Reflections On An Aspect Of The Boundary Commission’s Decision:

The Revision Of Ethiopian History To Perpetuate Past Colonialist Agenda

By Efrem Yemane-Brehan, J.S.D


The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (the “Commission”) is an arbitration panel created following agreement between the regime of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (“EPLF”) in Eritrea and the regime of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (“EPRDF”) in Ethiopia in Algiers in December 2000.  The two one-time rebel groups were comrades in arms, but following fallout in their relationships, they fought a bitter conflict for a period of two years between 1998 and 2000.  The Commission was sponsored by the United Nations and was put together by the two regimes in accordance with the Algiers Peace Agreement.  Each regime selected two arbitrators and the four then selected the fifth one.  The Commission delivered its Decision Regarding Delimitation of the Border between the State of Eritrea and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia on April 13, 2002.

The Commission’s Mandate and Why Such Proved Disadvantageous to Ethiopia

Having been constituted by the two regimes, the Commission’s mandate was limited from the very beginning.  The Commission never was given an independent mandate.  Its mandate was to decide only on the issues initially presented to it by the parties and based on the submissions and arguments made before it.  The weaknesses and strengths of the disputing parties’ submissions and arguments were evidently reflected in the Commission’s logic, analysis, and final awards.  Furthermore, the scope of the Commission’s mandate was so limited that even more reliable, plausible, and authoritative external factors and alternatives had to be set aside in the making of final awards in order to meet the parties’ preferences.  This state of affairs has proved to be detrimental to Ethiopia. 

First of all, despite the fact that the EPLF regime and the EPRDF regime fought a bitter war, they were comrades in arms for two decades before both seized power, one in Addis Ababa and the other in Asmara.  The impact of that earlier camaraderie was ostensibly obvious in the positions the now-contending two parties advanced before the Commission.  The two regimes were ideological allies for a very long time.  Neither has shed a mutually shared ideology regarding Ethiopia’s historical border, Ethiopia’s important historical figures, the commitment to abide by the secret agreements the two regimes entered into following their seizure of power in the two capitals, and the independence of Eritrea. 

Thus, for example, both regimes believe that Ethiopia does not have a historical claim over the Red Sea coast.  Each shares with the other the view that Ethiopia never had a footing in the territory now called Eritrea before the 1952 UN resolution federating Eritrea with Ethiopia.  Both regimes have a strong dislike for Emperor Menelik, since both subscribe to the view that Menelik blocked the continuation of Tigrean (and for current day Eritreans a possible Hamasien) hegemony over the rest of Ethiopia following the death of Emperor Yohannes.  Both despise the Amhara ethnic group, whom they believe to be the main stumbling block against a Tigrean-speaking ethnic hegemony over the rest of Ethiopia, particularly because the Amharic language has been adopted as the lingua franca in Ethiopia.  The two share exactly the same ideology as to the political, economic, social, cultural, and ethnic makeup of Ethiopia. They fought against Ethiopia together – the EPLF, to secede from, and the EPRDF, initially to secede from, but later, to seize power and impose Tigrean ethnic minority hegemony over the rest of the country after facilitating the Eritrean secessionist agenda.  Both Meles and Isaias share the distorted version of history that claims that Ethiopian history is only 100 years old. 

Finally, the two regimes had entered into several secret and some not so secret deals regarding border arrangements after their seizure of power.  It can fairly be assumed that these deals were meant to benefit the EPLF, which was the senior and more powerful partner in the arrangement at the time.  The EPRDF regime has never brought these agreements to the attention of the Ethiopian people to date, although their onerous impact was recently felt.  This happened when, for example, the Commission decided to divide the town of Burre into two, despite Burre’s location well beyond the 60-kilometer “border” that the EPRDF-exhumed 1908 treaty outlined as the border between Ethiopia and the Italian occupying forces along the Red Sea coast.

