WESINWEM: What Ethiopia Says Is Never What Ethiopia Means
by: Ghidewon Abay Asmerom
February 19, 2003

WYSIWYG (pronounced "wiz-ee-wig") is short for what you see is what you get. It refers to computer applications that enable one to see documents on the display screen nearly exactly as they will appear when they are printed.  In contrast, WYSINWYG (pronounced "wiz-een-wig"), what you see is not what you get, applications are those that are incapable of displaying on the screen what they produce in print.

Likewise Ethiopia’s style of diplomacy has always been a primitive version of WYSINWYG. It is better explained with the acronym WESINWEM (pronounced "wez-een-wem"). It is short for what Ethiopia says is never what Ethiopia means. That has been Ethiopia’s art of diplomacy for ages. As any one who has dealt with Ethiopia for an extended period of time can testify, Ethiopia doesn't know a straight talk. When it says it is accepting a decision, as is, what it actually means is that it is with all the amendments it has in mind. When it says it is ready for peace what it means is that it is preparing for war. For these reasons caution should always be taken before one assumes on the meaning of Ethiopian words.

Numerous examples could be cited to illustrate this Ethiopian behavior but we will focus on one such incident: Ethiopia’s statement of April 13, 2002. Here is what Ethiopia issued the morning the Decision on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border was issued from The Hague.

The FDRE Government accepts and is ready to implement the legal decision of the Commission. The Government of Ethiopia would like to take this opportunity to extend its regards to the Boundary Commission for discharging its duties with a sense of responsibility and great care. The Government of Ethiopia would also like to express its strong interest in the speedy demarcation of the boundary.”[1]

This was the “screen display” of Ethiopia’s intentions the morning of the decision. Furthermore the world was told, through the words of Ethiopia’s foreign minister, that Ethiopia considers the April 13 Decision as “fair and legal."[2] However, a month later, 13 May 2002, when Ethiopia’s initial response was decoded and presented on print to the Border Commission, the meaning of that acceptance had completely changed.

The April 13 Decision gives rise to a number of ambiguities with respect to the precise meaning and scope of a number of its substantive elements.”[3]

Eight months later, January 2003, the Ethiopian government’s true intentions have come out to the fore more bold and clear. Ethiopia is saying that it no more sees the Decision as “fair and legal.” It will not accept Demarcation unless adjustments are made in its favor. War will restart unless Ethiopia gets its way.

Also the initial praise that Ethiopia had for the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission has now changed to an open insult.

“[The EEBC] has flagrantly and irresponsibly tasked itself to give Ethiopian land to Eritrea by way of selective reading of evidence, inconsistent application of set rules and use of deliberate ambiguity .”[4]

These are now words of Ethiopia’s ruling elite. In other words, a Commission that was being praised for “discharging its duties with a sense of responsibility and great care,” is now being accused of irresponsibilityThis is a perfect example of what the Ethiopians themselves call “beand ras: hulet mlas::” (In one head, two different tongues.) It is also a good example of what we said WYSINWYG: what you see is not what you get with Ethiopia.  

Ethiopia that was emphasizing, “That the Eritrean Government should honor its obligation to cooperate in the demarcation process,” is now frustrating demarcation. Ethiopia’s call for a “speedy demarcation” the morning of April 13 has changed. Ethiopia’s desire now is to have a “re-argument” of each and every inch of the border during demarcation.  In other words it is trying to appeal the April 13 Decision. Fortunately the Commission is holding its ground. In its June 24, 2002 Decision the Commission had this to say:


16. The Ethiopian request appears to be founded on a misapprehension regarding the scope and effect of Articles 28 and 29 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. ... The concept of interpretation does not open up the possibility of appeal against a decision or the reopening of matters clearly settled by a decision. The Commission, through its President, has already stated, “that the provisions of Articles 28 and 29 of the Rules of Procedure neither allow substantive amendment nor affect the binding quality of the Decision as rendered on 13 April 2002. Re-argument of the case is not permitted.

“17. The Commission does not find, in any of the items that appear in Section II of the Ethiopian request, anything that identifies an uncertainty in the Decision that could be resolved by interpretation at this time. The same is true of Sections III and IV. Nor is any case made out for revision.

