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WHEN Ethiopia and Eritrea went back to war in 1998 after the latter seceded from the former in the wake of a protracted struggle for independence the trench warfare conflict, in which tens of thousands of troops on both sides died, was fatuously described as “two bald men fighting over a comb”.
The war, ostensibly stemming from a border dispute, only lasted two years, but relations have never recovered, cementing a stand-off that threatens regional security and development. Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, proffered an olive branch earlier last week, saying “we are fully committed to reconcile with our Eritrean brothers and sisters.” We too, came the swift response from Asmara, as long as you finally honour your peace treaty obligations.
The big question now is whether Abiy will pull Ethiopian troops from land around the frontier town of Badme, which an international commission in 2003 determined belonged to Eritrea. Such a concession would be a risky move public relations-wise for a man facing a raft of monumental challenges, but it could also mend one of the most combustible fences in Africa. One to keep an eye on.