By Alemayehu G. Mariam
The guns silenced, the suffering people of Ethiopia and Eritrea may now speak, shout out, that the two countries hereafter “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Witnessing swords beaten into plowshares is a source of great joy for me. — Alemayehu G. Mariam, “Blessed are the Peacemakers in Ethiopia”, June 20, 2018
Today is Ethiopia’s finest hour upon the world stage. PM Abiy Ahmed winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize is one small step for Ethiopia and one giant leap for Africa. Give peace a chance. Dona nobis pacem (“Grant us peace”). Alemayehu G. Mariam, October 10, 2019, Twitter message.
Nobel Peace Prize for beating swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is awarded the 2019 Peace Prize
for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation and in particular his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea. When Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in April 2018, he made it clear to resume peace talks with Eritrea in close cooperation with Isaias Afeworki, President of Eritrea. Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles for a peace agreement to end the long no-peace, no-war stalemate between the two countries…
I congratulate H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and H.E. President Isaias Afeworki for creating peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea and ending a 20-year no-peace, no-war situation between their countries.
The fast pace of peace began in June 2018.
All that we have achieved from the [stalemate with Eritrea] situation of the last 20 years is tension. Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea benefit from a stalemate. We need to expend all our efforts towards peace and reconciliation and extricate ourselves from petty conflicts and divisions and focus on eliminating poverty.
In July 2018, he made a historic official state visit to Eritrea and finally broke the ice.
PM Abiy received a reception fit for a rock star in Asmara.
After his three-day meeting with President Isaias, PM Abiy announced [auth. translation]:
We have agreed to have our airlines and ports to start working, our people to exchange [freely], our embassies to open and for us to come to Asmara with our families on the weekends and enjoy ourselves. Eritreans can come and visit their families in Ethiopia. The rest of the little items on the agenda we will solve by tearing down the border wall and building bridges. We have torn down the wall at the border and are building a bridge over it.
He said his core message to the people of Eritrea is
Medemer” (synergistically come together as force multipliers for each other). If we [engage in] medemer, we could surmount all [our challenges]. We have a broad range of opportunities in Northeast Africa. We have amazing people who are brothers. What we need is to abandon hatred and come together in love in medemer.
Following PM Abiy’s visit, President Isaias traveled to Addis Ababa where the people gave him a reception fit for a rock star.
In his Millennium Hall speech, President Isaias said [auth. translation]:
I wish to express the happiness I feel as I bring the greetings, love and good wishes of the Eritrean people to you. I wish to congratulate you on the historic change you have achieved. Within the framework of our traditional and historic mutually beneficial relationship, we have defeated the conspiracy of those who sought to foster hatred and revenge among us. We are fully determined to now focus on development, prosperity and stability and march forward together in all fields of endeavor. Who, who will dare to ruin our love, sow discord and instability among us, damage us or thwart and destroy our development and progress? We will not allow anyone to [get in our way]. Together, we will recover our losses, work hard together and achieve victory. We will strive for a better future. I am certain of it.
In just a few meetings, the two leaders managed to dissolve the hardened enmity that had kept their countries apart for 20 years.
Waging peace was much easier than waging war.
For two years (1998-2000), the only sound that was heard between the two countries was the “crash of guns, the rattle of musketry and the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.”
For the next 20 years, in a no-peace, no-war situation, all that could be heard was the mournful silence of the thousands of young men who became dust in the battlefields of Zalambessa, Bure and elsewhere.
Families on both sides of the border suffered enforced separation. They were prevented from even attending funerals. All they could do was watch from a distance in sadness and despair.
There were mass expulsions and deportations of ethnic Eritreans from Ethiopia in flagrant violation of international human rights conventions.
Ethiopia could no longer access the ports of Assab and Massawa and had to seek less favorable alternatives.
Eritrea could not access Ethiopian markets and imports.
The U.S. put Eritrea on the list of countries not cooperating with its anti-terrorism efforts followed by U.N. sanctions.
The Ethio-Eritrea border became a theater of no-war and no-peace, and indeed a theater of the absurd.
Fear and loathing characterized the relationship between the two countries for twenty years.
When the two-decade old no-peace, no-war status quo came to an official end in Bure and Zalambessa on September 11, 2018, I was present as an eyewitness.
I was supremely honored to accompany PM Abiy and President Isaias at the borders between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The historic moment occurred at Bure, a desolate arid landscape with little vegetation on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea and Zalambessa, a town located in Tigray region on the Ethio-Eritrean border.
I witnessed as the invisible wall of hate, suspicion and revenge came tumbling down and the foundation was laid for a new bridge to reconnect the two peoples for ages to come.
That was a crowning achievement for the two leaders.
Peace between the two countries would not have been possible but for the extraordinary hard work, goodwill, good faith and good offices of the two leaders.
The border opening event was also a moment of sober reflection and great expectation for me.
If ever someone had told me I would be present at the opening of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, I would have had that person involuntarily committed for psychiatric observation.
There were many poignant moments that gave me pause for reflection.
As I saw PM Abiy and President Isaias walking side by side on the dusty road in Bure to bury the hatchet at the border, I came to understand the futility and absurdity of war.
Is war ever necessary?
I remembered the lines from Robert Graves:
To you who’d read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I’ll say (you’ve heard it said before)
It must have been hell in Bure in February 1999. No one knows for sure how many died in that parched wasteland.
How many were buried or left abandoned in the trackless sand and turned to dust?
