Meles’ and Isaias’ Wall in Afar Land?


In December 2000, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia shook hand with Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea in Algiers after signing what was called a peace treaty. This peace treaty followed a 2 year war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that left over a hundred thousand soldiers dead on the Ethiopian side alone.


The aftermath of the war would land in jail some TPLF figures that led the war, and then incarcerate them through a legislation whose speed of conception, passing and acting on it would surpass the speed of releasing TPLF’s prominent prisoner by court order. 


The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s (EEBC) decision on the boundary was first praised by Meles’ government with the preaching of having obtained not only what was asked for but also a little more. That preaching was short-lived when close scrutiny brought out a lost land around Badme.


Whether intentionally or not, the propaganda of the conflict was centered around Badme, an area that the CNN called barren land and Meles Zenawi himself called godforsaken land. What was in the air as the cause of what is termed a senseless war and of the conflict became Badme. The issue of Afar land and the cries of the Afar and other peoples and their political organization that they are not ready for any deal that divides them into two countries were avoided from being mentioned, whether intentionally or otherwise.

When confronted by many quarters in Ethiopia, especially by the elders of Tigray, as reported by Tigrayan circles on the internet, Meles would admit to the loss and declare the EEBC’s decision illegal. So he lectured to the world that the conflict is not about a godforsaken land called Badme, but it was about upholding the rule of law. On the other hand, he would have the urge to write to the UN about his readiness for partial demarcation of the border. Whether that would start in Afar land is an absolute possibility. No wonder the issue of dividing Afar land and the voice of the Afar people would be kept under the lid.


In a recent roundtable discussion at the Voice of German radio, he reminded us that the Ethiopia and Eritrea conflict is very complex, which may have been interpreted by one journalist as a direct access of Ethiopia to the Red Sea.


In a complete turn around, now his government is ready to negotiate “in principle” with Eritrea even though he has concluded that the EEBC’s decision is unjust and illegal. This has surprised many quarters. Even the Sudan Tribune termed it as “Ethiopia's surprise announcement - an apparent about-turn by the government after it spent two years opposing the ruling.” Interestingly, Meles’ government is doing this at a time when Eritreans themselves confess that tensions in Eritrea against the Eritrean government have been very high. In a speech to his parliament, as translated into English by one of the Ethiopian websites, Meles cited the following as one of his reasons for his government’s decision to accept the EEBC’s decision: “… various sources indicate that a more enhanced struggle for peace on the part of the people of Eritrea has been hampered by Ethiopia's unwillingness to accept the erroneous decision of the Commission.” One may question whether this statement is meant to serve the interest of the peoples in Ethiopia or the people of Eritrea.  


More interestingly, he is once more resorting to his government’s readiness for partial demarcation which he is offering even before being asked. Surprisingly, in a reaction to Eritrea’s rejection of his government’s acceptance of the EEBC’s decision in principle, he recently told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, that “Even if [his government’s acceptance of the EEBC’s decision) is hollow, I think it would be worthwhile for them to talk to us, to explain to us why it is hollow, and how we can improve on it.” He is saying this after Eritrea responded that “Ethiopia's recent statement is … a move that would drag the peace process another step backwards.”


One can’t help asking if Meles is at the service of the EPLF or the peoples of Ethiopia he confesses to represent, including the people of Tigray and Afar. After all, he has confessed in the past that it is better to sit down and listen to Isaias Afwerki’s talk than to read ten books. Whether Meles’ urges are finishing off Eritrea’s business or peace and development in Ethiopia remain to be seen. What is for sure is that he is sandwiched between the public pressure in Ethiopia and his urges to finish of the deal.


Whatever the case may be, we have witnessed a political immaturity that the struggle of the people of Tigray has produced. A wall in the middle of Afar land and people is simply wrong. These people, who are directly affected by this decision must have the ultimate power to decide what is good for them, whether that is their freedom, living in Ethiopia or in Eritrea as a people. Other peoples, including the Oromo people, the next of kin to the Afar people than are the Abyssinians who are directly involved in this conflict on both sides, should refrain from taking side in this issue at the least or support the voice of the directly affected people at best. Siding either with the Abyssinians in Eritrea or Ethiopia would be supporting one thief over the other, which should not be lost to our politicians.  


If Meles has been involved in a covert service to the state of Eritrea, all the peoples in Ethiopia may have to question not only the injustice committed against the Afar people, but also the possibility of Eritrea’s involvement in the affairs of all these peoples since 1991. We can speculate if the two rebel leaders may have gone to Finfinne and Asmara with their baggage from the jungle. As Voice Finfinne wrote in its first Column, Meles politicking in Ethiopia is as risky as his doctoring on a patient.