After decades of frozen conflict, Eritrea has reopened its embassy in Ethiopia. The move marks the most recent step towards the normalization of relations between the two countries after each country’s embassy was closed during the border war from 1998-2000 which killed 80,000 people. The conflict had remained a military stalemate until a week ago, when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signed an agreement with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to formally end the military conflict. In a ceremony, the leaders jointly raised the Eritrean flag within the reopened Eritrean embassy. Ethiopia has yet to reopen its embassy in Eritrea. The embassy opening came on the heels of Ahmed’s recent trip to Eritrea, in which he visited an industrial park and went to a dinner and concert.
The leaders of both countries affirmed their support for the recent moves towards peace. In a press conference, Ahmed said, “Both nations have chosen peace as opposed to war.” He continued that he was looking forward to “mak[ing] up for lost opportunities” by normalizing relations. Afwerki also voiced his support for making the recent progress durable, saying, “We won’t allow anyone to stop this from happening.” Similarly, Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said the trip had “inexorably elevated bilateral ties of both countries to new, promising, heights.” He continued that the embassy reopening was “yet another milestone in the robust special ties of peace and friendship both countries are cultivating with earnestness in these momentous times.”
In addition to improved relations, both countries could benefit economically from the recent developments. Mohammed Adow at Al Jazeera argued that “Ethiopia was declared landlocked [due to the state of war]. It had no way of using the ports of Asaba and Massawa in Eritrea. Now, Ethiopia is looking forward to regaining access to them. And Eritrea is excited at that possibility.”
The reopening of the embassy, especially in combination with other recent moves towards peace, mark a clear step toward lasting progress. In the past week, a multi-decade conflict has been formally ended and both countries have been put on the path towards peaceful cooperation and stable relations. Given that the leadership of both Ethiopia and Eritrea both support moves towards peace, it seems unlikely that recent process will be reversed. If the current trend continues, lasting peace seems more likely than not.
The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has a long history, making the recent move towards peace more surprising. Eritrea was previously a province of Ethiopia, but after a decades-long struggle for independence, Eritrea succeeded at splitting off from Ethiopia in 1993. Over the course of the 30 year independence conflict, over 110,000 Eritrean civilians died, more than 10% of the country’s population. Since the border war from 1998-2000, the two countries have remained at odds. In particular, relations have been stuck in the mud since 2002, when Ethiopia rejected a UN resolution to demarcate the border between the two countries. However, ever since Ahmed was elected to lead Ethiopia in April, he has pursued an aggressively reformist agenda. After declaring his intention to make peace in early June, Ahmed released jailed dissidents, normalized diplomatic and economic ties with Eritrea, and restored telecommunication linkages between the two countries. Ethiopia and Eritrea are expected to cooperate to develop ports and restart flights between the two countries in the coming days.
In conclusion, the reopening of the Eritrean embassy marks another significant step on the road to peace. By reopening diplomatic channels, each country can cement the progress that has already been made towards lasting peace and pave the way for additional progress and full economic reintegration. Given the new political climate in both countries, it appears that progress will continue, and the last 50 years of off-and-on conflict may finally come to a decisive end.
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