September 21, 2004

Eritrea: A New country of enormous opportunities and promising future
By Meeting Point International (Nigeria)

Eritrea, with just over three million inhabitants, is one of the world’s youngest nations. The country’s population is divided evenly between Muslims and Christians, and for most of Eritrea’s history there has been very little sectarian tension. The adult literacy rate is twenty percent, life expectancy is forty-six years, and eighty percent of the population is rural. Eritrea was an Italian colony until 1941 and then became a British protectorate. In 1952, a UN resolution joined a reluctant Eritrea to Ethiopia in a federation; it was annexed into Ethiopia under the emperor Haile Selassie in 1962. After its protracted struggle with Ethiopia and being hit by several disastrous droughts, Eritrea finally gained its independence in 1993. In this struggle, one-third of the freedom fighters were women.  

Women veterans are highly respected in Eritrea and easily identifies by their self-confidence and forthright manner. Many of them have achieved prominence in contemporary Eritrean society: they are teachers; they work in the ministries of health education, and hold other positions of leadership.

The 30 years of devastation and protracted war along with the years of recurrent drought left its economy in shambles, with much of its infrastructure and the productive bases destroyed. However, enormous efforts have been made by the Government of Eritrea to rehabilitate, reconstruct and transform the war devastated socio-economic systems while at the same time laying sound foundations for its further development. Appropriate institutions to implement integrated economic development policies based on principles of the market economy have been adopted and strengthened.

The private sector is encouraged to play a leading role in economic development. Efficiency, competitiveness, decentralization and balanced growth are the guiding Economic principles. Emphasis is given both to domestic and foreign private investors so that the private sector can contribute directly in the reconstruction and development of the country. To this end, the Government has created an atmosphere conducive to the overall economy by promulgating new investment and other pertinent laws as well as appropriate fiscal and monetary policies.


History of Eritrea

Early History


Evidence of pre-humans has been discovered in the Buia region of Eritrea. The discovery may be one of the oldest ever found, and is similar to the famous “Lucy” find. Evidence of human presence begins in the 8th millennium B.C., beginning with Pygmoid, Nilotic, Cushitic (the Afar) and Semitic (Tigrinya) peoples. In the sixth century B.C., Arabs spread to the coast of persent day Eritrea, in search of ivory and slaves for trade with Persia and India. Their language evolved into Ge’ez, related to today’s Amhara, still spoken by Christian priests in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

During the 3rd and 4th century AD, Eritrea was part of the Kingdom of Axum which spread from Meroe in Sudan right across the Red Sea to Yemen. The capital of Axum was in the highlands of Tigray (now a province in Ethiopia), and the main port was at Adulis which is now called Zula in Eritrea. This Kingdom was based upon trade across the Red Sea and was founded by Semitic people originally from Arabia. Christianity was the predominant faith of Axum introduced through contact with traders throughout the region.

By the 6th century A.D. the Persian Empire expanded and with it went the expansion of Islam. In 710 AD Muslims destroyed Adulis and the ancient Kingdom of Axum declined until it was reduced to a small Christian Enclave. For the next few centuries, the region settled into being a remote, isolated community only re-emerging by the early 16th century as Abyssinia. The Abyssinian Kingdom covered the Ethiopian highlands ruled by kings and peopled by Christian Tigrinyans and remaining fairly isolated. The community had little or no contact with the lowlands of the region which was home to predominantly Muslim communities.

This period in Eritrea’s history is highly contentious. Ethiopians claimed Eritrea had been an integral part of historic Ethiopia but though there are some common practices and religious beliefs between Eritreans and Ethiopian, these ties do not extend throughout Ethiopia. In fact, large parts of Eritrea, it would seem, were linked to other empires. The Ottoman Empire and Egypt had relations with the northern and eastern part of the country, and various Sudanic Empires to the west and north-west have had their influence.


19th Century expansion


Abyssinia was subject to the expansionism of the Egyptians and some European powers (French, Italian and British). In the early parts of the century, Ali Pash invaded Sudan and gradually pushed on the Western Lowlands of present-day Eritrea. By mid-century, European interest in the area was increasing. The British had a consulate in Massawa, and the French already had a presence. Italian missionaries were established in Keren.

Emperor Tewodros II, who ruled Abyssinia from 1855-68, also had to deal with rebel forces in Tigray and Shoa. Who chose Ras Kassa as their ruler. Tewodros was defeated in 1868 after the British General Sir Robert Napier had landed in Zula to release the Consul and other prisoners held by the emperor. After Tewodros’s defeat, Ras Kassa was crowned Emperor Yohanes IV in 1872. Yohannes’s forces won a significant battle against the Egyptian at Gura in 1875.

Italian influence

The first Italian mission in Abyssinia was at Adua in 1840, under father Giuseppe Sapeto. He was the vehicle through which the Italian government bought up pieces of land near Assab, initially on behalf of the national Rubattino Shipping Company. But as the European ‘scramble for Africa’ gathered pace, the Italian government took over the land in 1882 and began to administer it directly. They also ousted the Egyptians from Massawa on the coast. However, expansion further inland soon led to clashes with Eritrean Emperor Yohannes. In 1887, Ras Alula’s forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the Italians at Dogali, forcing them to retreat.