There are several actions and positions taken by the Meles regime before and during the war and later in his repeated and spirited pronouncements on the Assab and other issues that have convinced even reasonable minds that Meles in fact has a soft heart for Eritrea.  Thus, while Eritrea was represented before the Commission by a regime that entertains to this day A deep hatred towards Ethiopia, Ethiopia, on the other hand, was represented by a regime with questionable commitment and allegiance to Ethiopia’s national interest.  Has any one heard of a “leader” of a country that shouts above everyone else that his country is not entitled to a port even after advice to the contrary by seasoned international diplomats?  Has there ever been witnessed a “leader” who vehemently argues similarly like Meles Zenawi who says that a country of 65 million should remain landlocked by a small country of three million in the face of so much geopolitical, economic, and historical support to favor the former?  Imagine a country only 60 kilometers away from the sea east west but its border running parallel for some 500 kilometers north south, and its own leader says those who demand access to the sea anywhere across the 60-kilometeer line are “war mongers”? Whatever cover up the EPRDF regime would like to give its treasonous commitment, the implications of the various positions adopted by this regime are patently clear to Ethiopians.  It is out there for all to see that the “emperor is indeed naked.”


Arguments Before the Commission – EPRDF’s Abdication of Leadership Par Excellence.  Can the Commission Escape Blame?


While we do not know the contents of the parties’ submissions, since the Commissions deliberations are closed to the public and the briefs and transcripts of actual Commission proceedings have not been made available to public scrutiny to date, it was clearly evident that Ethiopia was extremely poorly represented.  The decision was a monumental example of an abdication of responsibility by the EPRDF regime reinforcing the widely held assumption that the current regime in Ethiopia does not have Ethiopia’s interests at heart.  The Commission at times went out of its way to meet EPLF demands even in the face of evidence pointing to the contrary.  The EPRDF representatives before the Commission made “admissions” against Ethiopian interests, failed to make arguments pertinent to Ethiopia, or altogether were silent in the face of unjustified EPLF demands.  The Commission also went out of its way to accept EPLF demands by making opinions not sufficiently grounded in evidence or supported by authority. 

Assab   To start with, the regime’s decision not to insist on putting Ethiopia’s legitimate claims over the port of Assab as one of the agenda items for decision by arbitration at the Algiers’ peace conference is inexcusable.  Also inexcusable is its reluctance to make a separate declaration that the current border commission cannot definitively decide the issue of Assab.

The defunct treaties of 1900, 1902, and 1908   Again the EPRDF regime’s decision to bring from the dead the treaties of 1900, 1902, and 1908 is beyond comprehension.  First of all these treaties are unequal arrangements forced upon Ethiopia by colonial.  These treaties were also later made null and void through Italian invasion of Ethiopia and again through Ethiopia’s declaration of their nullity in 1952.  EPRDF’s insistence to exhume these null and void treaties is clear indication of a regime determined to hurt Ethiopia permanently.  The Commission is not going to escape criticism on this.  The Commission’s unquestioning reliance on already defunct treaties could put the whole decision into question.  It will very likely provide grounds for a review of the decision when a new regime denounces it as a decision based on invalidated treaties.

Tserona and Fort Cardona  The current Ethiopian regime’s declaration against Ethiopian interest, which the Commission called it an “admission” by opposing party, that Tserona and Fort Cardona are and have always been Eritrean, despite all maps showing otherwise, is a clear example of a treasonous enterprise in representing Ethiopia.  Based on this “admission,” the Commission awarded the two areas to Eritrea.  It is an open secret that the Meles regime is an unpopular and undemocratic regime.  It is also evident that this decision affects the future of two states.  In recognition of these, the Commission should have opted to base its award on more plausible grounds than on the clumsy “admission by a party opponent” rule of evidence, a rule fit for application only to disputes between individuals.

