BY JOHN CAMPBELL AND NATHAN BIRHANU
WHAT’S BEHIND ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA’S BORDER CLASH?
International attention is focused on Brexit, the resulting turmoil in the international financial markets, and the resignation of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. There is the risk of overlooking a dangerous confrontation between Ethiopia and Eritrea that could lead to war and further destabilize the Horn of Africa.
After sixteen years of ceasefire from a border war, Eritrea and Ethiopia clashed on June 12. Hundreds have been reported dead. Both countries are pointing fingers at the other as the original instigator of the incident while maintaining a tenuous, tactical stalemate position.
The border war Eritrea and Ethiopia fought against each other from 1998-2000 left approximately 80,000 dead. The war over claims to border towns was largely due to cultural and historical differences between the two states in the aftermath of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia. The disputed border towns had no significant economic value, with the fight once described as “two bald men fighting over a comb.” After a final attack by Ethiopia, the war came to a halt, and the two countries signed the Algiers Agreement to implement a ceasefire.
The Algiers Agreement was the vehicle for establishing an independent adjudicator titled the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC). Both countries agreed to accept the decision of the EEBC. The EEBC ruled in favor of Eritrea’s claim over the main border town; Ethiopia was unsatisfied with the decision and requested a political dialogue before withdrawing from the disputed territory. The disputed territory thereupon became in effect a buffer zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea with sporadic skirmishes over the past sixteen years, until Sunday’s significantly larger clash.
What could have caused the recent clash to occur, as either country has little to benefit from a renewed conflict?