This was a significant victory for Yohannes, who was also facing a number of other threats on different fronts at the same time-not only the Italians, but the Dervishes and Menelik, an increasingly disloyal general. Yohannes was eventually killed after being captured in battle against the Dervishes at Galabat. Following his death, Ras Alula withdrew to Tigray.  This allowed Menelik to be named Yohannes successor in 1889 with substantial Italian backing, instead of the natural heir, Ras Mangasha.

The Italians then moved rapidly, taking Keren in July 1889 and Asmara one month later. Menelik had signed the Treaty of Uccialli with the Italians the same year, detailing the areas each controlled. Just four years later, Melenik renounced the treaty over a dispute arising from further Italian expansionist attempts. After more military clashes and in the face of sizable Italian reinforcements, Menelik singed a peace treaty. Italy then began establishing colonial rule in the areas it controlled.

Colonial rule

The Italians initially used a system of indirect rule through local chiefs at the beginning of the 20th century. The first decade or so concentrated on expropriation of land from indigenous owners. The colonial power also embarked on the construction of the railway from Massawa to Asmara in 1909. Fascist rule in the 1920s and the spirit of ‘Pax Italian’ gave a significant boost to the number of Italians in Eritrea, adding further to loss of land by the local population.

In 1935, Italy succeeded in over-running Abyssinia, and decreed that Eritrea, Italian Somali-land and Abyssinia were to be known as Italian East Africa. The development of regional transport links at this time round Asmara, Assab and Addis produced a rapid but short-lived economic boom.

However, there began to be clashes between Italian and British forces in 1940. under General Platt, the British captured Agordat in 1941, taking Keren and Asmara later that  year. As Britain did not have the capacity to take over the full running of the territory, they left some Italian officials in place. One of the most significant changes under the British was the lifting of the color bar, which the Italians had operated. Eritreans could now legally be employed as civil servants. In 1944,with the changing fortunes in world  war II, Britain withdrew resources from Eritrea. The post war years and  economic recession led to comparatively high levels of urban unemployment and unrest.

Ethiopian  rule

When the British withdrew, the fate of Eritrea was left in the balance. It was known that the British favored partition- the north and west of Eritrea to Sudan, the rest to Ethiopia, which suited Haile Selassie. After initial presentations on the possible future of Eritrea, in 1949 the UN established a Commission of Inquiry with the task of finding out what Eritreans wanted for their own future. For a number of reasons countries represented on the Commission could not agree on decision to recommendations.  The eventual decision to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1950 reflected the strategic interests of Western powers, particularly the United States. The US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, put his succinctly in 1952.

From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea basin and considerations of the security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.

Eritrean Autonomous Region 1952-1962

At the same time Ethiopia had been strengthening its ties with the United States, even sending troops to fight with the Americans in the Korean War in 1950. Concerned that a weak Eritrea might be vulnerable to a communist takeover, which would threaten access to the Red Sea and trade through the Suez Canal, the United States and other western powers, acting through the United Nations, promoted the idea of Eritrea becoming part of Ethiopia. In December 1952, the UN finally declared Eritrea an autonomous unit federated to Ethiopia and hence turned Eritrea over to its most brutal and oppressive ruler to date:


Haile Selassie saw to it that the first three governors of the federated unit were related to him. Ethiopia began to violate and undermine the federal arrangement. Eritrea political parties were banned. The agreed Eritrean share of customs and excise duty were expropriated. Eritrean newspapers were censored. In 1956, Tigrinya and Arabic were forbidden as teaching languages, and replace with Amharic. Students’ protests and boycotts ensued, but were repressed. Ethiopia formally, but illegally annexed Eritrea in 1962.

For the next 30 years, Eritrea’s plight was virtually ignored by the international community. Frustration at the lack of room for political maneuver finally resulted in the launch of the armed struggle.

1961-1977 from guerrilla to an army

In the first decade, attacks by ELF guerrillas were answered by Ethiopian reprisals, often directed against any civilian population. Ethiopian forces burned villages, sometimes massacring hundreds of villagers. Waves of refugees began to pour into Sudan. As a result the sympathy that might once have existed among some sectors of the population for a close relationship with Ethiopia rapidly disappeared.

The period 1970 to 1974, when the ELF and the newly-emerged EPLF fought a civil war, is a bleak period in Eritrea’s history. This ended when the revolution in Ethiopia made it imperative for the fronts to hold a common position to confront any proposals that might come from Addis. By this time the EPLF was establishing itself as a powerful force. During 1974/75 it further strengthened itself by successfully recruiting Eritreans with military training from the Ethiopian police force in Eritrea, and from Eritrean commando units which it had successfully defeated. A large influx of young people joined the EPLF after 56 students were garroted with electric cable in Asmara in January 1975.

By mid 1976, began the launching of the ‘Peasant Army’ offensive against Eritrea.  The Eritrean guerrilla forces (estimated to number 20, 000) managed to win considerable victories against the occupying Ethiopians. The EPLF laid siege to Nacfa in September 1976. In 1977 they took Korora, Afabet, Elabered, Keren and Decemhare. They also surrounded Asmara, Eritrea’s capital and organized the escape of 1,000political prisoners from Asmara’s jail. The ELF took Tessenei, Agordat and Mendefera. By the end of 1977, mainland Massawa was in the hands of the EPLF, which now had captured tanks and armored vehicles. They were close to final victory in early 1978, but had not planned on the Soviet Union’s crucial intervention in the form of military aid for Mengistu’s regime in Ethiopia.