Adopting April 27, 1993 as cut-off date  The Meles regime’s apparent commitment to protect EPLF’s gains, achieved immediately after Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia, is also evident from the Commission’s remark in section 3.36 that “the parties have . . . accepted that the date as at which the borders between them are to be determined is that of the date of the independence of Eritrea, that is to say, April 27, 1993.”  The impact of this “acceptance” is that EPLF, having been the senior partner in the overthrow of the regime of Mengistu Hailemariam, was allowed by Meles to maintain advantages accorded to it at a time it was able to dictate its terms against the junior partner, EPRDF.

Abandonement of the Coastline of Islands Concept    Again, EPRDF’s “abandon[ment]” of the “coastline of islands” concept (see § 6.19), an argument that could have opened the possibility of Ethiopia at least partly winning on her legitimate claims over access to the sea, and adoption of the EPLF’s “coastline of the continent” concept, has damaged Ethiopian interests considerably.  It is not uncommon for nations to accede to a strip of land to secure direct access to the sea (a case in point, Congo through Angola).  South Africa still has a recognized right over Walvik Bay in Namibia.  Britain’s fights to hold on to the Falklands (Islas de Malvinas) or its control over Gibraltar are legendary.  But Meles, through his representatives, abandons the most legitimate claims even by his own botched standards.  Meles is for sure determined to keep Ethiopia landlocked.  All his boastful defense about protecting a non-existent international “rule of law,” even when international law itself offers legitimate leeway, is a sure sign of an Ethiopian regime with an agenda separate and apart from an Ethiopian agenda.

The Flimsy Defense to the Bada Claim  An examination of sections 6.23 and 6.30 of the Commission’s decision shows the relentless strategies adopted by the EPLF to place its claims well beyond the 60 kilometers line and Ethiopia’s lukewarm argument in protest and counter-argument.  Thus, in response to Eritrean claims of more frequent and concerted Italian presence in the Bada region, this was how the Ethiopian representatives responded:  [T]he Bada region is large and its extent is not clearly defined.  Some parts of Bada are plainly Ethiopian and some parts are plainly Eritrean.”  Such a short answer, in the face of a barrage of counter-arguments by the EPLE, resulted in awards favorable to EPLF, and is an example of the kind of weak and clumsy legal defense that characterizes the Ethiopian side. 

The surrender of half of the town of Burre and its surroundings to Eritrea   Sections 6.30 and 6.32 of the Commission’s decision actually give support to the above suspicion.  The Commission there adopted, in the face of complete silence from the Ethiopian regime’s representatives, the position forwarded by the EPLF.  Even the invalidated but now resurrected 1908 treaty set 60 kilometers of distance from the coastline as the border line. Ethiopia was also victorious over the Eritrean invading forces in 2000, pushing them out of Burre.  However, despite these, the Commission adopted Eritrean arguments that at Burre, which is well over 70 kilometers inland, Eritrea shared a checkpoint or customs facility with Ethiopia.  The Commission noted that “[i]t is not unknown for States to locate a checkpoint or customs facility of one State within the territory of a neighboring State [and] [s]uch arrangements . . . do not necessarily involve a change of boundary.”  The Commission shifted gear, however, citing some report signed by the Ethiopian and Eritrean regimes.  That report indicated Burre to be the “border” (this memo also referred to Burre as “checkpoint”).  The Commission also cited an Eritean memorandum “copied to the Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara” which reported of “Ethiopian trucks entering Eritrea through the checkpoints both in Zalambessa and Burre.”   On that basis, the Commission held that the case at Burre was a manifestation of a desire by both parties to make Burre the borderline. 

