By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
Memorandum will be translated into Amharic and made available shortly at almariam.com]
The Good Book says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It is a maxim that aims to guide those who seek to deliver the message of peace and reconciliation to humanity. It is a message that teaches true peace is found between individuals or nations by restoring broken relationships in a reconciliation process.
The Good Book also says, “There is no peace for the wicked.” There is no peace for those who seek to impose peace-at-the-barrel-of-the-gun
Last week, by announcing to fully implement the 2002 “Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission DECISION Regarding Delimitation of the Border between The State of Eritrea and The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia delivered on a promise he made during his inaugural address in April:
With the government of Eritrea, we want from the bottom of our hearts that the disagreement that has reigned for years comes to an end. We would also discharge our responsibility. While expressing our readiness resolve our differences through dialogue, I take this opportunity to call on the Eritrean government to take a similar stand not only for the sake of our common interest but also for the common blood relations between the peoples of the two countries.
In offering an olive branch to Eritrea, PM Abiy did not hide behind ambiguous diplomatic language or politically correct words of evasion. He spoke from the heart and demonstrated to the world that he is a man committed to peace and reconciliation at home and abroad.
I am deeply touched that PM Abiy should speak from the “bottom of the heart” to resolve “differences through dialogue”. All politicians I know speak in forked tongue from both sides of their mouths. A true man of peace speaks in the rhythm of his heartbeat not in the drumbeats of war pounding in his mind.
Having witnessed 27 years of divide and rule and rule by war, violence and revenge, I never thought I would see a leader in Ethiopia who would risk everything on peace and reconciliation at home and commit to the principle of “Love thy neighbor.” Alas! “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed”, reassured us Alexander Pope.
In announcing his government decision to fully comply with the Boundary Commission’s Decision, PM Abiy said:
All that we have achieved from the [stalemate with Eritrea] situation of the last 20 years is tension. Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea benefit from a stalemate. We need to expend all our efforts towards peace and reconciliation and extricate ourselves from petty conflicts and divisions and focus on eliminating poverty.
In just a few sentences composed in the heart, PM Abiy broke the decades-old evil spell that had bedeviled and paralyzed diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In such a simple act, PM Abiy silenced the “crash of guns, the rattle of musketry and the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield”, to borrow a phrase form Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The guns silenced, the suffering people of Ethiopia and Eritrea may now speak, shout out, that the two countries hereafter “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Witnessing swords beaten into plowshares is a source of great joy for me.
Since taking office, PM Abiy has made a specialty out of stunning everyone with his bold and courageous moves. He is introducing such fast-paced changes in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region, they are calling him “Prime Minster Bolt” (after Usain Bolt the world record holder as the fastest sprinter).
Every day, PM Abiy proves to the world that he is a true transformational leader. He is not only transforming structures and processes of governance, he is, most importantly and positively, transforming the hearts and minds of Ethiopians in the country and in the Diaspora. Hardly a day passes without someone telling me, “I was suspicious of Abiy at first because “They” brought him up in their ranks and “They” made him prime minister. But now he has won me over.”
That is the irresistible magic of Abiy Ahmed. In less than ten weeks he has managed to conquer the hearts and minds of even the stone-hearted and the steeled mind with sincerity, humility, kindness, compassion, love, professionalism and fairness.
For me, the icing on the cake is that he wears his Ethiopiawinet on his sleeve for everyone to see. Just like me.
When PM Abiy took office, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Herman Cohen tweeted:
Message for new Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed: Do not be reluctant to take bold steps toward democratic reform. TPLF politico-economic monopolists have been revealed as frauds, and will not be able to restrain you. International community is with you.
In 2012, Ambassador Cohen said, “They [TPLF] are condemned to rule the country as a minority and that is very dangerous for [Ethiopia’s] stability.” In December 2015, Ambassador Cohen condemned extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions by the TPLF regime. “The political leaders of the Ethiopian Government have a policy of killing all opponents who take to the streets to demonstrate against them.” In December 2017, he prophesied of the TPLF, “Mainly there is no sharing of economic or political power, and that there was such a small group. It is very unhealthy and it would not last. It couldn’t possibly last, which I see evidence now but it is not lasting.”
There is little doubt that PM Abiy has rock solid support in the Ethiopian people and the international community for his reform and democratization efforts at home and bold moves to stabilize the Horn of Africa region. Indeed, his decision to implement the Boundary Commission’s Decision shall immeasurably enhance the stability of the region.
