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Commentary: “When will they ever learn?” - Ambassador Andebrhan Welde Giorgis


Commentary: When Will They Ever Learn?

Amb. Andebrhan Welde Giorgis on Abiy Ahmed’s claim on Eritrea and its ports

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has issued a dire threat to violate the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia’s proximate Red Sea maritime states, singling Eritrea as the main target. The claim to acquire ownership of a port, a corridor and a naval base on the Red Sea by forcible means is tantamount to a declaration of war on Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. His puerile declaration and spurious rationale contravene the UN Charter, the AU Constitutive Act, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the 2018 Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia. His threat to resort to the ‘law of the jungle’ in defiance of international law - the foundation of civilised relations among nations - would further destabilise an already volatile and war-torn region.

Premier Abiy’s Prosperity Party (1) has orchestrated a series of leaks of his cheeky statements in meetings with businessmen, senior military officers and party cadres intimating his territorial designs on Eritrea. He has now formally crossed the red line and claimed, in an address to the Ethiopian parliament (2), that Ethiopia has a “natural right” to possess direct access to the Red Sea; that the Red Sea forms the “natural border” of Ethiopia; and that direct access to the Red Sea is an existential necessity for Ethiopia based on historical, geographical, ethnic and economic grounds. Are these claims new? Are they fact or falsehood?

New wine in old wineskins

In peddling the territorial claims of generations of contemporary Ethiopian rulers and ruling elites against Eritrea, Abiy is simply pouring new wine in old wineskins. The Biblical parable admonishes people not to “pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out; and the wineskins will be ruined” (3).

Once again, the expansionist ambition of Ethiopia’s ruling elites over Eritrea has reared its ugly head in the perilous gambit of ‘Greater Ethiopia with access to the Red Sea’. It is an open secret that Abiy and his inner circle have been propagating the surreptitious scheme not only to acquire a port, a corridor and a naval base on the Red Sea but also to bring Eritrea back under Ethiopian domination. Such a scheme has been tried before and failed miserably.

The scheme’s public declaration has set Abiy on a collision course to provoke war and play a zero-sum game with dire consequences for the peoples, economies and future of the peoples of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. The genie is out of the bottle. His belated attempt to backtrack on his assertion while his parading troops saluting him during his display of military bravado shouted “the sea is hours, the port is ours, the ships are ours” can hardly repair the damage done or bridge the credibility gap created by his stream of pathological mendacity.

Certainly, war is a multi-edged sword that will visit death and destruction on all sides. It would wreak havoc on the entire region of the Horn of Africa and cause immense suffering. It would also jeopardise maritime security in the vital sea-lanes of the southern Red Sea. Furthermore, war would pose a clear and present danger to international peace and security.

The scourge of delusion

Abiy has been intimating that the ultimate home of the Ethiopian navy based in Lake Tana will be Eritrea’s Red Sea coast. Isaias’s gift of a map of the Red Sea, compulsive reiteration that Abiy is to lead Eritrea and Ethiopia from then on, and deceitful declaration that whoever thinks that Eritrea and Ethiopia are two countries does not know the reality, might have given false hopes and abetted Abiy’s ambitions. Venting apparent frustration with his failure to whet his appetite peacefully, he has resorted to asserting Ethiopia’s purported “natural right” to forcibly possess an outlet on the Red Sea as an existential necessity.

Be that as it may, Abiy seems too naïve, too ignorant or too delusional to realise that his bargaining offers of (1) territorial swap, (2) equity shares in Ethiopian Airlines or the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or (3) federation or confederation with Eritrea are non-starters. Federation (which led to annexation) and confederation suggest a hidden agenda. Neither the land swap nor the equity shares are equivalent to the intrinsic resource value of a seacoast, with its associated territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.

It would of course be nice for any land-locked country to own a transit corridor and an outlet to the sea. However, no transit country would willingly compromise its sovereignty and territorial integrity, rendering the possibility a case of “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride them”. Obviously, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia have repudiated Abiy’s assertion.

