Eritrea Ethiopia peace process must involve the people – We must speak out

Isaias Afewerki, president of Eritrea

saba makedaSpecial for Africa Express
Saba Makeda
Somewhere inside Eritrea, 18th September 2018

The Ethiopia/Eritrea peace process that started on 05 June 2018 when the: “Ethiopian Governing Coalition announced that it will fully accept and implement the peace deal[1]that ended its border war with Eritrea.”[2]– coincides with a shift of international power dynamics in the Middle East as well as the Red Sea regions. This is a process whereby China, Russia, Turkey, USA,  Saudi Arabia  and the Emirates  are all prepositioning themselves to influence key countries and to control  strategic  resources and trade routes.

Isaias Afewerki, presidente dell'Eritrea
Isaias Afewerki, presidente dell’Eritrea

The interplay of international power dynamics is demonstrated by the proliferation of military bases and the imposition in East Africa of a “Pax Romana” that has mediated and facilitated the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as reconciliation between Eritrea and Somalia; Somaliland; and Djibouti.[3]This normalisation of diplomatic relationship may result in the lifting of UN Sanctions (i.e. arms embargo) that had been imposed on Eritrea in 2009.The lifting of the UN sanctions on Eritrea will facilitate the Saudi/ Emirate military presence in Assab and surrounding areas. Assab is a key location from which the Saudi alliance is pursuing its war on Yemen.

The power interplay is also highlighted by the heightened activity to develop port facilities and extractive industries. Danakali Pty Ltd, an Australian company extracting potash from the Colluli mine in Eritrea has recently signed a lucrative distribution agreement with EuroChem [4]a Russian multinational.[5]An arrangement that is further enhanced  by a recent  agreement between the Eritrean and the  Russian Governments for the development of logistic support infrastructure along the coast[6].Though the location of such development has not been disclosed it is  likely that the infrastructure that will be developed will be the port of Tio ( Tiyo) [7]as such infrastructure will support the development and export of the potash from the Colluli mine in Eritrea as well  as similar mines within Ethiopia.

In addition, in September 2018 the Zijin Mining Group Co, purchased Nevsun Resources Ltd[8]in this way acquiring the Eritrean mining asset, Bisha Mining Corporation[9].Nevsun, and by extension Bisha Mining Corporation, and other mining operations in Eritrea have been dogged by allegations of Human Right Abuses. [10]. In  the case of Nevsun, in 2014 three Eritreans filed a law suit against the company with the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, alleging that the company relied on the use of forced labour for its mining operations.(A/HRC/29/CRP.1, 2015; pg58).  In addition, Chinas Sichuan Road and Bridge Mining Investment Company announced that it will start copper, zinc, gold and silver production in 2019.[11]

Delegazione della Sichuan Road and Bridge Mining Investment Company con Hagos Gebrehiwet, direttore di ENAMCO
Delegazione della Sichuan Road and Bridge Mining Investment Company con Hagos Gebrehiwet, direttore di ENAMCO

Finally, there is also a strategic political convergence between President Isaias Afewerki and Premier Abiy specifically focused, for different reasons, on weakening the influence of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

For President Isaias, it is a continuation of his policy of asserting his political dominance and deflecting responsibility for the Eritrea/ Ethiopia border conflict totally onto the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). [12] This process is facilitated by the fact that Abiy is Oromo and not directly linked to the TPLF  [13]therefore President Isaias is able to assert that Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has been defeated and is now a marginal player in Ethiopian politics– “Game over TPLF”.

For Prime Minister Abiy, it is a strategy of rebalancing the political dominance of the TPLF within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Coalition (EPRDF) [14]and hence within Ethiopia.  In pursuit of his strategy, Prime Minister Abiy as part of his reforms, has implemented a partial liberalisation of state owned firms such as Ethiopian Airlines, and is also reorganising the Government. As part of the Government restructure, key senior TPLF members are being replaced. The Chief of the Armed Forces Samor Yunis has been replaced by Seare Mekonnen; the head of National Intelligence and Security Service Getachew Assefa has been replaced by the Air Force Head Adem Mohammed.[15]

The Prime Minister has also started a process of internal reconciliation that has resulted in the release of thousands of political prisoners. [16]. He has also reconciled with and welcomed back the Ethiopian opposition groups based in Eritrea. A process that was facilitated by the Eritrean Government.[17]

Isaias Afewerki, presidente dell'Eritrea, a destra con il presidente somalo Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo, a sinistra
Isaias Afewerki, presidente dell’Eritrea, a destra con il presidente somalo Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmaajo, a sinistra

As for Eritrea, while there is an improvement in the diplomatic relationships with Somalia, Somaliland and Djibouti, so far there is no indication that the Eritrean Government is engaging in any internal reforms to reflect the changed circumstances.

