The "Alternative Mechanism" Should Uphold Ethiopian Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity
By Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia: September 30, 2003
As usual I am flabbergasted by the roller coaster politics and inconsistent policy of the Ethiopian government when it comes to upholding Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's letter to the Security Council and the Secretary General of the UN is marred with contradictions, to say the least. To begin with, it does not clearly stipulate Ethiopia's national interest vis-à-vis the territorial integrity of the nation, and most importantly the letter seems a troth to a foe in an effort to reconcile its differences rather than advocacy for Ethiopia and its people that were directly affected by the Hague decision and the Boundary Commission to delimit the Ethiopian-Eritrean border.

This article is not intended to pick up on Meles Zenawi, nor focus on his personality and actions, but by way of articulating the main tenets of the Hague verdict and the Boundary Commission decision, the position of the Ethiopian Government during the entire process of demarcation and delimitation, as well as reciting on some of my previous arguments, I will demonstrate why the current regime in Ethiopia is trying to placate Ethiopia's erstwhile enemies.

Is the Meles letter to the Security Council (9/19/2003) a stratagem intended yet to hoodwink the Ethiopian people and buy time before the forthcoming election of 2005, or it is a genuine regretful stance on the part of the Ethiopian government to redeem injustice perpetrated by the Boundary Commission against Ethiopia? For the sake of objectivity, lets try to critically examine both conceptual political stances in light of previous actions of the Ethiopian government.

In my article entitled "No Amount of Jubilation Can Hide Ethiopia's Territorial Loss," written after the Boundary Commission decision on April 13, 2002, I have indicated Ethiopia's acquiescence and own admission of ceding Ethiopian territory to Eritrea. This was the basis of my argument:

"…On map 3, for instance, Ethiopia's claims line marked in pink is ostentatiously pretentious and hypocritical. In fact, by its own admission to the Commission, Ethiopia has lost …territories to Eritrea. In this map, the Ethiopian government claimed points between 11 and 30 that apparently include Tsorona, Guna Guna, Monoxieto, Massolae, Radacoma, and Ragali. However, this pretense 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 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 Cardorna, 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 Cardorna are not.

As to Tserona, the Commission cannot fail to give effect to Ethiopia's Statement, made formally in 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 the 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 inland into Eritrea, which was but on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the old maps.

In order to justify the Ethiopian pretense and the Eritrean claim of the areas between points 20, 21, and 22, the Boundary 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 with Endeli and Ragali in the 1900 Treaty. 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 Western Sector, all the vast area (hypocritically claimed) under pink line and which include 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."

The above quotation is deliberately taken from the old text to show that my thesis still holds water, and is also meant to suggest to the reader that at long last Meles' letter vindicates me for he admits that Badme was awarded to Eritrea. When I argued that the Boundary Commission gave Badme to Eritrea, some charlatans and upscale hucksters, of an opportunist variety, which then defended the position of the Ethiopian government, condemned me.

In all this political debacle and border delimitation chaos, the current regime would hope that Ethiopians and the world public opinion would be led to believe that the Ethio-Eritrean conflict, after all, boils down to the question of Badme. But we like to tell Ethiopians in general and the opposition parties in particular that Badme would, in fact, serve as a major distraction from the Irob, Afar, and other territorial loss in all three Sectors. I have already mentioned some territories lost on the Central and Western Sectors. With the confusion going on now and the Badme distraction, it is possible, if not probable that other districts such as Shelalo and Sheshebit of Tahtay Adiabo, Dedebit, Gual Dedebit, parts of Sheraro up to Mentebteb, Adi Hageray, Adi Nebried, Adi Quala, and Adi Eweron (on the Western Sector) and Yetchilla, Assaye, Egela [Enticho and its surroundings] on the Central Sector could be lost.

Lets now focus on the main tenets of Meles' letter and try to dissect it by making some comparative analyses of the Boundary Commission and of the Ethiopian government documents. For a scholarly discussion and critical examination, we shall mainly depend on the official documents only. But, for further discussion and substantiation, we shall also cite unofficial documents.

One unofficial document recently circulated in the cyber world is entitled "Strategies and Tactics on the Question of Badme" (translated from the Amharic Be'Badme Gu'day Ye'Strategi'na Ye'Silt Ti'ya'Qie'Wotch). Some Ethiopian websites claimed that Meles Zenawi authored this document. I was unable to prove it scholarly, but if one reads between lines there is no doubt that the document was written by the EPRDF.

The main message of the above mentioned secret document is that Ethiopia should not fight for a piece of land but for the rule of law and justice. The document clearly states that the Badme question is not a question of territorial dispute but a question of the assurance of the supremacy of the rule of law. In fact, in plain language, the document asserts EPRDF's position as follows: "for us whether Badme is big or small, and whether it has gold or not is meaningless…we see Badme from the point of view of the assurance of the supremacy of law, and not as a territorial unit…for us Badme is not about land and/or dignity."