It is also crucial to stress that port ownership on Eritrea’s Red Sea coast is neither an existential necessity nor an impediment to the development of Ethiopia, as Abiy falsely claims. Ethiopia has other options and has used them during the last twenty-five years. Trying to externalise or divert attention from the internal causes of Ethiopia’s underdevelopment is wrong, myopic and counter-productive. Any attempt to gain such ownership by the threat or use of force constitutes a dangerous gamble. No transit state would allow the wilful violation of its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in flagrant breach of international law. Such aggression is bound to be a double-edged sword that could destroy and dismantle Ethiopia.

Viewed from the perspective of the prevailing national and regional dynamics, Abiy’s agenda is delusional, dangerous and unattainable. The thinly veiled invocation of ‘it is our turn to rule Ethiopia and dominate the region’ in the context of Ethiopia’s perniciously ethnicised politics portends disaster for Ethiopia and its proximate neighbours. Whether or not Abiy will be able to impose the narrative of his ethnic group’s ‘turn to rule and dominate’ and be allowed to commit aggression on the neighbours depends on the people of Ethiopia. His repeated references to Ethiopia’s large and growing population size, however, bear the implicit threat of invading hordes menacing small Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

It is déjà vue. Hitler tried it in Germany and in Europe with catastrophic consequences for Germany, Europe and the world. Abiy’s predecessors - Emperor Haile Selassie, Colonel Mengistu and Prime Minister Meles - tried it against Eritrea and failed. History teaches that his fragile, beleaguered and increasingly ethnicised regime can only meet the same fate. He thus needs to learn from the disastrous failures of the past, rethink his futile but dangerous agenda and reverse course. He needs to sober up and put a bridle on his illusory territorial and maritime ambitions over Eritrea and the other Red Sea littoral states of Djibouti and Somalia.

The arrogance of ignorance

Abiy’s false and reckless claim of the Red Sea as the natural border of Ethiopia by invoking Axum, Ras Alula and Haile Selassie signifies his crass ignorance of the history of Axum and Eritrea. His assertion that the Red Sea forms the natural border of Ethiopia and implication that Eritrea formed a natural part of Ethiopia are patently false. Were it not for the dangerous consequences of his belligerent assertion, his deceptive claims could have been dismissed as infantile figments of a covetous imagination. Since they are being officially disseminated and repeated ad infinitum by the state media and pro-regime social media outlets, however, let me offer him and his ilk a quick recap of Eritrean History 101.

The Kingdom of Axum and Eritrea

The land of modern Eritrea and the ancient port of Adulis, located about 40 kms south of Massawa, formed the cradle and the geographic centre of the Kingdom of Axum. At the zenith of its power during the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. (4), Axum extended across present-day Ethiopia, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, southern Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Djibouti and north- western Somalia (5). During the 7th century, however, its power and influence “declined as a direct consequence of the Arab invasion of Egypt” forcing the Beja tribes of eastern Egypt and northern Sudan to move southwards and push their kinsmen already settled in the Northern Highlands and Barka lowlands on to the Central Highlands (6).

The Beja invasion, the subsequent spread of Islam into the coastal areas and the destruction of Adulis in 710 A.D. cut off Axum from access to the Red Sea. These events disrupted Axum’s maritime trade and precipitated its decline. The loss of Adulis and the Red Sea littoral to nascent Islam forced the Christian Axumites to withdraw southwards to the isolation of their highland bastions, never to return to the Red Sea. Once it declined, Axum never revived. From the downfall of Axum until the late 13th century (1270), “the whole of Eritrea was still under the Beja Confederacy” (7).

Following a century of fragmentation, Eritrea’s Central Plateau formed the core of the Medre Bahri, or the Land of the Sea, between the 15th and 18th centuries (8), enjoying sovereignty under the rule of the Bahri Negasi, or the King of the Sea (9). Despite recurrent reciprocal invasions across the Mereb-Belesa-Muna Rivers (10) during Abyssinia’s “era of the princes”, the Central Plateau, the Northern Highlands, the Western Lowlands and the Coastal Plains that constitute the territory of contemporary Eritrea remained separate from Abyssinia (11). James Bruce, a Scottish explorer who set out from Massawa to trace the source of the Blue Nile River in Lake Tana in 1770 reported that the “Medre-Bahri and Abyssinia were distinctly separate political entities constantly at war with each other” (12).

