Commentary:

Why Ethiopia Should Sign the Peace Plan

September 2, 1999

We are at a critical juncture of the Ethiopia – Eritrea conflict. Eritrea has apparently decided it has had enough, and has completely caved in to Ethiopia’s insistence on a return to the pre-war status quo. While it would be foolish to blindly trust the Eritrean dictator, Ethiopia should call his bluff and sign the peace plan. The Ethiopian defense forces are perfectly capable of containing any new Eritrean belligerence should it arise.

Although the peace plan is defective in that it does not contain any punitive measures against Eritrea for starting the war, it is better to sign it and close this chapter of history. It is the fault of the top Ethiopian leadership for bungling the negotiations and not holding the Eritrean leadership clique to account. It is too late to go back now and start over.

The main elements of the peace plan were really intended to prevent the war from restarting. However, for nine months Eritrea rejected the peace plan despite pleas and warnings from all its aid donors and all the important multilateral organizations of the world. Once Eritrea forced Ethiopia to use military means to eject it from Badime, Ethiopia should have withdrawn its acceptance of the plan, and should have insisted on new punitive measures against Eritrea. This is called negotiation.

But the Ethiopian leadership persisted in its baffling declarations to be loyal to the original plan no matter how much death and destruction took place. Instead it is Eritrea that has managed to get a new clause inserted that singles out compensation for deportees as being “particularly” important. This despite the fact that the stories about $800 million dollars of Eritrean property being summarily confiscated are worthless products of the Eritrean propaganda mills. If there are a few innocent civilians who were deprived of their property illegally, they should be allowed to regain their property and sell it. This is not a big issue.

The most criminal act of this war, the deliberate cluster bombing of the Ayder school, receives no mention. The killings and displacement of 300,000 Ethiopian civilians and the destruction of their livelihood receives no mention. The confiscation of Ethiopian goods at Assab receives no mention.

All this is not because the mediators favored Eritrea. It is simply because the current Ethiopian leadership has not done enough to present Ethiopia’s case. As a simple example, the losses suffered by the Ethiopian civilians in the border zones should have been meticulously documented and widely publicized by now. Why has this not been done?

Regardless of the poor performance of the Ethiopian leadership in the diplomatic arena, the peace plan should be signed for the following reasons:

1. Eritrea has finally accepted all Ethiopia’s conditions for a ceasefire. There are no more officially announced conditions for Eritrea to fulfill.

2. There is no clear objective. What would further warfare accomplish? When would it ever end?

3. The cost is clearly not worth it. The major objective of restoring Ethiopian sovereignty has been accomplished. Why should Ethiopia sacrifice more for vague objectives that cannot be clearly articulated? How much should Ethiopians pay in terms of resources and lives? Wouldn’t it be much better to spend our resources more wisely and contain future Eritrean belligerence in a far less costly, and more intelligent manner?

4. The most important factor in Ethiopia’s stability is the willingness of the current leadership to genuinely embrace democracy and take concrete steps to reconcile with the opposition. Eritrea’s arming and training of rebels is a relatively minor factor when compared to the leadership problems of ideological intransigence, lack of tolerance to political opponents, pervasive secrecy, total antagonism to private media, etc… .

5. Ethiopia will be isolated and condemned by the international community. Yes, Tanzania did launch a counteroffensive when Idi Amin invaded Tanzania in the 1970s, and they went all the way to Kampala. But Amin was universally reviled and the world looked the other way. This will not be the case in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. The absence of skilled Ethiopian diplomats and the hopeless state of Ethiopia's public relations will ensure that the world will turn against Ethiopia.

In summary let us sign the peace plan and move on to take care of the other equally pressing problems that confront Ethiopia.

- Dagmawi



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