A Peace Best Delayed
By Bronwyn Bruton
Ms. Bruton heads a Track II diplomatic effort to address outstanding issues between the United States and Eritrea.
June 22, 2018
WASHINGTON — Early this month, the Ethiopian government declared that it was finally ready to implement a peace deal it signed with Eritrea nearly two decades ago. The Eritrean government didn’t respond to the announcement for over two weeks — until Wednesday, when President Isaias Afwerki said that “the positive direction that has been set in motion is crystal clear.” Mr. Isaias also promised to send a delegation to Ethiopia “to gauge current developments directly and in depth.”
For many years, however, even as Ethiopia declared its willingness to implement a 2002 judgment about the two states’ border, it refused to withdraw its troops from Eritrean territory until other issues — about armed groups, trade, access to Eritrea’s ports on the Red Sea — were settled. But Eritrea refused to negotiate at gunpoint, especially over a boundary decision that both governments had committed to uphold whatever its outcome.
So why the surprise breakthrough now?
Analysts have pointed to two factors: the advent of Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who in just a few months has embarked on a series of ambitious domestic reforms, and a recent trip to Eritrea by Donald Yamamoto, the acting head of the State Department’s Africa bureau, a rare visit for a senior American diplomat. A changing of the guard in both countries appears to explain this watershed moment.
Except that it doesn’t. Ethiopia’s policy toward Eritrea was shifting well before Mr. Abiy came to power, largely as a result of fundamental domestic factors. And America’s policy in the Horn of Africa hardly has changed: It is as misguided as ever, with its overriding focus on counterterrorism. What’s more, the United States has far less sway over Ethiopia than it would like or than is often assumed.
SOURCE : NEW YORK TIMES