The conflict between ethiopia and eritrea

These two countries were friends in the beginning, however, their friendship was cut short after the emergence of the new Eritrea currency. This establishment of a new currency gave birth to a number of fierce wars between the two countries. The UN, OAU and Western countries have tried their best in the past to establish peace treaties between the two, however, they have failed. In the long run peace seemed to come down to the two countries after a commission was formed. After lengthy discussions they agreed on the demarcation of the territories.

This paper focuses on the events of the war in Ethiopia and Eritrea as well as the efforts put forward by the Western countries to bring the war to an end.


Ethiopia and Eritrea are one of the poorest countries in the world. Both of these countries have been involved in war and have been known to spend most of its resources in buying machinery for war. The Eritrea’s were accused of starting the war because they attacked Ethiopia. Ethiopia has an approximate population of 60 million and Eritrea 3.5 million. Eritrea which is an Italian colony gained independence in 1993.

Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie had long been supported by U.S in “aid” in order to support cold war. The two countries went through a period of thirty years of war as they fought to gain independence. In 1993 a referendum to vote for independence was brought forth and around 99.8% voted for their to be independence.

The Eruption of War

The two countries were getting on well and the war was going down until Eritrea came up with their own currency in 1997; what has come to be known as ‘Nakfa-Birr controversy[1]’. This was seen as violation of Contracting Parties which the two had signed in 1993.  Besides, there was the feeling that this arrangement favored Eritrea more than it did Ethiopia as they were using Ethiopian currency and thus deemed exploiters.  The beginning of the war was marked by the invasion of Ethiopian territory by the Eritrea in May 1998. War erupted over border disputes , difference in ethnic groupings and economic uprisings.

Eritrea invaded Ethiopia at a four dimension beginning from Badme, then Alitena, Zalambessa and then at Bure. There before, things were normal and it was all peaceful. The border between Tigray[2] and Eritrea was a peaceful and free border where Ethiopians crossing to Eritrea and vice versa would only require to possess and identification card. In the past there had been skirmishes occurring but they were always resolved until this time.

From May 1998 – June 2000 war increased with a report of 100,000 deaths and a lot of buying if weapons for destruction. The main conflict being the fact that Ethiopia had no borders along the Red sea and therefore in order to trade, it had to go through countries like Eritrea.

This war led to a call for peace by the then United States President Clinton who called Eritrea President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The call aimed at achieving a peace plan  which they formed. The peace plan called for the redeployment of Eritrea’s, a  new establishment of the administration, formation of an observing group and the demarcation of the border by the UN following use of treaties and the international law.

The implementation of Peace deals

These four plans were the main discussion of the UN in November 1998 as they called for the implementation of the peace plan. The implementation of the four fold plan cannot however be viewed as a great success since Eritrea leaders considered it all as a fail. The continued efforts of President Clinton, to call for negotiations between the two leaders fell on deaf ears as they all ignored and continued to fight mercilessly.

A peace initiative was put forward in the middle of 1999 by Organization for African Unity (OAU), however both countries didn’t agree on peace. Since then, a lot has happened in the two countries,for instance, in Ethiopia it is attributed that many Eritrea’s are being detained due to them being of Eritrea origin. Also the government is presumed to use a lot of its money in buying machinery for war instead of looking for ways to curb the drought and starvation that has resulted to many people dying.

At end of May 2000, Ethiopia stated to have entered into peace with Eritrea, however a peace deal was yet to be passed (

The recent war has been associated more on issues to do with disputed land that was not properly divided by the Ethiopian Empire and Italy.

Opposing Movements

The conflict also can be traced in the 1980s when there arose differences between Eritrea and Ethiopian leadership. EPLF (Eritrea People’s Liberation Front) and TPLF (Tigrary People’s Liberation Front – Northern Ethiopia) were the two movements that were undertaking the war that was continuing between the two countries.

EPLF was determined that Eritrea would be liberated from Ethiopian rule and remain to be a single and independent state. On the other hand, the TPLF fought to establish an Independent state. After some time the two movements collided as Eritrea brought forth a new currency thus disrupting trade within Ethiopia. Eritrea went ahead to having confrontations with neighboring countries such as Sudan, Djibouti and Yemen.

After the war, in May 1998 the two leaders of the two countries couldn’t agree, hence Eritrea acquired three areas that were in Ethiopia’s territory. In February 1999, Ethiopia got a part of the area and in in May 2000,Ethiopia introduced a fight on the recovery of the remainder area.