1977-1988 Soviet Intervention

The Soviet Union intervened in December 1977. The Soviet navy, by shelling EPLF positions from their battleships, prevented the EPLF from taking the port section of Massawa. A massive airlift of Soviet tanks and other arms allowed the Ethiopian army to push back the Somali forces in the Ogaden, and by May/June 1978 these troops and heavy Armour were available for redeployment in Eritrea. In two offensives, the Ethiopian army re-took most of the towns held by the Eritrea fronts.

For the EPLF the return to the northern base area was ‘a strategic withdrawal’. It minimized civilian and military casualties. It also allowed the EPLF to give battle at strategic points of its choosing, to evacuate towns and to remove plant and equipment to its base area.

For the ELF the story was different. In attempting to hold territory its casualties were high. The balance of military power between the fronts had now shifted strongly towards the EPLF. Recognizing its weak position, the ELF began in 1979 to respond to the Soviet proposals. In return for its agreement to autonomy within Ethiopia the ELF was offered the reins of government in Eritrea.

Fighting again broke out between the ELF and the EPLF. The ELF’s military defeat was total. ELF fighters either changed sides or fled to Sudan, and the EPLF became the single from with a military presence in Eritrea. The EPLF successfully resisted offensives in 1982 and 1983. Its lines held and the morale and confidence of the EPLF were given massive boosts while the Ethiopian army was demoralized. Its net effect was to strengthen the range of military equipment at the EPLF’s disposal.

Through most of the war, Ethiopia occupied the southern part of Eritrea. The EPLF had to settle in the inhospitable northern hills towards the Sudanese border. These hills became a safe haven for the families of soldiers and the orphans and disabled. Consequently, much of the regions around Afabet and Nacfa in Sahel province became home to makeshift homes, schools, orphanages, hospitals, factories, printers, bakeries, etc. in an attempt to live life as normally as possible under extraordinary conditions. Most structures were built either into the ground or in caves to avoid being bombed by Ethiopian jets. The steep narrow areas were chosen as they were the hardest for the jets to negotiate.    

1988-1993 The victory

At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union informed Mengistu that it would not be renewing its defense and cooperation agreement with Ethiopia. With the withdrawal of Soviet support and supplies, the Ethiopian Army’s morale plummeted and the EPLF began to advance on Ethiopian positions. 1988, the EPLF captured Afabet, headquarters of the Ethiopian army in northern Eritrea prompting the Ethiopian Army to withdraw from its garrisons in Eritrea’s western lowlands EPLF fighters then moved into position around Keren, Eritrea’s second largest city.

In 1990 the EPLF had captured the strategically important port of Massawa, and they entered Asmara, not the capital of Eritrea, in 1991. The Ethiopian army under Haile Mariam Mengistu (an army officer who deposed Haile Selassie 1974) intensifies the war against Eritrea, but it was easily defeated in 1991 after Mengistu fell from power.

It was at 10:00 a.m. on May 24, 1991 that Asmara residents realized EPLF fighters had entered their city. In a spontaneous outburst of happiness and relief, Asmarinos flung open their doors and rushed into the streets to dance in jubilation, some still in their pajamas. The dancing lasted for weeks.

At a conference held in London in 1991 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), who were now in control of Ethiopia having ousted Mengistu and were sympathetic to Eritrean nationalist aspirations, accepted the long process towards independence and international legitimation of Eritrea as a country in its own right.

In April 1993, a referendum was held in which 1, 102,410 Eritreans voted; 98.8% endorsed national independence and on May 28 Eritrea became the 182nd member of the UN. Later that year, Eritreans elected their first president, Isaias Afwerki, formerly secretary-general of the EPLF.

Thus, it is now eligible to receive international aid to help reconstruct and develop its shattered economy. Since establishing a provisional government in 1991, Eritrea has been a stable and peaceful political entity, with all political groups represented in the transitional government.

The war has had a devastating effect on Eritrea. Around 60,000 people lost their lives, there are an estimated 50,000 children with no parents and 60,000 people who have been left handicapped. However, there is now great optimism with people pulling together to rebuild the country. The National Service, announced on July 14th 1994, required all women and men over eighteen to undergo six months of military training and a year of work on national reconstruction. This helped to compensate for the country’s lack of capital and to reduce dependence on foreign aid, while welding together the diverse society.

1997 The border conflict

Following Eritrea’s independence in 1993, a boundary commission had been established to cover the Yirga Triangle (Badme) and other disputed areas. In 1997, the Ethiopian authorities issued a map of the Tigrayan Administrative Region which confirmed Tigrayan expansionism. The map proved to be the end of the good relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and resulted in an armed conflict in August 1997 and all-out war in May 2000, when Ethiopia occupied large parts of Eritrea. An estimated 1.1 million Eritreans have been displaced by Ethiopia aggression and an estimated 100,000 Ethiopian and 19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed in this two-year war.

On June 19th, 2000 both parties agreed on a ceasefire and on December 12th 2000 a peace agreement was signed in Algiers. A 4200-strong multinational UN peacekeeping force (UNMEE) was deployed for the de-mining and demarcation of the border.

On April 13th, 2002 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague published the conclusions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. The lands bordering the Yirga Triangle, areas, including Badme in the Central zone and Eastern Sector and border town Tserona have been awarded to Eritrea. The border towns Zalambessa and Alitena (Central Sector) and Bure (Danakil Depression) were awarded to Ethiopia.


