to float a trial balloon for greater
closeness between Eritrea and Ethiopia
by Ambassador Dina Mufti at his weekly
press conference in Addis Ababa at the
end of last month quickly crash-landed.
Talking about Eritrea's Independence
Day, 24 May, Mufti, who is spokesman for
Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
said, 'Each and every Eritrean if asked
would admit they don't celebrate the day
they separated from Ethiopia. They don't
like it.' Ethiopians felt the same, he
claimed. Ethiopia and Eritrea are one
people. 'Who would dislike it, if they
are going to unite in a federation?' he
asked, as he sang the praises of
economic and infrastructural integration
followed by political integration. 'It
should be inevitable for all the
countries of the region.'
Barely were the words out of his mouth
when a storm of condemnation broke from
all sides. Eritrea is gearing up for its
30th anniversary as a nation and even
the United States embassy sprang to its
defence, hailing its 'hard-won struggle
for independence'. Eritrean embassies
and diaspora groups joined the chorus as
the ministry hastily retreated and the
ambassador 'humbly apologised'.
Yet this faux pas was certainly signed
off by the Foreign Minister, Demeke
Mekonnen, who is also Prime Minister
Abiy Ahmed's deputy. It betrays the
deeper thinking at work in Addis Ababa
and Asmara. This was simply a
curtain-raiser that went wrong.
Abiy and President Issayas Afewerki have
already created the Horn of Africa
Council of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia
and are looking to get South Sudan to
join. The idea is to replace the
Intergovernmental Authority on
Development (IGAD), the premier regional
body, with another more directly under
their control (AC Vol 62 No 5, Stirring
the regional pot).
One aspect of the unity idea is in de
facto operation as Eritrean armed forces
deepen their penetration of Tigray and
look set to remain (see Feature, Eritrea
entrenches in Tigray). Abiy and Issayas
are preparing a defence agreement under
which Eritrean and Ethiopian troops can
operate under each other's officers and
in each other's countries. This would
make the Eritrean presence in Tigray
legal, and so frustrate the
international community's demand for
Asmara's troops to leave.
Many suspect the roots of the moves
towards unity lie in the still secret
provisions of the peace accord Abiy and
Issayas signed in July 2018 (AC Vol 59
No 14, From the edge of war to the
bridge of love). At the time, Abiy
described Addis Ababa as Issayas's 'own
home' while his counterpart said it was
foolish 'to assume we are two separate
people'. This looks much less like
flowery rhetoric now.
Abiy even told the World Economic Forum
at Davos in January 2019 that there was
no need to have different armies in
Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti.
Everything could be shared on the way to
complete integration, he said. This has
certainly long been on Issayas's
wishlist. He has long dreamed of
federation and raised it first in 1993.
The removal of his bÍte noire, the
Tigrayan People's Liberation Front
(TPLF), leads him to believe his dream
can become reality.
It's in that light that analysts now
look at Abiy's creation of his
Republican Guard unit, and the
rebuilding of the air force in 2018-19.
He introduced changes in training to try
and remove Tigrayan influence, and
expanded recruitment in 2019 and 2020. A
purge of Tigrayans from the armed forces
has accelerated in the past three years,
and encompasses rank-and-file soldiers
and police too. Since the war began in
November, reports suggest, some 20,000
ex-Ethiopian National Defence Force
(ENDF) Tigrayans and 7,000 police
officers have been detained.
Defections and detentions, which have
included Tigrayan troops serving in the
African Union Mission in Somalia
(Amisom) and in UN peacekeeping forces
in South Sudan, have seriously damaged
the army's morale and capability. Abiy's
plans to merge the 'Special Forces' of
Amhara and other regions into the ENDF
may cause further difficulties.
President Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed
'Farmajo' is proving a weak link in the
grand regional lash-up. He is in the
midst of bitter disputes over his
re-election and needs Ethiopian help.
With so many Ethiopian troops having
been redeployed to Tigray from Somalia,
the activity of the Somali Islamist
militia Al Shabaab has increased, and in
There are unconfirmed reports of
Eritrean troops arriving in Mogadishu to
help relieve Abiy's manpower shortage.
With or without Ethiopia, it seems
Issayas is re-activating his 1990s
interventionist policies, when Eritrea
was involved in Congo-Kinshasa, Sudan
and Chad, went to war with Yemen and
Ethiopia, and carried out incursions
into Djibouti. Until recently a pariah,
he is now a major regional presence with
a willing and powerful partner.
chairman of the Ethiopian Social Democratic
Party, said that his party doesn't accept any
agreements that gave away #Ethiopia's national
interests. He also pledged to reclaim #Eritrean
ports, like Asseb, through negotiations.
Ethiopian Irredentism?@Beyeetrospen, chairman of the Ethiopian Social Democratic Party, said that his party doesn't accept any agreements that gave away #Ethiopia's national interests. He also pledged to reclaim #Eritrean ports, like Asseb, through negotiations. pic.twitter.com/1WCIX1Lwib