting that President Isaias Afwerki runs on a “no-war, no-peace” ideology. Rights abuses include restrictions on speech and religion as well as mandatory military service with terms that border on enslavement. Domestic repression has led 12% of Eritrea’s population to seek asylum abroad. Although Ethiopia’s renewed commitment to the peace process seems sincere, Eritrea is unlikely to change its policy course. Eritrea has not responded to Ethiopia’s decision. Yemane Zeray, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Mekelle University, explains that the conflict is necessary for sustaining the regime, with “analysis of the regimes behaviour show[ing] that it will rather choose to prolong the stalemate so as to stay on power.”
The accord requires Ethiopia to return disputed territory to Eritrea. Ethiopia’s willingness to accept material loss illustrates a strong commitment to peace that should be applauded by the international community. The country has been moving to resolve other hostilities, namely with Egypt, and its acceptance of the peace accord signals its sincerity. Conflict resolution, however, will require Eritrea’s partnership. Eritrea should not only restart dialogue with its southern neighbour but should also engage in domestic reform to adopt policies suited for peacetime. This includes ending mandatory conscription, expanding civil liberties, and holding elections, which has not been done in over two decades.
Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 following decades of conflict. The 1998 war was fought over the disputed territory of Badme, which became a proxy for the countries’ existing tensions. According to the New York Times, the war was one of the bloodiest in post-colonial Africa, with over 100,000 killed and over a million displaced. Ethiopia failed to accept the accord and subsequent border rulings as it would have needed to secede the border territory of Badme. Its move to accept the peace agreement accompanies a series of policies by newly-elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that aim to restore faith in government.
Although the chances for peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea are slim, Ethiopia’s declaration nevertheless is a substantial step towards conflict resolution. Prime Minister Ahmed’s policy agenda bodes well for his citizens as well as for his regional partners, who will enjoy a greater level of peace and security. However, Eritreans will continue to suffer should President Afwerki prolong the conflict and keep repressive policies.
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