In June 2000, after being pressured by the United States, the two countries agreed to embrace the Organization of African Unity(OAU) peace proposals. The US policy had for a long  time come forth in dealing with Ethiopia’s problem but it had not verified well the causes of the problem.

From the year 1961 – 1991 Eritrea had fought with Ethiopia on issues regarding gaining of independence. They both disagreed on currency and trading matters and boundaries for instance Badme, Tsorona, Zalambessa and Bure.

On 5th June 1998, Ethiopians attacked the Airport in Asmara while Eritrea soldiers whom a quarter of  them were women revenged and attacked Mekele which is Ethiopian town. In relation to all this attacks the US/Rwanda Peace plan called for peace but Eritrea refused and on 22nd February 1999, Ethiopia planned to attack and recapture Badme[3]. Eritrea then accepted the OAU peace plan in 27th February 1999.

BBC reported 16th May,that by that Ethiopian armies  had already attacked Velessa and Tsorona on the south of Eritrea’s capital. BBC later reported that Eritrea’s fought back and three hundred Ethiopians died and twenty of their tanks destroyed. June 1999 fights still continued until the year 2000.

By 23rd May 2000, Ethiopia’s  claimed they had captured Zalambessa and other controversial areas but Eritrea’s claimed they moved away because they were seeking peace. May 25th 2000, Ethiopia recaptured most places and at this time they declared that the war was over. By end  of May they occupied most of Eritrea’s places and displaced 650,000 people.

The war between these two countries then extended to Somalia as a result of the Eritrea government supporting a rebel group called Oromo Liberation front that was seeking independence from Ethiopia. As a result of this war many people that were more than 100,000 were killed and others displaced from their own countries. Many people who were either in Eritrea and they belonged to Ethiopia and those who were in Ethiopia and they belonged to Eritrea were deported.

As a result of war, both the economy of the two countries,  grew weak and droughts resulted because of food shortages. On 18th June 2000 a Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) was established within Eritrea by the UN peace keepers from over 60 countries and on 12th December 2000 a  peace agreement was established. Most of the area under Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) could not be effectively monitored, this contributed to suspicions by Ethiopia that Eritrea could be bringing troops at the border and as a result Ethiopia added more troops at the border.

Ruling and Agreements

A ruling made by the permanent court of Arbitration in the Hague concerning the two wars agreed and made a final ruling and territories were given to the countries. Both countries entered into an agreement, however, later Ethiopia expressed dissatisfaction over the ruling.

In September 2003, Eritrea refused to form a new commission and asked the International community to pressure Ethiopia to accept the ruling and in November 2004, Ethiopia accepted the ruling. Ethiopia later stated on 10th December 2005, that it would withdraw some of its forces from the Eritrea border and on 15th December, UN began to withdraw its Peace Makers from Eritrea.

On 21st December 2005, a court in the Hague ruled that Eritrea had broken laws by attacking Ethiopia in 1998 thus leading to conflict at the border. In the year 2006, there was still lingering fear that the two countries would again result to war.

Both of those countries refused to attend a meeting at the Hague that was to solve the land demarcation issue, Ethiopians didn’t agree on physical demarcation and map demarcation, Eritrea’s on the  other hand. Couldn’t accept any marking apart from physical demarcation. By November 2007, there was fear that both of them would return to war but it didn’t happen. In this year 2008, on 19th June, the BBC reported that the conflict is still going on.

A lot of speculations have so far been raised over what would probably stop the consistent wars between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Many decisions have been made including peace talks however war is still lingering in the countries. Online News hour(May 30th 2000) reported a bomb attack at the Eritrea Airport near Eritrea capital of Asmara, immediately afterwards peace  talks were launched at Algeria, these talks rose some hopes that probably peace would prevail between the two countries[4].

The U.S. Assistant secretary for state for African Affairs said, that despite the many failed peace negotiations,the  only best thing was a permanent demarcation of the border.  The two countries that had been long time allies had to look for a solution on ending the wars between them.

The United States have all along following its policy aimed at restoring peace and solving the differences that exist in both countries but under many circumstances it has failed. Since the time that Eritrea gained independence, the US has embarked on two major goals. One of the goals is  to keep away the Arabs from  taking control of the Red Sea because the sea was in Israeli’s interests and the second goal is the US efforts to keep away or even completely overthrow the National Islamic Front(NIF) government in Khartoum.

