Austria and Belgium, September 2007
A Meaningless War? The Ethiopian and Eritrean border dispute
Don’t you see? This side of the Line is mine…
Ethiopia and Eritrea share a border of more than 1.000 Km that has not been clearly defined by the different international treaties. This situation provoked in 1998 the outbreak of the war between the two countries over the unresolved border issue.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have engaged in open negative propaganda against each other, nurturing hatred and unconformity in the population. And in spite of the enormous efforts of the international community and mediators on changing the violent behaviors of both countries, there has been no will to show non violent attempts to solve the conflict. Each country is busy creating an « enemy image » that can legitimize their fight in front of the eyes of the population and thus obtain support on the violent destructive attacks.
Blood has been spilled in the name of a line on a paper. Two countries that in the past were brothers have been divided by war. Susana Sprinkel once wrote, “Stick two children in a room together, and they will immediately become friends. Give one of them a toy, and the other is likely to go through extreme measures to take it away. Ethiopia, meet Eritrea. Although the two countries are in no way like children, the story of the border war is much the same.” (1)
The negative misperceptions of conflicting parties towards each other are targeted to give a bad image of the « enemy ». The stereotypes sustained by ignoring the strong side and emphasizing the negative side of the enemy and giving an inhumane picture. It also continued through the promulgation of false information about the « enemy ». Propaganda plays a big role in nurturing these negative attitudes. Dehumanization of the enemy is the most extreme of all.
Michaela Wrong in this matters writes that the road between Asmara and the town of Keren is a “torturous and twisted, the stretch which is known as the « Heart of Tigray », after the neighbouring Ethiopian province that was once an ally in Eritrea’s fight for independence, now the enemy. « We Eritreans think with our hearts, but the Tigrayans are very wily, very complicated. Just like the road, » any local driver is happy to explain. (2)
An enemy is just a social construction that involves the decision and determination of observing as violent the actions of those who are different. However, on this imaginary the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia was built and sustained. Images, perceptions, stereotypes all are dangerous constructions that can poison reason and nurture violence. Nonetheless, is a matter of choice; the question now is for how long will people in the region choose to stick to these constructions, for how long will people choose hatred and violence?
The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been characterized by the acrimonious relationship between these two countries. The resentful ethnic stereotypes which run deep and the political tension that have happened have added a toxic element of embitterment. Ostensibly, the war is being fought over few hectares of terrain which both countries claim as their own. The border, which was established nearly 100 years ago between Ethiopia and the Italian colony of Eritrea, has never been marked formally on the ground. Both countries claim that the border is wrongly divided and that it must be left under their respective legal administration.
The authors of the file are Biviana Buitrago and Haili Michael. This file is partly based on the experience of Haili Michael, an Ethiopian social researcher, who has been working with national and international research institutions and consultancy firms in the area of socio-economic and rural development.
(1) : SPRINKEL, Susanna. « Ethiopia, Meet Eritrea: An Overview of the Land Mine Situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea as a Result of the Border Conflict « . In: Land Mines in Africa, Issue 6.2, August 2002. Available Online at: maic.jmu.edu/JOURNAL/6.2/focus/susiesprinkel/susiesprinkel.htm
(2) : WRONG, Michla. « How Horn of Africa Brothers Fell Out ». In: BBC News. December 2005. Available Online at: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4527844.stm