RLPB 462. Ethiopia-Eritrea: leaders have ‘opened the door of peace’.
Update on the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace initiative [see RLPB 461 (27 June 2018)].
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
On 5 June Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed (41) — a Protestant Christian convert from Islam — announced that Ethiopia was ready to abide by the Algiers Agreement (2000), accept the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling (2002) and withdraw from disputed territories pursuant to peace. The move is meeting with some resistance, for powerful people on both sides of the border profit from the ‘no war no peace’ status quo. Ethiopia’s powerful Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — which dominates the military — is opposed to relinquishing territory. Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki (since 1993) is treading cautiously, for he has long used the ‘Ethiopian threat’ as a pretext to justify his dictatorship. Not only would peace transform the economies of Eritrea and Ethiopia, it would help stabilise the Horn of Africa as Ethiopia-Eritrea proxy wars would also end, including their proxy war in Somalia, the consequences of which bleed into Kenya. Most critically, peace could transform the human rights situation in Eritrea by removing Afwerki’s pretext for Indefinite National (military) Service, his suspension of the constitution, and the extension of his cruel, repressive totalitarian rule. Eritrea is currently one of the world’s most dangerous places for Christians, ranked sixth on the Open Doors World Watch List. [For more details, see Ethiopia-Eritrea: Reforms and Resistance, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 26 June 2018]
On Tuesday 26 June an Eritrean delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab arrived in Addis Ababa for an official three-day visit. It was the first high- level meeting between the states since diplomatic relations were broken off in 1998. The Eritrean delegation was greeted at the airport by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed. After being warmly welcomed and adorned with garlands of flowers, the delegation was driven through city streets lined with both Ethiopian and Eritrea flags and banners declaring ‘welcome’ in both Amharic (Ethiopia’s main language) and Tigrinya (one of Eritrea’s official languages).
That evening, at a reception at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, PM Abiy said in a speech, ‘We have tried war and found it useless. Our desire is to love rather than hate. What we miss is to hug our brothers in Asmara [the Eritrean capital]. If we are in love then the other things are minor… Our intention is not to pass hate and war to the next generation. … We also hope that our Eritrean brothers are thinking this way. And it looks like they are.’ PM Abiy also announced that, after a 20-year hiatus, Ethiopian Airlines will soon recommence flights to Eritrea, saying he wanted Ethiopians and Eritreans to be able to visit one another as soon as possible, a move that will enable family reunions.
Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh responded, saying, ‘Today is a day of joy because two identical peoples and two generations have been separated throughout that period. But through struggles, we have opened the door of peace.’ He was right to say ‘we have opened the door …’ for, as groundbreaking as this visit was, it is just the beginning; there is a long way to go yet on a path littered with obstacles. Martin Plaut, an expert on the Horn of Africa region, would like to see the African Union involved ‘… because they were one of the observers, the guarantors, of the Algiers peace agreement and they really have a responsibility to try and make sure that this initiative works’.
On 29 June, Ethiopia’s state broadcaster Fana BC reported that Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, said the meeting had created a fertile ground to restore peace, and that the leaders of the two states — Ethiopia’s PM Abiy and Eritrea’s President Afwerki — will meet ‘soon’ at a time and location yet to be determined. For the sake of Eritrea’s long-suffering and severely persecuted Church, intercessors must commit to praying through the entire peace process, ‘for we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs’ (2 Corinthians 2:11).
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:
* Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed; may the Lord protect him and his family from all harm and may the Holy Spirit keep him humble and dependent on God for guidance, insight, discernment, wisdom and strength. A prayer for PM Abiy — Psalm 146
* Eritrean President Isaiah Afwerki (who is rumoured to have serious liver disease); may our sovereign God either use or remove Isaias Afwerki so that he will not be an obstacle on the path to peace and liberty.
* Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab, along with the other members of the Eritrean delegation that recently visited Addis Ababa; may the Spirit of God infuse their hearts with an infectious hunger for peace and their minds with an infectious vision of a future in line with the will of God.
* the long-suffering, severely persecuted Eritrean Church; may our gracious Lord and Saviour sustain, protect and encourage the Church — especially the prisoners — as they ‘wait for the Lord’ a little while longer.
‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’ (Romans 12:12 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
LEADERS IN ETHIOPIA & ERITREA HAVE OPENED THE DOOR TO PEACE
Eritrea is one of the world’s most dangerous places for Christians; thousands have suffered imprisonment. Its brutal dictator, Isaias Afwerki has long used the pretext of ‘the Ethiopian threat’ to legitimise his cruel, despotic, totalitarian rule. On 5 June Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Dr Abiy Ahmed (41) — a Protestant Christian convert from Islam — offered to accept the border ruling of 2002 pursuant to peace. Aware that peace with Ethiopia would de-legitimise his dictatorship, Afwerki is treading cautiously. On 26 June an Eritrean delegation arrived in Ethiopia for the first high-level meeting in 20 years. It appears to have been extremely positive. It has since been confirmed that PM Abiy and President Afwerki will meet ‘soon’. For the sake of the long-suffering, severely persecuted Eritrean Church, please pray!
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).