The Commission was contradicting itself when it did not so divide Zalambessa, despite having in its hands an equal justification to do so based on this so called “memorandum,” the same way it did with Burre.  On the other hand, as usual acting against Ethiopia’s interest, it refused to draw a line to award Ethiopia the east/west surroundings of Zalambessa thereby making this town jut into Eritrea, surrounded on all three fronts east/north/west by Eritrean territory.  When it came to Burre, however, the Commission decided to divide not only the town of Burre into halve, but also to divide the surrounding area between points 39 to 40 north/south into half, giving Eritrea even more land than the invalid but EPRDF-exhumed 1908 treaty allowed.  This is further evidence to the charge that the Commission was engaged in a non-mandated balancing act to fit a political agenda that the Ethiopian regime was perhaps hoodwinked not to believe existed. This Commission’s award was thus not the result of legal reasoning based on available evidence as the Commission claimed it was guided by, but the result of political balancing beyond its mandate.  The Ethiopian regime’s representatives were no where to be seen arguing Ethiopian interest even with the availability of a mountain of evidence in their favor.

The above instances show the slant in the Commission’s decision against Ethiopia due to the action or inaction of a treasonous leadership in Ethiopia, to relentless EPLF demands, and to a not-so-impartial tribunal’s interpretation of facts and events in favor of the EPLF.  One might perhaps be prompted not to put much blame on the Commission for this onerous decision on Ethiopia.  After all, as the Ethiopian saying goes, “kebalebetu yaweke buda new” (meaning only the owner knows what is best for himself).  If the Ethiopian regime is making declarations against its interest allowing the Commission to take such declarations as an “admission,” if EPRDF is inadequately submitting supporting evidence, or the regime’s representatives remain silent when they are supposed to aggressively defend Ethiopian interest, why should disinterested third parties like the Commission bother to contradict the Ethiopian regime?  


Perhaps the worst damage that the decision inflicted on Ethiopia is its distortion of Ethiopian history.  It is now agreed among Ethiopians that the Meles regime participated in the promotion of an Eritrean brand of the history of Ethiopia and the region, in effect claiming that Ethiopian history is only 100 years old.  (See, e.g., Meles Zenawi, Eritrean People’s Struggle From Where to Where  (TPLF 1979) (Abraham Yayeh ed. 2000) (in Amharic).  Perhaps, EPRDF’s failure to aggressively submit supporting historical facts about Ethiopia, or the regime’s acquiescence or active participation in the distortion of that history, is all but expected.  However, the Commission has put its credibility and impartiality on the line when it adopted a version of history that was unsupported by independently verifiable historical facts and reliable authority.  The record must be set straight.

The Pertinent Sections in the Commission’s Decision 


Two pertinent sections in the Commission’s decision, quoted below, manifestly indicate that the Commission was engaged in the distortion of Ethiopian history and the history of one of her ablest leaders, Menelik.  In so doing, it was adopting in toto Eritrean historical submissions that were apparently not challenged or very likely silently acquiesced to by the Ethiopian representatives.  Sections 2.7 of the Commission’s decision reads as follows:

Ethiopia has for long been an independent member of the international community.  Apart from the period following its annexation by Italy in 1935 . . . , there has been no discontinuity or change in its status.  The position of Eritrea is different.  Prior to the 1880s, large parts of it had been subject to Ottoman and Egyptian authority.  During that decade, Italy began to assert a colonial presence in the region, first at the Red Sea port of Assab and in 1885 at Massawa.  Subsequent Italian attempts to expand its control inland were successfully resisted by Ethiopian forces.  However, in 1889, by the Treaty of Uccialli, Ethiopia and Italy established the boundary between the Empire of Ethiopia and the areas of Eritrea then in Italian possession.  On 1 January 1890, Italy formally established the Colony of Eritrea.  In 1893, the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik denounced the Treaty of Uccialli, but Italian expansion inland continued until the battle of Adwa in 1896, in which Italian forces were defeated.  A temporary boundary arrangement was then established between Ethiopia and Italy.

Again, section 4.7 of the Commission’s decision reads in pertinent part as follows:

Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia at first sought a frontier considerably to the north of the Mareb-Belesa-Muna line, but eventually agreed in 1900 to keep to that line (in exchange for a payment of 5,000,000 lire, apparently for forgoing a more extensive claim).

