Eritrea & Ethiopia’s Border Dispute

  • Share
  • CevherShare
  • Share

After our discussion about the complexity of the immigration issue in the United States and the border conflict with Mexico, I was curious to see how the discourse about the Eritrea-Ethiopia border dispute has been and whether there are any signs of a solution.

Just for a little history, Eritrea is a East African country and former Italian colony that borders Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. The Eritrean Liberation Front and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front were the two separatist groups fighting the Ethiopian government to win Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1961. After 30 years of war, Eritreans voted in a referendum for independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and was recognized officially by the United Nations.

Unfortunately a vote for independence is not that simple, because then came the task of defining the boundaries of these two independent states. This created tension between the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments and led to a war between 1998 and 2000. A boundary commission was created by the Algiers Agreement to assess the conflict after fighting stopped.  There are reports of more confrontations since then up until 2010 between the two states. As of 2011, Ethiopia is in control of the town of Badme even though the commission ruled that it rightfully belonged to Eritrea. Both countries are still training and deploying a standing army at the border according to a 2008 UN report along with UN peacekeeping forces.

What I find so troubling is all the time, energy and resources put into this war and all the lives lost when no concrete, real solution was found. It really shows how right former President Oscar Arias is about how useless and harmful armies are when there are so many important social, economic, and humanitarian problems that need to be funded. Eritrea has so many issues that its secretive, repressive authoritarian regime refuses to acknowledge in order to maintain a facade of stability and prosperity that warrants respect and fear on the international arena. It has a current negative spotlight on it because of accusations of supporting the Somali militant group, al Shabab.

I did find a website created with a focus on the Eritrea-Ethiopia Conflict that appears to be written from a sympathetic Eritrean perspective. It puts the blame on Ethiopia for not committing to peaceful means to solve the border issue.

Ethiopia continues to demand that Eritrea must unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw from areas Ethiopia claims and that Ethiopia administers these areas as a precondition. If not, it goes to war.


I wonder if a border commission that brought responsible and important officials from the US and Mexico would help the dialogue, even though it obviously hasn’t brought results for Eritrea and Ethiopia yet. The way Eritrea has used its border issue to justify sacrifices in human rights and freedom isn’t too far from what the United States could do if we allow extreme voices to dominate the immigration discourse and let facts be dismissed. We need to operate by our values and live by them with each policy and agreement we make.