Sudan is seen as a terrorist country and the US government has been looking for ways of kicking out the Islam community. An anti-Sudan coalition of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda was proposed by the United States government policy which failed to work as a result of the war that broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia, where both countries asked for support from the Sudanese.

The US had been left with enough lessons to learn concerning the war in the two countries. There was need for US to understand the causes of the conflict in the two countries, rather than looking at the conflict in regard to their interests. A lot of questions surrounding the conflict have been left unanswered and unless the US unravels the mysteries behind the conflict existing between Eritrea and Ethiopia then this war might never be won.

Set backs Affecting the Reduction of War

Another controversy has been the US refusal to stop the sale of arms by the Russians. Russians had been selling arms to both countries which they were using in war in December 1998. It looked clear that the US did not want to spoil its relationship with Moscow in the name of banning the arms they were selling. It now seemed unclear whether the US were for the wars to end or not.

In spite of  the fall backs of the US regarding the two countries, they did not restrict the coming in of funds and aid both from the World Bank and IMF or from the friends of the two countries especially those from the diaspora.

Saddening though, is that despite the food shortages in both of the countries they still continue to buy arms from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Italy, China, France and the open markets. Continued cases of drought has increased with many people starving and others dying.

It is with unending concern that the US should  look into ways in which there would be long term peace between the two countries instead of part time peace that comes and goes. The US in collaboration with other  donors should ensure that they provide peace and long term solutions towards development and relieve from debts for the two countries.

The US should ensure that good political governance prevails and democracy so that there will be longterm peace. Rights of individuals should be exercised, for instance the right to speech and life[5].

On ABC News, an article posted on Sunday 30th July 2006, the US sent warnings to both Eritrea and Ethiopia to keep away from Somalia. At this time the Somalia had started fighting and the the two countries were known to support in arms.

According to the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, Ethiopia had been sending troops to support the government while Eritrea was sending arms for rival Islamists. Ms Jendayi said that it would be better if Ethiopia and Eritrea would keep their border differences to themselves and avoid interfering with the war in Somalia.

As a result of the arms that have been sent by Eritrea there are fears that Somali regions could be terrorists homes who were planning on attacking Ethiopians[6].

In its step to stop war between the two countries, the US warned the Eritrea against supporting terrorists as this would increase chances of more war taking place. The proof at which the Eritrea government is thought to be supporting terrorists is the presence of a Somali Islamist leader in Eritrea who had visited some time back. Though the Eritrea Government has been warned by the US against the same it completely refused having been associated with terrorists. (ABC News: US warns Eritrea against supporting terrorists; Sunday September 9th 2007)

The Road Towards Peace

In this year January 2008, Eritrea accepts that there should be a demarcation of territories. Eritrea also demands that the Ethiopian troops should leave their country. Ethiopia refused to agree over the territory demarcation issue and dismissed the whole issue[7].

The UN security force that was watching over the Ethiopia- Eritrea border pulled out after been told to move out by both of the countries. There are great fears that new war would erupt but Ethiopian Prime Minister declares that it would not happen again[8].

Ethiopia’s war has raised eye brows as most of the Western countries try to implement ways of  bringing the war to a complete end. Ethiopia has always been seen as a democratic model for the rest of African countries in the past. With the ruling of Meles since 1991, Ethiopia has emerged as a country that has faired well out of Meles ruling. Meles overthrew Mengistu Haile Marim. After he took over Meles has made the country of Ethiopia to enjoy food, water and electricity. The country has also been favored by good rains which have boosted the agriculture economy.

Ethiopia has also collaborated with the United States on other issues such as combating terrorism and fighting against HIV/AIDS. Due to the  endless efforts by Meles, the country has enjoyed a large amount of foreign aid and food aid as compared to other African countries.

Ethiopia’s border dispute was based more on tension between Meles and Eritrea’s leader Issaias Afwerki. Previously they shared their currency but in 1990 the Eritrea, established a new currency and hence caused havoc on trade that disrupted the countries. This was followed by Ethiopia’s accusation  on Eritrea, that they had possessed the town of Badme illegally, on the other hand Eritrea’s feared that the Ethiopia’s would invade and take their  ports back to their country. From there henceforth, war erupted taking its peak in the year 1998. Many people have since lost their lives with many others being displaced out of their territories.

As the country comes to a point of agreed peace as a result of territory demarcation, it is still unclear whether war is likely to erupt again. The two countries should get in to dialogue instead of applying war  all the time to solve their problems.

