As a continent, Africa has suffered much from artificial borders drawn by the its former colonial and imperial rulers, akin to what was attributed to old Imperial Britain as the ‘divide & conquer’ policy, but has been practiced by most power brokers all throughout mankind’s history. According to historians, some of the contributory factors that led to modern African border wars include the Cold War’s support for dictators and Italy’s drawing of maps in the region.
For decades, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie was supported by the United States for Cold War and geopolitical reasons. Soviet Union has supported Somalia in its claim for parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. There was a reversal of superpower support in the 1970s. For the United State’s unrestricted military base use, Selassie was given aid. But unfortunately, this was used against Eritrean secessionists and the Ethiopian guerrillas in their brutal wars.
After three decades of struggle for independence, Eritrea finally gained its independence peacefully in 1993 through a referendum where Eritreans residing in Ethiopia also casted their votes. Ever since the 1998 to 2000 border wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea during which the said countries deported thousands of locals, relations have been bitter, with both parties placing troops along the border. The weak enforcement of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission’s final decision of awarding Eritrea the Badme town has opened up more border conflicts with Ethiopia.
International reluctance also persuaded Ethiopia to uphold its decision that has also triggered human rights abuses in the town. Religious and political persecutions have also compelled the people of both countries to be refugees around the world. Ethiopia may welcome Eritrean refugees but the Eritreans living in the Ethiopian society still experience face marginalization.
The Real Deal
For a while, these two countries seemed to get along pretty well. However, international relations were worsened into a war when Eritrean launched its new currency in 1997. The war resulted when BBC reported a minor border dispute in May 1998 and on differences in ethnicity and as economic growth approaches. The 1998-2000 war resulted in over 100,000 deaths and millions dollar losses on military activities and weapon procurements.
The major reason for the most recent conflict is when Ethiopia no longer owns a border along the Red Sea and therefore has to depend on other countries like Eritrea to trade and ship goods along the line. In the middle of 1999, both parties have devised a peace plan through the efforts of the Organization for African Unity. But they further disagreed on the implementation issues and blamed one another for different things including who started the war and which party didn’t commit to the peace plan, making peace efforts a lot harder to come by.
Since then, the issue escalated and both countries have been accused of many human rights violations. For instance, the Amnesty International indicates that in Ethiopia alone, a big number of Eritreans are detained because of their country of origin and children soldiers in the front line still continues. While the conflict was going on, Eritrea and Ethiopia experienced severe drought that resulted to famine in the land. There had been a lot of criticisms against the Ethiopian government saying that has been spending too much money on war while its people die of starvation. In the Horn of Africa alone, there have been places that have gone without enough rainfall for up to three years, which affected more than eight million people.
By May 2000, Ethiopia claimed to have ended this border war with Eritrea and have claimed victory while Eritrea said it was a tactical withdrawal.
Upholding Nationality Rights in Ethiopia
In the year 1998 to 2000 conflict, Ethiopia denationalized all residents of Eritrean origin, saying that they pose a security risk or have renounced their citizenship by participating in the 1993 referendum on Eritrea’s independence. Around 75,000 people were deported back to Eritrea, breaking families apart and forcing individuals left behind to conceal their identities. Without proper citizenship, Eritreans who were left in Ethiopia faced a lot of restrictions on travel, work, education and social services.
Resolving this expensive stalemate between the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea has been proven to be very difficult. But this has to be done to uphold human rights in the land and improve security throughout the Horn of Africa.