After 1991 ( victory of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) on regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam) many former Ethiopian guerrillas have moved into the Badme region to farm small plots of land, displacing many Eritrean farmers who were already there. This process slowly resulted in Ethiopian domination over these Eritrean territories, forceful eviction of Eritrean framers from their properties and looting of their animals. In August 1997, Ethiopian troops occupied the Eritrean village of Adi Murug under the pretext of pursuing “terrorists”. In the same month Ethiopia expelled Eritrean citizens from their homes around Badme. These expulsions and destruction of crops and other property continued throughout the next year. Two rounds of fighting followed in 1998 and 1999 and in May 2000 Ethiopia launched a full-scale invasion into western Eritrea, destroying newly constructed plants, offices, hotels and residences.

Then new Tigray map

Ethiopian territorial claims are based on a recently published new map of the Tigray administrative zone. In the map shown below the new 1997 Ethiopian map ( which was posted by the Ethiopian embassy in Sweden) is superimposed on the map of Eritrea in the CIA fact book of Eritrea. It can be easily seen that by drawing this new map Ethiopia is administratively occupying  a part of Gash Setit and part of Akule Guzai, violating the legal borders, established by treaties signed with Italy in 1900, 1902 and 1908. (anyone can compare this new Tigray map to any other map on the internet ands simply verify it is a fabrication of the Ethiopian government, see e.g. the “ political map of Ethiopia” used in Ethiopia geography books in the 70’s).

Proof  of Ethiopia’s illegal map

These overlapping areas in Gash Setit and Akule Guzai were then ‘occupied’ by Eritrea in May 1998 and are referred to as the Badme and Zala Ambessa front.  But whereas Ethiopia is demanding to return the ‘occupied’ territory, Eritrea is only defending her legally established border! Subsequently, Ethiopia embossed this new change in its new currency notes issued in November 1997. The arrow  on the Ethiopian 100 birr note below points to the ‘new’ Ethiopian map. A similar impertinent reclamation of land will not be easy to find in the world’s history.

So the aggression, although first ‘administrative’ was initiated by Ethiopia. Ethiopia continues to demand that Eritrea must unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw from the areas Ethiopia claims, and that Ethiopia administers these areas as a precondition. If not, it goes to war.

The first victim of Ethiopian aggression were the groups of Eritrean peasants who were displaced by Ethiopian militia. Unarmed Eritrean colonels were sent to negotiate with the local officers in Badme. They were welcomed with gunfire and shot in cold blood. And on May 6, 1998 Eritrea re-captured Badme  and reversed the Ethiopian aggression. So, here we see a thief (Ethiopia) threatening the legal owner, who is protecting his property (Eritrea).

Eritrea’s position has been for a quick demarcation of the border by a mutually acceptable technical team in the presence of a third party to witness the process and to act as a guarantor of the outcome.

The manifesto of the TPLF on “ Republic of Great Tigray”

The new map of Tigray is based on the 1976 TPLF manifesto, which defined who a Tigrayan is, the land that the TPLF considers to Tigray, and the final  destination of the TPLF. The following comprises some important contents of the manifesto.

A Tigrayan is defined as anybody that speaks the language of Tigrinya including those who live outside Tigray, the Kunamas, the Sahos, the Afar and the Taltal, the Agew, aned the Welkait.  

The geographic boundaries of Tigray extend to the borders of the Sudan including the lands of  Humera and Welkait from the region of Begemidir in Ethiopia, the land defined by Alewuha which extends down to the regions of Wollo and including Alamata, Ashengie, and Kobo, and finally the lands of Eritrean Kunama which includes Badme, the Saho (close to the conflicting area of Zala Ambessa) and Afar lands including Assab.

The final goal of the TPLF is to secede from Ethiopia as an independent ‘Republic of Greater Tigray’ by liberating the lands and people of Tigray.

The TPLF manifesto is of the same tenor as the German manifest on ‘das Gross Deutsche Reich’ just before WW2. It likewise  bases territorial claims on the assumption that border corrections are justified to incorporate ‘its’ people into a newly defined (read: enlarge) state.

Implementation of this manifesto ( the so called TPLF ‘hidden agenda’ started in 1992 when Ethiopia was divided in 7 ethnic regions ( and Tigray expanded its territorial with 60 %) by trimming fertile land from Beemer and Wollo) was followed by the 1994 adjustment of the Ethiopian constitution, allowing every ethnic region to secede on grounds of self-determination and the 1996 pull out of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia (which until that time supposed TPLF forces to stabilize the  Ethiopian federation) on request of the TPLF based government resulting in the 1998 occupation, both administrative and by force, of Eritrea territory and deportation of 75,000 ethnic Eritreans, mainly from Tigray and Addis Ababa.