Bure is a surreal place. It reminded me of the sun-scorched Death Valley desert in Eastern California.
I tried to imagine the thousands from both sides who died in that desolate desert and their surviving families and loved ones.
What was gained for all the lives lost, for the broken bones and mangled and maimed bodies?
I paused to look for evidence of enmity between the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the rocks and sands of Bure.
Dead men speak never. But if only the rocks could speak. What horrors they would have related?
The sands of time speak only in the hourglass and rocks are stone deaf.
I remember a special moment when we were all walking to the ceremonial event venue in Zalambessa.
As I looked back, thousands of people were following them at a distance.
I paused for a moment and asked myself, “Who is really leading this march for peace? Are the people leading the leaders from behind or the leaders leading the people from the front?”
There was no question in my mind that the people were leading the leaders to peace from behind, thousands strong. The two leaders and their officials were being shepherded by the people.
I lapsed poetic. “How beautiful to see the sheep finally herding their shepherds!”
If the two leaders for any reason had wanted to change their minds that day and decided not to go through with it, could they have done so?
I had agonized over the Ethio-Eritrean conflict for a very long time because I have always believed the two people are one and the same.
Kings, princes, presidents, prime ministers and even colonial powers had reasons to divide the two peoples.
I agonized because untold numbers of Ethiopians have died defending Eritrea and untold number of Eritreans have died defending Ethiopia.
If only the dead could speak.
I always hoped (to a point of conviction) peace will reign between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the not too distant future.
But often, my hopes for peace were dashed.
Hope crushed to earth has risen in Ethiopia.
My dream of PEACE for all Ethiopians
In my July 22, 2012 commentary entitled my “Dream of an Ethiopia at Peace”, I wrote:
No individual leader or single organization in Ethiopia can take on the enormous task of uniting the people. It is the task of all leaders of political organizations, faith institutions, civic associations, youth and women’s groups and others to inspire the people to come together, to unite and to dream together about a new Ethiopia where no one shall again experience the oppression of one by another. It is impossible to unite the people without detoxifying the conversation and abandoning the obsession about one man. To do what Madiba did in South Africa, we must commit to the important task now, and that is “uniting the people of our country.”
But before rushing to judge me harshly or kindly, forget not that I am just a utopian Ethiopian. “Some men see things and say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”. Why not dream of Ethiopia with her children at peace? Why not outdream each other about what is possible, viable and attainable in beautiful Ethiopia? Let us all become utopian Ethiopians! Why not?
My dreams are coming true before my eyes.
I shall prophesy that Abiy Ahmed will bring peace to Ethiopia, and like the sun Ethiopia shall rise over the African horizon.
In my January 2017 commentary, “Dare to Dream With Me About the New Ethiopia in 2017”, I cited Scripture, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,… [and] see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
This old man had 17 dreams for Ethiopia.
No. 1 on his list: “I dream of ONE Ethiopia at Peace.”
Thomas Hobbes opined the rule of human existence in the state of nature was “the war of all against all.”
In two countries that were one for eons, with their civilization that goes back for thousands of years, the rule should be “the peace of all for all.”
Ethiopia and Eritrea shall know peace because that is their common destiny. Peace is the common destiny of the countries of the Horn.
Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ethiopia and Eritrea and all the countries in the Horn of Africa and beyond “must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Abiy Ahmed: Our man for all seasons
In my October 8, 2018 commentary, “Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Youth and the Power of Medemer”, I wrote Abiy Ahmed is Ethiopia’s “man for all seasons”.
In that commentary, I reviewed his extraordinary achievements of the preceding past six months since he took office.
I waxed poetic:
He brought us the sun and flowers after 27 years of darkness and gloom.
He brought back the lost rainbow to our rainbow nation.
Today, the stormy skies over the Ethiopian rainbow nation have turned azure and we can see clearly over the horizon.
And what difference did Abiy Ahmed make in 180 days?
Abiy Ahmed made a difference not by changing Ethiopia but by changing the hearts and minds of Ethiopians.
I concluded that commentary as follows, “Here is a man who has been in office less than six months and the world is touting him as a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
On October 10, 2019, I am happy to say, “Our man for all seasons is the 2019 Nobel Laureate for Peace.”
As I celebrate this great occasion with the people of Ethiopia and Africa, I have not forgotten.
I remember the past 27 years of tears in Ethiopia.
I remember those who who stood up for human rights, equality, justice, democracy and the rule of law, but are not around to enjoy this moment of honor for Ethiopia.
The Peace Prize is for them too.
I remember the long years I felt deep despair and concluded Ethiopia must be a cursed nation, the damned and wretched of the earth.
I cannot remember how many times over the years I read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 “And troubled deaf heaven with my bootless cries”.
Now, I have learned “Weeping may stay for the night (for 27 years) but rejoicing comes in the morning (18 months).”
After a 27 year-long night of weeping and mourning, it is morning time in Ethiopia as the sun is rising over a Rising Ethiopia.
Let us rejoice and make sure to count our blessings!
Afterthought: On July 30, 2019, as part of PM Abiy Ahmed’s reforestation campaign named “Green Legacy”, Ethiopia planted more than 353 million trees in 12 hours.
What better weapon to fight climate change?
Next stop: Climate Change Leadership Award for PM Abiy?
CONGRATULATIONS TO PM ABIY AND PRESIDENT ISAIAS!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL ETHIOPIANS, ERITREANS AND AFRICANS!