During the immediate precolonial era, however, the land of Medre Bahri faced another period of fragmentation due to internal dynamics and external encroachment. In the east, Ottoman Turkey, which had taken control of Massawa and Hirgigo in 1557 (13), remained in occupation of the port city and the coastal plains until their transfer to Khedivate Egypt in 1872 (14). In addition, Khedivate Egypt invaded the Gash-Setit Basin, occupied the Bogos region and established a garrison in Keren in the mid-1880s and invaded the Central Plateau (15).


Map 1: Approximate extent of the Kingdom of Aksum, 6th century (underlying map © Google)

No Abyssinian ruler or invader, including Ras Alula, ever dominated the entire Medre Bahri or reached the shores of the Red Sea during the period from the fall of Axum in the 8th century to the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1952.

From the south, the Abyssinians invaded the Central Plateau and battled the Egyptians (16) whence Ras Alula, having tricked Ras Welde Michael into submission, set quarters in Asmera (17). Italy established a foothold in the Bay of Asseb in the extreme southeast in 1869 (18) from which it proceeded, at the behest of the British eager to forestall possible French expansion into Eritrea from Djibouti, to occupy the whole of Eritrea by 1890.

The historical evidence posits the longstanding existence of Medre Bahri as a self-governing political entity autonomous of and in constant conflict with Abyssinia. Several rival kingdoms arose and fell in Abyssinia during the span of eleven centuries between the fall of the Kingdom of Axum and the advent of European colonial rule in the Horn of Africa. However, neither any of the rival Abyssinian kingdoms of that era nor any contemporary state today can justifiably claim to be the direct heir of the Kingdom of Axum. Nor can any of them rightly claim dominion over the Eritrean Red Sea coast. No Abyssinian ruler or invader, including Ras Alula, ever dominated the entire Medre Bahri or reached the shores of the Red Sea during the period from the fall of Axum in the 8th century to the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia in 1952.

The Making of Eritrea and Ethiopia

In a nutshell, the territory of modern Eritrea remained fragmented between the mid-16th and late 19th centuries. Medre Bahri suffered occupation of parts of its territory by Ottoman Turkey (1557-1872), Khedivate Egypt (1872-1885), Italy (1869-1889) and Abyssinia (1876-1887). Italian occupation in 1890 brought about the territorial integration of Eritrea. Subsequently, Eritrea endured Italian colonial rule (1890-1941); British military occupation (1941-52); federation with Ethiopia (1952-1962); and Ethiopian annexation (1962-1991).

Meanwhile, during the onset of the European scramble for Africa, Abyssinia found itself in the paradoxical position of both a victim and a culprit of colonial invasion. It foiled Italian invasion at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, a great feat hailed as “the first major African victory over a European country since Hannibal’s time two thousand years earlier” (19).

Having foiled Italian colonisation, Abyssinia expanded through a series of wars carried out in collusion with the European colonial powers or in adroit exploitation of their rivalries, to conquer non-Abyssinian territories. The acquisition of “vast quantities of modern firearms”, initially from Italy, which “made possible the inception of Menelik’s empire”, and later from France, which “made possible its completion”, enabled Menelik, the King of Shoa, to seize “central power in Abyssinia” as emperor in 1889, conquer “colonies” and transform the “Shoan kingdom” into the “Ethiopian empire” The conquered “colonies” included lands inhabited by the Afar, Anuak, Beni Shangul, Borana, Gambela, Gurage, Oromo, Konso, Sidama, Somali, Welamo, and Welayta peoples in the west, south and southeast of the country (20). With the completion of Menelik’s conquests by 1910, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) assumed its present geopolitical formation while Eritrea was already an established colonial state by 1890.

