Eritrea is not a typically newsy African country – at least gauging by how much comes from other countries, the Horn of Africa nation is very low on news and more so, compared to its closest neighbours in the region – Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Sudan.
The phenomenon has been put down to the kind of governance structure the country operates. With little space for civil society and even democratic structures, it is seen as a closed nation that is barely heard especially – more often than not – when border tensions arise.
The country which is nestled in the Red Sea enclave is described as a ‘secretive’ nation with watchers often drawing parallels between it and North Korea with special emphasis on their respective leaders. North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Isaias Afwerki.
Despite their low news mode, recent events in the Gulf region have thrust them into the spotlight for the very reason they are often heard – border tensions. Sudan remains the only neighbour Asmara is not having issues with on that front.
The persistent Ethiopia – Eritrea border tensions
The Ethiopian tension is well documented with the two countries yet to fully implement a demarcation agreement brokered by President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika in 2000 under the Algiers Agreement initiative.
Earlier this year, the European Union (EU) said on the seventeenth anniversary of the agreement that, the persistence of the tensions was a risk for the Horn of Africa region and called for Addis and Asmara to work to ensure its full implementation.
Before that, the African Union (AU) which is headquartered in Ethiopia had expressed concerns over the tensions in 2016. But the Eritrean leader has recently blamed the United States – an ally of Ethiopia – as being responsible for the tensions due to meddling.
Timeline of the tensions – Algiers agreement, UNSC sanctions, diplomatic tirades
- 1993: Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia after a war that lasted three decades.
- 1998 – 2000: Forces of both countries engaged in a deadly war
- 2000, December 12: The Algiers agreement was signed. Late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Afwerki the signatories. The AU, EU, United Nations and U.S. signed as witnesses.
- 2002, April 13: The Eritrea – Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) said it was ready to oversee the demarcation process.
- 2009: A U.S.-led motion led to imposition of Council arms sanctions on Eritrea with the reason that they supported Somalia’s insurgent group, al-Shabaab.
- 2015 – 2016: Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of supporting anti-peace elements in the wake of spreading anti-government protests. Asmara rubbishes the claims.
- 2016 June: AU expresses worry after two countries engage in renewed hostilities.
Eritrea – Djibouti tensions sparked by Gulf crisis
When Qatar was diplomatically ‘blacked out’ by its Gulf neighbours – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), little did anyone think it was going to play out the way it has in the Horn of Africa region.
The Gulf crisis as it has come to be known sparked another diplomatic and security rift between Eritrea and Djibouti. At a time when Ethiopia and Somalia chose to stay on the fence in the crisis, Eritrea and Djibouti opted to side with GCC – Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Then Qatar also decided to pull out its troops from a disputed region which has been at the heart of hostilities between Asmara and Djibouti. A brief timeline of the almost 10-year-old spat is as follows:
- 2008 – Eritrea and Djibouti forces clashed for four days each claiming a common border territory.
- The area in question is the Dumeira Island and mountains. The small island lies off the coast of both countries, specifically at the southern end of the Red Sea. It is close to a vital shipping route for global trade, the Baba-el-Mandeb strait.
- 2010 – After accepting Qatari mediation, the Gulf State deployed peacekeepers to the disputed areas.
- June 2017 – The GCC isolate Qatar – accusing Doha of supporting terrorists, a claim strongly rejected.
Eritrea and Djibouti join about dozen African countries backing the GCC.
Qatar pull out its troops from the disputed Eritrea-Djibouti border area.
Djibouti chides Eritrea for deploying troops to the area after Qatari contingent quit. Asmara issued a statement on June 17 which read in parts:
‘The government of Eritrea has so far refrained from issuing any statement, primarily because it is not privy to and has not, to date, obtained any information on the withdrawal from the party concerned: that is the State of Qatar.’
U.N., Ethiopia, A.U., the Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD) all called for peaceful solution to the crisis with the A.U. sending a fact-finding mission to the area.
Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa
Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo