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Badme, from TPLF’s ace card to its cyanide pill.

Badme, a place that has routinely been referred to in derogatory terms such ‘dusty’,
‘barren’, ‘tiny’, etc, has been the focal point of the politics of the Horn of Africa for the past
twenty years.

Before the TPLF (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front) led Ethiopian government launched the
first of its three offensives in May 1998, few people had ever heard of the town of Badme
and fewer still envisaged the role it would play in the region’s politics in the coming

In 1998, with its popularity on the wane, unable to capture the hearts and minds of the
Ethiopian people and its inherent insecurities further enhanced by a resurgent Eritrea, the
TPLF decided to kill two birds with one stone by launching a military attack on Eritrea.

Seven years after it took power, the TPLF had a serious image problem. The Ethiopian
people were not convinced of its Ethiopian nationalistic credentials. This was probably due
to several issues, like the TPLF’s decision to still refer to itself as a front for the liberation of
Tigray, which gave the impression that it had yet to liberate Tigray by using the resources of
Ethiopia. In addition, Ethiopians were uncomfortable with members of the Ethiopian army
who had fought against the TPLF being designated as ‘enemy forces’, after all, these were
Ethiopians too, who had fought to preserve the unity of their country in the eyes of many.

They were the sons and fathers to those the TPLF was preaching about its military prowess
to. The TPLF designating its fighters as heroes and former government soldiers as ‘the
enemy’ caused the anti-Ethiopian tag to stick.

Furthermore, the TPLF was being held responsible for the independence of Eritrea and the
subsequent loss of Ethiopia’s access to the sea. The Ethiopian people wrongly thought that
the TPLF had handed Eritrea its independence, while the truth of the matter was that
Eritreans through a long, hard and bitter thirty year armed struggle managed to achieve
their long awaited independence. In 1991, when Eritrea became independent, the TPLF was
in no position to either stand for or against Eritrean independence.

By 1998, Eritrea having secured its political independence, was on its way to achieve
economic independence with the issuing of its own national currency, the Nakfa, in
November of 1997. The possibility of Eritrea’s economic resurgence did not sit well with the
TPLF, who despite outwardly collaborating with the Eritreans to overthrow the military
regime of Ethiopia, harboured a deep rooted resentment towards Eritrea and saw it as a
threat to its ambitions of dominating the region.

It is to be noted that ever since Ghana became independent in 1957, no African nation has
been able to achieve true economic freedom despite an abundance of natural resources at
their disposal. This sad state of affairs, is not because Africans cannot administer themselves
or that they have no ambition. The truth of the matter is that, Africa has never been allowed
to develop. Starting from Dr. Nkurumah’s drive to develop Ghana, any attempt to
economically empower Africans has been torpedoed. There have always been willing
partners in Africa, who for the sake of their personal gain, were ready to sacrifice the future
of their country. The sad affairs of Thomas Sankara is a prime example. For far too long
there has been an abundance of African ‘leaders’ who have been willing to exchange vital
precious resources like land, water, minerals etc, with ‘coloured glass beads’ which they can
wear when parading in front of their destitute subjects.

In 1998, with Eritrea poised to embark on its economic emancipation path, the forces that
have held back Africa, found a eager and willing partner in the insecure TPLF to derail
Eritrea’s ambition.

So in 1998, with the TPLF desperately seeking a way to stay in power and thinking the
destruction of Eritrea was within its grasp, it declared war on Eritrea on the pretext of
Eritrea invading and occupying the town of Badme, thus violating the sanctity of Ethiopian
sovereignty. In May 1998 Badme was violently thrust on to the World stage, when the TPLF
led Ethiopian government declared war and invaded Eritrea.

The TPLF’s declaration of war, was intended to bolster its nationalistic credentials by
promising to ‘return’ Eritrea together with its ports, to Ethiopia. The war was also supposed
to break the ‘spine’ of Eritrea, to render it a quadriplegic for the rest of its days.

Badme, was used by the TPLF as a rallying cry to focus and galvanize Ethiopian nationalistic
sentiments. Badme was lauded as a prize worthy of any sacrifice with no price too high to
pay for it. By the end of the war, the folly of the TPLF cost 200,000 Ethiopians their lives and
a great deal more were maimed for life .

Despite the TPLF’s claim of victory, it requested the UN to broker a peace deal with Eritrea.
An agreement was signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia known as the Algiers Agreement in
December of 2000 which was supposed to end the hostilities. It was through this agreement
that the two countries agreed to set up a boundary commission to determine their common
border and more importantly to determine to whom Badme belonged to. Both parties
agreed that the decision of the Commission would be final and binding, with no recourse to

The Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission presented its final and binding decision in April
of 2002.

Much to the surprise of all, the TPLF’s Foreign minster of that time immediately declared
the ruling as a ‘victory for justice’ as the commission had decided that Badme was in
Ethiopia. Unsurprisingly, upon his announcement, there were scenes of jubilation in the
streets of the Ethiopian capital, as the award of Badme was seen as vindication for the
extremely high sacrifices paid for it. The TPLF bigwigs patted their backs and commended
themselves on how well they played their ace card.