It is evident therefore that there existed neither an Ethiopia nor an Eritrea recognisable in their present geopolitical formations and existing boundaries prior to the advent of the colonial era. Eritrea and Ethiopia, just like the prototype modern African state, owe their present geopolitical formations to the partition of Africa by the European powers. The colonial partition of the Horn of Africa shaped the present geopolitical formation, not just of Eritrea and Ethiopia, but the whole Horn region, while colonial treaties delimited their international boundaries.

The making of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary

Eritrea and Ethiopia share about 1,000 kms long common border delimited by three colonial treaties. The 1900 treaty agreed between Ethiopia and Italy delineates the Central Sector of the boundary (21). The 1902 treaty agreed between Italy, Ethiopia, and Great Britain is an annex to the 1900 Treaty between Italy and Ethiopia amending the Western Sector of the Treaty Line while keeping the Central Sector intact (22). The 1908 treaty agreed between Italy and Ethiopia delimited the Eastern Sector of the boundary (23).

So delimited, the colonial treaty border retained its de facto and de jure international status which Eritrea inherited and sanctified at the time of its declaration of independence. International recognition of the sovereign State of Eritrea and Eritrea’s joining the community of free nations upholds the sanctity of the colonial treaty border consistent with treaty law. It also aligns with the international customary law and AU principle of uti possidetis juris, the inviolability of colonial borders existing at independence.

Eritrean identity and statehood

Italy brought together a hitherto fragmented territory and diverse population under a single central administration. It established a unified colonial entity, built a network of modern urban, industrial, transport and telecommunications infrastructure designed to service a settler colony. The introduction of new factors and relations of production unleashed new social forces. Resistance to Italian colonial oppression and its systemic racism cultivated a shared national identity and fanned Eritrean nationalism. The experience of common oppression under alien rule forged the development of a shared psychological makeup and a distinctive Eritrean national identity (24). An autonomous Eritrean history and a feasible Eritrean culture have forged a distinctive Eritrean national identity.

Continuation of Italian policy of oppression and racial discrimination under British military administration intensified Eritrean yearnings for freedom. The dialectics of colonial oppression and popular resistance generated an awareness of a common condition and an overarching Eritrean national identity that transcended ethnic, linguistic, religious, and regional affiliation. Over a century of common political and armed resistance reinforced a distinct Eritrean identity, consolidated Eritrean nationalism and defeated imperial Ethiopian hegemony. The tenacity, potency and resilience of Eritrean nationalism successfully challenged Ethiopian annexation and international complicity to achieve self-determination. Eritrea’s independence settled the territorial and boundary question once and for all.

The path to lasting peace

The legitimacy of Eritrean self-determination, sovereign statehood and territorial integrity is rooted in history and founded in international law. Lasting peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia requires Ethiopia, including the Tigrayan elite, to respect (1) the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Eritrea and (2) the sanctity of the colonial treaty border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Durable peace is a necessary foundation for cooperative relations between the two countries and the coprosperity of the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples.

The Eritrean people made immense sacrifices to win independence. Sovereign Eritrea is the collective acquis of the toil, sweat and blood of generations of Eritreans; and it is here to stay. Despite enduring domestic adversity, the Eritrean people have demonstrated the determinationand capacity to defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country. They should not be forced to do so once again. Beyond independence, the Eritrean people seek justice and aspire to live in peace, freedom and prosperity under the rule of law.

Today’s Eritrea and Ethiopia had no role in the making of their common border. Both countries inherited the colonial treaty border. It is thus incumbent upon Ethiopia to unequivocally embrace the principle of uti possidetis juris and affirm its unconditional recognition of Eritrea’s boundary as delimited by the colonial treaties. Abiy’s regime and Prosperity Party minions should recall and bear in mind the disastrous consequences of the first unilateral attempt by their predecessor government to redraw the boundary whose negative impact continues to reverberate to date. When will they ever learn?

The expeditious implementation of the Algiers Agreements and the physical demarcation of the boundary in line with the Demarcation Directions of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, with the technical support of the UN Cartographic Unit, is imperative to avert war and build peace. Demarcation would, among other things, signify the abandonment of Ethiopia’s perennial territorial ambitions over Eritrea or parts thereof.