In Eritrea there are no indications that any of the Eritrean political or religious prisoners will be pardoned and freed. There is also no sign that the Eritrean Government will rescind its ban of the Eritrean Opposition. Eritrea remains a one party unconstitutional state.

As has been highlighted by former Minister of Finance, Berhane Abrehe, President Isaias has not recalled the National Assembly (i.e. Parliament) to deliberate and manage the peace process. The National Assembly is the legitimate Eritrean institution to manage such process. It is a body that  has not met since 2002. Therefore, the recall of the National Assembly is urgent and the former Minister of Finance has: [18]

called on Mr Afewerki to convene urgently the National Assembly[ parliament]  ‘for there are many important issues that we need to address’’ without  delay…….Even if  several members of the legislature have died, and many others are behind  bars or forced to flee the country, he told the President. It is incumbent on you to do the only sensible thing and call the remaining member to meet immediately.”

            “He further  called on  Isaias to stop, until  proper National Assembly authorisation is obtained, the ongoing non transparent and haphazard diplomatic contacts,  sanctioned by no authority but Isaiashimself, and about which the Eritrean public has been kept in  the dark, as well as signing hasty agreements that could potentially compromise Eritrea’s national strategic interests.”

Given the strategic priorities of President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy and the institutional weakness of Eritrea, the peace process is primarily based on the relationship between the two leaders and their common strategy to contain the TPLF. In the long term this is not a sustainable arrangement as Tigray is Eritrea’s immediate neighbour and the TPLF is a member of the EPRDF.

Based on this relationship, President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy on 09 July, 2018 signed a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship[19]. Following the joint statement of intent,  diplomatic relations have been established between Ethiopia and Eritrea, telecommunication links have been opened, air transportation restarted and Ethiopian ships have started to operate from Eritrean ports (i.e. Massawa), and, as stated earlier in this article, Eritrea has normalised diplomatic relations with Somalia/ Somaliland and Djibouti.

As for the border, by September 11, 2018, both the Zalambessa and Burre border post were re-opened providing Ethiopia with commercial access to the ports of Massawa and Assab. So far, however, officially there is no free movement of people across the border. To date, the Bademe border post has not been re-opened nor is there a process of engagement of border communities, beyond being spectators and extras in Government managed productions, in the demarcation of the border, as well as peace and reconciliation efforts. [20]

To redress the inclusion gap, the border communities have started their own People to People Peace process. Community leaders are crossing the border to reach out to their neighbours, to engage in dialogue and to organise peace and reconciliation.

This is a process that is not welcomed by the Eritrean Government, who likes to exercise tight control on all things. Reports from Eritrea are that the Eritrean Government is not keen to involve the border communities in the demarcations because they consider that such communities have been infiltrated by their neighbours (i.e. Tigray). A difficult stance to maintain given the common ethnicities along the border. To maintain control, the Eritrean Government prefers to limit border movement to commercial transport. Accordingly, on 1 September 2018, the movement from Senafe to Zalembessa of at least 200 Eritreans who were planning to join a community gathering, was  prevented by the Eritrean authorities.[21]

This personality focused peace process is not new. We have been here before. It is history repeating. In the case of Eritrea, without the participation of the people living on the border areas, without the National Assembly, and without free media, at best this peace process has taken us back to the status ante 1991/1998.

Immediately post liberation (1991) and post the independence referendum (1993),  we  were so  full of joy and  hope for peace that we allowed the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPFL), now in Government as the Peoples Front  Democracy and Justice (PFD),  to  ban the  Eritrean Opposition and to  take actions  that  were contrary to  our  democratic aspirations. We were silent and our silence has become a cancer.