As both of the countries walk towards the road to peace, there should be a consideration of people’s safety and promotion of human rights. The countries should ensure human rights such as the right to vote,freedom of expression and others are put in place. For instance, in Eritrea since independence the only party that has been ruling has been the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) which has been led by President Issayas Afewerki. During all this time there has been no elections and those that have been planned have failed to take place. According to my view there has been no democratic rights exercised in this country.

A constitution which was brought to place through a referendum has failed to function due to failure of the president to implement it. The constitution, would focus on some of the human rights that are required for this country to function  rightly. Some of those rights expressed  in the constitution are freedom of speech, religion, freedom to form political organizations and others however this  has not been as a result of the constitution failing to be implemented. These rights and many others exist only in paper form because the government chaired by the president have never allowed anybody to practice them.

Rights of expression have been disabled and anyone wishing to speak ill or against a certain issue is taken action against. In September 2001, the government arrested some leader who had asked the president to implement the constitution. Anyone wishing to present grievances against the president’s government is arrested.

To my view Eritrea country has been hijacking the democratic space of individuals giving them no chance to air their views to their best interests. In addition to these individuals being arrested, their charges in court have been done away with. They cannot even stand in court with lawyers because they are not even allowed to see anyone not even their families.

Eritrea government have subjected those arrested into serious human torture, with some people being physically and psychologically tortured. The communication sector has also been under thorough scrutiny as all nongovernmental newspapers and magazines being banned including BBC correspondents. This has been the way the situation in Eritrea has been. Human rights have been depressed and individuals are always under the governments mercy, they do all that the government says whether it’s right or wrong.

In Ethiopia, the situation is albeit different however, there are serious human rights concerns that required to be dealt with. Unlike Eritrea that is run by only one political party, Ethiopia under the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front(EPRDF) has got other parties of whom they formed a transition government such as the Oromo Liberation Front(OLF) and other parties.

 With Prime Minister Meles, there lay a ray of hope as the citizens of the country anticipated democratic space as well as protection and promotion of human rights. When the new government came in, it promised the citizens of respect to political rights and respect of ethnic groups and their cultural rights. This however, failed to be achieved when the elections took their roots in the year 1992 and the Oromo Liberation Front withdrew as its leaders left the country. When they left it was the time for the EPRDF to establish itself plus  take advantage of the citizens of the country.

Despite the adoption of a new constitution in 1995, the citizens human and political rights have been violated greatly. The constitution called for implementation of individual, economic and socio-cultural rights.

The past elections that have been held, have been full of a lot of violence and political instability. Elections are a right for every citizen and therefore the country should ensure a good and stable environment where the citizens can be able to cast their votes and express themselves without any form of intimidation. This is what everyone would wish for the citizens of Ethiopia and the country as a whole.

Effects of Ethiopia- Eritrea border dispute

Loss of human lives; Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict has been said to be one of the deadliest border conflict in Africa. There has been great loss of livelihood on both sides. It was once reported in Newbie that:

Ethiopians won the war, and defended their land and secured it with out killing more and more Eriterians for the name of humanitarian scene and believe, why are this people cry, cry and cry…….lets say criteria has power power like Ethiopia …………………..i am sure they would not even sleep one day to attack Ethiopia……………….badma belong to Ethiopians blood, the soldiers who sacrificed their blood for it…..they are the one who owns it….and they are the true hero Ethiopians and we will not stop protecting their hard work, life and blood they gave to their country…….[9]..

It has been estimated that more than 100 000 soldiers have been killed.

Tension and resentment to each other, the two countries has throughout used media in propagation of resentment toward each other. This started in 1980s which was marked by intensification of armed struggle between EPLF/TPLF and the dictatorial regime of Mengitsu Haile Mariam. There was distortion of information on daily events which aimed at gaining sympathy from the International community. The information was disparaging to both Non-Ethiopian and Ethiopian historians.

Despite the independence of Eritrea, emotional dominance over rationality still roam in the media. Hatred and cruelty grows to almost irreversible repair in the near future. Daily distortion are preached with aim of humiliating leaders and other government officials through emotional articles. Moreover, Eritrean elites have tried to fuel the conflict between the Addis Ababa government and the Oromo people by invoking the fond memories of their woes at the hand of Yohannes IV.

