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Ethiopian Confused – Part 4

Since Eritrean independence in 1991, Ethiopian nationalists have struggled with the idea of an independent Eritrea. This challenged what Emperor Menelik II’s wife put forth,  “… that Ethiopia’s strength derived primarily from its political mythology …”1) Clearly this presented an existential threat to the Ethiopian state itself, and its ruling elites in particular. This likely brought forth memories of the “Era of Princes” wherein the various Ethiopian kingdoms fought constantly with one another for the Imperial throne. This lasted for nearly 100 years. Has we have explored int he previous pieces (part 1, part 2 and part 3), it is abundantly clear that as a fundamental question of both identity and control, the lands that now call themselves Eritrean were not a part of the either an Ethiopian kingdom or the Empire. Of course, the final piece of recognizing that the ports of Asseb and Massawa are Eritrean and wholly separate from Ethiopia comes by way of the third great war fought along the border.

This was the war fought from 1998-2000 (the other two being [in order], the Second World War and the other Eritrea’s War of Independence), and was ostensibly based on the lack of physically demarcated border. As we saw before (in part 2) the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia was delimited in the treaties between Italy and Ethiopia in 1900, 1902, and 1908. Now the Treaty of 1908 did not, unlike the previous two treaties, actually delimit points but rather gave a formula for its delimitation.2) The Eritrean-Ethiopian Border Commission took this and interpreted it such that the border which the treaty was concerned with (the Eastern portion) was suitably delimited. It was empowered to do this by the Algiers Agreement,3 and their own Rules of Procedure.45

This series has been dedicated to resolving, whether or not Ethiopia truly has claim to either of the Eritrean ports of Massawa or Asseb, and in particular the latter. What needs to be made most clear from the Boundary Commission conclusion by examining the relevant treaties is that the 1908 treaty (which dealt with the Eastern portion of the border) was effective. Of similar importance, is the fact that Ethiopia (as well as Eritrea) conceded that the applicable treaties would be those signed between Italy and Ethiopia by Emperor Menelik II (see part 2). Specifically the Algiers Agreement called for those three treaties meaning that Ethiopia accepted those boundaries.

This Agreement then confirmed the state of affairs that had existed for over five hundred years and now that the border has been demarcated as set forth in the statement of the Border Commission6 through a list of points in its Annex7 per the Algiers Agreement. As set forth in that said agreement at the conclusion of demarcation, “Each party shall respect the border so determined, as well as territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party.”8 So as the 20th anniversary of Eritrea’s Independence comes and goes, Ethiopia continues to occupy what has been legally determined as sovereign Eritrean territory and as a result has effectively cordoned itself off from access to Eritrea’s ports. It is an unfortunate state of affairs that needs but a little movement on the part of Ethiopia.

Of course any movement will not change the facts of history that show Eritrea is not a part of Ethiopia, and its ports, even less so.

[simple_series title=”Ethiopian Confused”]


  1. Reid, Richard; “The Challenge of the past: The Quest for Historical Legitimacy in Independent Eritrea”; History of Africa; Vol. 28 (2001 

  2. White, Philip; “Briefing: The Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Arbitration”; Review of African Political Economy; Vol. 29, No. 92 (2002 

  3. Algiers Agreement, signed 12 December 2000 Between Eritrea and Ethiopia 

  4. Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission Rules of Procedure 

  5. White, Philip; “Briefing: The Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Arbitration”; Review of African Political Economy; Vol. 29, No. 92 (2002)  

  6. Statement of the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission, 27 November 2006 

  7. Annex to the Statement of the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission, 27 November 2006 

  8. Algiers Agreement, signed 12 December 2000 Between Eritrea and Ethiopia 

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