In hindsight, was the 2 1/2-year Ethiopia-Eritrea war for control of
an arid patch of wasteland worth it for the Eritreans?
the answer of Yemane Gebreab, a political adviser to Eritrean
President Issaias Afwerki.
And not just in hindsight.
The war resulted in thousands of dead, almost a million displaced
Eritreans and losses running to millions of dollars.
What was lost
in terms of opportunities is much more difficult to assess, he
But following the signing of a formal peace agreement Tuesday in
Algiers, Yemane said,
We have an agreement now to demarcate the
border. . . . We are planning a major demobilization and a major
scaling down of our forces. It will start very soon [along with]
drastic reduction of military spending. The accord was signed by
Issaias and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, following intensive
mediation efforts by the Organization of African Unity, the United
States and the United Nations.
The World Bank has come out in support of a $270 million emergency
reconstruction package. The bank and the European Union have come up
with $90 million, and Italy and other countries will be providing the
balance, according to Yemane.
While we work on reconstruction, we
are trying to interface that with the development phase, he added.
What has been remarkable, and offers the country a lot of hope, Yemane said, is how the conflict brought Eritreans together, from all walks of life, all over the world, especially the young generation.
It has brought young people to the center of the political
process. We saw this not just in Eritrea, but here, in Europe and
among all communities in the diaspora. Because of this war, they have
become engaged in ways we never imagined, he said. At the height
of the crisis last May, 3,000 Eritreans living abroad bought prize
plots of land in Asmara, the capital, for a total of $29 million so
they can eventually build homes there. During the war, Eritrea sold
bonds and raised up to $200 million in contributions from the
In December of next year, Eritrea is planning elections to its
150-seat legislature, which will choose the next president. Eritreans
who live abroad and who are allowed to hold dual citizenship will have
to make individual choices on whether they want to vote, he
For us, Eritreans all over the world have the right to
vote. A commission has been set up to create the legal framework
for political parties, but there will probably not be enough time for
parties to emerge in time for election campaigns, the adviser
What we expect are independent candidates.
Yemane said Anthony Lake, President Clinton’s troubleshooter for
the Horn of Africa and the author of a new book called
Nightmares, referred to the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict as his
seventh nightmare. It looks like the nightmare is over.