At the time, peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia depended exclusively on the relationship between President Isaias and Prime Minister Melles. A fragile arrangement , with  no checks and balances,  based on  personalities that  failed resulting in the Eritrea Ethiopia border war and 18 year of  ‘no war,  no peace’ and  associated regional  instability as  each party attempted to attack the other through  intermediaries.

The consequences of our silence are that[22]:

  • The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and its factions were banned from Free Eritrea”. Therefore, many Eritreans were exile
  • The National Assembly has not met since at least 2002 and many of its members have been detained or disappeared for over a decade, and are now possibly dead;
  • Our youth has been ganged pressed into indefinite forced labour not for the benefit of the Nation but for the benefit of a few entitled citizens in Eritrea. This has been achieved through a complex web of policies that have integrated Education, National Service and the Warsay Yikaalo National Development Programme;
  • Eritreans have been deliberately impoverished not by UN sanctions as the Government would like us to believe, but by the policies implemented by the Government to control us and remain in power. [23]

We were wrong to be silent.

Our silence did not ensure peace, nor did it affirm our liberty. Our silence transformed us into prisoners and slaves in our own country and exiles, and has ensured that we have no say as to our future.  Our silence is a cancer.

Because of our silence, the Eritrean Government is able to dismiss the victims of its torture and abuse as liars, criminals and traitors. Because of our silence the Eritrean Government who is responsible for the abuse, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and disappearances of Eritreans is not held to account for such crimes.

An Ethiopia /Eritrea peace process where Eritrea remains a one party state under a dictator is not an acceptable compromise. It is unjust peace. At this time, it is essential that the Eritrean people, wherever we are, speak up. It is important that we support the efforts of the Former Minister of Finance, Berhane Abrehe; Eritrean Human Rights Activists. It is important  that we  speak up in  support of the  Eritrean Political Opposition,  not only because  we believe in what they  offer, but  because all the Eritrean  voices  must be heard.

We must speak out for:  

The People to People initiative currently taking place along the border

– an inclusive process for the demarcation of the border. Such demarcation not only to be based on the EEBC decision, but also on the real life needs of the people who live on the border. Ensuring, in this way, that as two neighbourly  African Nations we repair at least some of the damage of colonial borders.


  • The Release of all political and religious prisoners.
  • The Repatriation and reconciliation of all Eritrean political opposition
  • The recall of the National  Assembly

Ø  A National Congress of Reconciliation   to discuss what kind of state Eritrea should be

Ø  The setting up of a multi-party commission for the review of the Constitution

Ø Stopping the practice of Grade  12 at Sawa The  freezing and review of National Service

Ø  Demobilization

Makeda Saba

[1]Algiers Peace Agreement 12 December 2000,

[2]Ethiopia ‘accepts peace deal’ to end Eritrea border war; 5 June 201;

[3]Eritrea, Djibouti agree to normalize diplomatic relations; BYELIAS MESERET, ASSOCIATED PRESS; ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Sep 7, 2018, 6:13 AM E;

Eritrea – Djibouti relations: UN hails successful regional diplomacy; Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban; 09/09 – 13:57;

[4]Danakali Ltd’s Agreement with EuroChem for up to 100% of Colluli Module I SOP Production; Asia & Pacific,Asia & Pacific Legal ChronicleJuly 30, 2018; Michael Patrini;

Business Wire; Danakali: Binding Take-or-Pay Offtake Confirmed for up to 100% of Colluli Module I SOP Production; June 12, 2018 05:25 AM Eastern Daylight Time;

Danakali and EuroChem Sign Binding “Take-or-Pay” Offtake Deal for full Production from Colluli Potash Project; Tesfanews; June 12, 2018;

[5]EuroChem is 90% owned by Andrey Melnichenko, who ranks 139th in the Forbes world billionaires list 11th wealthiest in Russia) with his personal wealth of US$ 10.3bn as of July 2016.[6]  With the remaining 10% owned by EuroChem Group AG CEO, Dmitri Strezhnev. Melnichenko also has a large stake in Russian coal producer SUEK.[7]