The Eritrean experience with Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie, Colonel Mengistu, Prime Minister Meles and now Prime Minister Abiy shows that an Ethiopia dominated by the elites of a single ethnic group represents an existential threat to the national security of Eritrea. Lasting peace would therefore require the establishment of inclusive democratic regimes in both countries with space for the supportive role autonomous civil society.

Bold steps are needed to end the vicious cycle of zero-sum games and vengeance to avert war and usher in a new era of reconciliation. This would enable a realignment of progressive forces at the national, bilateral and regional levels committed to the pursuit of a new democratic dispensation conducive to peaceful coexistence and cooperative relations. Once established, a democratic Eritrea and a democratic Ethiopia can fully normalise and institutionalise their relations and cooperate in earnest to capitalise on the complementarity of their economies for the benefit of their respective peoples.

Ownership vs. right of use of access to the sea

Abiy has asserted ownership of access to the sea and vowed to fight for it for generations to come. His reckless assertion is nothing new. It echoes the defunct narrative of certain elements of Ethiopian elites who reject the legitimacy and bemoan the reality of Eritrea’s sovereign independence. It is consistent with the narratives of “Greater Ethiopia” and “Greater Tigray’ to dominate Eritrea and gain access to the Red Sea on grounds of history and ethnic or cultural similarity. The assertion of ownership rather than right of access and freedom of transit is an existential threat to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Eritrea and menaces the peace, progress and wellbeing of the Eritrean and Ethiopian peoples.

Ethiopia’s pursuit of right to access the sea is legitimate and essential for the conduct of its foreign trade. The terms of access and transit can be agreed through bilateral negotiations with one or all its maritime neighbours in accordance with international law. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Article 125) (25) provides land-locked states with the right of access to the sea and freedom of transit through the territory of transit states; with agreed terms and modalities of freedom of transit between the land-locked states and the transit states; and with the transit states exercising full sovereignty over their territory and the right to take all measures necessary to prevent any infringement on their legitimate interests.

Even maritime states use transit states to complement their own ports for cost efficiency. For instance, Germany, Europe’s largest economy, uses the Dutch port of Rotterdam as the major outlet for the bulk of its international trade. The forty-four land-locked countries in the world, including the sixteen in Africa, have worked out bilateral agreements with the relevant transit states for access to the sea. Ethiopia itself has such an agreement with Djibouti and had negotiated a Protocol Agreement with Eritrea in 1993 which provided it with concessionary access and freedom of transit to Eritrea’s ports of Massawa and Asseb.

It should, however, be recalled that Ethiopia unilaterally forfeited the use of Eritrea’s ports and transit facilities when it declared war on Eritrea in 1998 and resorted to bombing Asseb and Massawa. Ethiopia went further to threaten international shipping against using the Eritrean ports. I am unaware that Eritrea has ever denied Ethiopia the right of use of its ports.

I am, however, aware that after the end of the war, Ethiopia’s then premier, Meles Zenawi, had vowed not to use Eritrea’s ports to deny revenues and inflict financial harm on Eritrea in a lose- lose game. Ethiopia needs to abandon its outrageous assertion of ownership, reverse course and negotiate a win-win bargain for the right to use port access and transit freedom in good faith in the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although left idle to rot as ghost towns to date, Eritrea’s ports have a great potential to serve as key links in the global trade network and entrepots of international transhipment, à la Dubai. With a modicum of prudence, wisdom and statesmanship, Eritrea’s present ports and additional developable ones on its Red Sea coastline have ample space for all interested.

The enemy within

Isaias has usurped the sovereignty of the people, monopolised state power and pursued policies and actions that have regressed Eritrea, impoverished its people and emptied it of its youth. A constantly shrinking home population and draining manpower pose an existential threat to the security of the people and the sovereignty of the state and put the future at risk.

Maintaining a credible deterrence and defence capability requires the application of national service in line with the terms of its proclamation, a growing population base and sustainable economic development. Maintaining combat effective armed forces requires ability to acquire and use modern science and technology, knowhow and advanced weapons systems.

