Interesting Times in the Horn of Africa
by Sofia Tesfamariam
“May you live in interesting times” sounds like a blessing, doesn’t it? It is not.
Some have attributed this curse to the Chinese, but wherever its origins, interesting times are said to be fraught with cynicism and danger, making it an apropos description for the bleak and troubled Post-Cold War era in the Horn. Eritrea’s independence came in 1991, with the end of the Cold War. Barely 7 years after independence, Eritrea found herself embroiled in yet another conflict with Ethiopia.
The TPLF regime launched its war of invasion and occupation in 1998. Thousands were killed and injured in that “border conflict”. Vital infrastructures were destroyed and millions were displaced from their homes.
The Algiers Agreements signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000 silenced the guns. The Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission established in pursuant to the Algiers Agreement was mandated to delimit and demarcate the common border. The EEBC rendered its final and biding delimitation and demarcation decisions on April 2002 and November 2007 respectively. While Eritrea accepted the decisions, it took 20 years for Ethiopia to do so.
Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, broke the 20 year spell by agreeing to abide by the Algiers Agreements, paving the way for normalization of relations with Eritrea. The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a declaration saying that the state of war between the two countries is over. Soon after, the Somali President was in the Eritrean capital, where a similar peace declaration was signed. The 20 year long Eritrea Ethiopia conflict made for some interesting times in the Horn region…
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki characterized the “interesting times” in Horn of Africa, as an “epoch of crises, conflict and instability”. In the Statement made during the recent visit to Eritrea of the Somali President, President Isaias highlighted a few markers of that era:
- “…Cohesive nation building was eclipsed by ethnic and clan cleavages, and destruction…”
- “ … e c o n o m i c development and prosperity were replaced by the scourges of poverty and hunger spurred by external pillage and internal thievery…”
- “…consolidation of independent and sovereign governments and institutions suffocated by micromanagement of anarchy through UN agencies and NGOs…”
- “…regional partnership and harmony supplanted by intractable border crises and strife; regional peace and stability based on internal resources and capabilities undermined by spiraling crises under the rubric of “peace keeping”…”
- “…interventionist and expansionist regional agendas in the name of religion; cultural intoxication under various extremist ideologies; terrorism; piracy; human trafficking, as well as trade in weapons and narcotics became the New Normal or “business as usual”…”
- “…This New Normal continues to be peddled and propagated, day-in and day-out, through media outlets of lies and mendacity. The perplexing developments of the past quarter century, which essentially stemmed from the misguided policies of powerful countries, would not have materialized without the harmful role and complicity of domestic surrogates…”
These interesting times introduced us to the “war on terror” that overshadowed the war on poverty in the region. The Horn bore witness to vicious cycles of frustration, polarization, and fragmentation. It experienced, first-hand, the ruthlessness of those who convinced themselves they know what is best for all, even those beyond their own borders. Youth and migration became the “cause celebre”, as thousands left in search of greener pastures, only to end up in more dire straits. Citadels in Europe cried foul, as the tired and weary knocked on their glass doors and barren hearts, seeking refuge.
Considered the “anchor” in the Horn region, the minority regime in Ethiopia was the recipient of the West’s largesse, which included diplomatic, financial, military and political shield and support. This emboldened the regime to act with impunity in its domestic, as well as in its external affairs. In Ethiopia, ethnic and religious strife engulfed the country; atrocities and human trafficking were committed right under the noses of the international community, including the African Union and the United Nations.
Somalia was said to be the battleground for an imagined proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia…but turns out, it was not. Somalia became a pawn for external power politics in the region. Ethiopia invaded and occupied Somalia in 2006 creating the biggest humanitarian disaster in that country since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in the early 90s. The world watched in silence as Somalia was Balkanized. Eritrea did not, and paid a high price for “not going along”. Eritrea was labeled a “spoiler” and sanctioned. Today, with the visit of the Somali President, the relationship between the two states and their peoples have been rekindled.
The imposition of illegal and unjust sanctions against the State of Eritrea in 2009, the reluctance of the international community to enforce the final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), and the politically motivated charade at the UN Human Rights Council also contributed to the lessons learned during the “interesting times”. Democracy and human rights served as pretexts for the knights with a “responsibility to protect”, grazing villages and bunker buster bombing states back to the Stone Age. These “interesting times” bore witness to the fraying of international relations and the weakening of regional and international organizations.
These interesting times introduced us to Julian Assange and the Wikileaks cables. For Eritrean’s, the cables were an eye opener, as they were able to trace the ugly trails between Addis Abeba and New York- pin pointing and deciphering the origins of the sanctions against Eritrea and how Ethiopia and its surrogates used IGAD, the regional organization, and the African Union (AU), the continental organization African Union, to engineer the illegal and unjust sanctions regime against Eritrea. It should be recalled that Susan E. Rice shamelessly labeled it as being as an “African Initiative”. Wikileaks exposed the truth and the efforts to pit African states against each other.
It is a new dawn in the once troubled Horn of Africa region. Joy is the signature emotion on display throughout the region, and wherever its citizens are found. The rapid changes have surprised many who had long decided it was a hopeless region. The Horn, the learned pundits said, was “turbulent”, a “hotbed for terrorism”, and “ridden with conflict”. These labels served as pretexts for interventions that exacerbated and perpetuated conflict-making for decades-long of interesting times…that have cost the peoples in the region much.
Today, Horn citizens are negotiating the peace on their own terms. The alignments in the Horn region have restored hope for over 100 million of its inhabitants. Endowed with rich resources and a youthful population, if they put their minds and energies to it, the future looks really bright. No doubt there will be spoilers… but at this juncture in history, with a much more conscious population in the Horn, equipped with painful but recent lessons under their belt, they will not allow a reversal of their peace….
For Eritrea, the “curse” entailed complicated ramifications.
At least three generations of Eritreans have lived through these interesting times- a privilege of sorts-with millions benefitting from the extended survey and qualia of experiences- eye witnesses to history. Not saying it was an easy journey, or that time and opportunity were not lost. It was a difficult and frightening time, and some of the damage is irreversible, but knowing with certainty what the outcome would be, kept Eritrea from succumbing to the unprecedented pressure. Eritrea would prevail, victory was certain. It was inevitable. As President Isaias correctly stated in his Statement, it, the interesting times, was “not inherently sustainable”.
The trying and interesting times of the last 20 years provided Eritrea with the opportunity to seek solutions from within. Relying on Eritrea’s time-tested values and principles, the nation has achieved much and has emerged more confident. Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia have embarked on a new journey to bring an end to these interesting times… they have found their place under the sun… on their own terms…and have chosen to give peace a chance to reign in the region.
Is the world ready for a peaceful Horn of Africa? Only time will tell…