The Ethiopian government has blamed Eritrea for what it calls provocation, which led to two days of fighting between the two countries. Political analyst Jason Mosley says the recent tension is not a significant upsurge.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have both failed to uphold the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities they signed in the Algerian capital, Algiers on 18 June 2000. The agreement binds the parties to terminate permanently military hostilities. Years later, tensions between the Horn of Africa nations persist. The minister for communication Getachew Redda said on Tuesday that the latest fighting, which lasted two days, stopped on Monday afternoon. Redda threatened that his government would retaliate if Eritrea attempts another attack. Ethiopians, especially those living in border region with Eritrea, are worried about a possible escalation in the fighting. Despite the fear, political analyst Jason Mosley says serious conflict is unlikely to happen again.
DW: Eritrea and Ethiopia have accused each other of starting clashes on Sunday between their soldiers on the border region. This highlighted the persistent tension over a boundary dispute that triggered a war from 1998 to 2000. What could be the reason behind this new upheaval?
Jason Mosley: From what I have read, which is very little detailed information about what happened, there isn’t any particular significant upsurge. Upheaval sounds quite dramatic and this sounded more like small skirmish. I’m not sure how much to make of this yet. Neither side has escalated, nor do things seem to have died back down.
The incident changed the rhetoric a little bit. Ethiopia is saying it is capable of launching an attack on Eritrea.
Of course, if you’re following these developments which have been dragging on for 15 years or more, at this point you wouldn’t necessarily watch it minute by minute, but this is not a particular re-launch or shift in the state of play or the dynamics. The Ethiopian government has been pretty consistent in saying that it is capable of defending itself, projecting its interests into the region and that it would prefer not to intervene in Eritrea. There is no sense in which Eritrean military is perceived as significant threat in Ethiopia. Obviously the security of the borders is important, but it’s not an existential threat in the way that in the reverse, from the perspective of Asmara, the much larger and more capable Ethiopian army is routinely described as an existential threat, and Ethiopia is described as a sort of aggressor in occupying its border areas.
So far this is the largest indident that has happened that has drawn international attention. Does this put the peace pact in jeopardy?
As I say, I think this is kind of a blip in a regular steady state. There were occasional skirmishes and this time it looks much bigger than what has happened over the last few years. I think what is happening right now is the European attention is focused on Eritrea for two reasons. One: its spring time so there’s an upsurge in crossing the Mediterranean and along with that every spring brings a resurgence of interest in question of why a significant proportion of those who cross Mediterranean are from Eritrea. Plus, we got a commission of inquiry from Human Rights Council Report that has come out a few days after the 25th anniversary of Eritrea.
At that time of independence anniversary, the Prime minister of Eritrea was basically saying that Ethiopia has been violating their sovereignty. On the other side, the prime minister of Ethiopia has been accusing the Eritrean forces along the border of carrying out illegal activities on Ethiopian soil. Doesn’t this show us that the conflict is getting deeper than the way the rest of the world sees it?
Well, its true and its quite entrenched in the positions of both governments at this point. But as I said it has been going for more than 15 years now. Unless something else happens to dramatically increase the tensions, I think this incident will be one that goes back beneath the waves. The Eritrean government is not in position at the moment to want to launch any significant increase in the conflict with Ethiopia. First, a conflict with the occasional outburst of violence like this reminds the Eritrean population, in line with the Eritrean government’s stance, that Ethiopia presents them an existential threat, which is part of the reason why they need to continue with this high state of mobilization including national service. It will be used to underpin the Eritrean government’s case. That is not the same as escalating into full scale conflict with Ethiopia, which would go badly for Eritrea.
Jason Mosley is an Associate Fellow with the Africa Program at Chatham House, UK
Interview: Abu-Bakarr Jalloh