Eritrea’s president arrived in neighboring Ethiopian on Saturday for a visit — the first such visit in two decades — the result of a fast-tracked diplomatic thaw between the two countries.
Issaias Afeworki got a warm welcome, with people lining the streets leading from the airport all the way to the national palace. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed welcomed Afeworki and his high-level delegation.
During the two-day visit, Afeworki and his delegation will also meet Ethiopia’s President Mulatu Teshome and other top officials. Afeworki will also cut the ribbon to reopen the Eritrean Embassy in the capital Addis Ababa.
The Eritrean delegation is also scheduled to visit the Hawassa Industrial Park, 270 kilometers south of the capital, and on Sunday it will attend a music festival by famous Ethiopian singers.
The landmark visit follows a period of 20 years during which the two Horn of Africa countries largely took a no-war, no-peace stance towards each other.
Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia in 1993, in the process taking away its access to the sea. From 1998 to 2000, the two fought a bloody war in which an estimated 70,000-80,000 people perished on both sides.
An agreement brokered by Algeria’s president ended the two-year war, and an international boundary commission gave Badme — a flashpoint for the war — to Eritrea, while compelling it to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for the huge Ethiopian shipments it confiscated at the Port of Assab.
The new diplomatic thaw was made possible after the rise to power in Ethiopia of Ahmed, Africa’s youngest leader, who has taken numerous reform measures domestically and also taken a friendly stance towards Eritrea.
Last Sunday Abiy led a high-level delegation to Eritrea on a two-day visit which finally saw a formal end to the war between the two countries along with agreements to mutually reopen embassies, allow Ethiopia to use the Port of Assab at cheaper rates, and resume phone and air transport services.
-‘Only politics kept us apart’
Getachew Tadesse and Alem Kassa are two of many Ethiopians with a deep love for Eritrea. Some 53 years ago, they got married in Assab, where both used to work.
Ethiopians and Eritreans “are inseparably tied; it is only politics that set the two peoples apart for the past two decades,” said Tadesse, who served the then-Ethiopia Navy and later worked at customs in Assab.
“I gave birth to most of my seven children there in Assab. Eritreans are good people. Most of our friends are Eritreans. It pains my heart we have been separated. Now I hope to meet most of them again, God willing,” Kassa said pensively.
According to Tadesse, it was just a matter of time before the peoples of the two countries reunited.
“But regardless of the two peoples living under one flag or two, they are brothers and sisters who share the same destiny, the same culture, the same religions, and same temperament.”