Ceding the Ethiopian territories
By Suba Hais
June 9, 2018

Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is a long overdue necessary matter. But that should not be based on The Hague’s arbitration court’s decision. There cannot be real peace between the two countries by ceding millennia old Afar and Tigray/Ethiopian territories. The negotiation of peace should be between the two brotherly countries with full participation of the countryside people inhabiting both sides of the border. After all, it is them who know well what belongs to whom.

They have lived peacefully and in harmony for millennia, before and after the advent of colonialists, respecting each other’s respective territories. Real peace is not sustainable when those on top agree to mediation by foreigners who have no clue of the area or culture of the peoples in question. The people on both sides of the border have the same culture and traditional ways of resolving conflicts. I am sure that they would come to a solution that could satisfy both sides had they been left alone to solve the problem that was created by the politicians. In fact, that terrible war was imposed on them by politicians, and, as a result, people on both sides of the border have been gravely victimized.

When Shaebia invaded the Irobland, the neighboring Eritreans, the inhabitants of Shimezana, told the invaders that they had been living with the Irob people side by side by respecting each other’s boundary and that preparation for war was wrong. The belligerent Shaebia ignored its people and carried on with the invasion. The first time, the brave Irob militia, Ettuqat Senbet, had returned the invaders back to where they came from by paying a great sacrifice. However, as no reinforcement arrived for them from the Ethiopian government, the Eritreans sent their mechanized army to the area and occupied the Ethiopian territory. As the EPDRF government let them languish under the occupation, the Irobs and other Ethiopians suffered heavily for two years. After two years, the Irobland and other occupied territories were liberated by the united might of the Ethiopian people. During the two years occupation, the Shaebia armed forces did not conduct themselves as an entity that claims the land and the people to belong to them, but rather as a harsh enemy that came just to loot and destroy. They perpetrated wanton destruction of everything the countryside people owned, and randomly killed and abducted the inhabitants.

Now, incredible news came from Addis Abeba that the executive committee of the EPDRF has decided to implement fully the Algiers/Hague ruling. That means ceding the Ethiopian territories liberated by immense sacrifice of all Ethiopians. Over seventy thousand Ethiopians were sacrificed to liberate those territories. To give these peoples and territories to their enemy who cruelly pillaged them under the pretext of peace would be a great betrayal. If the EPDRF does not care about this transgression, other Ethiopian political parties and the Ethiopian people in general should not let this happen. The political parties and all Ethiopian organizations should speak out about the Ethiopianess of these areas and their inhabitants. They also must do all they can so that such an incomprehensible announcement not be implemented.

This matter must be a major concern of all Ethiopian political organizations. I believe that Ethiopian political parties must defend every Ethiopian territory and the Ethiopians who live there. As all Ethiopians sent their children to liberate those areas, all political organizations must arise to save Irob, Badime and other Ethiopian territories. This is imperative as those in power cannot be relied upon to protect Ethiopian national interests and sovereignty. In fact, it is the TPLF/EPDRF that allowed Shaebia to invade by denying the eminence of invasion that was evident to all. It moved its armed forces to other areas and left the border area vacated, making it easier for Shaebia to occupy the invaded areas. Despite all Ethiopians sending their children to the region to liberate the Ethiopian territories, the prime minister at the time aborted the march of Ethiopian armed forces, and the EPDRF government went to bargain over its territory that was liberated with immense sacrifices. EPDRF must be the only government to go to court regarding its undisputable territories.

Worse still, the EPRDF agreed to go to an arbitration court instead of the International Court of Justice, which may have conducted better research about the border area lands and people. If any responsible body had examined issues like where the inhabitants had been going for court disputes, or where they had been paying their taxes etc., they would easily have discovered the facts. If we take as an example the Irob region, which is one of the invaded area and now threatened to be ceded, these people lived in the region for millennia as part of Tigray/Ethiopia. They paid taxes to Tigray/Ethiopia governments and went for court cases to the Ethiopian courts.

This can be easily found just by going to archives in Adigrat, Meqele or Addis Abeba. None could be found on the Eritrean side, be it Senafe, Adikeyih or Asmara. But, alas, the Ethiopian government did not care about these facts and apparently had already ceded these areas to Shaebia. They rushed to Algiers and The Hague to formally hand the territories over to Eritrea. Ethiopia failed to employ qualified and ethically fit lawyers to represent her interests. The nominally “Ethiopian” lawyers and delegation failed to properly defend Ethiopia’s interests and instead sided with Eritrea.

