Dawn: Morning has broken

Morning has broken, a joint declaration of peace and friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been signed by the leaders of the two countries ending the state of war that has existed between the two countries for the last two decades.

The joint declaration acknowledged the ” close bonds of geography, history, culture, language, and religion as well as fundamental common interests” the two peoples share. More importantly, the joint declaration underlined that both peoples were “denied the opportunity to build a bright future,” in an apparent reference to the TPLF leadership’s obstructive and destructive role over the last decades.

However, the declaration recognizes that closing “this very costly chapter, which also had a detrimental role in the Horn of Africa, and to make up for lost opportunities and create even bigger golden opportunities for their peoples” would soothe our wounded hearts and help us move on to a new era of cooperation and opportunities.

The joint declaration is made up of five important points: a formal ending of the war; establish intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation; the resumption of diplomatic and economic activities; demarcating the border according to the boundary commission’s decision, and expresses the intent of both countries to “ensure regional peace, development, and cooperation.”

Asmara and Addis Ababa celebrate

As the entourage of the visiting PM of Ethiopia made its way to the presidential palace, in the Eritrean capital, live transmission showed the streets of the city packed with welcoming crowds. Their faces radiated happiness and hope. Some were seen weeping. The air was reminiscent of May 24, 1991, the day I entered the city from the southern outskirts after five days of battles, ending the liberation war.

As I watched the jubilation of the crowds lining up the streets of Asmara and the ululation of the mothers, many questions flooded my mind. Why has peace taken this long to visit these peace-loving people? Sometimes, the possibilities of peace knock at the doors of those who are not ready to let it in. Yet, the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia have been waiting for it for the last two decades with their doors open. Some entity must have held it back. The reaction of Ethiopians in Addis Ababa was similar as reported by the EBC.

Peace has different meanings for different peoples of the world. For my neighborhood, peace or no peace may mean something that deals with the noise of the family next door. However, for the people of the Horn of Africa, and particularly for Eritrea, peace means the end of a siege. It means the end of the war; it means mothers can now see their children grow and start their own lives; it means we will not see piles of dead soldiers in another round of war. Peace also helps both countries divert their meager resources to improve the lives of their people. Instead of discussing the politics of conflicts, it means we can now talk sports, music, and travel, something that many peoples of the world take for granted. It means peace, yeah, that elusive peace. It is not without a reason that of late I started sleeping well.

Watching the whole thing play out in front of my eyes, I could not control my emotions. I struggled to hold my tears back, a rare experience. I become this emotional only on May 24, Eritrea’s independence day and June 20, Eritrea’s Martyrs Day.

Rain of love

The visiting prime minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed said that the rain of love and friendship that had poured over Asmara would inundate the entire Horn of Africa. That was a fitting description of the overwhelming excitation and emotions the occasion created in the streets of Asmara. This visit is, of course, Ethiopia’s turn reciprocating the visit of Eritrea’s high-ranking delegation to Ethiopia two weeks ago.

Moreover, this flight will mark Ethiopian Airlines first ever landing at Asmara airport in over two decades, this time carrying the PM of Ethiopia. The last time Ethiopian planes crossed Eritrean airspace was during the Ethio-Eritrean war of 1998-2000, on bombing sorties.

War divides not only peoples but also minds. Yesterday marks the day when Eritrea and Ethiopia decided to embark on a new era of cooperation. The visit by PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia to Eritrea signifies Ethiopia’s return to constructive engagement. It means the burial of bullying attitudes and entrenched parochial animosity the TPLF clique had spewed towards Eritrea for the last 27 years. The hearts of Eritreans and Ethiopians oozed love.

The Stars of the two leaders seem to have aligned.

President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea’s emotional remarks during the State Dinner, prepared for the Ethiopian delegation, underlines the importance of the occasion. Eritreans are familiar with Isaias mannerism, and I’m sure we never saw the man that happy. I have followed the man’s body language for the last 43 years. He is known to have a uniformly flat affect, in times of victories and in times of setbacks. Also, he is known for his bluntness and matter-of-factly statements.

