Historical stance of Eritrea on Ethiopia

Simon Weldemichael

On Wednesday night of 17th February 2021, President Issaias Afewerki has conducted extensive interview with national media outlets on diverse national and regional issues. President Issaias Afewerki has among others spoken heavily and undoubtedly about the current situation in Ethiopia and the engagements and position of Eritrea on the region. He explained the complex regional dynamics, notably Eritrea’s relations with Ethiopia and the barriers in implementing a coherent neighborhood. This is not the first occasion to express the unchanging belief of Eritrea towards Ethiopia. President Issaias Afewerki has a firm belief that the destiny of every nation is linked to its neighborhood. That is why he placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with neighboring countries. Geographically, Eritrea shares long boundaries with Africa’s largest nations, Ethiopia and the Sudan, which have immense actual and potential resources, influence and strength of varying degree.

As they say, you can change your friends but not neighbors. For Eritrea that spends much of its time and resource in search of peace, it is important to develop lasting peace with its neighbors. President Issaias Afewerki has understood the stability and prosperity of Eritrea is largely dependent on a stable, secure and peaceful neighborhood. The foreign policy of Eritrea as explained in the national charter, “[is] based on preserving our national interest, working in the interests of peace and stability in our region and in the world.” The government in Eritrea is working to establish good neighborly and peaceful relations with all countries of the region based on mutual interest and mutual cooperation. The leadership in Eritrea understands the problems related to peace and stability cannot be confined by borders.

The leadership in Eritrea has long been condemned and forecasted the dissolute end of the ethnic based politics instituted by TPLF in Ethiopia. Understanding the perniciousness of the Ethnicism of politics, President Issaias Afewerki has generously advised to the authors of the Ethiopian constitution to omit from or amend the dangerous articles in the document. He expressed blatantly the intention behind the ethnic based federalism of TPLF was to plant explosives in the regional states. The minority faction buried the explosives of division, hatred and suspicion to implode or explode the country if it moves against their will. In his interview President Issaias used to say “the politics of explosive” to describe the ill-favored plan of crumbling Ethiopia. Eritrea is well aware of the imperative of a united, peaceful and prosperous Ethiopia to the overall development of Eritrea. In order to give safety and continuity to its security and national interest, Eritrea vehemently opposed any moves against the unity and stability of all neighboring countries.

President Issaias underscores that Ethiopia is passing through a rectification stage and Eritrea’s modest contribution to consolidate the change in Ethiopia. He also gave a clue to the identity of the evil forces that attempted to reverse the change in Ethiopia and the new direction of relations with Eritrea. The change agent and Nobel peace laureate Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed has acknowledged the advices and contributions he received from President Issaias in various occasions. It’s to be recalled that during his first official visit to Eritrea on July 8, 2018 President Issaias assured Dr. Abiy by saying “We will face together to opportunities and challenges.” President Issaias Afewerki repeated this message to the crowd at the Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa by saying “We have triumphed over the toxic schemes of the past years aimed at sowing the seeds of hate, resentment, and destruction… We are now jointly embarking – with determination – on the path of development, prosperity, and stability in all fields and fronts.”

The broad horizon of Eritrea’s foreign policy and the position of Eritrea on various regional issues was part of the televised discussion. He explained that Eritrea’s neighborhood has four components namely Horn of Africa, Red Sea littoral, Nile basin and Gulf States. He opined that in order peace to prevail in the region, the balance should be maintained and every state should hold its due position in the region. In reference to Ethiopia he condemned the TPLF’s attack on the sovereign institution of the country and called the action “insanity”.

The true essence and historicism of the recent interview of President Issaias cannot be understood in isolation from the past. To understand the historical stance of Eritrea on Ethiopia and other neighboring countries, it’s imperative to undertake literature review on the speeches and interviews of President Issaias. The need of stable neighborhood and mutual cooperation for the stability and prosperity of Eritrea is not a new invention. Dear readers, I bring into your notice some quotes from the vast pre independence literature produced while we were fighting against Ethiopian colonization. They can help in giving a modest contribution to understand the historical stance of Eritrea on Ethiopia:

  1. “Within our program for the peace process in the Horn of Africa, we’re not merely looking at our own problems in Eritrea. Also the problems between Ethiopia and Somalia must be resolved.”

                Tegadalay Issaias Afewerki 1986 interview with Stephen Leavit (Australia), John Sorenson (Canada) and John Stone (Netherlands).

  1. “As they say, when elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers. And we live there in the grass and we’re suffering from these policies. This doesn’t mean that peace only depends on the superpowers. We’re striving to achieve that goal by different means, publicizing our proposals, making the Ethiopian population aware of these proposals to make it part of their demands, to make neighboring countries and opposition groups to play a role, to invite other parties not directly involved in global strategies to contribute to this process.” Ibid
  2. “The people of Eritrea have contributed and will continue to contribute, in their capacity, to the struggle of the peoples of Ethiopia for democracy and rights from the premise that we cannot safeguard our peace and stability without the prevalence of peace, democracy and justice in Ethiopia. The just struggle of Eritrea and the democratic alternative in Ethiopia are inseparable questions and they influence each other… In the course of the struggle of the people of Eritrea, the EPLF, who carried the responsibility and trust of accomplishing that objective and mission, confirms its commitment, once again, to fight and stand on the side of the struggle of the peoples of Ethiopia until the final victory.”

               EPLF statement delivered by Romodan Mohamed Nur during the First Congress of the EPRDF in February 1991.     

  1. “To bring about peace and a lasting resolution to the issue of Eritrea, to bestow democracy, peace and harmony to the peoples of Ethiopia, and to make peace and stability the portraits of our region are inseparable objectives. It is practically impossible, even if one attempts and wishes to treat these interdependent issues separately. Building its understanding in that basic fact, the EPLF has begun to cooperate with all organizations and opposition forces of Ethiopia since its inception. For us, such forms of assistance are not a new invention.”

              EPLF statement during 7th regular session of the EPLF Politburo, January 1990.  

  1. “Any peace in Eritrea or in our region must be seen with the overthrow of the regime in Addis Ababa and its prevailing ideology. To bring about peace here in Eritrea while the repressive and expansionist regime holds power and Ethiopia remains in conflict is unthinkable…we have to remember that the peace of one people can affect those around them positively and the instability and continuous war can likewise affect the region negatively. Therefore, we have to work together.”

             Tegadalay Issaias Afewerki, Sagm January 1990

  1. “In the thinking of the EPLF, there is a belief that there should be a healthy relationship between the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. But first, the poison that was spread among them by the colonial regimes and the hatred that they created must be removed. This hatred cannot be eliminated overnight. There is no magic potion or holy water that can completely cleanse in one day or in one night.”

           Tegadalay Issaias Afewerki, Sagm October 1990.  

To conclude, Eritrea has since long recognized Ethiopia’s importance and significance for the region and the common destiny of the two countries. The leadership in Eritrea has demonstrated its intelligence toward the establishment of a united and stable neighborhood, respect each other’s sovereignty and cooperate to solve regional issues on mutual bases. In order to preserve and enhance the long waited peace that we as Eritreans acquired after 20 years of conflict with Ethiopia, it is essential to strive for peace and stability in the country in our capacity. The road to peace is compelling and it reflects the hopes and aspirations of the people particularly of the youth in both countries. There is no doubt that the new era rekindled the hope of the youth which constitute the majority of the population in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

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