Rare videos and images from Asmara are on display to celebrate Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s historic visit. The visit on July 8th has put an end to two decades of diplomatic boycott and eased the historical bitterness of war between the two nations. Eritreans have gathered in the streets and danced in celebration of the visit, while the Eritrean leader Isias Afewerki met Abiy with hugs.
Eritrea fought a war of independence from Ethiopia for 29 years between 1961 and 1991. A referendum in 1993 granted Eritrea independence from Ethiopia. Isias Afewerki was named president and he is still ruling the country today.
In 1998, war broke out again between the two neighbouring countries over a border conflict. It lasted two years and claimed the lives of 70,000 people. The two parties ended the war after signing the Algiers agreement but disagreements on the terms of the agreement has led to a no war, no peace situation.
The Eritreans who fought Ethiopia once and dreamed of freedom in an independent country started fleeing the country en masse, running away from strict state regulation. UN statistics suggest that one million Eritreans out of a total population of five million now live outside Eritrea. The Eritrean diaspora has welcomed the acceptance of the peace deal by Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed.
Gamal Hemad, an Eritrean journalist based in Australia and the editor of Adoulis news website said to 7Dnews, “Peace in the African continent and specifically between Ethiopia and Eritrea is a mortal necessity. Both the Eritrean and Ethiopian people paid heavy prices for the insecurity that lasted for 20 years. Therefore, all the people welcomed the acceptance of the peace deal by the new Ethiopian Prime Minister.” Hemad added, “All the Eritrean civil and political forces have issued statements welcoming the rapprochement with Ethiopia.” Hemad hoped the Eritrean government was ready for peace with Ethiopia.
Selam Kidane, a UK based human rights activist, said the acceptance of the peace deal by Ethiopia and the renewal of diplomatic relations is a positive development. She added, “but there are details we do not know about, specifically about addressing the root causes of the conflict, the people on the borders and the issue of the Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia. It is important to keep the public informed.”
Hemad is also concerned about how to achieve sustainable peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. He pointed to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s position regarding the decision of the Ethiopian PM to implement the peace deal with Eritrea. He said, “Although Tigray People’s Liberation Front is part of the ruling coalition and agrees with the PM’s initiative they think Abiy should have considered the six points that Ethiopia raised on marking the borders with Eritrea. They also think the Tigray border region is the gateway to peace with Eritrea. Therefore, the Tigray regional parliament has started discussing the peace initiative with Eritrea.”
Kidane thinks the discussion of the peace initiative in Ethiopia at various levels is a positive move that engages more people. She said, “We have seen the parliament in Ethiopia discuss the peace initiative. This is good if people have concerns or questions but in Eritrea we have not had a parliament since 2002, so if people have questions there is nowhere to raise them.”
There is only one political party in Eritrea, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. Eritrea’s appointed legislative body, the National Assembly, banned the formation of political parties in 2002. Isias Afewerki, the Eritrean president, has also been the president of the National Assembly since its inception. Since its independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea has not held general direct elections and its constitution has not been enforced.
Kidane and Hemad said that the Ethiopian peace initiative is part of Abiy Ahmed’s reforms, including releasing opponents and journalists from prisons and lifting the blockade on websites and opening up the market to investors, for lasting peace to take place in Eritrea and between the two countries, similar reforms should take place in Eritrea.