January 2019

Eritrea and Ethiopia have opened yet another border crossing, this time at Humera in Ethiopia and Oum Hajer in Eritrea. The two countries were at war for the last two decades, but found peace after rapprochement between them. Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed has met several times with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, agreeing to resume air traffic and open border crossings. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Eritrean capital Asmara for a meeting with President Afwerki. It is the first visit by a Kenyan President since 1999. The visit aimed at exploring possibilities of opening an embassy in the country. In 2011, the relationship between the Kenyan and Eritrean government was tense due to Eritrea’s alleged support of terror group al Shabab. During Afwerki’s last visit to Kenya in 2018, after Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal, he held talks with Kenyatta on how to foster peace and stability in the Horn of Africa.

These two developments show a trend in Eritrea’s opening-up and its growing aspirations of becoming involved in regional affairs. Eritrea was one of the first countries to pledge support to Kenya in the aftermath of the January 15, 2019, DusitD2 Hotel attack by al Shabab in Nairobi. A strong and regionally-involved Eritrea can play a crucial role in regional trade due to its strategic location, and in supporting the fight against al Shabab due to its big and experienced military. The latter does not come without risks. Eritrea still upholds very strict conscription laws which, according to human rights advocates, are used by Afwerki to keep control of the populace. Joining the fight against al Shabab might serve to uphold these laws, despite mounting critique from international partners.


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