Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s first six months have dramatically changed Ethiopia’s political landscape. The Ethiopian government looks younger, more representative and radical than it has in a generation. Political red-lines have been crossed, and taboos addressed, including one of the most intractable and untouchable issues: the frozen relationship with Eritrea.
On 6 November 2018, the Rift Valley Forum, in partnership with Amnesty International East Africa Regional Office, hosted a forum to discuss the implications of this unexpected but welcome détente on both sides of the border, including how the border demarcation will be implemented in still largely militarized zones; the impact on population movements across the border and the identity of borderland populations and land rights; the prospects for Ethiopia and Eritrea’s economies, including on Eritrea’s national service and Ethiopia’s large and economically active military.
The forum also discussed the wider impact of the on-going people-to-people reconciliation on civil society, political space and human rights on both sides of the border. In line with this, the session debated key questions such as: Is Eritrea’s government likely to release prisoners and welcome back dissidents in the way Dr Abiy has? Will it be possible for Eritrea to resist reform, and what are the dangers for a rapid opening of political and civic space given the mixed experiences in Ethiopia over the past six months? What is the likely role of Gulf actors in both countries following their critical role in facilitating the détente?