Ethiopia-Eritrea tensions: mutual scapegoating?

Ethiopian police have killed at least 40 since protests erupted Nov. 1 over disputed parliamentary elections in Addis Ababa, the capital. Violence continues as protests are now spreading to other cities, including Dessie, Gondar, Bahar Dar, Arba Minch, Awassa, Dire Dawa—all opposition strongholds. The vote gave Prime Minister Zenawi Meles’ Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front control of nearly two-thirds of parliament. Opposition parties say the election and vote count were marred by fraud, intimidation and violence, and they accused the ruling party of rigging the elections. (AP, Nov. 4)

Simultaneously, as if by chance, renewed border tensions with Eritrea. Also note Eritrea’s claim (mirroring that of Niger a few weeks back) that the UN is using claims of a “humanitarian crisis” in the country as a cover to undermine its sovereignty. From IRIN Nov. 3, via

Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern on Wednesday about reported movements of military personnel on both the Ethiopian and Eritrean sides of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) along their common border.

In a statement issued by his spokesman, Annan said there had also been reports of “irregular activities inside the zone,” and troop movements involving small and large military and paramilitary formations, armour as well as aerial defence assets.

“The Secretary-General strongly urges the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to put an immediate halt to any actions that may be misinterpreted by the other side or jeopardise the security arrangements which they agreed to in the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities of 18 June 2000,” the statement said.

At a news conference in New York, the head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told reporters: “It is essential at this stage, at a very fragile moment, that neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia make any movement that could be misunderstood by the other side and could lead to a very dangerous situation. This is a time to really bring the tension down.”

Earlier, the UN had called the situation on the Ethiopia-Eritrean border “tense”.

In the Eritrean capital, Asmara, diplomats said the military movement could have resulted from Eritrea’s frustration that the international community had not done more to force Ethiopian acceptance of the 2002 ruling on the boundary by an independent commission.


The two neighbours fought a war over the border from 1998 to 2000 in which an estimated 70,000 people from both countries died. The common border has still not been demarcated, despite an international agreement.

Last month, Eritrea banned UN helicopter flights in its airspace, and placed further restrictions on ground patrols. The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea said it was now able to monitor only 40 percent of the border.

There are currently 3,300 UN peacekeepers patrolling the TSZ, at a cost of some US $186 million a year.

On 28 October, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki wrote to UN Security Council President Mihnea Loan Motoc, listing previous agreements between Eritrea and Ethiopia since 2000 and accusing the UN of failing to do enough to maintain regional peace and security.

“[The UN’s] unwillingness to enforce the rule of law and to ensure respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a UN member state has compromised its credibility as well as its legal and moral authority,” he said in the letter.

The letter followed an earlier one to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which Isaias said the UN was engaged in an “unacceptable” campaign to portray “a humanitarian crisis” in Eritrea.

“This campaign is apparently designed to cover up the failure of the United Nations to shoulder its legal responsibilities in the border conflict and to wrongly shift the blame to Eritrea,” Isaias said.

The UN estimates that some 2.3 million people – almost two-thirds of Eritrea’s 3.6 million population – require some level of food aid in 2005. However, Eritrean officials insist that they expect a bumper harvest this year, thanks to widespread and sufficient rainfall.

See our last posts on Ethiopia and Eritrea.

  1. There has never been a good
    There has never been a good reason for war between brothers. We Ethiopians have always had our own internal differences on how the political control should be managed among ourselves. This war of power goes back to what we Ethiopians call ‘zemene mesafint’ (era of princes). We were fighting among ourselves to appear into the global political picture as one nation at a very critical stage of global socio-political environment.

    The world, mostly the west, was delving into enlightenment and civilized dialoguing with humanity taking centre stage in that very age of 18th and 19th centuries when Ethiopians were fighting among themselves. We take no shame for that. It is always and still remembered as virtue though those that lost those battles and became servants of the victorious kings resent their situations. So we were made to sing ‘long life to the king’. In spite of our differences, Ethiopians always fought under one leader against what we call ‘alien’ fighters. We used to fight under our local enemy to gain national territorial integrity. That is our history. History teaches me that Ethiopians fight for their borders to death. Death is victory in the history of Ethiopia if it is for ‘mother country’. So we allowed ourselves to die at war, a better death. When we are at war we sacrifice a human soul, extinction of communities and annihilation of any economic resource. All these for the sake of our borderline though we do not know where, apparently we are being awakened to this fact.

    When we look at the so called ‘Eritrea’ they are no different from the losers of old ‘mesafint’ era though they claim some amount of resistance movement from so long ago. ‘Tigray’ was even more at the fore front in hatred of the central government of Ethiopia since the late 19th century. Both have so much in common in many respects, language, culture, lineage of ancestry and so on. Whatever the Italians and the English had been doing in terms of burying a time bomb that facilitated the ‘divide and conquer’ of that age, all kinds of Ethiopians came into the fore front arguing for and against ‘Eritrean Independence’. Finally, what is now Eritrea is the victory of those that wanted ‘independence’ away finally from complications in the Ethiopian “chaos

    1. ethiopia/eritrea tensions
      There is no substantial nation called Eritrea. But yes there is a state-if you call a state run by gangsters a state, called by that name.The two “leaders” are cousins both belonging to the Ethiopian Tigrawi nationality and speak the same language. They both have what are now semi-privatised armies which they use to settle their private scores. The Ethiopian peple have nothing to do with this. They have more sense than fight for the elephant’s tail (Badme) after surrendering the elephant (“Eritrea”). So my advice to Kofi Annan ,this is a private duel between to cruel “leaders”, and narrow eliltes, the Ethiopian people and even the Ethiopian Tigrawi nationality has very little to gain and a lot to lose from another of their sensless wars.