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Ethiopia: The Agony of a Sore Loser



16 Dec 2004


Today, the UN complained about the mounting war of wards between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the decision of a court, which settled their border dispute conclusively and irreversibly, and called for lowering of the war rhetoric without addressing the cause of it, which is the agony of the sore loser: Ethiopia.


"I have personally pleaded with the two sides to lower the temperature, to make sure that we concentrate on the search for a peaceful end to this conflict," Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, head of the UN Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), told a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian, on Thursday.


Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a two-year (1998-2000) border war that left some 100,000 dead. In an agreement signed in Algiers in Dec 2000, both countries agreed to end the war and committed themselves to resolve whatever dispute they have peacefully and peacefully only. Accordingly, they established and conferred upon an independent commission the sole authority to determine and demarcate their shared border. Both countries had agreed that the decision of the commission would be final and binding, and with no right to appeal or recourse of any kind. The commission rendered its decision in April 2002. Eritrea has long accepted the decision unequivocally as stipulated by the Algiers accord.


Ethiopia first accepted the decision believing or pretending that it is in its favor but then rejected it not because of bad laws, unfit judges, advocates, procedures or the nature of the decision (final, binding, no appeal, no recourse). No, that was all established according to the wishes and will of Ethiopia believing that it will work in favor of Ethiopia. But it didn’t and the decision did not go Ethiopia’s way. And that is the one and only reason Ethiopia is refusing to accept the decision: A classic example of a sore loser.


Soon, Ethiopia entered the phase of agonizing over accepting of and living with a court decision that didn’t go its way. And Ethiopia’s agony over not having it its way led to Ethiopia’s reckless actions: After balking for 18 months, Ethiopia formally declared its outright defiance by rejecting the border decision, calling for replacement of the Commission by another body of its choice, and by demanding alternative mechanism to re-adjudicate the dispute. Not only that, a month later, Ethiopia declared the border ruling null & void, unilaterally dismantled the Commission, and forcibly stopped demarcation.


The int’l community is well aware of the severely consequential remedy for defying the Boundary Commission’s ruling but is and has been reluctant to go that far simply because it is ridiculous to sanction a country like Ethiopia that owes every aspect of its national existence to the massive and continuous handout of the international community. Knowing that, the government in Ethiopia took advantage of it and has been running amok overtly defying rule of law, rejecting court decisions, flouting international law, and making a mockery of multiple resolutions of the UN Security Council with impunity.


Ethiopia’s reckless actions did not bode well with the int’l community and it certainly did not want to see Ethiopia appear/act like a rogue state. Thus, some nations (mainly UK, sold the phrase “acceptance in principle” to Ethiopia and Germany that merely joined the fray because it was Germany that let Ethiopia know that it accept Eritrea’s sovereignty over the disputed town Badme, and then told Ethiopia “ demarcation cannot be postponed until kingdom come” Schroeder in January of this year) decided to get Ethiopia to stop running around trashing international norms (rule of law, decision of a court of law, international law) despite the unfavorable border decision. Ethiopia consented and those nations provided the formula to accomplish that in a document they dubbed “Five point proposal for peace with Eritrea” that Ethiopia unveiled with rock-bottom fanfare on 25 Nov 2004 and the sponsoring nations cheered and hailed it. Ethiopia’s proposal is fraudulent because it constitutes a flagrant violation of the Algiers agreement and what those nations were cheering was Ethiopia’s decision to cease and desist trashing international norms and not Ethiopia’s defiant attitude to the border decision as expressed by the phrase “acceptance in principle” and Ethiopia’s demand to renegotiate the decision. This so, because regardless of what Ethiopia claims and how often, it is utterly inconceivable that any Nation (unless rogue nation) would advice Ethiopia to renege on a binding international Agreement (Algiers Agreement) or to undermine the sanctity of a legal decision of an international court. But Ethiopia perceived that as an endorsement of its fraudulent proposal and tried to sell it to the international community at large to only realize that it is a non-starter, to say the least. This frustrated Ethiopia and aggravated its agony to accept and live with a verdict that did not go its way and that is what is heating up the war of words between Eritrea and Ethiopia: Ethiopia’s adamant defiance of a legal ruling vs. Eritrea’s call for strict adherence to Algiers agreement.


The UN has more than a mere advisory function, mere appeal for restraint, it has by Treaty of Algiers the obligation and commitment to ensure in words and deeds that the border ruling is upheld unequivocally. The international community must help Ethiopia get over the agony of sore loser by making the ruling socially, politically, and economically palatable and bearable to Ethiopia instead of sending mixed signals by entertaining Ethiopia’s maneuvers to renege on binding international agreement and to undermine the sanctity of a legal decision of court. Ethiopia can’t have it its way. Agony is no reason to defy the rule of law. The decision of the Boundary Commission is final and binding regardless of how either party feels about it.


Mr. Lgwaila’s further remarked "In order for them [Eritrea and Ethiopia] to live in peace with each other, they have to realise that they are condemned by history to live together as neighbours,". That is not at all the issue. Neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia have ever said that it has difficulty living in peace with each other. Eritrea and Ethiopia are not condemned but have every reason to live together as neighbors: On personal level, Eritreans and Ethiopians are intermarried, have common children and families. Eritreans have a lot of dear Ethiopian friends and vice versa. And on ethnic, religious, and cultural levels, Eritreans and Ethiopians share a lot of well-founded commonalities as well, despite and in spite of the over 5 decades long Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. That is a short preview of and testimony to the kind of closeness that exists, even at odd times, between Eritreans and Ethiopians in all aspects of societal parameters. Today, there is no dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The issue is solely Ethiopia’s refusal to accept the decision that settled the dispute conclusively and irreversibly contrary to its commitment to do so. Let us talk about that, Mr. Legwaila. There is nothing wrong with Eritrea’s call for strict adherence to the Algiers Agreement, which is the only thing that will bring peace to the entire region? But every thing is wrong with Ethiopia’s refusal to accept a ruling simply because it did not go its way.


The cause for the mounting war of words is and remains the agony of the sore loser Ethiopia and UN’s reluctance/failure to rise up to its commitment and obligation to ensure full implementation of the Algiers agreement.


The UN and the international community must act now, swiftly, and decisively because what an agonizing sore loser like Ethiopia has in store is unpredictable.