Enemies for more than two decades end feud with an embrace

GIN | 7/12/2018, 12:21 p.m.

“And into ploughshares beat their swords. Nations shall learn war no more.”

With those words of Isaiah, Ethiopia and Eritrea announced the end of a futile war and agreed to normalize ties, drawing the curtain on a 20-year military standoff on the Horn of Africa that cost more than 70,000 lives.

This past weekend, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia traveled to Eritrea to sign a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship at the statehouse in Asmara, the Eritrean capital. He was welcomed at the airport in Asmara with a firm brotherly embrace by his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias Afwerki.

The two leaders smiled and laughed as they strolled past a uniformed band and honor guard. The men were shown several times on Eritrean state television smiling together before announcing at an evening banquet that relations will be normalized.

“Love is greater than modern weapons like tanks and missiles,” said Ahmed, who has frequently preached about love and unity in his speeches. “Love can win hearts, and we have seen a great deal of it today here in Asmara.”

Eritrea was once part of Ethiopia and fought for decades for its independence, which it finally won in 1991. Initially, it had close ties with Ethiopia’s rebel-formed government.

In 1998, however, a dispute over a nondescript border town turned into a year-and-a-half-long war that claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides. Peace eluded the neighboring countries, despite an accord in 2000 and international arbitration.

Two decades of hostile stalemate with periodic clashes followed, most recently in 2016, when hundreds were killed.

Since coming to power as prime minister in April, the 42-year-old Ahmed has electrified Ethiopia with his informal style, charisma and energy, earning comparisons to Nelson Mandela, Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and Mikhail Gorbachev.

He has reshuffled his cabinet, reached out to hostile neighbors and rivals, lifted bans on websites and other media, freed thousands of political prisoners, ordered the partial privatization of state-owned companies and ended a state of emergency imposed to quell widespread unrest. 

Amid the praise songs and whistles, Rwanda President Paul Kagame wrote, “We salute the leaders, Prime Minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed and President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea for their courage and doing the right thing for their people of the two countries. We congratulate you and are with you...!”