However, during his public stay with the prime minister of Ethiopia, he was a typical politician, more than fired up compared to his familiar public appearances. He was relaxed and laughing as prime minister Abiy addressed the dinner. It appeared their backgrounds, and the age difference did not separate their vision. Their interaction seemed to be genuine. I only hope that unlike the previous one, with Meles Zenawi, this time their intimate interactions are real and based on mutual respect. We saw similar close relations between president Isaias Afewerki and the late Meles Zenawi, the former Ethiopian prime minister. Nonetheless, that warm personal relationship did not translate into defusing differences peacefully or de-escalating matters when the war broke out. That war cost both peoples close to 100,000 lives, the destruction of property, and the loss of opportunities. I am confident the leaders of both countries have learned the lesson. Ultimately, however, it is up to us, the citizens of both countries, not to allow such horrible carnages again.

Hopes, Challenges

President Isaias Afewerki hinted that challenges might lay ahead. “There are no insurmountable challenges, we are together to meet those challenges, and we will overcome them.”

Of course, the journey ahead will not be smooth. There still are pockets of anti-peace elements cornered in Tigray. They will put up the last resistance to derail a friendly beginning of the two nations.

TPLF’s leaders have caused Eritrea great harm. There is no question about it. The injury they caused is even more painful compared to the injuries past Ethiopian rulers had caused to Eritrea. This feeling is real because you expect to be injured by your enemy. However, when someone you consider a close friend produces the injury, it becomes more than hurt. It puts you in an awkward position to blame yourself. However, we will have to move on.

We don’t hold grudges against the people of Tigray, but we will never forget the pain the TPLF clique has caused us. However, this sad experience should not keep us back from looking for ways to move forward. The destructive elements in the TPLF are not the totality of the organization, and the organization does not represent the entirety of Tigray. As I put it in my last article, the people of Tigray created TPLF; TPLF did not create the people of Tigray. We must engage peace-loving elements within the organization, and fully engage the people of Tigray. We must not tolerate any ethnically motivated attacks against the people of Tigray. Enduring peace will come only when the people of Tigray and Eritrea meet and exchange ideas without hindrances.

The first step towards this end has been taken by opening direct phone links between the two countries. Border crossing and air travel are hoped to resume. Moreover, Eritrea is no more a bogeyman for the chauvinists in Ethiopia and the anti-Eritrean elements in Tigray. Eritreans have expressed their readiness to build necessary social and economic bridges. They showed that they don’t hold hatred towards Ethiopians. That old card of animosity does not exist anymore. Ethiopians could see themselves that when respectfully approached, Eritreans are friendly and dependable. We don’t go for expediencies. We go for enduring engagements.

Lastly, the TPLF leadership will need to make a strategic decision. Are they for the constitution they had authored, or they are against it, now that they have lost the control of Ethiopia? Are they with the reformation movement or against it? Do they want to live in peace bordering Eritrea or continue on the destructive role that they have pursued through the years to disintegrate Eritrea?

The latest maneuver practiced by the anti-peace elements in Tigray is to insist that the people of Ethiopia should discuss the Algiers accord and the EEBC border verdict. From their previous position that the border people should discuss the court’s decision, now they have moved the bar a bit higher, demanding the whole people of Ethiopia should decide it. This is another sign of how far they will have to go towards making peace. They have been adding salt to our wounds by creating a hostile atmosphere, organizing anti-peace workshops and demonstrations, effectively opposing the letter and the spirit of the EEBC ruling that their prime minister signed yesterday declaring he will implement it. So, are they going to comply with the constitution of Ethiopia which makes the PM the chief executive officer of the Ethiopian government, and the Commander-In-Chief of the EDF or they are rooting for a third wayane? We will see.

I believe Eritrea and Ethiopia could serve the region as an engine of growth and stability. The future is bright. However, we will have to start on solid ground. The demarcation of the border is of utmost importance to Eritreans. Demarcated borders assist to avoid unnecessary disputes. Then, through active engagement in all spheres, and through the interactions and transaction of both peoples, we can break the psychological barriers.

Therefore, let us confirm where the border lies, we can then move on towards making it “artificial.” The surest and safest way of making borders artificial is when both sides know their limits and respect the private space of the other. This type of thinking builds confidence. When there is trust, I feel comfortable inviting my neighbor to cross into my property and come to his “second home” any time he wants. However, there is no ambiguity about where the border of my property lies.

June 9, 2018.

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