Besides, the Algiers/Hague deal at its core is fundamentally flawed as it relied upon null and void agreements. I will not go into detail about this at this time, however, agreements made between Emperor Menilik and the Italians regarding Ethio-Eritrean border were annulled by Mussolini’s regime, i.e., by the Italians themselves. Emperor Menilik had also added to the agreement that the deal between him and the Italians should not pass to a third party. Hence, Shaebia has not the right to inherit that agreement. Moreover, when Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia, all agreements or decisions made up till then were replaced by the federal case where Eritrea was united with Ethiopia. When African nations agreed to respect the colonial borders in 1964, Eritrea was a province of Ethiopia, not a separate political entity, so this should not apply to it. There are many other facts that demonstrate that the premises the late Melles Zenawy’s government accepted as ground to demarcate Ethio-Eritrean border were wrong.

I am stating these points not because I am against Eritrean independence, but to point out that the premise upon which Shaebia and the TPLF acted to demarcate the Ethio-Eritrean border was faulty.

When the EPDRF came to power they complied with the Shaebia’s wish to grant Eritreans the right to exercise their self-determination. But why has self-determination been denied to the Irobs and other affected Ethiopians? The right to self-determination that was applied to Eritrea should be applied to the people in question by joint commission of the two countries. There was no need to go to Algiers or The Hague. Eritrea was not compelled to go to court to appeal for its independence, but rather acquired it by referendum agreed to by the two fronts, the Shaebia and the TPLF. Why was a referendum denied to the Ethiopians? Furthermore, why is it that the TPLF never proclaimed that its territory had been invaded when Shaebia invaded the Irob region? To the contrary, they warned journalists not to report the news of the invasion. Additionally, why is it that the TPLF, and the Ethiopian government lead by it, never mentioned anything about the Irob Ethiopian citizens who were abducted by the Eritrean armed forces? Their whereabouts still remain unknown. The former foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, on April 11, 2003, after he stated that his government was ready to implement a border commission ruling in spite of "mistakes" said “we are simply appealing to the Commission to reconsider its unjust decisions in some parts of the border, the areas between Tekeze and Mereb rivers and the northern part of the Afar region.” Why did not he include the Irob region in his appeal? Why did not Dr. Debretsion in his recent interview say anything about the Irob case even though he was explicitly and directly asked about it? Could it be that all of this is because they had already ceded the region to Shaebia secretly? While the Ethiopian government failed regarding all territories that had been occupied by Shaebia, it appears that there was some kind of conspiracy regarding the Irobs and their land.

Going back to Shaebia’s behavior during their occupation, one would not destroy a territory he/she claims and would not kill and eradicate inhabitants of the same territory if their claim were sincere. They destroyed the region and its inhabitants because it has never belonged to them and they did not think it was going to be granted to them. If Ethiopia had a nationalist government that cares about its sovereignty and its citizens that would never have happened. I do not think there is any other government that let its citizens and its territory go to the government that abused them and had no legitimate claim over them. Interestingly, one Eritrean intellectual said in an interview he gave to the Voice of America-Horn of Africa division in September 1998 that the Eritrean forces occupied the Irob region “not because we claim that region, but for the purpose of strategy of war.”

What the EPDRF and The Hague tribunal did regarding the Ethiopian territories bordering Eritrea is simply a miscarriage of justice. It is a flagrant violation of the Irobs and other Ethiopians, therefore, Ethiopian political parties and Ethiopians as a whole should not let the ceding be implemented. It is a national matter and so the citizens of the nation should fully participate in the negotiation and eventual decision.

I would also dare to say that the executive committee of EPDRF alone has not the right to decide about Ethiopian territories and matters regarding national sovereignty. A party in power does not own the country and so cannot do whatever it wants to the country’s territories and other matters concerning the country’s sovereignty. EPDRF has the right to administer Ethiopia if it was elected. However, when it comes to deciding the fate of Ethiopian territories, all legally registered parties must have a say in the matter. For that matter, the entire Ethiopian people must be duly informed and participate in this topic and decision. No part of national territory should be ceded to any other country without the full participation of its citizens and their political parties, whether the parties are part of the ruling coalition, opposition or neutral.

I appeal to all Ethiopian political parties, organizations, and all Ethiopian law scholars and intellectuals to lend their voice to this matter. I appeal to the Ethiopian Armed forces as well to stand on their people’s side and defend their nation. I also appeal to Eritreans to not support this unjust deal that will never bring about real peace for either side. Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is absolutely necessary, but it must be done in a way that benefits people on both sides of the border.

Finally, I appeal to all Afars and Tigrayans to pursue extra struggle to prevent the implementation of the ceding of their native lands. As the Irobs are a particularly small community, they cannot survive being divided into two separate countries. Their very existence as a particular language group is already threatened so they must unite and stand together as one to oppose the relinquishing of part of their land.



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