Time to be Magnanimous
On 20 Aug, 2012, the world learned the passing away of Prime Minster Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. All the major networks around the world, except Eritrea, ran stories of the Ethiopian leader who died at the age of 57. That is indeed strange. It is apparent there are many questions developing in the minds of many Eritreans.
During the last week we have read a great number of pros and cons of Prime Minster Meles Zenawi’s leadership style and administration which dominated the Ethiopian political landscape for the last twenty years. Many also explored his influence in the politics of the Horn of Africa, the African continent and elsewhere. Almost all seem to agree that his legacy will be, apart from the democracy-deficit in the country, the fight he successfully led against poverty in Ethiopia which was arduous, to say the least. However, little has been said about his policy on Eritrea and the incessant and costly squabbles that arose thereof between the two neighbors who went through thick and thin during the last few decades. To this day, not only Eritreans are offended by his high-handed ‘no-war, no-peace’ policy regarding the border dispute that arose between the two countries, many are affected by it.
The life of the Ethiopian premier has suddenly come to an end now. Now the question on the minds of many Eritreans is, to put it bluntly, whether Ethiopia’s Eritrea-policy will continue unimpeded during the post-Meles era or change is on the horizon. To put this issue in a context, let’s give it a brief background.
In May 1998 Ethiopia and Eritrea, former allies, went to war over a piece of barren land. Mediations failed and the conflict continued until May 2000. The minor border dispute which escalated to a full-fledged war ended up costing both countries hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of casualties. According to the International Commission in the Hague Eritrea broke the international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia. However, the Eritrea–Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruled that Badme, the disputed territory at the heart of the conflict, belongs to Eritrea. Contrary to the ruling Ethiopia still occupies the contested territory. Due to the fact that the Prime minister refused to honor the ruling, the relationship between the two neighboring countries remains thorny. Evidently, in the eyes of Eritreans this transgression will always remain linked to the late Prime Minister’s legacy.
The right thing to do
Irrespective of the political discord there exists between the two neighboring countries, Issaias Afeworki, the Eritrean president, should not ignore the departure of the Ethiopian premier dismissively. Acknowledging the death of the late Prime Minister whose country’s fate is still intertwined with the lives of Eritreans is the right thing to do. The Eritrean media, rather unfittingly, has conspicuously remained silent as if nothing has happened in the Horn sub-region. This tasteless silence can be interpreted in many ways. It can be viewed as either a short-sighted, immature gaiety, or ‘a personal vendetta/wrath from up above’. On the other hand, one can also interpret the silence as an indication of loss of direction. What this silence does not indicate it wisdom.
It is to be remembered that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Issaias Afeworki were once colleagues, comrades, and they made history together before and after the liberation of their respective countries. Together they fought against their common enemy by dislodging the regime of Mengistu Hailemariam, the former Ethiopian dictator.
Ethiopian and Eritrean tradition dictate that bereavement should be shared even during time of austerity and hostility. It is widely known that death is earnestly acknowledged within the mutually shared traditions of both countries. Certainly, post-liberation squabbles brought about animosity that has unceremoniously divided Eritreans and Ethiopians. Unfortunately, the bitter rivalry between the late Prime Minister and the President of Eritrea marshaled in ways that eroded the well-mannered traditions both peoples used to revere. That needs to be rectified.
Here are some thoughts on the passing away of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:
- The death of the Prime Minister should remind President Iaasias Afewerki of his own mortality.
- An Occurrence such as this offers an opportunity for reflection and tempering of rigid stands. It is a sign that it is time to change one’s ways – ways that usher in reconciliatory measures.
- There is nothing wrong with seizing such a moment if the aim is to restore better relations.
- This episode can be used to reawaken the downhearted spirit that prevails over both countries peoples and political landscapes.
Is it not time to be magnanimous?
The key ingredient in being magnanimous lies in the power to control one’s animosity. Actually, this episode should not be a personal matter between two intransigent personalities; it is to do with devising ways that bring divided people together.
Reader, what is your opinion?