Speaking truth to those barking up the wrong tree: Blame Meles Zenawi NOT Abiy Ahmed for the outcome of the Boundary Commission Decision
There are those who are today grumbling about PM Abiy’s announcement to implement the Decision. They angrily declare he committed an “act of treason”, a “historic blunder” and a “shameful act” by deciding to implement the Decision unconditionally. They say thousands of Ethiopians died defending the Ethiopian Eritrean border and the town of Badme and many more thousands ended up in exile as a result of the border war. They claim PM Abiy’s “dictatorial government” made its decision to implement the Decision without public debate, input, discussion and professional consultations. They made good on their threat to hold “large public meetings” and undertake “demonstrations” to show their displeasure and opposition to PM Abiy’s decision.
Unfortunately, those who want to pin the blame on PM Abiy are barking up the wrong tree.
They are uninformed, misinformed, misguided and without any familiarity with the 1) terms of the Algiers Agreement, 2) the specific mandates of the Boundary Commission, 3) the flawed treaties and other defective reports and evidence reviewed by the Commission in reaching its demarcation decision, 4) the inept legal arguments and analysis presented to the Commission and 5) the rigid procedural rules of the arbitration proceeding.
In the following analysis, I hope to temper the inflamed emotions and passions of those reacting negatively to PM Abiy’s decision by enlightening them on the tragic facts of the Boundary Commission Decision.
The essential facts are as follows:
On December 8, 2000, the House of Peoples’ Representatives issued Proclamation No. 225/2000 “ratifying the peace agreement” between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
On December 12, 2000, the late Meles Zenawi agreed and personally signed the Algiers Agreement and specifically agreed to
have a neutral Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission composed of five members established with a mandate to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law. (Art. 4(2).)
have the UN Cartographer provide the technical expertise in establishing boundary lines and other related matters. (Art. 4(7).)
present written and oral submissions and any additional evidence directly to the Commission on portions of the border that are in dispute. (Art. 4 (10.))
have the final decision of the Border Commission regarding delimitation of the borders to be transmitted to the Secretaries General of the OAU and the United Nations which shall arrange for expeditious demarcation. (Art. 4 (13)
specifically accept the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission as final and binding. (Art. 4(15.))
the mandate of the Commission to decide through binding arbitration all claims for loss, damage related to the conflict (art. 5(1)).
Representing Ethiopia on the record before the Boundary Commission were Seyoum Mesfin, Fisseha Yimer and Seifeselassie Lemma, supported by legal team which included a retired Oxford University professor of international law and two American and two French lawyers.
The Boundary Commission held hearings at the Peace Palace in The Hague from December 10-21, 2001. Representatives of the two countries presented their legal arguments and analysis of the evidence to the Commission.
Four months later on April 3, 2002, the Boundary Commission issued its 112-page unanimous Decision de
On April 14, 2002, Seyoum Mesfin declared, “Ethiopia accepts the ruling. Ethiopia is satisfied. We hope that the decision will once and for all seal any attempt by military adventurers to change the boundary by means of force.” Seyoum added, “This is a victory of peace over aggression and violence. It is a victory of law over the rule of the jungle.” Seyoum publicly declared that the town of Badme had been awarded to Ethiopia and accused “the Eritrean government of trying to cause ‘confusion’ by stating it had been awarded the village of Badme [which is] “an integral part of Ethiopian sovereign territory”.
On April 16, 2002, Meles Zenawi accepting the Commission’s Decision declared victory: “The [Boundary Commission] ruling has supported and complied with the stance that we were pursuing from the outset. In my opinion this is our major victory.”
Let’s face the raw facts!
If people are looking to pin the blame for the outcome of the Boundary Commission Decision on someone, they need to look no further than Meles Zenawi, Seyoum Mesfin, Fisseha Yimer and Seifeselassie Lemma.
The commitment to binding arbitration was a blunder of astronomical proportions. Once Meles signed the Algiers Agreement, the fate of Badme and all other territorial issues on the northern border was sealed. In the Algiers Agreement, Meles had boxed Ethiopia into a corner from which she cannot get out. Binding arbitration became a crap shoot for Ethiopia. Any decision of the Boundary Commission will be legally final and irreversible. There were other alternatives to binding arbitration.
Meles Zenawi did not have to agree to binding arbitration, which means a small group of privately selected experts will play act as judges (Commission) and decide issues of extreme importance to Ethiopia. No one put a gun to his head and forced him to sign the Algiers Agreement. He knew that “binding arbitration” means Ethiopia will, without question, accept the Decision of the Commission whether she liked it or not and that the fate of the town of Badme was at grave risk.
