Two bald men fighting over a comb

Wednesday, December 07, 2005
One of the 'little' tragedies of the World looks like it is about to heat up again. As this Times Online article reports, Eritrea and Ethipia look like they are on the path to another war. Eritrea has ordered all US, Canadian and European UN peacekeepers to leave the nation. This follows an expulsion of UN helicopters earlier.

Between 1998 and 2000 they fought a war over a disputed border that cost an estimated 70,000 lives. The disputed border area ran largely through deserts. The war ended with both sides agreeing to abide by the decisions of a Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary Commission. When the Commission released its work the Ethiopians rejected their drawing of the boundary, demanding control of villages given to Eritrea. However, these villages are not the real cause of the problem, the root of the dispute is landlocked Ethiopia's desire to gain the Eritrean port city of Assab.

Eritrea seems to have a legitimate grievance that the international community did not exert pressure on Ethiopia to abide by the Boundary Commission's findings. None the less, it is difficult to see what tiny Eritrea hopes to gain by going to war. The title of this article alludes to what the previous war was described as... blood spilled for sand and rock for as foolish a reason as two bald men fighting over a comb.

As a personel aside, during the Yom Kippur war I was on a ship that ran a Somali/South Yemeni blockade of the Babal-Mendeb straights. We docked in the then Ethiopian, now Eritrean, port of Massawa. Wonderful people, but horrible beer. Eh, what else did you think would be important to a sailor?


truepeers said...

Any chance of there being oil under the disputed desert?

ambisinistral said...

No, I don't think oil is involved at all.

I'm a bit foggy on it all, but I think Eritrea was a political unit under the Ottomans. Massawa carried some weight as a Red Sea port and there is gold and silver in the highlands).

I think it was one of the escape routes when, as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, the Mahdi came to power in the Sudan. I think at that point it ended up under the Egyptian rather than the Ethiopian sphere.

Some how or another Italy got involved in Eritrea as a colonial power, and I think they're the ones that welded it to Ethiopia. After WWII it was supposedly Federated with Ethiopia, but that arrangement came apart.

I know that when I was briefly there a desultary rebellion was going on. The road between Massawa and Asmara was considered dangerous because of rebel activity.

It was after Haile Selassie got overthrown that they finally broke away. The problem then was that Ethiopia became landlocked. I think much of the mess is over Ethiopia's attempts to gain control of the southern port of Assab to alleviate that situation. There is apparently a bit of shuffling around of the population that doesn't help either.

ambisinistral said...
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