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Tensions are rising between Eritrea and Ethiopia as the border dispute between the two continues, threatening to topple both nations’ economies.
Two of the poorest countries in northern Africa, over 50 percent of each nation’s population lives below the poverty line. But with years of armed conflict, the two primarily agrarian societies’ interconnected economies are teetering on the verge of financial collapse.
Although Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki asserted in an interview with the Sudan Tribune that his country is economically stable, bread and milk lines, along with lines for rationed cooking gas, are prevalent across Eritrea —and the same situation is occurring in Ethiopia.
Both countries share a turbulent history.
Losing much of its political influence after World War II, Italy was forced to relinquish its then-colony Eritrea, which it had ruled since 1890, to Britain. Eritrea is coveted for its strategically located ports along the shores of the Red Sea.
When the British left in 1952, Eritrea was subjected to Ethiopian rule under Emperor Haile Selassie—even though it operated within its own system of government. Despite intense ethnic persecution, Eritrea functioned as a province of Ethiopia for more than 30 years until 1993, when Eritrea declared its secession and became its own country.
However, the terms of the secession remained unclear and resentment grew over each country’s claim to the symbolic Badme region—a few hundred square miles of barren land situated along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. The dispute eventually sparked a war that resulted in the deaths of more than 80,000 people.
Although the two nations finally signed the Algiers Agreement in 2000, uncertainty about the terms of the peace treaty has resulted in a type of “Cold War” stand-off in the Horn of Africa—which continues to push each country closer to the edge of an all-out battle, and threatens to pull other allied countries into the armed skirmish.
Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of committing a material breach of the Algiers Agreement, which convened a commission to redraw the disputed border. Although the treaty officially awarded Eritrea control of the region of Badme, it came with certain terms, which Ethiopia alleges Eritrea has not met.
In conformance to the treaty, Ethiopia claims Eritrea is required to remove thousands of troops from the border buffer zone and lift the restrictions on United Nations Peacekeepers, including a ban on helicopter flights. In turn, Ethiopians will surrender the Badme region to Eritrean officials.
But according to government officials in both nations, neither country has accomplished its part of the treaty.
Both countries are threatening further non-compliance, with Ethiopia threatening to pull out of the agreement if Eritrea does not abide by the terms of the treaty. Also deterring the process are recent rumors of an Ethiopian invasion into Eritrea; these reports were quickly quelled by a spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Subsequently, the Eritrean government has said it will not hesitate to take military action if Ethiopia continues to infringe upon its land rights or takes action against its citizens.
During the past several years, more than 4,000 United Nations forces have patrolled the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, but UN officials have stated that if Eritrea and Ethiopia reignite a full-scale war, they will leave the two countries to settle their differences themselves.