Meles was under no obligation to submit to binding arbitration particularly given the fact that Eritrea was the first to launch a war of aggression and was subsequently successfully repelled by Ethiopian forces. After Ethiopia’s military victory, Meles was in a superior bargaining position to dictate certain conditions on the aggressor regime as preconditions to binding arbitration, including access to the port of Assab. How any leader of a country would squander such a historic opportunity and casually turn over to binding arbitration a victory gained in the battlefield through the sacrifices of tens of thousands of soldiers simply boggles the mind!
Meles was also under no obligation to commit to binding arbitration for the final border delimitation and demarcation based on the July 10, 1900 treaty between Italy and Ethiopia (which was superseded by the May 15, 1902 Treaty between the UK, Italy and Ethiopia), and the Italo-Ethiopian Convention of May 16, 1908. These so-called treaties, which were literally forced upon Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II who decisively defeated the Italian colonial invaders in 1896, had significant flaws and should not have been agreed to as the bases for a final border status determination.
For instance, the 1908 Treaty indicated the borderline would go in the southeast direction and “proceed parallel to and at a distance of 60kms from the coast, until it joins the frontier of the French possessions of Somalia”. The two governments promised to “undertake to fix the above mentioned frontier-line on the spot by common accord and as soon as possible.” There is no record anywhere that shows they established the frontier-line accordingly. Yet, the 1908 Treaty was used as a valid treaty for binding arbitration.
During the arbitration hearing, “the first question that arose in the application of the 1908 was the definition of the coast. Ethiopia abandoned its conception of the coast as including islands and submitted in its concluding argument that “the coastline” should be understood as “adhering continuously to the continent itself, and not any coastlines of islands as such.” (See Decision, p. 89.)
Seyoum Mesfin handled the arbitration process in a manner that could only be described as depraved indifference and criminal negligence in disregarding the national interests of Ethiopia. For crying out loud, how is it possible on God’s green earth to have such an incompetent, ignorant and clueless foreign minister representing the national interests of a nation!?
Ethiopia is today paying the ultimate price of Goethe’s admonition. “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”
It must be double underscored that Seyoum Mesfin personally represented and hired the lawyers that represented Ethiopia before the Boundary Commission. Seyoum Mesfin personally directed the legal strategy, and with Meles Zenawi, set the legal positions of Ethiopia on all of the contested territorial issues before the Commission.
To add insult to injury, in accepting the Commission’s Decision, Seyoum Mesfin said, “Ethiopia accepts the ruling. Ethiopia is satisfied.”
I don’t know whether I should cry my eyes out or pull out my hair!
Fisseha Yimer and Seifeselassie Lemma directly participated in critical supporting role in the litigation before the Commission. I will predict that if these two individuals were asked of their role, they will cover their rear ends by saying, “We advised otherwise but in the end did what we were told to do.”
In the end, when the Boundary Commission issued its Decision, Meles declared “victory”. Why didn’t he want to implement a Decision that gave him “victory”?
It is because Meles wanted to play political football with Badme. Meles purposefully calculated that he could use Badme and the border dispute as political football — a wedge issue to divide Ethiopians – and manipulate and exploit patriotic sentiments over territorial land and as a weapon in his games of mass distraction to maintain himself in power.
Meles understood that full compliance with the Commission’s Decision would stoke the ire and anger of all Ethiopians. He knew he would be blamed for bargaining away in arbitration land for which so many tens of thousands died defending. He feared it would be perceived and understood as the ultimate betrayal by the Ethiopian people. He believed he could pander to the Ethiopian public by appearing defiant and refusing to comply. He thought he could keep the stalemate going by threatening war and distracting the public.
Meles kept the issue of compliance with the Commission’s Decision at bay periodically spreading rumors of war and threatening war with Eritrea. In June 2016, the pre-PM Abiy regime set spread rumors of war and sounded the drumbeats of war signaling a ground war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
But Meles’ betrayal and treachery with Ethiopian sovereignty and territory did not begin or end with the Algiers Agreement. From Day 1, he has been playing fast and loose with Ethiopian territory. He gave away the port of Assab and landlocked Ethiopia. When he had the chance to bargain for Assab in exchange for binding arbitration, he squandered the opportunity. Meles secretly ceded away Ethiopian territory to the Sudan and for pennies literally sold Ethiopian land to so-called investors.
Badme was no different to Meles. It was just another piece of Ethiopian territory he could give away as he pleased. In any case, for Meles there was no such thing as “Ethiopia” only nations, nationalities and peoples”. If such a thing existed, it would not be more than 100 years old.
