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Border Demarcation: Introduction

Eritrea and Ethiopia are two developing countries in the Horn of Africa that have been locked in a Cold War for over 7 years. For hundreds of years the peoples of both Eritrea and Ethiopia have been in conflict, but only in the last century have their weapons wrought mind-numbing destruction.

At the close of World War II Eritrea and Ethiopia, two of Italy’s prized colonial properties, were to be left to their own fate. However as the Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pointed out in 1952,

“From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and the considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked with our ally Ethiopia.”1

This admission by Mr. Dulles, illustrates the desire of the people of Eritrea for independence; instead they were federated and later annexed by Ethiopia. This of course led to a war of independence fought by the Eritreans for 30 years in which hundreds of thousands are thought to have perished.

Furthermore, this conflict would lead to 2 major famines in the region, one of which would gain international notoriety for sparking Band Aid (to provide emergency relief). In 1991 the Eritreans overthrew the Ethiopian government and became and independent state. In 1998 however, Eritrea and Ethiopia returned to the fields of battle over an ill-marked however, defined border.

This war, fought with the most modern weapons that they could buy, tens of thousands died in the largest land war since World War II. In 2000, both sides hammered out a peace deal that sent the issue to an international court of arbitration. After 2 years of deliberation a new border was delimited (determine the orientation of the boundary). The next step seemed to be demarcation (providing permanent markings), this however was hindered. Without an ability to physically demarcate the entire border, the arbitral court decided to provide the map of the boundary to both countries and have these maps stand as the demarcation.

Since then Eritrea and Ethiopia have been waging a Cold War, reminiscent of the clash between the USSR and USA a decade and a half ago. This war however, has steadily been heating up, until today Eritrea and Ethiopia are once again standing toe-to-toe with nearly 500,000 soldiers prepared for war.

This dangerous standoff stems from the obstacles put before the formal physical demarcation of the border. The virtual demarcation that has been done in its stead has dissolved a buffer zone between the soldiers and left Ethiopian soldiers in legally defined Eritrean territory. At the top of this page you will find a clock counting the total time of occupation thus far.


  1.  Heiden, Linda (June 1978). “The Eritrean Struggle for Independence”. Monthly Review 30 (2): 15  

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