The African proverb, “If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm” befits Eritrea’s situation. The Eritrean people have endured harsh domestic oppression and denial of basic freedoms and rights. An authoritarian regime has closed the political and economic space, isolated the country, pauperised the people, and pushed the youth into mass exodus - draining Eritrea’s manpower and compromising its future. It has failed to capitalise on Eritrea’s ample resource base and significant geostrategic, geoeconomic and geopolitical advantages to develop the country and improve the livelihood of the people.

There is lack of accountability and transparency in the management of public finance, revenues and expenditures, including the revenues from the lucrative mining sector. The ruined coupon economy hardly delivers the meagre rations for daily sustenance, forcing the people to wallow in misery. Our cities and ports languish in a state of decay, with their dilapidated buildings and potholed streets lying in utter disrepair while our ports have become ghost towns.

A stagnant coupon economy has been unable to create employment, produce wealth and generate prosperity. The nearly two-decades ban on the construction sector has aggravated the acute shortage of housing. Essential services like energy, electricity, running water, quality education, public health and medicine, public transport and internet access are often lacking or inadequate. In this connection, I cringed when a recent visitor to Eritrea, who is resident in the region, told me that Eritrea is lagging twenty years behind its neighbours in the state of its physical and social infrastructure. It is Eritrea’s composite political, economic and diplomatic weakness that prompts external threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

There is no freedom of expression, assembly or association. Lack of due process condemns citizens and senior public officials and military officers alike to arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention and forced disappearance. Absence of rule of law, coupled with the dearth of economic, energy, environmental, food, health, personal and political security, denies the people the right to lead a fulfilling life in freedom, peace, and prosperity. Ignorance of normal state protocol, imprudent statements and inability to pursue proactive, prudent and effective diplomacy undermine our national security interests and put disproportionately huge sacrifices on our people, especially the youth, in national defence.

Isaias has refused to implement the Constitution of Eritrea and institute rule of law. He has imposed the capricious rule of man on a law-abiding society proud of its centuries-old codified customary laws. He has obstructed the building of a functional state apparatus, viable state institutions or operational administrative organs. He has been unwilling and unable to establish inclusive constitutional governance, develop the economy or pursue social progress. He has failed to provide basic needs and essential social services, proving his inability to properly govern the country or meet the needs of the people. Those who cheer or flatter Isaias and inflate his destructive ego need to come to their senses and join ranks with the effort to change the policies and practices that have created the dismal situation.

A call to duty

The Eritrean people, just like all peoples, deserve security and wellbeing to lead a fulfilling life in freedom, peace, and prosperity. We have an inalienable right to the rule of law and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and rights. Instead of scattering all over the world as refugees, we deserve to live in dignity, security and prosperity in our own country.

It is high time that we who seek a democratic Eritrea advocate the protection of the people’s basic freedoms, rights and human security; homegrown transition to constitutional governance; and national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Those who prioritise the national interest of Eritrea and the wellbeing of the Eritrean people should advocate opening the political and economic space and the prudent management of Eritrea’s natural and human resources to develop its economy and create employment, produce wealth, and generate prosperity. Putting in place a judicious microeconomic policy and legal framework would kickstart development, encourage domestic investment and attract foreign direct investment.

Located in a volatile and turbulent region, Eritrea needs a credible defence capability for deterrence; a professional army with modern equipment and command-and-control structures; and a growing population to ensure a reliable manpower base for development and national security. This demands the implementation of national service in line with the terms of Proclamation 82/1995 (26). It is also essential to pursue proactive diplomacy to advance the national security interests of the people and the state.


The Eritrean people are squeezed between the anvil of domestic oppression and the hammer of threatened aggression. Patriotic Eritreans prioritising the wellbeing of the Eritrean people and the long-term national security interests of Eritrea have the responsibility to resist oppression, oppose aggression and advocate the restitution of the people’s sovereignty. Effective action demands building and bolstering a coalition of activists at home and in the diaspora in an inclusive Eritrean Sovereignty Bloc to strengthen our people’s agency to defend their rights and freedoms; exercise their sovereignty; and strive to foil the threat of aggression.