It was not long after that the Ethiopians came crashing down from their Badme induced
high. It turned out that the Ethiopian Foreign minster, had not read the full decision.

Knowing that the political stakes were extremely high, he had wilfully and cynically rushed
to come out to claim Badme as Ethiopian, as loss of Badme was not an option in his eyes.
Badme, the card that the TPLF had counted on to change its fortunes, the reason that so
many lives had been lost and changed for ever, was no longer the prize that would buy the
love of the Ethiopian people, but became the prime exhibit of the evidence that the TPLF
cared little for Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

Badme became a conundrum to the TPLF. If it abided by International Law and handed it
over to its rightful owner, then serious questions would be raised by Ethiopians about the
unnecessary cost they had to pay for the TPLF’s adventurism. Holding onto Badme would
mean a constant state of war with Eritrea, with its own support base in the region of Tigray,
feeling the brunt of the effects.

In the end, the TPLF pushed on by its handlers decided to embark on a series of manoeuvres
designed to muddy the waters and buy it time while it tried to replace the Eritrean
government with one that was more sympathetic to it.
Having alienated the Ethiopian people through brutal oppression and unbridled corruption
for twenty-seven years, it was removed from power by the struggle of the Ethiopian people
in early 2018.

The first thing that the new Ethiopian government did was to stretch a genuine hand of
peace towards Eritrea by accepting for the first time the Algiers Agreement of 2000, without
any precondition and as it should have been.
Ever since Badme had been deemed to be Eritrean in 2002, the TPLF had refused to hand it
over to its rightful owner, choosing rather to use it at times as a bargaining chip and at times
as a weapon of intimidation. The Eritrean government for 16 years had reiterated its
position that Badme and all other sovereign territories would have to be evacuated before
any talks/normalisation could start.

So when on 5 June 2018 the new Ethiopian Prime Minster, Dr. Abiy Ahmed signalled his
intention of making peace with Eritrea, by accepting and promising to implement the Algiers
Agreement without any pre-conditions ,every one thought that Eritrea would stand its
ground and demand the return of Badme together with the other territories, before
anything else.

The now ousted TPLF which was holed up in its region thought that it held the key to any
future relationship between Eritrea and Ethiopia as it still held Badme. It wrongly thought
that Badme had once again become an ace card, a game changer, a life line a ‘get out of jail’
card to it.

Much to the surprise of the TPLF and its battery of mainly foreign ‘experts’, Eritrea, rather
fittingly, accepted the peace offer on the day that it was marking its remembrance of its

TPLF realised that it had been out manoeuvred once again by Eritrea, it was left standing
holding onto Badme, while the forces for peace simply drove around it, leaving it stranded
in the middle of nowhere, holding onto what has now become a poisoned chalice to it.

So why did the Eritrean government accept the olive branch extended by Prime Minster Dr.
Abiy ? The simple answer is that, it now had in the new Ethiopian Government, a genuine
partner for peace. The TPLF was desperately trying to change the ‘Final and Binding’ border
ruling under the pretence of ‘negotiating’ a settlement. Its intention was for the Eritrean
government to relinquish its claim on Badme, so that the TPLF would not lose face.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia border might not be physically demarcated but its exact location has
been submitted to the UN in what is termed as a ‘virtual demarcation’. The legal implication
is that, although currently Ethiopia might be occupying Eritrean sovereign land, it can do
nothing more. If for example in the off chance that some sort of mineral deposit was to be
located in these regions, the Ethiopian government would not be able to lay claim to it.

Therefore, the Eritrean government is secure in the knowledge that its borders have been
legally defined and what is left is the matter of reclaiming these lands. That this reclamation
will happen, has never and will never be in doubt.

With the new Ethiopian leadership and Eritrea well on the way to a lasting peace, the TPLF
had tried its utmost to undermine the process. In what can only be a case of one being
unable to teach an old dog new tricks, the TPLF publicly paraded its citizens and made them
claim that Badme was Ethiopian, thus revealing that for the past 20 years the obstacle to
peace was none other than the TPLF, who had never accepted the ruling that Badme was
Eritrean. It had tried all it could to reverse the decision by fair and foul means, but mostly by

The day that Badme will once again be part of Eritrea is not too far away. It would be the
day that the TPLF will cease to be, a day of reckoning for it, a day that Ethiopians will be
asking why nearly 200 hundred thousand Ethiopians were needlessly sacrificed on what has
always been Eritrean territory.

Try as it might, the TPLF cannot avoid swallowing the bitter pill of being removed from
Badme. Having raised the stakes on Badme so high over the past 20 years, it would not be
able to survive the liberation of Badme. Twenty years after its misadventure, the TPLF will
have no option but take the cyanide pill that for far too long it thought was its ace card. As
the TPLF shrivels up and disappears, it will witness the benefit of peace that it had denied
the region for so long, but will not part take of it.

Yafet Zereou

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