Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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NETSEREAB Ghebremichael Andom, CEDEJ-Khartoum

Eritrea’s right to self-determination was, from its inception, contentious. It was vehemently rejected both from within and outside the Ethiopian political establishment. Ethiopians posited that Eritrea has historically, socio-culturally and geographically been part of Abyssinia/Ethiopia. External forces such as the OAU and Western countries, by contrast, sided with the dominant Ethiopian narrative on grounds that entertaining the Eritreans’ cause would either set a dangerous pace for “Balkanization” of post-colonial African countries or would simply conflict their geo-political and economic calculus. It is against such odds that Eritrea’s de facto and de jure independence from Ethiopia was achieved in 1991 and 1993 respectively. Yet Eritrea’s complete “civic political divorce” was repeatedly questioned by some vocal Ethiopian nationalists. Long-distance “Abyssinian cybernauts” have particularly belabored to “re-writing” historical accounts that could hardly withstand serious factual scrutiny. Their attempted sabotage to Eritrea’s statehood has also missed the golden opportunity that the two countries could have worked out on their common strategic interests through thorough ironing out of “unhealthy” popular differences in the populations’ perceptions and attitudes, negotiating peacefully on matters that interests both neighbors, building trust as well as putting in place farsighted institutionalized mutual cooperative arrangements. While there are considerable number of literature that account the causes and contributory factors to the disastrous second Ethio-Eritrean war (1998-2000) and its subsequent “frozen conflict”, I argue that the two countries’ belligerent inter-state relations partly arises owing to lack of “emotional liberty” among Ethiopian and Eritrean nationalist groups (politico-military elites and intellectuals) have. Their politico-military elites’ apparent zero-sum diplomatic attitude and the impasse in the Ethio-Eritrean relations since the Algiers Peace Agreement is thus partly explicable to both countries’ succumbing into deeply unhelpful “ghostly historical accounts” (of both distant and recent past). The aim of this paper is to grapple with understanding holistically how Eritreans’ long march to a legal right for self-determination vs. their relations with its former “occupier.” In so doing, the so-called border conflict is analyzed from a broader perspective by considering how the subtly boiling economic and political disputes between the EPRDF and PFDJ had further compounded their differences by competing and divergent ill-motives. While the former were adamant at “punishing” what they perceived as “PFDJ/Shaebia arrogance”, the latter appear to have earnestly deployed war-making and excessive state securitization as a means of delineating socio-cultural boundary-making processes and consolidating national loyalty against their neighbors – most fiercely with their Tigrayean kins across the Mereb Isles.