The alternative to a mutually beneficial agreement is the death and destruction of war. It is thus imperative that Abiy abandons his outrageous assertion of ownership and seek to negotiate in good faith to agree on the terms and modalities of Ethiopia’s access and freedom of transit through Eritrea that respects the full sovereignty, territorial integrity and legitimate interests of Eritrea in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.



Notes and References

1. The Prosperity Party is dominated by the Oromo Democratic Party, formerly the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO). The OPDO was constituted mainly of former Oromo soldiers of the Derg’s Ethiopian army taken prisoner and later released by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). It was formed under the aegis of the then dominant Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a substitute of or a counterweight to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) governing coalition.

2. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, ከጠብታ ውሃ እስከ ባህር ውሃ (From a Drop of Water to Sea Water), address to the Ethiopian Parliament delivered on 13 October 2023. Available online:

3. The Holy Bible, Matthew 9:17

4. Trevaskis, G.K.N. (1960), Eritrea: A Colony in Transition, 1941-1952, Oxford University Press, London: 5

5. Turchin, P. and J. M. Adams and T. D. Hall (2004), East-West Orientation of Historical Empires, University of Connecticut. November. Available online: PDF/Latitude.pdf

6. Trevaskis, G.K.N. (1960): 5
7. Yohannes, O. (1991), Eritrea: A Pawn in World Politics, University of Florida Press: 30 8. Pateman, R., Eritrea: Even the Stones Are Burning, Red Sea Press, 1990

9. Haile, S. (1988), “Historical Background to the Ethiopia-Eritrea Conflict”, in Lionel Cliffe and Basil Davidson (eds), The Long Struggle of Eritrea for Independence and Constructive Peace, Trenton, NJ, The Red Sea Press: 11-32

10. The Mereb River, along with the Belesa and Muna Rivers, forms the historical divide between Medre Bahri and Abyssinia. The 1900 boundary treaty between Italy and Ethiopia confirms the Mereb- Belesa-Muna line as the international border between Eritrea and Ethiopia in the central sector.

11. Reid, R. (2007), “The Trans-Mereb Experience: Perceptions of the Historical Relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia”, in «Journal of Eastern African Studies»: 246

12. Yohannes, O. (1991): 31
13. Reid, R. (2007): 32-34
14. Trevaskis, G.K.N (1960): 7
15. Longrigg, S. (1945), A Short History of Eritrea, London Clarendon Press: 113 16. Trevaskis, G.K.N (1960): 7

17. Resistance from Raesi Welde-Mikael of Hamasien, Dejach Bahta of Akele Guzai, Fitewrari Kiflu of Seraye and Kentiba Hamid of Habab and peasant revolt hindered Yohannes’ effective control of the Central Plateau.

18. Longrigg, S. (1945): 112-113

19. Harris, Joseph E. (1987), Africans and their History, Revised Edition, New American Library, New York and Scarborough, Ontario: 176-177.

It must be stated in deference to historical fact, however, that the first great victory of an African army over a European army, after Hannibal’s, occurred about a decade earlier when the Sudanese Mahdist army routed General Gordon’s British colonial army in Khartoum, at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, in January 1885. Unlike the case for Ethiopia, however, the absence of European rivalry for the colonial domination of the Sudan allowed the British to eventually subdue the Mahdist resistance and establish the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium of the Sudan by September 1898.

20. Adejumboli, S. A. (2007), The History of Ethiopia, Westport, CT and London, Greenwald: 28

21. Hertslet, Sir E. (1909), The Map of Africa by Treaty, Vol. II No 125, 3rd Edition, H.M.H.O., by Harrison and Sons, London Smithsonian Libraries. Available online:

22. Hertslet, Sir E. (1909), No 100. Available online: rivista/laboratorio-africa/

23. Hertslet Sir E. (1909), No 381. Available online: rivista/laboratorio-africa/

24. Welde Giorgis, A. (2014), Eritrea at a Crossroads: A Narrative of Triumph, Betrayal and Hope, Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Co.: 13-49

25. 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Available online:

26. Government of Eritrea, Gazette of Eritrean Laws, Proclamation 82/1995, No 11, Asmera, 23 October 1995