Displacement of a large number of people; The Eritrean regime has already brought about massive destruction on Eritrea and displaced thousands of Ethiopians. Since Ethiopia has not been comfortable with some of the problems encountered, it has been forced to divert a great deal of attention to defense from the task of socio-economic development.

Estimates put that over 750 000 people have been displaced in Eritrea alone. Therefore considering the Ethiopian side, this figure may exceed two million people[10]. Moreover, Ethiopia has deported over 50 000 Eritreans increasing its rivals woes. The displacement of people has intensified the level of famine in both countries with Ethiopia having a burden of feeding about eight million starving citizens.

Economic problems; both countries suffer from economic inflation and decrease in the GNP. For instance, after the broke of the war, Ethiopia opted to use Djibouti port and this in return reduced the income of Eritrea quite drastically. There was labor shortage in factories and development projects almost bring foreign investment in Eritrea to a halt. The government had to hire some workers from military services to run these industries, introduce a new 20% surcharge and increase the personal tax rate to 50% in order to raise money for war.

Ethiopia too has its woes. The IMF and World Bank after suspending loans for the two countries, Ethiopia had to introduce a new surtax of 10% for all imported goods to raise money for war. Stable macro-economic environment has been threatened and inflationary pressure already engulfing the economy hence accounting for the energy crisis experienced.

US Counter-terrorism in Somalia; the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has impeded US efforts to counteract with terrorism in Somalia. This has been exacerbated by military support that both Ethiopia and Eritrea give to the opposing parties there. The Ethiopian government support the weak interim government while Eritrea sponsors the Islamic militants fighting to overthrow it.

Since the US believes that Somalia harbor terrorists, the Ethiopian-Eritrean proxy conflicts tend to increase the opportunities for terrorists to carryout their activities in the Horn of Africa unabated. This tendencies to favor conflicting sides resulted also due to the position taken by Israel.

Since both countries had been allied to Israel- as wide part of Israel-US attempts to seek a counterbalance to the Arab world in the Red Sea and now Israel seem to support Ethiopia; Eritrea opted to turn to the Arab world in search of financial and military assistance. It has moved closer to Libya, Qatar and Egypt, the latter a long-time rival of Ethiopia on account of its interests in the Nile River.

ConclusionBoth countries have intrinsic problems which are facing them. Ethiopia for instance have the Oromo issue to deal with. The prime minister is also facing pressure from the hardliners in his party due to their discontentment with the Amharic elite leading the country. A regime that is self opposing is likely to fall. Since this is already enough predicament for a country to iron out its difference; notwithstanding the famine that is facing its citizens, the country should not be indulging in wars with its neighbors. It is impossible to bring peace to other countries such as Somalia while back at home there is no peace.

Eritrea on its part seem to have underestimated the military might of Ethiopia. Most of its economy has been ravaged with about 70% of its production being affected by the war. The future generations are also put at the risk of the land-mines which never exploded during the war. want to return. There has been mass mobilization of the entire population (similar to that Meles Zenawi is facing) threatening  Isaias’s future grip on power. While both Isaias and the ruling PFDJ have retained their popularity, politics has changed forever.

The war has produced positive spinoffs in so far as democratization in both countries is concerned. None of the two country can really say is the victorious one is their war gain. It is therefore important for the leaders in the two countries to solve the problems facing their respective country than indulge into war and military activities aimed at negating the reality back at home. For two country to have a clear cut detentes, both regime should be ousted in power. Otherwise, while the guns are now silent, the peace remains fragile and the scores are still unsettled.


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[1]    Argued that Eritrea has never suggested parity or free circulation of both currencies and thus the “Nakfa-Birr” controversy is a mere Ethiopian creation.[2]    The State of Tigray is located at the northern tip of the country and consists of 6 administrative zones, one special zone,35 woredas and 74 towns.[3]          Patrick Gilkes and Martin Plaut, The War Between Ethiopia and Eritrea 5, no. 25 (2000).[4] Online newshour)[5]          Patrick Gilkes and Martin Plaut, The War Between Ethiopia and Eritrea 5, no. 25 (2000).[6]          ABC News: US warns Eritrea, Ethiopia on Somalia; Sunday July 30th 2006[7]            ABC News: Eritrea accepts virtual border with Ethiopia; Wednesday January 16th 2008[8]          ABC News: UN pulls force from Ethiopia-Eritrea border;Thursday July 31st 2008[9]    Posted-7/25/2007:1:01:[10]  Africa Early Warning Programme, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria.