Isaias and Abiy: Flashy Smiles or Lasting Peace?

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By: Kassim Haji-Hussein Noor

Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s bold move to extend an olive branch to Eritrea’s President
Isaias Afwerki has earned him international praise.

The rise of Dr. Abiy Ahmed to power and his courage to do the unthinkable — ripping apart a repressive political system, letting political prisoners on death rows free and bringing home exiled fighters — made him an instant hero in Ethiopia and around the African continent.

The political rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea was like a miracle. Again, another unthinkable step few months prior to Dr. Abiy’s taking of office, after a nail-biting election by EPRDF. Since then Ethiopia has never been the same. However, behind the flashy smiles, Ethiopia’s ethnic politics is pregnant and might give birth to a monster baby. From assassination attempts on the Prime Minister’s life to endless waves of violence between Oromo and Somali as well as other ethnic groups indicate something is not going right.

A few months ago, Dr. Abiy had to perform magical push-ups that apparently hypnotized a group of disgruntled soldiers who stormed his office. Rumors were rife that it was an attempted coup. Again something more ominous might be in the making, God forbid.

If Abiy is to cement his legacy in history, he needs to bring peace closer to home. Winning praise from outside the country while Ethiopian towns and cities are burning, makes little sense to people living in IDP camps in their own country. So far, the political will to contain the violence and punish the perpetrators has been feeble. Dr. Abiy should assert his authority to curb the violence once and for all. The Ethiopian people too must smile and enjoy peace.

In contrast, the Eritrean president has had some of the best days in his long ruthless political career. He still holds Eritrea with an iron fist and reaping the fruits of lifting the crippling economic embargo.

We have seen this smiles before; Meles Zenawi, the late Ethiopian prime minister and, Asiyas were close friends. Their inflated egos and arrogance finally set the two to clash on a titanic scale, resulting in one of the most reckless wars in the history of the Horn of Africa. Fighting on a piece of barren rocks ( Badme ) swallowed up the lives of close to 200,000 young soldiers. That’s why Eritrean and Ethiopian institutions could not intervene to prevent the senseless destruction of lives and properties because Asiyas and Zenawi wanted to settle their differences in the most imaginable style of violence.

Ironically, Zenawi and Isaias watched the bloody wars on their TVs, sipping a warm cup of coffee with their wives. The funny thing is all that the war and the killings in Badme town were pushed aside within a few days by the new ruler— Dr. Abiy Ahmed as if Ethiopia and Eritrea have been to war.

If they wish, Abiy and Isaias can as well plunge the two countries into bloody war, depending on whether their friendship is infected by a political phobia disease or not, like in the past.

We pray this smiles ushers in a lasting peace for the people of the Horn of Africa, and the sound of 50 years of gunfire falls silent for the first time.

Let President Isaias too set free Eritreans unjustly locked up and languishing in jail, just because they dared to speak up for their country and for their people. Let President Isaias be brave like Dr. Abiy Ahmed and embrace the change the Eritrean people desperately pray for. Only then can we talk of a Horn of Africa with one passport, with one giant economy and with beautiful, free and prosperous people.