No amount of jubilation can hide Ethiopia's territorial loss
By Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia
Aug 30, 2002

En’quan La’Me’rie’twa La’Chibt Afe’rwam Sisu Negn (I am Greedy for Its Land Fragments, Let Alone for Its Territorial Integrity) - Emperor Yohannes IV

Like all Ethiopians who awaited eagerly the verdict of April 13 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), I was curious what the outcome would be. The first news item dispatched by Reuters, in part, reads “Ethiopia has been awarded all the territory it has claimed in its dispute with Eritrea, said the official who declined to be named…this includes the villages of Badme, Zalambessa, Aiga, Bure, and Bada.”

In addition to the above-mentioned villages, Alitena and other less known villages were awarded to Ethiopia as per the Ethiopian government memo. However, all this victory declaration by the Ethiopian government was meant to hoodwink the Ethiopian people and prepare them for jubilation and festivities. On the contrary Ethiopians were not euphoric and to be sure, their country has lost more territory to Eritrea.

To begin with, even if Ethiopia was awarded by the Border Commission to have control over Zalambessa, Aiga, Aletina, Bada etc, there are no territories gained by Ethiopia. The so-called villages attributed to the victory of Ethiopia were quintessentially Ethiopian and the maximum we can say is Ethiopia has retained them. Repossessing ones own land does not make one celebrate as if the country has managed to regain its historical territories that would also include maritime sovereignty.

Contrary to repossessing historical lands, the pruning of Ethiopia has begun in earnest, perhaps to confirm my nightmare and the agony of fellow Ethiopians. In my previous writings, I argued repeatedly that Ethiopia may lose some of its territories while the general public concentrated on the most obvious areas of conflict like Badme, Zalambessa, and Bure. In fact, I specifically mentioned those areas in Gulomekeda, Irob, and Afar including the thermal energy/phosphate rich lands of Dalol and others.

Early on, during the height of the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, I suspected all along that the Ethiopian government was bewitched by an external force and to this effect I wrote “Mirage Politics and the Eritrean Trojan Horse” for a discussion in an e-mail forum. Now, the statement of the Boundary Commission and the issuance of companion maps confirm it beyond all doubt.

On Map 3 , for instance, Ethiopia’s claim line marked in pink is ostentatiously pretentious and hypocritical. In fact, by its own admission to the Commission, Ethiopia has lost all those territories to Eritrea. In this Map, the Ethiopian government claimed points between 11 and 30 that apparently include Tsorona, Guna Guna, Monoxeito, Massolae, Radacoma, and Ragali. However, this pretence is nakedly exposed by 1) Ethiopia’s own admission, and 2) by Map 11 issued by the Commission.

According to the statement by the Boundary Commission (p. 50, 4.69 and 4.70), the Ethiopian representatives at The Hague, in fact, seemed to have advocated on behalf of Eritrea and not Ethiopia, and here are the facts:

The qualification as to the northern section relates to Tserona. In its Reply, Ethiopia stated that a number of specific places mentioned by Eritrea as the location of incidents on which Eritrea was relying were irrelevant, since they were in any event mostly in Eritrea. The Words used by Ethiopia were:

that “Fort Cadorna, Monoxeito, Guna Guna and Tserona” were “mostly… undisputed Eritrean places.” While Monoxeito and Guna Guna are on the Eritrean side of the Treaty line as determined by the Commission, the Commission finds that, on the basis of the evidence before it, Tserona and Fort Cadorna are not.

As to Tserona, the Commission cannot fail to give effect to Ethiopia’s Statement, made formally in a written pleading submitted to the Commission. It is an admission of which the Commission must take full account. It is necessary, therefore, to adjust the Treaty line so as to ensure that it is placed in Eritrean territory.

By the same token, Map 11 clearly reveals Ethiopia’s pretentious stance at Hague and, in concrete terms, the loss of Ethiopian territories to Eritrea. Map 11 essentially depicts what the Boundary Commission designates as the Central Sector, and as evidenced by this map Zalambessa is virtually encapsulated by the new Ethio-Eritrean border (which was not the case on the old Ethiopian maps) and, adding insult to injury, numerous villages east of Zalambessa are lost to Eritrea. For a better understanding of this territorial loss, the reader must critically examine the map under discussion. Lands between point 20 (Zalambessa) and point 21 (Enda Dashim) which were originally Ethiopian are now parts of Eritrea, and because of this paradox of irredentism, Monoxeito (hypocritically claimed by Ethiopia) is now found far in land into Eritrea which was but on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the old maps.

In order to justify the Ethiopian government pretence and the Eritrean claim of the areas between points 20, 21, and 22, the Border Commission has established a fictitious river by the name Muna. There is no river Muna as I have indicated in the January 12, 2002 Washington DC public meeting sponsored by the TISJD. On Map 11, Muna is confused with Berbero Gado (as known by the Irob people) as was mistaken in the 1900 Treaty with Endeli and Ragali. This toponymic confusion is well established by historians. With the geopolitical concession by the Ethiopian government to Eritrea (inverted irredentism), therefore, it would not be surprising if Midir Ruba, Sebia, and Endalgeda (Dalgeda) are now outside Ethiopian jurisdiction and parts of Eritrea.

Similarly, on the Western Sector, all the vast area (hypocritically claimed) under pink line and which include the villages of Odas, Bao, Shelalo, Gogula, Mochiti, Biagela, and up to the western frontier (except for Om Hajar) would have been Ethiopian, but they are all lost to Eritrea. This pretence on the part of the Ethiopian government, again contradicts with its acceptance of the defunct treaty of 1902. Now, we know that Eritrea possesses even Badme.

Chapter VI of the Boundary Commission report states that both Ethiopia and Eritrea do have the same position on the meaning of the “coast” (the Eastern Sector): “The first question that arises in the application of Article I of the Treaty is the definition of the coast. Ethiopia abandoned its conception of the coast as including islands and submitted in its concluding argument that “the coastline” should be understood as “adhering continuously to the continent itself, and not any coastlines of islands as such.” This was also the position presented by Eritrea. As the parties are in agreement on this point, the Commission will take as the coastline the line adhering to the continent itself, and not any coastlines of islands…”

The Ethiopian jurists acquiescence, as opposed to the national interest of Ethiopia, implies that the Ethiopian government has no interest to pursue Ethiopia’s outlet to the sea and does not seem to have regard to the aspiration of the Afar people. Moreover, if one reads Map 4, there is confusion on the delimitation (the 1908 Treaty on the eastern coast was already complicated) and might further obscure demarcation deliberations. By comparison, Map 12 is clearer in its geographic coordinates but may altogether ignore the self-determination of the Afar people.

The Italian colonialists bequeath the original sin for the entire problem that Ethiopia now encounters when they successfully created Eritrea by an “act of surgery,” as Trevaskis puts in his political history of Eritrea. At present, the act of surgery, which I called pruning at the beginning of this essay, is being conducted against Ethiopia.

At any rate, whether Ethiopia lacks a government that advocates on its behalf or the country is experiencing temporary setback, is a transient political phenomenon if seen in light of history. The PCA and the Commission’s decision are theoretically rendered null and void by the vast majority of Ethiopians and will be relegated into the dustbin of history once a popular, democratic, and patriotic government ascends to power. That will be the day!

Back to NewsPage