"18. Accordingly, the Commission concludes that the Ethiopian request is inadmissible and no further action will be taken upon it. [5]

This was last summer. We are now being told: (IRIN News, February 13, 2003) “According to senior diplomats involved in the peace process, Ethiopia has lodged a series of clarifications concerning the border ruling which was issued on 13 April last year.”[6] according to diplomatic sources, Ethiopia is currently preparing a comprehensive legal challenge to the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) ruling.” (IRIN News January 24, 2003) Apparently January 24, 2003 was also the date Eritrea and Ethiopia were required to submit their comments on the Orthophoto maps of the border the Commission gave them between November and December 2002. Ethiopia's latest document is being alleged to have over 140 pages and more than 80 maps. If Ethiopia's latest submission is as big as it is being alleged to be, then how many pages did its Memorial (from 30 June 2001), Counter-Memorial (from 30 September 2001), or Reply (from 29 October 2001) have? We have to sympathize with the Commissioners that had to sift through the many pages as they did and all of it in a record time.

According to the Commission President's report to the UN Secretary General these series of maps are on a scale of 1:25,000. It means they are on a scale that is 40 times better than what we have from the Decision maps of April 13, 2002. Ethiopia’s “series of clarifications” and “a comprehensive legal challenge” could mean only one thing. What Ethiopia has seen in these maps is not in its favor. In fact from the information that has been coming out: IBRU official[7] (April 2002) and Human Rights Watch Report (January 2003), the information in these large-scale maps is getting clear. The maps are showing Badme to be in Eritrea and Ethiopia is now trying to change what the Commission has ruled to be legally Eritrean.

This also means Ethiopia, which once wanted “demarcation [to] be carried out with unquestioned technical skill and precision,”[8] is now petrified of the fact that demarcation will take place with precision and on a purely technical and mechanical basis. That is why Ethiopian officials are now saying “The verdict, if implemented as is, will force families to be divided and Ethiopian land to be transferred to Eritrea. This can not and will not stand.”[9] In short, Ethiopia is asking the Commission to bend the famous straight line, the straight-line that we now know for sure passes east of Badme town.

Four years ago, an Ethiopian Professor of History, Bahru Zewde, thinking his country was advocating for the straight-line boundary around Badme had told the New York Times, “All the maps show this straight line, however capricious it might be. There is no way the line could bend.[10] Much to his disappointment his government is now asking for a bending of that famous straight-line.  We only hope the Commission will stand by its original Decision and say, “There is no way the line could bend. A straight line is a straight line.” We know Ethiopia's art of diplomacy is always WESINWEM: what Ethiopia says is never what Ethiopia means. However, what we expect from the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission is the opposite. We only hope it is WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get.

[1] Statement issued by the Council of Ministers of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia regarding the decision given by the Boundary Commission in The Hague.

[2] IRIN News, 13 Apr. 2002.

[3] “Request For Interpretation, Correction And Consultation,” The Federal Democratic Republic Of Ethiopia, 13 May 2002.”

[4] "The Boundary Commission Must Heed Ethiopia's Call”, 02/08/2003.

[5] Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission: "Decision Regarding The 'Request For Interpretation, Correction And Consultation' Submitted By The Federal Democratic Republic Of Ethiopia On 13 May 2002.” 24 June 2002.

[6] IRIN News, 13 Feb. 2003.

[7]“However, if the new boundary is plotted on the Soviet topographic maps that the Commission used to identify the location of settlements, Badme appears to lie about 1.5 km to the west of the boundary. Although we may not know officially until demarcation of the boundary has been completed, I think the Soviet maps - which both parties used in their pleadings - are sufficiently accurate to say with some confidence that Badme is in Eritrea.” – Interview with Martin Pratt --the head of the International Boundaries Research Unit (IBRU) based in the UK-- IRIN News, 17 Apr 2002.

[8] “Request For Interpretation, Correction And Consultation,” The Federal Democratic Republic Of Ethiopia, 13 May 2002.”

[9] "The Boundary Commission Must Heed Ethiopia's Call”, 02/08/2003.

[10] “Wherever That Town Is, Someone Will Die for it, ” New York Times, March 14, 1999 p. 16.

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