Setting an example for numerous countries in the West and East that are struggling to rebuild their own diplomatic relationships, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki were seen embracing and grinning as they signed an unprecedented declaration to end the war during a summit in Asmara, Eritrea's capital. In a Twitter post that documented the event, Eritrean Minister of Information Yemane Meskel said "a new era of peace and friendship has been ushered."
In 1993, Eritrea voted for independence from Ethiopia. As with many formerly colonized nations that are newly independent, Eritrea struggled with economic growth, going deeper into a hole of economic disaster and social inequity. Ethiopia, which has been landlocked since Eritrea's independence, has been strategically interested in a critical Eritrean port called Assab.
This tension between the two nations led to a brutal border war that broke out in the late 1990s and claimed the lives of roughly 80,000 people. After years of attempts at peace deals — including the Algiers Agreement — and deteriorating relationships, any sort of reconciliation seemed unlikely. That is, until Abiy visited Eritrea on July 8.
Abiy became the first Ethiopian leader to set foot in Eritrea in the current century.
Peace talks took place in Ethiopia in late June. Photo by Yonas Tadesse/AFP/Getty Images.
He was warmly welcomed at the airport by Afwerki and other senior Eritrean officials, showing the power of unity between African nations and a wonderful example of what ongoing peace talks can do.
Abiy, a former soldier who fought in the war, agreed to uphold Ethiopia's end of the peace deal that serves to end the border conflict. His swift actions surprised even those who had been studying the conflict for years.
"I did not expect the speed and the enthusiasm," Goitom Gebreluel, who researches Ethiopia's foreign policy at the University of Cambridge in England, told The New York Times. "I believe that this had been decided a while back and the leadership changes within EPRDF [Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front] facilitated it."
It's clear that this peace agreement took years of planning, negotiating, and peace talks, but the swift and unprecedented finale makes it clear:
It's possible for developing nations with years of animosity toward one another to reach peace for the good of their people.
And other nations around the world can learn from this. When leaders prioritize the health and welfare of their people — as Abiy and Afwerki did — peace becomes the obvious and easier solution.
Take note, global leaders. Ethiopia and Eritrea and leading the way on showing what good government looks like.