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Ethiopian Prime Minister Aby Ahmed arrived in neighboring Eritrea over the weekend for a renewed effort to establish peace. Eritrea by the way was once a part of Ethiopia but broke away in 1993. This was after the Eritrean people suffered severe political repression and since independence they have often been at loggerheads with Addis Ababa over a bitter border dispute which resulted in a war that ended in an armistice. But Aby’s visit to Eritrea and his meeting with the nation’s president Isais Afwerki, showed a new page was been turned.
Abiy a reformer and pragmatist who came to power in Ethiopia, following mass political unrest has promised large scale political and economic reform.
Having access to sea is essential for land locked Ethiopia’s economic prosperity. That’s where peace with coastal Eritrea comes in. The two leaders have signed agreements that will reopen embassies in their respective capitals, restore flight services and use port facilities on Eritrea’s coastline.
“I received the first call from Asmara in Eritrea!” exclaimed Ermiyas Teklu in Ethiopia, after not speaking to his uncle and his family after more than two decades.
“The last time I talked to them was when I was in a third country. My mother is going to talk to our relatives in Eritrea and everyone is excited about it.”
Many Ethiopians expressed their exhilaration on social media and changed their profile pictures to a photo of the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders embracing, taken on Sunday. Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister who flew to Eritrea on Sunday was welcomed with hugs and laughter by Afwerki, a joyous scene unthinkable just months ago. The two leaders spoke of love between their countries and announced the end of the longstanding border war.
The warming of ties between Addis Ababa and Asmara is as much rooted in economic and security interests as is “love” and family reunions via phone lines. Another deeply unstable neighbor Somalia has been plagued by civil war and terrorism. This has now begun to spill out into Ethiopia and Eretria which has its own domestic and economic issues could also fall victim. So, it would make practical sense to both Aby and Afwerki to cooperate on the same goals that concern their people rather than continuing with a two-decade long border dispute and stalemate. The meeting as shown by the scenes of reconciliation which are not only genuine but dictated by practical necessity are certainly intended to encourage popular approval among both Ethiopians and Eritreans who tired of war desire both peace and prosperity.
With laughter and hugs, the two leaders of longtime rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea met for the first time in nearly two decades Sunday amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw aimed at ending one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts. (ERITV/Associated Press)
This summit has certainly seen a lot of ecstatic emotion never experienced in the horn of Africa.
The visit of Ethiopia’s prime minister to Asmara comes a month after Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a peace deal that ended a 20-year border between the two East African nations that killed tens of thousands. Ethiopia and Eritrea have not had diplomatic ties since the war began in 1998, with Abiy himself fighting in a town that remains contested today, and the countries have skirmished since then.
Ethiopians expressed a welcome shock at the meeting, which was shown live by Ethiopia’s state TV.
“Historic … the beginning of the end. The glass ceiling has been broken,” one resident, Shewit Wudassie, wrote on Facebook.
Another Facebook user Djphat Su, wrote: “Am I dreaming or what?”
The mood amongst Ethiopians is indeed mesmerizing. Abiy is indeed a very open minded and very unconventional African politician. He’s the kind the continent needs. Having actually fought in a war, he probably has more knowledge of armed conflict and its consequences than any “liberation hero” who fought in an “armed struggle”. It may be hard for most of these people to imagine that the two leaders from both their countries were able to come together and agree to a new settlement for both sides, but seeing that war benefits no one, it may have been time for a change of tactics.
As regards to tactics this “peace deal” is a win-win for both sides given that Eretria will benefit from Ethiopia’s industrial development particularly the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and Ethiopia has access to the sea for its exports. This means that Ethiopia will be back on track with is economic growth before the uprising and Eritrea will benefit. So, everyone has good reason to be in a celebratory mood. Abiy being a new comer will also improve his international standing and his ambitions will be taken seriously. All in all, everything is on a positive trail.