Ethiopia And Eritrea Declare End Of War

Jul 9, 2018
Originally published on July 9, 2018 8:34 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Today, some good news out of the Horn of Africa - Ethiopia and Eritrea today formally declared an end to a state of war. They've been bitter neighbors for two decades since at least 80,000 people died in a border war. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us now to talk about today's agreement. Hey, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey.

CHANG: So this seems like a momentous step. Can you just give us some context about what it took to get here?

PERALTA: Well, I mean, you know, some analysts are comparing it to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

CHANG: Wow.

PERALTA: It's been one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in a very volatile part of the world. So you know, it's a conflict that - I think - few thought would come to an end in their lifetimes.

CHANG: And why now? How did this peace agreement come about finally?

PERALTA: So there's one name that you need to learn that will explain this. And that's Abiy Ahmed. He's Ethiopia's young reformist prime minister, and he's really just taken this whole region by storm. And just a little context here - you know, Ethiopia was in turmoil after three years of protests. And the ruling party gave into those protests by electing Abiy. Ethiopia is an ethno-state. And so this was the ruling minority begrudgingly handing over power to a young man from the disgruntled majority tribe.

And since then, you know, Abiy has released political prisoners. He's opened up the political space. And this is in one of the countries that's considered the most repressive in the world. And now he lands in Asmara, which is the capital of Eritrea, and this is the first time that's happened in more than 20 years. And he hugs the president of Eritrea, and they announced this sea change. They put an official end to the war. The phone lines, which had been dead between these two countries, come alive. And they say that soon Ethiopia, which is a landlocked country, will be allowed to use Eritrea's port.

CHANG: But how does that sea chain actually work out? I mean, Ethiopia's one of Africa's fastest-growing economies. Eritrea has been one of the continent's most closed societies. So how does this resurgence of business relations and cross-border travel actually work out?

PERALTA: No, I think it's really smart to express a lot of skepticism in all of this. And I know I've been painting the new Ethiopian prime minister as a miracle worker. But, you know, he has a lot of work to do. You know, I think there's little doubt that both sides in this would like to see it work.

But Abiy has issues at home. Last month, someone threw a grenade at him during a rally. And what this tells us is that not all is well within the ruling party in Ethiopia. And most, you know, of the opposition, for example, is coming from the former ruling minority, who also happen to be the ones who don't like Eritrea very much. So it's worth looking not just at how these countries will make this work, but can Abiy sell this at home, especially to his detractors.

CHANG: And how's that going so far? I mean, what's been the most immediate reaction to today's news?

PERALTA: I - you know, I've heard a lot of shock and disbelief. But I think one of the beautiful aspects of what's happened in the last two days is that, you know, Ethiopia and Eritrea, they have a common culture. And this war has separated families. You couldn't make a direct phone call. You couldn't send money to your relatives. So families were communicating in secret. They were, you know, communicating over VPN or through, you know, chat programs before they got shut down. So today, I heard hope that maybe families might get to be families again.

CHANG: That's NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta. Thank you very much, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ailsa.

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