“I was picked up at night, thrown into prison, not allowed time to pack. I asked what my crime was. ‘You’re an Eritrean,’ they said.” (Amnesty International)
(*) Tigray Peoples Liberation Front
Red Sea port Assab had played an important role in the negotiations between Italy/ Eritrea and Ethiopia. Emperor Melenik II did not demand access to the port. He did not want to be dependent on Italy and made a treaty with France in 1897. Once of the things that were arranged in this treaty was that a railway that was to be build from the port of Djibouti in French Somalia to Addis Abeba. In 1917 the first trains were running. The railway was sufficient for the modest Ethiopian imports and exports.
In 1928 Emperor Haile Selassie made a treaty with Italy and Ethiopia got a free zone in the port of Assab and Dese in Ethiopia.
When the railway to Dijbouti was blown up at several places in the war with Somalia, Assab became Ethiopia’s most important port. Especially because Ethiopian rebels kept sabotaging this railway.
In 1991 (after having ousted Mengistu), liberated Eritrea got nearly exclusive control over Ethiopia’s access to the sea. In the negotiations between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Eritrea guaranteed that Ethiopia could use the port of Assab on the same terms as Eritrea itself. This has some logic since Assab is 750 kilometer from Asmara and the core regions of Eritrea which are served by the port of Massawa. In the meantime Ethiopia is reconstructing the railway to Djibouti with French help.

Main ports in the Horn of Africa                                                                                                         

Ethiopia’s five outlets to the sea

Part X of the Law of the Sea Convention provides the terms and conditions by which landlocked states and their coastal neighbors could and should operate. Landlocked states like Ethiopia have rights of access. But the coastal state does not have to surrender part of its sovereign territory. Ethiopia should not try to be above the law or consider itself a special state with natural rights to its own seashores.

Ethiopia note that it is inequitable for Eritrea, to retain two ports while the larger and densely populated Ethiopia remain landlocked. Ethiopia is not the only land locked country in Africa. In Africa only there are more than twelve land locked countries besides Ethiopia while there are five in Europe and six in Asia. What problem are they facing? As far as we know virtually nothing. They are not suffering any adverse consequence as a result.

Other Ethiopian arguments to take Assab by force are rooted in the belief that the Afar people living in this area should be reunited with the Afar people living in Ethiopia. This argument goes further than claiming parts of Eritrea. It also means claiming parts of the former French colony Djibouti. These claims however are contradictory to the 1964 OAU Summit in Cairo.

“… the parties reaffirm the principle of respect for the borders existing at independence as stated in resolution AHG/Res. 16(1) adopted by the OAU summit in Cairo in 1964, and , in this regard, that they shall be determined on the basis of pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international laws”

This Ethiopian argument would undermine virtually every border on the African continent, including Ethiopia’s own borders with other neighboring countries (Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan).

Trade between the two countries has come to a halt due to the conflict. Ethiopia has yet to suffer shortages or significant price rises as a result of using ports other than Assab for its supplies. It looks like the Ethiopians have miscalculated the time it would take to end the conflict in their advantage and are now de facto landlocked as a result of their own aggression.

Ethiopian investments in the past will be worthless as long as they cannot use the port of Assab. That is the reason why Ethiopia is trying to fight itself a corridor to Assab, to conquer “their” main port (the third front). Why not use the ports of Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia? Too expensive? Do the conditions not satisfy them? So, if I find the airfare of Ethiopian Airlines too expensive it is justified to hijack the plane?

The real reason for the Ethiopian (read TPLF) efforts to control Assab may very well be the fact that the only asset now landlocked Tigray is missing to declare independence is a port.

Introduction of the Nakfa

In 1997 Eritrea introduced its own currency, the Nakfa. The introduction was necessary to implement its own monetary policy, and the logical continuation of Eritrea’s strive for further independence of Ethiopia ( as tool of economic policy and as another confirmation of its hard-won liberation).  Ethiopia however prohibited both currencies to circulate freely in both countries, insisting that for all but small local trading ( all trade transactions in excess of US $ 250), hard currency should be used which both sides lacked. This Ethiopian arrogance further disrupted trade between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The new policy effectively banned cross-border livestock exports by farmers and small traders, leading to depressed livestock prices and trucks soon were backed up at border crossings, while shops waited to unload at Assab.

In consequence of this new Ethiopian trade regulations, the control of borders, as well as their position suddenly became a matter of importance, where the exact position of the frontier had previously been of little significance to the local population.

The intertwining history

Supporters of a united Ethiopia and Eritrea emphasized the intertwining history of those two countries. While it is true that strands of Eritrea and Ethiopia early history intermingle, particularly under the highland kingdom of Axum, it generally manifested itself with Ethiopia rulers exercising authority over and making periodic incursions into Eritrean lands to collect slaves, plunder and rape. In May 2000 history repeated itself ( destruction and ransack of Barentu and Tessenei by Ethiopian “ defense forces”).

At a shop, plundered by Ethiopian soldiers, shortly before the looting, the owner was killed by Ethiopian soldiers in Sheshebit, some 10 kilometer from Shilalo. (from: Berhe’s picture book (B.Berhane).

It was the fifty year of Italian rule that irrevocably separated Eritreans from Ethiopians. Under the Italians, Eritreans made great strides into the twentieth century and the Eritreans began to develop a collective consciousness of being a people with connected past and a common destiny and the Eritrean nationalistic culture was born.

But Eritrea exists not only by virtue of Italian creation but also by an explicit Ethiopian renunciation. The relatively modern concept of an Eritrean national identity grew its deepest and most intractable roots during thirty years of Ethiopian cruelties of occupation. Ethiopian rule was a continuation of colonialism and has accelerated the formation of national consciousness. EPLF could not have survived without a deep-seated resentment against Ethiopian domination.

