By: Hamada Al Kohly
The Ethiopia-Eritrea reconciliation has seen the most important developments after the historic visit made by the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to Ethiopia. It came just five days after a visit made by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed to Eritrea, as the two leaders have signed a declaration, ending 20 years of hostility between the countries.
The Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed has received the Eritrean President Afwerki, who is in Ethiopia for a three-day visit. The visit comes as part of a peace process, which began last month, aimed at ending years of hostility and conflict.
The interest of the international community and media in such reconciliation indicates its importance. The reconciliation's dimensions and affects are illustrated by several points, the most important of which are the following:
- It comes within the framework of the policy adopted by the Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed since he took office. His policy is based on reforming foreign policy issues and restoring relations with neighboring countries as well as the Nile Basin countries, including Eritrea and Egypt.
- The recent visit of the Ethiopian PM clearly indicates that Abiy Ahmed is seeking to apply the international law and relevant organization when he agreed to abide by a UN resolution on border and handing over a disputed territory to Eritrea. The UN had already recognized Eritrea's right to the Badme Triangle, which has been occupied by the Ethiopian army since Eritrean-Ethiopian war of 1998.
- Ethiopia plays an important role in the Horn of Africa area. Through its new policies, it seeks to send a message to the international community confirming that it is on track to shaping its foreign policy. Thus, it is looking for support to become an economic and political power, a partner for the western countries and America, and a country that have an influential future in the Horn of Africa.
- According to analysts, the reconciliation reflects the policy of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed regarding the transition from cooperating with Turkey and Qatar to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This indicates that the region is reshaping new alliances between countries of the Horn of Africa, the Gulf, Egypt, and Turkey.
- The reconciliation significantly points to major strategic changes in the Horn of Africa if Ethiopia continues to maintain the new disciplines to reform its relations with the main neighboring countries.
- The major strategic changes are driven by the increased regional and international activities in the region, which is seen as an economic - commercial goal. Furthermore, it is one of the most strategic areas, as it includes military bases of the world major countries. It is also the area of influence of several powers, such as Iran, Turkey and Israel.
- The rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea is putting an end to the Qatari presence in the region. During the past two decades, Doha has been exploiting the dispute between the two countries to serve its political project in the Horn of Africa, which its effects are extending to countries seen by Qatar as its first enemy, particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The continuation of hostility between Addis Ababa and Asmara creates a perfect environment for implementing Doha's plans. They include imposing pressure on Egypt regarding the water issue as well as on Saudi Arabia regarding the security in Yemen, which is associated with the Horn of Africa. Such reason also clarifies some justifications for the UAE's role in the success of that reconciliation.
- Over the past months, Qatar has mobilized its media and political means against the Eritrean regime due to its stance regarding the Gulf crisis, as Eritrea has stood behind the four countries boycotting Qatar. During this period, Asmara was furious with Al-Jazeera channel coverage to the Eritrean affairs in an unrealistic way. The Qatari channel has even described a limited student protest as "Eritrean Spring".
- While the Qatari media outlets were working on denying the UAE mediation in achieving that reconciliation, Ethiopia's foreign minister, WorknehGebeyehu, has praised Abu Dhabi's role in normalizing relations between his country and Eritrea. He said that the historic accord between his country and Eritrea was a result of the extensive efforts made by His Highness Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
- Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed visited the capital Addis Ababa on June 15, 201, which was the first visit of an Arab official to Ethiopia since Abiy Ahmed took office. On July 4, 2018, Bin Zayed received the Eritrean President IsaiasAfwerki in Abu Dhabi, which is a strong indication of Bin Zayed's role in that accord.
- Regarding the strategic changes of this reconciliation, the new bilateral agreements signed by Ahmed and Afewerki will give Ethiopia access to Eritrea's Red Sea ports - Massawa and Assab. This new change means that Ethiopia may rebuild its naval fleet again, which is a major strategic turning point, with the hope of reshaping the balance of power in the Horn of Africa.
- After this reconciliation, Addis Ababa aims to make economic cooperation with Eritrea, as well as exploiting Eritrea's port of Assab in supporting the Ethiopian economy.
- The results of this reconciliation also include besieging terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa. During the last two decades, both countries exchanged accusations of supporting terrorist groups. Addis Ababa accused Asmara of supporting "the Mujahideen Youth Movement", while Asmara claimed that Addis Ababa is supporting the "Islamic Reform Movement" as well as the Eritrean Islamic Party for justice and Development, the Brotherhood's political arm in Eritrea. Thus, ending the dispute between the two countries would mean opening up a political-security talks about the future of these groups in the region as well as exchanging information and cooperation in combating extremism and terrorism. This would undermine the work of these groups, which are the terrorist arm of a number of countries, including Qatar.
Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea
- Egyptian stance from this reconciliation was announced by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry a few days ago, where Egypt welcomed the signing of an agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia to end their two decades of dispute. Egypt also hopes that the deal would be a model for all countries suffering from disputes in Africa.
- It is too early to talk about new Egyptian policies towards Ethiopian-Eritrean reconciliation, as the signing of the agreement will face important stages to activate it, rebuild confidence, and overcome the challenges. The Ethiopian Prime Minister had survived an assassination attempt in the wake of announcing his intention to normalize relations with Asmara.
- The Egyptian state has the tools that allow it to anticipate the current political situation in the Horn of Africa in accordance with new developments. This requires careful follow-up given the importance of the Horn of Africa and the southern Red Sea for Egypt.
- Regarding the water file, it should be noted that since the outbreak of the Renaissance Dam crisis, the atmosphere was not suitable for making a real positive progress like in this period. This requires Egypt to exploit the visit of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia recently to Cairo as well as the new developments to meet the interests of Egypt. Furthermore, Egypt has to benefit from the Ethiopian rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.