Badme: Ethiopia’s Latest Game
Yohannes Woldemariam
June 4, 2003

Demarcation of an internationally recognized 1000-km border is expected to begin sometime in July assuming Ethiopia stops contesting the final ruling by the EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission), which puts the village of Badme in Eritrea.

During the last five years, I have learned not to be surprised by any outrageous demands or bizarre behavior from the Ethiopian authorities. They have a culture of systematically repudiating any agreements whenever they perceive that a given decision is not to their liking or doesn’t serve their political interest. Ethiopia’s attitude towards the ruling by the EEBC can only be understood and interpreted within the context of the interplay of domestic political forces and the survival calculations of the minority TPLF regime.

In his recent press conference, the Ethiopian Prime Minister (PM), Meles Zenawi, departed from his established pattern to speak through local authorities from Tigray and came out in the open to essentially challenge the Hague decision on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

He said:

Accepting that war is unacceptable is one thing… accepting something that is wrong and unjust as right and just would not be fair, would it? We have made it abundantly clear that we will not shoot at anybody, Eritrea included…the only circumstance where we may have to shoot is if shot at - that is the only circumstance.1

How are we to understand Mr. Zenawi whether he is accepting or rejecting the binding and final verdict of the border commission? Given the disturbing pattern of Ethiopia’s behavior, the statement can only suggest that Ethiopia is having second thoughts about the verdict. In this thinly disguised statement, the PM is actually saying that Badme is still Ethiopia’s and therefore Ethiopia will not withdraw from Badme. On the other hand, to deceive the world and appear peaceful to donors and kind hearted but gullible celebrities like Bob Geldof, the PM claims that he will not be the first to shoot at Eritrea. Mr. Zenawi has perfected the art of double-talk and making anti war statements that serve to hoodwink the public even while planning and preparing for war. He is also adept at manipulating international opinion and donor attitude by essentially repeating seductive phrases that appeal to Western ears. For example, Mr. Zenawi is no less a dictator than Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and yet Bob Geldof calls for Mugabe’s ouster while at the same time saving Zenawi from the calamity of famine for which his policies are significantly responsible. Even the normally credible critic of the IMF and the 2001 Nobel Prizewinner in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz, sings and the praise of Mr. Zenawi at every opportunity. I personally heard Stiglitz rave about the democratic qualities of Mr. Zenawi in a lecture he gave and he has also written extensively on the virtues of Mr. Zenawi and his government. In his book “Globalization and its Discontents” Stiglitz wrote: “Meles combined intellectual attributes with personal integrity: no one doubted his honesty and there were few accusations of corruption within his government (p. 26).” It is a testament to the Machiavellian and deceitful skill of Ethiopian rulers that under the pretext of fighting famine, they are able to rally scholars of Stiglitz’s caliber and international support for their dangerous and war mongering agenda.

What must be surprising to the seasoned as well as casual observer is the fact that few in the West seem to see the Ethiopian government for what it really is. By now one would expect the whole world to see through the workings of the Ethiopian authorities. Among other things for example, the previous UNMEE (United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) commander, Major General Patrick Cammaert, was forced to resign because of baseless accusations of bias against him by the Ethiopian rulers. What is clear is that Eritrea has already accepted the verdict of the commission that both Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed upon in Algiers and decided to be binding and not subject to appeal. What else is expected from Eritrea in this regard? Why is the West always accommodating and trying to appease the Ethiopian authorities? Where is the even handedness? For example, the British government recently extended extremely generous aid package to Ethiopia. Paradoxically, the more Ethiopia becomes intransigent and violates international norms; the more generously the West rewards it.

In order to achieve a just peace, Ethiopia must fully and unconditionally withdraw from Badme and all occupied Eritrean territories. All peace-loving peoples must call on the co-sponsors of the peace process, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, other concerned states, international organizations and institutions to ensure compliance by Ethiopia. We need more and sustained voices along the words uttered by the New Jersey democrat, Rep. Donald Payne, who warned, “Ethiopia must respect the Border Commission’s decision.”2

However, words like the Congressman’s while welcome are not enough. The co-sponsors have a historic and moral responsibility to spell out the price and consequences for Ethiopia of deviating from the decisions of the border commission. For the co-sponsors to have any credibility at all, they should threaten sticks including the power of the purse against the Ethiopian government. Ethiopia should bear the sole and full responsibility for any violence that may erupt due to its failure to earnestly abide by the verdicts of the international court of justice (ICJ).

Resort to the I.C.J has been seen, as a last option to peaceful settlement of the dispute after all else failed. Eritrea justified its recourse to the adjudication jurisdiction of the I.C.J after it exhausted all the other procedures of pacific settlement. If the I.C.J is to overcome the label given to it as a “toothless bull-dog,” the Charter of the United Nations, which makes adequate provisions for sanctions, must fully be applied if Ethiopia fails to abide by the EEBC rulings. Article 94, Paragraph 2 of the UN Charter empowers the Security Council, to take action to ensure that states conform to international obligations and outcomes of legal proceedings in the I.C.J. Furthermore, the Security Council in pursuant of Article 39, Chapter 7 of the Sans Francisco Convention of June 1945 can institute collective action against an erring state which is in breach of international peace and security.

Ethiopia must refrain from taking measures that create new facts on the ground and must abide scrupulously by its obligations under international law. Actions taken by Ethiopia to change the physical character, demographic composition, and the institutional structure of Badme must unequivocally be condemned and punished. The Ethiopian policy of settling of its population and new immigrants in Badme prior to demarcation constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a just and lasting peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Everyone must remind the Ethiopians about the rule of law and warn them against blackmailing the very world that is bailing them out from a famine that they themselves helped create.

1 Africa News, May 27, 2003, Border Ruling "Wrong And Unjust", Meles Says, UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

2 "Congress and Africa: Perspectives of Congressman Payne and CBC" Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa (Washington, DC) DOCUMENT, April 30, 2003

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