News of fresh border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has led to an explosion of speculation from both sides. Some believe that Ethiopia is shifting the focus of internal anger to an external foe, while others comment that the tensions coincide with a damning report on Eritrea by the UN Security Council. Partly to blame is the revolutionary mindset of both countries’ regimes, and this writer argues that it is time to progress their respective politics into the modern era.
Barely a year has passed since the “democratically inclusive and fair” general election, and the EPRDF-led government is seen harassing, torturing and imprisoning alleged “terrorist elements” – a move that has given birth to social upheavals, which have carried men and women, young and old, into ungovernable power.
We are now facing all sorts of earthly problems, which have carried us back to the post Badime War statement of no-peace, no-war. This has opened up old wounds with neighbouring Eritrea. The sounds of bullets are now being heard. Who fired the first shot has been a bone for contention; and the tug of war has been ongoing for two weeks now. Both country’s Ambassadors to Kenya, Ethiopia’s Dina Mufti and Eritrea’s Beyene Russom, were interviewed by a Kenyan journalist in Nairobi; it was embarrassing and shameful to watch the disgraceful exchange of rebuke between the two of them.
We were also told by the Minister of Communications that the sound of heavy artillery was heard echoing in the valleys and gorges of Tsorena, and its surrounding areas, in the northern part of Ethiopia bordering Eritrea. The situation there is that heavily armed defence forces have been on alert 24 hours a day since the Badime front war ended in a stalemate.
That Sunday morning two weeks ago was not how it should be, as shots were being fired by both sides and men in uniform fell, bleeding, under the orders of their respective commanders. Those severely wounded were left either to fate or, if they were lucky, picked up by rescue squads for medical treatment.
I find it difficult to comprehend why old wounds have to be reopened and sprinkled with salt at this moment in time. I was expecting, perhaps in vain, that it was time our politicians matured enough to realise that the hay-day of those Marxist teachings and revolutionary views had long since passed. Our political leaders must free themselves from those shadows, and catch up with the changes and requirements of the current times; it is long overdue.
The latest Ethio-Eritrean border skirmish leaves much ground for speculation, with no concrete evidence as to any specific assertions. The instant retaliation, however, was a mission accomplished hard and fast, as a hit back at the Eritrean efforts of destabilisation. Numbers were not discrete.
UN Ambassadors, Girma Asmerom of Eritrea and Tekeda Alemu (PhD) of Ethiopia, both had their own versions. Bear in mind though that both had once played in the Ethiopian national football team before they began their respective careers in the service of now warring nations. Girma alleged that the Ethiopian forces must be condemned by the UN Secretary General, as this is a blatant case of aggression. He said that the Eritrean defence forces hit back and killed some 200 soldiers and wounded as many as 300.
But these figures have not been confirmed or verified by neutral observers. Political pundits, on their part, try to reason out some assumptions by following the line of thought – why now?
One line of thought tries to link the cause with the UN Human Rights report to be submitted to the UN Security Council, blaming the Eritrean regime for its perpetual national service programme imposed on young Eritreans. This is seen as forced labour and exploitation of youngsters – a contributing factor to the many Eritreans who flee their country at any cost, risking their lives.
Eritrea’s argument, therefore, could be taken as justified if it has to stay alert to Ethiopia’s aggression, referring to the threat from the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. That boils down to the reasoning that the externalisation of an internal problem is a wise speculation.
Eritrea claims that the Ethiopian government is currently facing both natural and social problems in at least six of the nine regional States. The impact of drought is to an extent never seen before in the last 50 years. The social problem refers to the recent uprising in the Oromia Regional state, which kicked off in November 2015. As a consequence of which, Ethiopia is under huge tension and is seeking to divert people’s resentment by alleging that it was attacked by Eritrea.
This reasoning has been one of the most sensational ideas attracting serious concerns among the rank and file of Ethiopians.
There are other observers who reject both the externalising arguments and simply put the blame on a completely different reasoning. They begin by showing what is the obvious: Eritrea is being led by a former college dropout, who was carried away by revolutionary literature written by political philosophers and emerged after the industrial revolution. These materials were appealing to the young emotions of these dropouts, as much as they could understand the English of the books.
The books also inspired other students from Adwa, who boarded the same bandwagon of emotions. But the hayday of these sentiments, embedded in the essays of and others Mao Tse-tung et al, have withered away, leaving those thoughts obsolete. The world is now undergoing a different wave of political change.
Both countries are led by these ‘freedom’ fronts. In the case of Eritrea, Issayas Afeworki is leading the people without any constitution for his country. Ethiopia is headed by the EPRDF, with 100pc of the seats occupied by a one-party system. It is as good as having no democracy at all.
Old dogs never learn new tricks, as they say. It takes a long time before the concept of democracy surges into the minds of veteran politicians, who commenced their armed struggles 57 years ago.
The two countries ought to have known better and changed with the time. They could benefit their respective people by establishing peace, sitting around the table and working out roadmaps towards better opportunities. War mongering attitudes will never be of any use.
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