Nobel Peace Prize 2019: Is the Conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea Over? Part I
With the Nobel Peace Prize to Abiy Ahmed, the spotlight is on Ethiopia and Eritrea. Why were the countries at war? And is there really peace now?
- Who is this year’s Peace Prize winner, Abiy Ahmed?
- What has he done to deserve the award?
- Is the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea over?
- What is the situation in Ethiopia today?
This year’s Peace Prize is awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The Nobel Committee pointed to his efforts to promote peace and international cooperation, and in particular his work to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea .
In the wake of the award, however, several questions have arisen: Is the conflict with Eritrea really over? Can one give the Nobel Peace Prize to the head of state in a country where millions have been forced to flee in recent years, and where one still sees deadly violence within the country? And should not the President of Eritrea also receive the Peace Prize?
2: Why did Abiy receive the Peace Prize?
Prime Minister Abiy has been a visible figure in the media since he came to power in 2018. (Because it is “Abiy” he is mostly called. The naming tradition in Ethiopia works so that a person’s second name is not a family name, but the name of one’s Abiy is thus the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, while Ahmed is his father.)
But what has Prime Minister Abiy really done to get the Peace Prize? The rationale for the Peace Prize can be roughly divided into three parts, with the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea coming first. Then comes Abiy’s efforts for change internally in Ethiopia. The third point is Abiy’s diplomatic work elsewhere in the Horn of Africa .
In this text, we will take a closer look at the first two points. How can we understand the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict? And what does it look like in Ethiopia after Abiy came to power?
3: Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea
The areas that today make up the countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea have a rich and complicated history. The two neighboring countries have long been bitter enemies, and many lives have been lost in the wars between the countries.
Two wars can be said to have defined the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea: the Eritrean War of Independence from 1961 to 1991, and the Eritrean-Ethiopian War from 1998 to 2000. Although the latter war ended in a peace treaty between the two countries in December 2000, relations between the states remained strained, and the border areas were uncertain until a new peace agreement in 2018. To understand the significance of this agreement, it is important to first understand the countries’ common history.
4: Colonial powers and liberation struggles
The areas that today make up Ethiopia and Eritrea have historically been ruled by a number of different leaders and centers of power. The Aksum kingdom , for example, lasted from around the year 100 CE to 650 CE and covered large parts of what is now northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, countries located in Africa according to hyperrestaurant.com.
The borders that today define Eritrea are partly a result of Italy in 1890 declaring the colony “Italian Eritrea” as part of the Italian kingdom. The Italians then tried to expand their colonial power in the Horn of Africa, but met strong opposition from Ethiopia – which had military power to defend itself against invading forces.
It was not until 1935 that the Italians managed to invade Ethiopia, but with World War II, Ethiopia received support from Britain in 1940. The Italians were repulsed and Ethiopia liberated. Britain also took power over the Eritrean territories in 1941. British control of Eritrea lasted barely ten years.
A UN resolution in 1950 then decided that Eritrea would become part of the Ethiopian Empire. It was agreed that Eritrea would retain autonomy – with language, national assembly and more – but in practice Eritrea was gradually overthrown by Ethiopia. This ended with Ethiopia finally taking control of Eritrea in 1962.
The Eritrean resistance movement had been growing for several years before Ethiopia actually annexed the country. One of the most central parties in the liberation struggle was the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) , which was formed in the 1970s. The EPLF, led by Isaiah Afwerki, grew stronger throughout the 1980s. Together with the Ethiopian Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the EPLF finally managed to secure Eritrea’s freedom from Ethiopia in 1991 and formal independence in 1993.
The EPLF then went from being a military organization to becoming a political party, and took the name People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). The PFDJ has since been Eritrea’s only governing party. Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, has similarly been the country’s sole head of state since independence 26 years ago.