We can all do Monday morning quarterbacking about what “coulda, woulda and shoulda” have been done, but the Badme horse is out of the barn and gone. Badme is water under the bridge. There is nothing that can be done legally to undo it or challenge it. There can be no buyer’s remorse. Ethiopia cannot go back to December 2000 and undo the Algiers Agreement. Once Meles signed on the dotted line in the Algiers Agreement, it was all over. The fate of Badme was sealed. The Decision of the Boundary Commission will be implemented without ifs or buts.
It may be hard to swallow for some people but the outcome of the Border Commission Decision is the tar baby of the gang of four: Meles Zenawi, Seyoum Mesfin, Fisseha Yimer and Seifeselassie Lemma! It is the result of their handiwork. Their fingerprints are all over the Decision. History will record that Meles Zenawi, Seyoum Mesfin, Fisseha Yimer and Seifeselassie Lemma, and those parliamentarians who voted for Proclamation No. 225/200 are solely responsible for the loss of Badme and any borderline that will eventually be demarcated.
So, we must face the unavoidable question: What is the problem with PM Abiy Ahmed implementing a Decision accepted as a “victory” by Meles Zenawi and “satisfactory” by Seyoum Mesfin?
Those who criticize PM Abiy for his decision to implement the Commission’s Decision should learn a lesson in the rule of international law. A party to a binding international legal proceeding does not have the luxury of accepting a decision only when the party likes the outcome or prevails. It is not possible to call international jurists and intimidate and threaten to fire or jail them if they do not do our bidding. We do not have the option of rejecting a binding arbitration decision because we reject the outcome could get us into political hot water.
It is ironic that Seyoum Mesfin should describe the Commission’s Decision as “a victory of peace over aggression and violence. It is a victory of law over the rule of the jungle.” That is an extraordinary statement coming from someone who has lived all his life by the rule of the jungle.
Ultimately, those barking at PM Abiy should ask themselves, “Did Meles lie to them? Is it Meles or MeLIES? Did Seyoum lie to them? Does the LF in TPLF stand for Lie Factory?”
A sidebar on Seyoum Mesfin, the crocodile patriot
Last week, Seyoum Mesfin, the same man who sold Badme down the river, was pontificating about how PM Abiy is “dirtying” the government and waging a psychological war on the people of Tigray. Seyoum Mesfin said:
Among the defense forces only 14% are from Tigray. That is the number of people born in Tigray and are part of the defense forces. Only 14% out of 100. Because general Samora is supreme etat major [“chief of staff”] only, it is called a TPLF army or woyane army. Is that the truth? Is that the belief of the people of Ethiopia? It is not.
Are the Ethiopian armed forces represented by the so-called Agazi army? It is an army, an institution, that came out of nations, nationalities and peoples. It is an army in which everyone can see their own mirror images, their own portraits. That is the only institution that reflects the [diversity] people. It is that institution they are dirtying. Why is it that they are dirtying the security institution? Why did they target them? If these institutions collapse, the government will collapse. If these institutions collapse the constitution will collapse. They will dance on it [on the tattered remains of these institutions] as they please. That is their aim. The people of Ethiopia know this is and they must struggle against it knowing this. The people of Tigray are taking to the front lines to defend against the psychological warfare. They have to know that they have to be in the forefront in the struggle. That is the idea I have. (Emphasis added.)
In February, the same Seyoum Mesfin, who is today calling the people of Tigray to arms over an imaginary psychological war, was calling the people of Tigray to arms to defend against an imaginary genocidal civil war to be waged on them and sounding the wail of victimhood after 27 long years in the saddle of power. (See my “Rejoinder to Seyoum Mesfin’s Call to Arms to the People of Tigray.)
What is obvious to me is the fact that Seyoum Mesfin himself is waging his own psychological war on PM Abiy by demonizing him as one “dirtying” the government and the constitution. Seyoum Mesfin is waging a psychological war of his own by implicitly threatening civil war (claiming “glaring and extremely, extremely alarming danger the people of Tigray are facing”), a military coup (“the government will collapse and Seyoum and his gang will save it) and secession (by establishing the Republic of Tigray).
Nice try Seyoum, but no one is buying your fear and smear tactics.
It is important to note what Seyoum Mesfin believes to be a “psychological war” is actually PM Abiy’s battle for the hearts and minds of Ethiopians inside the country and in the Diaspora. Seyoum either cannot figure it out or is being disingenuous. But from what I have been able to conclude, he is like the proverbial man who carries a hammer for whom everything looks like a nail to him.
For Seyoum who knows only war, the battle for hearts and minds sure looks like psychological war to him.