I.                          The Commission’s Reluctance To Acknowledge That Eritrea Or A Good Portion Of It Once Was Part Of Northern Ethiopia Is Telling

A close look at section 2.7 shows how much the Commission avoided acknowledging the well-documented and readily admitted historical fact that the territory now called Eritrea, with perhaps some variations to the north and west, was once part of Ethiopia.  By taking such a position, the Commission was refusing to acknowledge that Ottoman Turkey and Egypt, and later the Italians, were encroaching upon Ethiopian territory.  It was refusing to acknowledge that Ethiopia all throughout history never abandoned its legitimate claim over this territory, evidenced by (a) actual though intermittent, over-lordship of the Bahire Negash, (b) assertions of sovereignty through the diplomatic arena, through battles fought to restore sovereignty, and (c) through the perpetuation of sovereignty by securing allegiances of and enforcing payment of tributary duties on the local rulers. 

The Commission gave prominence to dubious claims of control by outside forces, and dismissed in toto superior Ethiopian historical claims.  In so doing, the Commission gave invaders from distant lands the benefit of the doubt over and above the unabated assertion and proven exercise of sovereignty by Ethiopia over the Red Sea coast over the centuries.  A look at the history of the region proves the Commission otherwise.

 A.  Commission’s Platitude About Ethiopia’s Prominent Status In History

The Commission noted as follows: 

Ethiopia has for long been an independent member of the international community.  Apart from the period following its annexation by Italy in 1935, there has been no relevant discontinuity or change in its status.

This apparently benign statement hides the Commission’s more subtle purpose of denying Ethiopian legitimate historical claims of territorial sovereignty over the area named Eritrea by the Italians.  There have been several encroachments into Ethiopian territory over the centuries, especially in the northern parts of the country.  It was not in 1935 only that Ethiopia’s status changed, as the Commission appears to claim.  When the Italians first came to Massawa and proceeded to establish a post in Assab and then made the whole of Ethiopia’s northern territory into an Italian colony calling it Eritrea, Ethiopia’s territorial status had changed.  Going back further in history, when the Ottoman Turks and Egyptians came to the coastal region and at various times took control of the coastal region temporarily, Ethiopia’s territorial status had changed.  However, during all these times, Ethiopia never willingly accepted such arrangements, and never ceased fighting for the return of her territories illegitimately snatched from her by invaders.  Even if Ethiopia was forced to enter into some unequal arrangements at various times to “stay alive,” whenever the situation changed, Ethiopia re-asserted her claims and advanced to take back the territory she may have temporarily lost to these invaders. 

For one ignorant of Ethiopian history, the above quoted statement would create the wrong impression that Ethiopia has maintained the same status over the centuries, i.e., without a northern territory now called Eritrea including the Red Sea littoral.  An advocate of the Commission’s position might argue that this phrase was not intended to refer to changes in territory, but was only limited to the status of Ethiopia as a state in the international arena.  But the Commission was capable of making its statement clear if it really intended that statement to mean so, thereby avoiding ambiguity.  By implying that there were no colonial incursions that left Ethiopia dispossessed of any of its territory, except the 1935 Italian occupation, the Commission ignored Ethiopia’s history of control of the Red Sea littoral for significant periods of time.  The Commission’s observations are, however, clearly in accord with EPLF and EPRDF version of history as clearly evidenced in Melez Zenawi’s book.  Hence, we need to reject the Commission’s sinister platitude quoted above, and reply:  “Thanks but no thanks.”

B.  Creating A New History For Eritrea

Once the Commission left the above implication in place, it proceeded to slant the history further against Ethiopia’s interest.  When it is well-known that there was no such territory called “Eritrea” prior to Italian formal declaration creating such in 1889, it sent the implication that there was one when the Commission observed: “Prior to the 1880s, large parts of it [Eritrea] had been subject to Ottoman and Egyptian authority.  The Commission could have simply stated “large parts of the territory that forms current day Eritrea.”  The use of “it” may have been included to satisfy EPLF claims that Eritrea existed as an entity separate and apart from Ethiopia before the Italian colonization.