“It was at 10:00 a.m. on May 24, 1991 that Asmara residents realized EPLF fighters had entered their city. In a spontaneous outburst of happiness and relief, Asmarinos flung open their doors and rushed into the streets to dance in jubilation, some still in their pajamas. The dancing lasted for weeks.”

In April 1993 a referendum was held in which 99.88% of the Eritrean population voted for national independence.

Imperialistic tendencies of Ethiopia

May the map presented below speak for itself. It was found in a German history book published in 1978 (A. Bartnicki and J. Mantel-Niecko, Geschichte Athiopiens). We have added the names of the present Ethiopian administrative regions to the map. The map is the very convincing proof that Ethiopia is entertaining secret ambitions to expand.

History of Ethiopian imperialism 1883-1991

Power rests on the Amhara and Tigray community which are still in the process of establishing dominance over the entire territory of the state. Oromo and other tribal opposition is “controlled” by employing troops from these regions in the war against Eritrea, where they are either slaughtered by Eritrean or by their own troops. It is likely that the territorial unity of the unhappy, famine-and war-wrecked country is at serious risk.

Ethiopia wants to project an image of a regional power and impose its will on its neighbors, which will be very difficult on an empty stomach.

When will this war end?

The increased popularity of Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia’s Prime Minister) in Tigray and Amhara because of this war makes it hard for him to stop the fight. He and his TPLF clique might not survive a peace that gave Ethiopia only little gain. The expected result of Ethiopia’s recent adventure of expansionism is far less than they calculated on forehand. It may therefore be expected that the stake will be higher and higher before the negotiations start so as not to disappoint his Tigrayan supporters. Meles Zenawi is now demanding that his territorial claims will be guaranteed before negotiations can take place. This has to be Ethiopia’s arrogance to the fullest sense!

He might even wait for Eritrea to bleed to death hoping it will be the end of Isaias Afwerki, who once was a close personal friend and brother-in-arms when Eritrean and Tigrayan Liberation movements fought side by side against the Dergue (the Amhara based ruling committee in the 70s and 80s) resulting in Eritrea’s liberation and TPLF control over Ethiopia. The price of Meles Zenawi’s ‘victory’ will be paid by the more than 11 million people in Tigray and Wollo who are at the brink of starving to dead, in the meantime. But ironically, the war has strengthened the position of Isaias Afwerki, as President.

Eritrea has accepted an OAU peace plan under which both countries would withdraw from disputed territory, but Ethiopia has questioned the technical arrangements, thereby continuing to sabotage the peace process. True stability can only come in the Horn of Africa if Ethiopia will show real commitment to peace.

Unless the rest of the world applies pressure on Ethiopia to make peace, the war looks set to continue. The rest of the world should make it clear to Ethiopia that it is better to feed ones people than squander resources for war. The world should stop its financial contributions to Ethiopia now that the money is used to engage in armed conflict instead of development and nutrition of its people.

History will hold the TPLF responsible

for the death of millions of their people

Decision regarding delimitation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia

On April 13th, 2002 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague published the binding conclusions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. The court concluded that a large part of the Western border sector will be awarded to Eritrea (near the Yirga Triangle). Area in the Central zone and Eastern Sector and border town Tserona have also been awarded to Eritrea. The border town Zalambessa and Alitena (Central Sector) and Bure Danakil Depression were awarded to Ethiopia. Despite Ethiopian claims of victory, the controversial town of Badme, the site of the first flare-ups in 1998, was given to Eritrea.

18……….. Since Badme village (as opposed to some other parts of the Badme region) lay on what was found to be the Eritrean side of the treaty line, there was no need for the Commission to consider any evidence of Eritrean government presence there, although Eritrea did in fact submit such evidence. Moreover, even some maps submitted by Ethiopia not only showed the distinctive straight line between the setit and Mareb River, but also marked Badme village as being on the Eritrean side of that line. The Commission must also observe that the Ethiopian invocation of the findings of the OAU in respect of Badme in 1998 (Comment, para. 1.4, footnote 4) failed to mention the OAU’s express statement that those will be determined at the end of the delimitation and demarcation process and, if necessary, through arbitration.

Full map of the decisions of the EEBC

Ethiopia hastened to declare that it had won all the land it had claimed, to convince her citizens that the sacrifices and the loss of 150,000 lives have not been in vain.

Chairman Solomon Enkuay, Speaker of the Tigray Regional Assembly, has declared in advance that he would not accept any compromises.

“We shall not accept any decision that attempts to alter the reality on the ground in the face of clear solid evidence. Once more, we await justice but we will not be bound by any unjust decision that is based on appeasement and compromise.”

The Ethiopian opposition party EDP also announced that it would resist any decision that would not include the transfer of the Eritrean port of Assab to Ethiopia. On 19 May 2002, the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party mobilized over 10,000 people in Addis Ababa main square to protest the Court’s decision, demanding that the Assab port be included in the Ethiopian territory.

Although Ethiopia has agreed to abide with whatever decision is arrived at by the International Court, in a surprise turn, Ethiopia rejected the EEBC ruling as “unjust and illegal” and filed a 21-page memorandum demanding that the boundary commission rectify boundary delimitation by redrawing the boundary to give Ethiopia sovereignty over town on the Eritrean side of the line.