The secret memo concludes by reaffirming that "the question of Badme is based on the principle mentioned above. Outside this principle, it would be tantamount to competing with current emotions that can lead to destruction…this would be opportunistic, backward, anti-people and un-EPRDF."

Now, the Meles letter, beyond all doubt contradicts the EPRDF document. "The key to the crisis of the work of the Commission," says Meles "is totally illegal, unjust, and irresponsible on Badme and parts of the Central Sector." What prompted Meles to come close to our position held when the conflict began is, of course, subject to interpretation. Either it is a dress rehearsal for another EPRDF showdown, or it could be a genuine response to the Ethiopian people pressure pertaining to the demarcation. Intuitively, I would say it is the first, but my vocation demands objectivity and I will simply make a comparative and critical analysis of the documents I have at hand.

Meles says, "the Commission…awards Badme to Eritrea despite the overwhelming evidence produced by Ethiopia proving that Badme had always been administered by Ethiopia. Eritrea could not produce even a single document to rebut Ethiopia's submission." The position of the Boundary Commission is diametrically opposite to Meles' [the Ethiopian government] new position, and here is what the Commission stated in its "Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission Observations" [February 2003]:

"The Commission referred specifically in the Delimitation Decision (paras 5.92-5.95) to the evidence produced by Ethiopia. It noted in particular that Ethiopia had introduced no evidence in its opening pleading (its Memorial) of governmental activities west of that straight line; although it produced some evidence in its Counter Memorial, it did not add to or develop this in its Reply. Moreover, maps submitted by Ethiopia were inconsistent as to the location of Badme village.

…Moreover, even some maps submitted by Ethiopia not only showed the distinctive straight line between the Setit and Mereb Rivers, but also marked Badme village as being on the Eritrean side of that line."

What other testimony should we look for other than this glaringly clear response to Ethiopia's demand of clarification by the Commission? Will the Meles letter then alter the minds of the Commission or, for that matter, the Security Council if the Algiers agreement was indeed 'final and binding'? In fact, for all intents and purposes, the Ethiopian government has entrapped Ethiopia in a cul-de-sac of international law. We have all along argued that Ethiopia should not sign the Algiers Agreement, let alone go to Hague and accept a verdict that we knew was going to be contrary to Ethiopia's national interest.

As I have extrapolated in many of my writings the Ethiopian government's actions is best exemplified by the proverbial dog that barks long after the Hyena has departed (Jib Ke'hede Wu'sha Cho'he) or another Ethiopian conventional wisdom, La'lefe Kre'mt Biet Ayse'ra'letim (one cannot construct a house for a past rainy season).

The Ethiopian government actions in defending Ethiopia's sovereignty, however, cannot be simply characterized by the metaphors of the barking dog and the long overdue building construction. It looks as if Ethiopian politics is shrouded in mystery and the machinations and theatrics are carefully crafted and orchestrated to obscure the handing over of Ethiopian territories and emasculating Ethiopian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Meles letter suggests that "the Security Council set up an alternative mechanism to demarcate the contested parts of the boundary in a just and legal manner…" But at the same time, the letter suggests that "uncontested parts of the Boundary, specifically the whole eastern Sector of the Boundary and that part of the Central Sector, where the river Mereb constitutes the boundary, can be demarcated without waiting for the setting up of the alternative mechanism."

But we are saying that the entire Boundary Commission decision must be reviewed and reversed. If the Meles regime is indeed genuine in its deliberations on the question of Badme, it should provide same deliberations [clearly stated] to the Gulo-Mekeda, Irob, Afar, and other disputed territories. It is for this simple reason that I have argued above that the focus on Badme, although important, could become a major distraction as if it is the only bone of contention.

For the sake of discussion, lets assume that the Security Council respects Meles' appeal and comes up with a working and just Alternative Mechanism. The content of the latter would not be known because the appealing side has not put it clearly, but the Security Council may formulate a new Alternative Mechanism based on recent unofficial meetings and decisions of the two parties that took place outside Ethiopia and Eritrea (say, somewhere in Rome). What could then be the outcome?

We are not going to pretend and predict the outcome, but we may have the following possible scenarios:

1. The Security Council, based on Ethiopia's demand on the question of Badme alone may come up with an "ingenious" idea of creating two Badmes on either side of the border.

2. Badme will be returned to Ethiopia by Eritrea's agreement but on condition that Ethiopia would respect the Commission's decision not to bring the Central and Eastern Sectors for any dialogue.

3. Eritrea would insist on the Commission's decision legality and rejects any other alternative mechanism by the Security Council.

4. While deliberations are made by the Security Council and the Boundary demarcation postponed indefinitely, a nationalist group topples the Meles regime and declares the decision of the Boundary Commission null and void.

Quite obviously all the above scenarios will not create a conducive climate to bring about permanent peace in the region. The only way out is democratization of the region by governments that uphold a priority agenda of a peoples interest. On the Ethiopian side, that I advocate for, if a patriotic and democratic regime is installed, beyond the above hypothetical scenarios and theatrics, a new vista in Ethiopian politics would be anticipated and concretely in the making. That will be the day.