It is Seyoum’s right to play his own psychological war games, but as I have said so many times, it is GAME OVER for Seyoum and his gang!
What is the alternative to compliance with the Boundary Commission Decision?
The only alternative to compliance with the Boundary Commission Decision is war, war and more war. An estimated 70,000 to 120,000 soldiers and civilians died in the Ethio-Eritrean border conflict between 1998-2000. That is enough death and destruction. No more deaths. No more war. War has been tried and failed.
Recently, Eritrea is training and deploying Al Shabab and locally grown destructive forces to terrorize our country. But Egypt is the direct force behind these destructive elements that back them. Until now, our strategy has been defending our sovereignty by speeding up our development. Now, we found that we could not go any longer with passive defense. It’s not possible to take passive defense as the only alternative. Therefore, we have to facilitate ways for Eritrean people to remove their dictatorial regime. We have no intention to jump into their country but we need to extend our influence there. If the Eritrean government tries to attack us, we will also respond proportionally. (Emphasis added.)
Meles planned a regime change for Eritrea. But the force of destiny produced a difference result.
Meles Zenawi’s invasion of Somalia beginning in 2006 caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Somalis civilians through indiscriminate shelling and displacement of hundreds of thousands.
How many Ethiopian soldiers died in Zenawi’s war in Somalia?
In 2009, Meles Zenawi told “parliament it does not need to know how many soldiers died in Somalia”.
How many Ethiopian soldiers who fought in the border war were repatriated to their country. All of the Eritrean prisoners of war in Ethiopia were returned to their home, but how many Ethiopian prisoners of war were returned from Eritrea?
Now is not a time for war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The time is right now for both countries to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
The much maligned British Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain said, “In war whichever side may call itself victor. There are no winners. But all are losers.”
In another Ethiopia-Eritrea War, who will be the losers?
Martin Plaut, the former Africa editor, BBC World Service News, in a guest column he wrote for my blogsite in September 2017 argued “thousands lost their lives tragically in the senseless border war.” In frustration, Plaut observed:
Empires crumble; regimes fall; kingdoms turn to dust. But peoples endure. And – in my view – there is little that separates the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. In fact, far more unites them. They have a rare intelligence and a depth of understanding; a wonderful shared heritage and culture. They also share negative traits: stubbornness, inflexibility and a secretiveness which makes progress so very hard to achieve.
I applaud PM Abiy for breaking the old mold of stubbornness, inflexibility, secretiveness, fear and loathing and usher in a new era of open diplomacy based on genuine commitment to peace, reconciliation and advancement of the mutual interests of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
I have always believed that Ethiopia and Eritrea are one people separated by stubborn, inflexible, secretive and insecure leaders. Ethiopia is truly blessed to have a young dynamic leader without any ego issues, open minded, forward-thinking, courageous, rational, thoughtful, committed and brilliant. I shall prophesy that Ethiopia and Eritrea will become one nation one way or the other. The other being when they both become democratic. That is foreordained!
There is a familiar old saying about fighting (warring) elephants and the grass. The grass was always the loser. This time the grass – the people – have come out as the real winner in a war among elephants.
PM Abiy takes a page out of Mandela’s playbook
PM Abiy took a page out of Mandela’s playbook when he decided to implement the Boundary Commission’s Decision unconditionally. Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
I know PM Abiy does not like to use the word “enemy”, but I shall use it here metaphorically.
Mandela’s sound advice comes from his long and hard struggle against the minority apartheid regime in South Africa. He understood reconciling with the apartheid enemy was necessary to achieve peace, justice and reconciliation. He knew the old ways of hate and revenge and the pursuit of eye for an eye will turn South Africa into a nation of blind people. Mandela knew a paradigm shift in thinking and perception was necessary to transition South Africa into a democratic society. He decided to use the strategy of negotiation, instead of war and militarism, to win against his enemies.
Working with the enemy cannot be based on deception and one-upmanship. It must be based on integrity, sincerity, commitment and insight on both sides. It requires leadership that is capable of learning from the mistakes of the past, a commitment not to repeat them and march headlong into the future with confidence and faith that God helps those who help themselves and each other.
Working with the enemy is the only way out of a situation of war and no war, no peace.
PM Abiy breaks the spell of war with the magic of friendship, peace and reconciliation
PM Abiy said Ethiopia will fully accept and implement the peace deal that ended the war. His reasons for accepting the decision show that he is not only a man of peace but a strategic thinker of extraordinary depth. Neighbors can only live in peace if they restore their broken relationships.
In his statement announcing unconditional implementation of the Boundary Commission’s Decision, PM Abiy said (clip at 1:20):