The well-considered decision of the Court of Arbitration in The Hague appears to cut deep in the self-esteem of Ethiopia. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi cannot explain the loss of Badme to his people and sabotages the demarcation of the border on the ground. By initially accepting the international committee’s decision on the delineation of the border with Eritrea, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi lost much credibility in the eyes of the TPLF and among the Tigrayan population in Tgray. This pushed him to then harden his tone toward Eritrea and to take control of the TPLF again. The beginning of another round of Ethiopian incursions into Eritrean lands?

Statement of the Eritrean government  


1.     The crisis between Eritrea and Ethiopia is rooted in the violation by the Government of Ethiopia of Eritrea’s colonial boundaries, and to willfully claim, as well as physically occupy, large swathes of Eritrean territory in the south-western, southern and south-eastern parts of the country. This violation is made manifest in the official map issued in 1997 as well as the map of Ethiopia embossed in the new currency notes of the country that came into circulation in November 1997.

2.     Ethiopia went further than laying claims on paper to create a de facto situation on the ground. The first forcible act of creating facts on the ground occurred in July 1997 when Ethiopia, under pretext of fighting the Afar opposition brought two battalions to Bada (Adi- Murug) in south-eastern Eritrea to occupy the village and dismantle the Eritrean administration there. This unexpected development was a cause of much concern to the Government of Eritrea. Eritrea’s Head of State subsequently sent a letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister on August 16 1997, reminding him that “the forcible occupation of Adi-Murug” was “truly saddening”. He further urged him to “personally take the necessary prudent action so that the measure that has been taken will not trigger unnecessary conflict”. A week later, on August 25 1997, the Eritrean Head of State again wrote to the Prime Minister stressing that measures similar to those in Bada were taken in the Badme(south-western Eritrea) area and suggesting that a Joint Commission be set up to help check further deterioration and create a mechanism to resolve the problem.

3.     Unfortunately, Eritrean efforts to solve the problem amicably and bilaterally failed as the Government of Ethiopia continued to bring under its occupation the Eritrean territories that it had incorporated into its map. Our worst fears were to be realized when on May 6 1998 on the eve of the second meeting of the Joint Border Commission, the Ethiopian army launched an unexpected attack on Eritrean armed patrols in the Badme area claiming that they had transgressed on areas that Ethiopia had newly brought under its control. This incident led to a series of clashes which, coupled with the hostile measures that were taken by the Government of Ethiopia, resulted in the present state of war between the two countries.

4.     Ethiopia’s unilateral re-drawing of the colonial boundary and flagrant acts of creating facts on the ground are the essential causes of the current crisis. In light of these facts, Ethiopia’s claims that it is the victim of aggression are obviously false and meant to deceive the international community. Indeed, Ethiopia to this day occupies Eritrean territories in the Setit area in the south-western part of the country.

5.     Ethiopia’s blatant act of aggression is clearly in violation of the OAU Charter and Resolution AHG/RES 16(1) of the First Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Cairo in 1964. Unless rectified without equivocation, Ethiopia’s refusal to abide by the OAU Charter and decisions, and its continued occupation of undisputed Eritrean territory will open a Pandora’s box and create a cycle of instability in the region. The acceptance of Ethiopia’s logic will not only affect all African states, but will indeed backfire against Ethiopia itself, since its sovereignty over much of its territory, including on the Ogaden, is based on the same principles of international law.

6.     A simple border dispute has assumed this level of conflict because of Ethiopia’s continued escalation of its hostile and provocative acts. Among these are:

The declaration of war by Ethiopia’s Parliament on May 13 1998;

The launching of an air strike by Ethiopia on June 5 1998 on Asmara.

The imposition of an air blockade and maritime access to Eritrean ports through the threat of incessant and indiscriminate air bombing.

The mass expulsion and indiscriminate arrests of thousands of Eritreans from Ethiopia.

7.     In spite of all these, Eritrea has been restrained and committed to a peaceful solution of the dispute. In this vein, it has already presented constructive proposals (see further). The proposals center on:

The demarcation of the entire boundary between the two countries on the basis of borders established by colonial treaties, the demilitarization of the entire border area pending demarcation;

the establishment of appropriate ad hoc arrangements for civil administration in populated demilitarized area in the interim period.

In addition, considering the state of war that exists between the two countries, the Government of Eritrea has been calling- and continues to call- for: an immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities, the star of direct talks between the two parties in the presence of mediators.


Proposal for a Solution Submitted by the Government of Eritrea

Asmara, 15-Jun-1998


The Government of Eritrea and the Government of Ethiopia agree that they will resolve the present crisis and any other dispute between them through peaceful and legal means. Both sides reject solutions that are imposed by force.

Both sides agree to respect the clearly defined colonial boundaries between them. In this respect, both sides further agree that the actual demarcation of the borders will be carried out by a mutually acceptable technical team. In the even that there is some controversy on the delineation, both sides agree to resolve the matter through an appropriate mechanism of arbitration.

The demarcation of the borders shall be affected speedily and with in an agree time-frame.

Both sides agree to be bound by this agreement.



2.1 The UN Cartographic Unit, or any other body with the appropriate expertise, shall be charged with the task of demarcating the boundary in accordance with existing colonial border treaties.

2.2  The time-frame for the demarcation of the boundary shall be six months. This time-frame may be shortened or prolonged subject to justifiable technical reasons. The requisite time-frame shall be designated as AN IMTERIM PERIOD.

2.3  The demarcated boundary shall be accepted and adhered to by both sides.

2.4  If there are segments in the boundary whose delineation is under controversy, the matter shall be resolved through an appropriate mechanism of ARBITRATION.