[6]VOA – AFRICA; Russia-Eritrea Relations Grow with Planned Logistics Centre; September 02, 2018 2:18 PM; Salem Solomon;

[7]Tio (Tiyo)   is located South of Massawa Eritrea.,43.0020296,8z

[8]Nevsun Finds a White Knight in Zijin With $1.41 Billion Deal; James Poole; and Laura Millan Lombrana; September 5, 2018, 12:07 PM GMT+3 Updated on September 5, 2018, 7:43 PM GMT+3;

Nevsun is  currently in court in  Canada over the use of  forced labour for its mining operations

[9]Nevsun Finds a White Knight in Zijin With $1.41 Billion Deal; James Poole; Laura Millan Lombrana; September 5, 2018, 12:07 PM GMT+3 Updated on September 5, 2018, 7:43 PM GMT+3;

[10]; Eritrea looks to build mining sector to kick-start economy; Edmund Blair; Reuter; 26 February,2016;

[11]Sichuan Road and Bridge Mining Investment Company bought Sunridge Gold Corporation (Australian Company) interest in Asmara Mining Share Company.; China’s Sichuan Road to mine copper in Eritrea starting in 2019; Cecilia Jamasmie; Aug. 24, 2018, 8:45 AM;  “The project, a group of four deposits on the outskirts of the capital, is estimated to contain 574,000 tonnes of copper, 930,000 ounces of gold and 1.2 million tonnes of zinc,according toThe Africa Report

[12]Eritrea triggered the 1998 border dispute with Ethiopia and violated international law during the ensuing two-year war, the Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission (EECC) in The Hague has ruled.

Eritrea triggered the 1998 border dispute with Ethiopia and violated international law during the ensuing two-year war, the Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission (EECC) ruled in The Hague on 19 December. Given that no armed attack against Eritrea took place, its May 1998 attack against Ethiopia constituted an unlawful use of force which could not be justified as self-defence under the United Nations Charter. Even though Eritrea has been blamed for starting the conflict both countries are likely to receive compensation for breaches of international law during the fighting, which claimed the lives of at least 70,000. “The Commission holds that Eritrea violated the Charter of the UN by resorting to armed force to attack and occupy Badme, then under peaceful Ethiopian administration … and is liable to compensate Ethiopia for damages caused by that violation of international law,” the Commission said in its ruling published on 22 December.

[13]Though  he is a member  of the ruling coalition EPRDF

[14]The EPRDF is a coalition   made up of four region  based parties: Oromo Peoples ‘Democratic Organisation (OPDO); Amhara National Democratic  Movement (ANDM); Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM); Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF)

[15]ReutersWORLD NEWS; Ethiopia’s prime minister replaces security chiefs as part of reforms; JUNE 8, 2018 ; 9:54 AM; Aaron Maasho

[16]Ethiopia frees death row inmate Andargachew Tsige and 500 others; May 29, 2018; Zecharias Zelalem;

[17]TPDM Reaches Peace Agreement with Ethiopian Government;

ARS and ADFM sign reconciliation agreement;

Ethiopian Government and OLF sign Reconciliation Agreement;

[18]Former Eritrean Minister of Finance challenges Isaias Afewerki to  step down; 06 September, 2018;

[19]Eritrea Ministry of Information; 09 July, 2018; Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia;; (1) The state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has come to an end. A new era of peace and friendship has been opened; (2) The two  governments will  endeavour to forge intimate  political, economic,  social, cultural and security cooperation that serves and advances the vital interest of their peoples; (3) Transport  trade and communication links between  the two  countries will  resume; diplomatic ties and activities  will restart; (4) The  decision on the boundary between the two  countries will be implemented; (5) Both countries  will jointly  endeavour to  ensure regional peace and  development and cooperation.


[21]Kjetil Tronvollis with Eden Hadera Halefomand2 others; 2 September at 14:06;

[22](A Submission on the Intiaila Report of the Government of Eritrea (1999-2016)  to the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR); 25 April -09 May, 208; HRCE, 2018)

[23](Human Trafficking and Trauma in the Digital Era : The Ongoing  Tragegy of the Trade in  Refugees from Eritrea; Van Reisen, Munyaradzi Mawere; 2017)