Espousing love between their two countries, the leaders of longtime adversaries Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed Sunday to restore diplomatic relations after nearly 20 years and to open the border between their neighboring Horn of Africa countries.
Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in Eritrea’s capital and was welcomed with hugs and laughter by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, a joyous scene unthinkable just months ago.
After being cheered by crowds in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, and holding private meetings, the two leaders attended a dinner and announced new measures.
“We have agreed to open up embassies in our respective countries, allow our people to visit each other’s cities and allow our airlines and ports to operate freely,” said Abiy, in comments covered by Eritrean state television.
Abiy said the two leaders have “agreed to bring down the wall between us. Now there is no border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. That border line has gone today with the display of a true love … love is greater than modern weapons like tanks and missiles. Love can win hearts, and we have seen a great deal of it today here in Asmara. From this time on, war is not an option for the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. What we need now is love.”
The Eritrean leader also effused about the new era of friendly relations between the two countries.
The visit of Ethiopia’s prime minister to Asmara comes a month after Abiy surprised people by fully accepting a peace deal that ended a 20-year border war between the two East African nations that killed tens of thousands. Ethiopia and Eritrea have not had diplomatic ties since the war began in 1998, with Abiy himself fighting in a town that remains contested today, and the countries have skirmished since then.
Ethiopians expressed a welcome shock at the meeting, which was shown live by Ethiopia’s state TV.
“Historic … the beginning of the end. The glass ceiling has been broken,” one resident, Shewit Wudassie, wrote on Facebook. Another Facebook user, Djphat Su, wrote: “Am I dreaming or what?”
The decision to fully accept the peace deal was the biggest and most surprising reform yet announced by Ethiopia’s prime minister, who took office in April and quickly set off a wave of reforms, freeing journalists and opposition figures from prison, opening up the state-run economy and unblocking hundreds of websites after years of anti-government protests demanding more freedoms.
Ethiopia used the visit to announce that the flagship Ethiopian Airlines would soon begin flights to Eritrea, and already Abiy has expressed interest in landlocked Ethiopia having access to Eritrean ports.