2.5  The technical details relevant to the practical implementation of the DEMARCATION process shall be annexed to the agreement.


3.     DEMILITARIZATION as a measure for defusing the crisis and   expediting the demarcation of the borders so as to ensure a lasting solution shall be accepted and adhered to by both sides and expediting the demarcation of the borders so as to ensure a lasting solution shall be accepted and adhered to by both sides.

3.1   DEMILITARIZATION shall begin by the Mereb-Setit segment; proceed next to the Bada area and be implemented throughout the entire boundary in accordance with this phased pattern.

3.2    DEMILITARIZATION shall be implemented through the involvement and monitoring of observers. The team of observers shall be composed of the forces and commanders from the facilitators as well as representatives of both sides.

3.3   DEMILITARIZATION shall be completed within the time-frame of one month.

3.4   The issue of civil administration in populated demilitarized areas shall be addressed through appropriate ad hoc arrangements that will be put in place for the interim period.

3.5   When the INTERIM period comes to an end following the completion of the demarcation of the entire boundary between the two countries, the LEGITIMATE AUTHORITIES shall regain full jurisdiction over their respective SOVEREIGN TERRITORIES.

3.6   The details regarding DEMILITARIZATION and its implementation modalities shall be included in the main agreement as annex.


4.     A full INVESTIGATION of the incident of May 6 1998 shall be conducted in tandem with the demilitarization process.

5.     This COMPREHENSIVE agreement, signed by both parties, shall be deposited in the UN and OAU as a legal agreement so as to ensure its binding nature.


background to the conflict

published By Le Monde diplomatique

Two years ago the two governments set up a secret committee to decide what was to be done about the disputed areas. It was able to achieve very little apart from noting the contentious points. On paper, the Eritreans have a better case. In declarations of 14 and 20 May 1998 they are only claiming the colonial border, in other words the line drawn at the beginning of this century between the kingdom of Italy and the Ethiopian empire. The frontier was defined by a serried of international agreements after the defeat of the Italian troops in Aduwa in 1896, based on a tripartite treaty which Britain, Italy and Ethiopia singed on 15 May 1902. This defines the western and central part of the border where the recent incidents occurred. From west to east, starting at Khor Um Hagger on the Sudanese border, the frontier line follows the river Tekezze (Setit) to the point at which it meets the river Maieteb, then runs in a straight line to the river Mereb in he north, at its confluence with the Ambessa. After that it runs along the Mereb, crossing most of the central plateau, then along its tributary, the Melessa, to the east and finally along the River Muna.

There is no indication that the Ethiopian government is disputing this line, which has remained unchanged since 1902. It appears on all Ethiopian official and tourist maps, including those given to foreign ambassadors by the foreign minister in Addis Ababa on 19 May this year.

The Eritreans, however, are accusing the Tigrayan local authorities of using another map published in the Tigrayan capital, Mekele, in 1997. In this map, small enclaves to the north of the Melessa-Muna line (Tserona, Belissa, Alitenia) and a larger enclave to the west of the straight between Tekezze and Mareb, in Badme, are shown as part of Ethiopia. It was here that the trouble flared early in May.

In 1902, the Badme region was virtually uninhabited. At the time, Badme was the name of a plain which the border ran across. Situated below the Abyssinian plateau, it is an extension of the Eritrean region of Gash-Setit, a semi-arid lowland area stretching westward as far as Sudan.

In the last few decades, the area has gradually been settled by farmers from the Eritrean and Tigrayan high plateaus and the Kunamas, the earliest inhabitants, have villages there. When the United Nation federated Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1952, the 1902 line became irrelevant. Ras Mengesha, the Tigrayan ruler, paid very little attention to it, developing agricultural settlements administered by the Tigrayan district of Shire on both sides of the border. Since then, the area has been periodically disputed. In 1976 and 1981, for example, it was the scene of clashes between the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The two rebel groups united to fight against Colonel Mengistu’s government and the problem was temporarily shelved after the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) took control of the Eritrean resistance. In1987 the Mengistu government further complicated the issue by changing administrative boundaries. At the end of the war, in 1991, the Tigray still regarded the area as theirs, although it was patrolled by soldiers from both countries. The intergovernmental committee was then faced with a situation that was very clear on paper-the “colonial” borders were officially accepted by both states, as well as by the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations-but highly complex in practice, especially since all the Kunama tribes’ territory had been incorporated into Eritrea under the 1902 treaty and the Kunama clearly took very little notice of an imaginary straight line drawn across the plain.

In the central border region, the small enclaves already claimed by the TPLF program in the 1970s had been in the same ambiguous position since 1991. But, at least, this western and central part of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border is clearly defined on paper, which is more than can be said of the line to the east, along the Red Sea, separating the Eritrean Dankalia region from the Ethiopian Afar region as far as Djibouti. According to the 1908 treaty in which this border was established, it was supposed to follow the coastline at a distance of 60 kilometers and a joint committee was to mark it out later in the field. But when the UN opened the files forty years later, they found no record of a demarcation.

The boundaries between the former Italian colony and Ethiopia are fairly well known locally, but they are still disputed in a few places, notably Bada Adi Murug, which the Ethiopians occupied last year. The border runs right through a small fertile region overlooking the Gulf of Thio in the distance, to Burie, on the road to Assab.