Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rose to office after an internal party struggle led by his reform partners within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front who outmanoeuvred the old guard within the four-party coalition. He emerged as leader mainly thanks to collaboration between Oromo and Amhara political elites. His selection saved the ruling coalition from fracturing completely.
In the absence of a viable opposition, the Ethiopian people placed all their hopes on the 41-year-old technocrat who was previously Ethiopia’s minister of science and technology before becoming chairperson of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation, one of the constituent parties of the ruling coalition.
So far he is rewarding people’s faith by taking big steps to redress past injustices.
Ahmed’s political capital has grown in the three months since he came to power. Thanks to his conciliatory stance to the country’s multiple and competing groups, Ethiopian unity is at the highest it has been in decades. The new premier has also gained regional recognition for his role in the South Sudan peace deal, as well as the part he has played in bringing peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The so-called “no war-no peace” stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia is now effectively over, after the countries’ leaders – Ethiopia’s Ahmed and Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki – signed a historic agreement to end two decades of conflict.
The pace of change is breathtaking. And the impact on the region will be remarkable. For the success to continue both Ahmed and Afeworki need to tame the excitement and begin the work. Establishing joint commissions that oversee the resumption of relations and iron out agreement details in all fronts could be key.
End of an artificial border
Ethiopia and Eritrea share political, economic and social interests. They both have hopes for prosperity which they can now reach without the artificial border that was impeding their common agenda. Citizens of the two countries share languages, religions, and culture. Tigrigna and Amharic are spoken in both countries, and the Islam and Christianity are dominant religions in both states. And before the decades long conflict they had intermarried freely and worshipped together for millennia. Thanks to the peace deal, they can now continue to do so.
Strong bonds still exist between the two nations. This was evident from the excitement at the arrival of the Eritrean delegation in Addis Ababa, and the euphoric welcome extended by the Eritrean government, and the residents of Asmara, to Prime Minister Ahmed.
Despite the political, economic and geographic divide, the social ties between the two nations have been preserved thanks to relationships between the people on both sides. For obvious reasons these were conducted without much fanfare.
The signing of bilateral economic and political agreements are cause for celebration. The coming months will offer a respite from a tense political atmosphere that was dominated by hate, smear campaigns, and irrational decision making on both sides.
The peace deal was struck in an extraordinarily short period of time. It took just under a hundred days from the time Ahmed became prime minister.
Time-line of events
April 4th, 2018: Ahmed is sworn in as the fourth Ethiopian prime minister in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s era. In his inaugural speech he calls for peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
June 5th, 2018: The front’s executive council declares Ethiopia’s acceptance of the Algiers Peace Agreement. It’s non-implementation that prolonged the conflict.
June 20th, 2018: Eritrea accepts Ethiopia’s olive branch and Afewerki agrees to send a high-level delegation to Ethiopia.
June 26th, 2018: Eritrea’s delegation led by the county’s foreign minister and presidential advisors arrive in Addis Ababa. Plans are made for the prime minister and president to meet.
July 8th, 2018: Ahmed visits Eritrea and receives a grand welcome from Afewerki and the residents of Asmara.
July 8th, 2018: The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, a regional organisation chaired by Ethiopia, invites Eritrea to rejoin and resume its membership activities.
July 9th, 2018: Ethiopia and Eritrea sign a historic peace agreement. The leaders also sign several other bilateral agreements.
July 9th, 2018: Prime Minister Ahmed submits a letter to the UN Secretary General seeking to end sanctions on Eritrea.
July 9th, 2018: Ethiopian Airlines, the largest and most profitable in Africa, announced plans to commence daily flights between Addis and Asmara, and to purchase a 20% stake in Eritrea’s national carrier.
Good news for the Horn
Peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea will bring an end to their proxy wars in the Horn while helping to facilitate economic integration. I also expect the poor relations between Eritrea and Djibouti to improve in the near future.
The peace deal will also create new economic opportunities for people in both countries as well as the region.
Up until now Eritrea’s Red Sea ports - Massawa and Assab - have been underutilized. But the new bilateral agreements signed by Ahmed and Afewerki will give Ethiopia access to these ports opening up the door to increased employment on both sides of the Ethiopia/Eritrea border and increased economic activities benefiting their mutual economic interests across each other’s borders.
A lot remains to be seen. But the pastures look greener.