Eritrea‘s Experience and State Craft Key to Peace in the Horn
by Sophia Tesfamariam
These are time of rapid, breath-taking, developments in the Horn of Africa region. The changes have bewildered analysts who have been pontificating about the Horn for decades, only to get it all wrong … over and over again.
Analysis predicated on faulty scholarship and distorted premises about the nations that make up the Horn and its peoples contributed to the misperceptions about the region. A shallow and poor understanding of the peoples’ cultural and historical ties contributed to the confusion and persistent narratives- and the policies crafted for the region. Peace remains a prerequisite for the nations to thrive, prosper and control their own destinies; but it has remained elusive for many regions of our world today.
After decades of conflict and destruction, the Horn of Africa is changing and peace is taking root. But analysts and journalists are still falling all over each other and the facts, to try to explain how that came about, how the Horn’s leaders decided to eliminate war as a legitimate tool of statecraft. There are also the conflict entrepreneurs in the region that have not accepted the change, or are not happy that the change is not what they were seeking. As it happens, the negative attitudes and misinformation campaigns persist. There is a desperate need for change in the normative discourse about peace and development and in the case of Eritrea, an almost overhaul of the existing scholarship. Eritrea has defied the odds and changed the Horn region one more time. What is needed is a sober and contextualized historical understanding of Eritrea. Understanding the new peace in the region requires deeper and nuanced scholarship than what is available for policy crafters. Discounting Eritrea’s role in the region once again, will be a strategic mistake.
But not all scholarship on peace is the same. In this respect, Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has served on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, proffers a different take on peace making. He challenges conventional wisdom on how peace is sustained in his seminal book, “How Enemies Become Friends”, where he painstakingly analyzes peacemaking in international history and the many historical successes and failures. He provides critical insights for building lasting peace and exposes prevalent myths about the causes of peace.
For brevity’s sakes, the author will outline Kupchan’s 4-phase process for settling outstanding grievances, dampen geopolitical competition, and succeed in constructing a “zone of peace”:
Phase 1: Rapprochement- an opening gambit intended to signal benign as opposed to hostile intent.
Phase 2: The practice of reciprocal restraint. The states in question trade concessions, each cautiously stepping away from rivalry as it entertains the prospect that geopolitical competition may give way to programmatic cooperation.
Phase 3: Deepening of societal integration between the partner states. Transactions between the parties increase in frequency and intensity, resulting in more extensive contacts among governing officials, private-sector elites, and ordinary citizens. Interest groups that benefit from closer relations begin to invest in and lobby for the further reduction of economic and political barriers, adding momentum to the process of reconciliation.
Phase 4: The generation of new narratives and identities. Through official statements, popular culture (media, literature, and theater), the states embrace a new domestic discourse that alters the image they possess of the other.
The peace declarations between Eritrea and Ethiopia; the tripartite agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia; and, peace talks between Eritrea and Djibouti have changed the atmosphere in the Horn from one of mistrust to one of trust, to partnership as opposed to brinkmanship, and to economic cooperation and integration, over political competition. As we have seen in the last 20 years, peace can prevail only when there is genuine dialogue – not intimidation and intransigence. Peace comes when parties to a dispute respect agreements signed and when there is a show of genuine good will. Kupchan reminds us that:
- “…The great geopolitical breakthroughs of recent decades came not when one side coerced the other into submission, but through bold diplomatic gambits…”
With the removal of the belligerent minority TPLF regime in Ethiopia, the Horn has embarked on a path to sustainable peace.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pledged to accept and implement the Algiers Agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia in full, bringing an end to the 20 year long deadlock. The previous regime’s intransigence and refusal to accept the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions and its belligerence towards Eritrea contributed to the hostility that lingered since. Some analysts and journalists are discounting the sustainability of the developments in the region citing inequality in the political systems in the region.
Ethiopia was said to be “democratic” and its leaders hailed because the TPLF regime held elections (albeit sham ones). But its ethnic based governance structures proved weak and contributed to the marginalization of populations that led to deadly conflicts that resulted in the deaths of thousands, displacement of millions, and threatened to engulf the entire country. PM Abiy Ahmed inherited an Ethiopia that was threatening to implode. The international community’s appeasement of the TPLF regime, the diplomatic, political, and military support and shield it received emboldened it to violate international law and the sovereign rights of neighboring states.
Eritrea has been maligned and labeled “undemocratic” for not “conducting elections” since 1997. There are many cogent and well-known external reasons why the process was derailed and delayed. These will not be addressed in this sitting, and have been raised only to illustrate a point. The fact is Eritrea remains the most stable country in the region because its governance structures, from the village level to the national level, are rooted in the country’s strong social and political institutions. Kupchan says that while democracy is a clear concept which can be introduced and adopted by states, “good governance is vaguer and not as easily transferable”, and it is not something that can be delivered by external agencies.
Strong, reliable, responsive and incorruptible governance structures are key to any political system. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the “highest organizational expression “of the Eritrean people’s dreams and aspirations is the stabilizing linchpin of independent Eritrea’s political system and is the product of Eritrea’s long history of resilience. The EPLF-now the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) is an organization with legitimacy and broadly based support in Eritrean society and has proven to be vital in the ongoing nation building process. Eritrea’s stable governance structures have kept the nation intact and thriving despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges that the new nation faced post-independence.
For all the difficulties it has faced, Somalia has the resilience, talent and natural resources to shape a better future. The TPLF regime used the “Global War on Terror” to advance its strategy of destabilization, and to settle accounts with Somalia, under the pretext of combating terrorism. Sustained foreign intervention and the deliberate fragmentation of the country into fiefdoms, enclaves and tribal territories have contributed to weakening of Somalia’s governance structures and destruction of its institutions. But today, Somalia, under the leadership of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is rebuilding its governance structures and is ready to embark on a new trajectory, making it a reliable partner for peace and prosperity in the region.
Contrary to popular opinion, a regime’s behavior indicates better than its type, its potential as a partner for peace. Kupchan says peace is created through the actions and interactions of statesmen; its key ingredient is diplomacy. Diplomacy, including public diplomacy, not economic interdependence, is the currency of peace. States should deal with other states based on their foreign policy behavior rather than on their political systems and in the case of the United States, its strategic interests in the Horn region will be advanced only when it respects the political systems and institutions of the states that make up the region and stops interfering in their internal affairs.
Peaceful international relations are easier to achieve with a stable, predictable, and credible state that other nations can rely on… The Horn of Africa recognizes Eritrea’s credibility and statecraft, defined by its principled values and consistency.