Ethiopia and Eritrea have had horrible relations since Eritrea broke away from the much larger Ethiopia in 1991, stripping the East African giant of its access to the sea. Since the initial war, the two sides have been locked in a cycle of uneasy truce and open conflict. But under a new prime minister, Ethiopia has offered its neighbor normalized relations in a move that could greatly alter the state of affairs in the region.
After years of bad blood, Ethiopia is taking steps to mend fences and reach an agreement on its shared border with Eritrea. On June 5, Ethiopia's ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, opted to accept an agreement that would give Badme, a town on the border, to Eritrea. If Ethiopia follows through, the move could help settle some of the differences between the two archrivals on the Horn of Africa.
After a miscalculation by Eritrea's leadership in 1998, the area around Badme became synonymous with death for both sides. Eritrea suffered particularly heavy losses there. When the fighting concluded, the two sides signed the Algiers agreement of 2000, which was supposed to, among other things, settle the disputes over the border and the symbolically important town of Badme. However, Ethiopia effectively reneged on the agreement after a commission awarded the town to Eritrea, and the two countries have been locked in a stalemate ever since. Their conflict has featured both real and perceived machinations on both sides of the disputed border, and attempts to destabilize each other by supporting various militant groups have become a hallmark of their relations.
Nearly two decades after their conflict was meant to end, Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, is looking to make major changes by attempting to resolve some of the thorniest issues facing his nation. In an attempt to quell the instability that has plagued Ethiopia in recent years, the prime minister has been searching for political settlements with dissidents and ways to open up the country's tightly structured political system. By attempting to settle the dispute with Eritrea, the prime minister is probably seeking greater stability. However, Ethiopia still needs to follow through and comply with the Algiers accord by pulling its troops from the areas the deal awarded to Eritrea, including the Badme area. Moreover, Eritrea's leaders must decide whether to pursue a more durable peace agreement with the country's longtime nemesis.