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Project Ethiopia/Eritrea: Peace in the Horn of Africa

Outside nations help resolve dispute

by Barbra Lukunka

Two Finnish peacekeeping soldiers on duty 24 hours  a day at the United Nations Mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Two Finnish peacekeeping soldiers on duty 24 hours
a day at the United Nations Mission in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia.

The United States has an immense amount of influence all over the world. It is a country that has taken the time and liberty to be a key player in many international affairs. The United States has had a very significant role throughout the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. When war erupted in 1998, the vice president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, came to Ethiopia and was joined by a delegate from the United States to find a way to ease the tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In May 1998, the United States, along with Rwanda, came up with the U.S.-Rwandan Plan, which was geared to promoting peace since both countries had excellent relationships with the countries at war. They established some recommendations, which included urging the two countries to commit to resolving the dispute, renouncing force, reducing tension and agreeing on the creation of the border based on colonial treaties and international law.

When the war started, it seemed as though the international community was more than willing to bring about peace. However, with the current stalemate, it seems as though the international community has decided on a "wait-and-see attitude."

I spoke with a senior UNMEE official. To me, it is imperative that the international community, especially countries like the US that have power, produce some kind of pressure in order for the countries to come to a peaceful agreement. It is essential that peace is established because currently the UNMEE is spending close to $200 million U.S. annually to keep its troops deployed at the TSZ. I spoke with the UNMEE official about why the international community, especially the United States, has not put pressure on Ethiopia to accede to the decision made by the Boundary Commission in April 2002.

The UNMEE official said one of his main observations is it is inevitable that Ethiopia is less preoccupied with the conflict than Eritrea. This is because for Eritrea this conflict is about proving its power and showing its frustration with the financial support Ethiopia has gotten from the international donors that have ameliorated infrastructure and development in Ethiopia. His analysis of the speeches given by both parties have shown only 20 percent of the Ethiopian officials' speeches address the conflict while 80 percent of the Eritrean officials' speeches address the conflict. This inevitably adds to the stalemate and difficulty in trying to bring about a peaceful solution to the dispute.

We also examined the international community and its role in the peace conflict. The African Union is an organization that took the head position in trying to establish peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. According to the UNMEE official, the African Union has a very important position because it is "in the good books" (as they say in Zambia) of many African countries. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have said how much they support the African Union; in addition, they have reiterated how much they prefer the African Union's tradition of negotiation as a mechanism for peace and security. However, its only weakness is it cannot push any country to abide by any recommendations because it should never appear to be a partisan organization. On Sept. 19, 2003, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi issued a document to the United Nations and African Union saying he had no intentions of working with the Boundary Commission. The United States, European Union and United Nations said Ethiopia should accede to the decision. The African Union chose not to make any statements in fear of being seen as partisan. But the Eritrean government saw the African Union's actions as biased because to them by not saying anything, they were silently supporting Ethiopia.

"The only country that can be influential in the Horn of Africa is the U.S.," the UNMEE official said.

He believes strongly the United States can achieve results.

"Ethiopia is a strategic country for the United States in so many ways, due to its land mass, population size (68 million as opposed to Eritrea's mere four million), geographic location and the growing acceptance of democracy," the official said.

He said to the United States and the European Union, Zenawi is the best thing that has happened to Ethiopia. Zenawi is known to be an intelligent man who has claimed to embrace democracy. He was the first to mention his eagerness to fight terrorism, and he is motivated to be part of any development programs for his country.

Eritrea has not neglected to express its disappointment with the United States as a mediator because it seems as though the United States favors Ethiopia. It is easy to see this because the United States has often supported Ethiopia above any country in Africa. Fifty percent of the aid that goes to Africa from the United States goes to Ethiopia. In 1994, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former U.N. Secretary General, expressed his disappointment with the international community for neglecting Eritrea and not providing aid. Eritrea has tried to get "in the good books" of the United States by also saying it would fight terrorism in its country. Nonetheless, both countries have accused each other of terrorism. This is a tactic used by both sides to undermine each others ties with the United States.

The UNMEE official said he did not think the United States believed the claims of terrorism. It is important to note, however, there are terrorists in the region, especially those coming from Somalia.

The official also spoke of Arab nations' influence in the conflict.

Ethiopia and Eritrea both have a one-to-one ratio of Christians to Muslims. In addition, Eritrea has expressed its ambition of being part of the Arab League. According to the official, the Arab countries are currently too involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and their own internal problems to come to Eritrea's rescue. Libya is the only country to show support for Eritrea by supplying Eritrea with arms and other types of support.

Israel also has a strong interest in the Horn of Africa. Its main interests lie in its desire to control the Red Sea and keep it from being completely under Arab control. Furthermore, Ethiopia has a historical connection with Israel because of the Ethiopian Jews, also known as the Felashas.

It is necessary to have peace in this region. Pressure from the international community is the main solution. It is disappointing the countries and organizations with the most impact have failed to pull the peace process out of its stalemate. The two countries have also remained very difficult to work with.

 

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