The sentence a few lines further reads strengthening the implication above:  However, in 1889, by the Treaty of Uccialli, Ethiopia and Italy established the boundary between the Empire of Ethiopia and the area of Eritrea then in Italian possession.  Firstly, the Commission, by noting that the two sides “established” the boundary, was implying that, at the time, Ethiopia and Italy were equal partners engaged in a mutual, peaceful, and consensual endeavor of creating a legal entity.  But this was not a reflection of the true state of affairs at the time.  The Italians were continuously encroaching upon the sovereignty of a weaker nation, using all available pressure mechanisms, including military and diplomatic, and tactics, including disinformation, destabilization, and cajolery.  They used all the connections and superior technology at their disposal at the time this stillborn “treaty” was signed.  There is no better proof of this state of affairs than the fact that the “treaty” by which Ethiopia, together with Italy, “established” the boundary was immediately renounced by Ethiopia as having been the product of fraud and linguistic manipulation by Italy.  The Commission, even more than a century after such arrangement of treachery was laid bare, cites it as support to prove that Ethiopia participated in the “establishment” of the border with Italy.

Furthermore, the Commission also selectively used language that would diminish Ethiopia’s status by saying “between the Empire of Ethiopia and the area of Eritrea then in Italian possession.”  The fact of the matter was that Italy was carving out Ethiopian territory and creating an Italian colony called “Eritrea,” a name referencing the Red Sea.  If the Commission had not preferred to revise history in a manner detrimental to Ethiopia, it should only have said, if at all:  Italy, through the Treaty of Uccialli, attempted to establish the southern boundary of its newly created colony adjacent to the Red Sea which it later formally named the Colony of Eritrea.  Ethiopia, however, immediately renounced this treaty as not binding.  As a result, the treaty did not become effective.  Better still though, the Commission should not have raised the treaty in a border arbitration in 2002 except as an anecdote in history to show Italian machinations at the time to gain a foothold in the region. 

The Commission’s toning down Ethiopian claims is another example of a less than impartial approach to settling the dispute.  The Commission, rather than being specific as to which parts were in the hands of Ottoman or Egyptian control, simply uses the deliberately vague “large parts of” language.  Does the Commission then tell us about what happens to the remaining part?  No.  We do not know what happens to the remaining part.  It will not be an exaggeration to claim that the impression the Commission wanted to leave by this deafening silence as to the remaining part was that Ethiopia never had any sovereign territorial claim in any part of the territory now called Eritrea.  The Commission deliberately ignored many known facts which prove that, compared to Ottoman/Egyptian claims, Ethiopia had a superior claim to the coastal region in general and the inland territory, especially the highland regions of current day Eritrea, in particular.  The latter for all practical purposes were part of Tigre, a clearly Ethiopian territory, even well after the advent of Italy in Ethiopia’s coastal regions of Assab and Massawa.  Let us examine the historical facts.

1.  History of the Region Before the 1880s

There are no disputes that the Port of Adulis on the Red Sea was an important port of ancient Ethiopia during the Axumite Kingdom and her sea routes were jealously guarded in those days by her kings.  (Jean Doresse, Au Pays de la Reigne de Saba; l’Ethiopie Antique et Moderne 17, 26, 28, 30 (1956).)  Although the Turks claimed Massawa in 1557, this claim never remained unchallenged by Ethiopia.  The Turks had to create an alliance with the Bahire Negash, the Ethiopian ruler of the sea coast and the adjacent highlands, but the Bahre Negash was brought to submission by the Ethiopian King Tsertsa Denghill (1563-1597).  (David Buxton, Travels in Ethiopia 51 (1949).)  After this reclaiming of the coastal region by Ethiopia, historical accounts of direct Ottoman rule of the coastal region were flimsy. 

Like other states at the time, due to the absence of easy communication, ethnic and religious wars, the rise and fall of fortunes of Ethiopian kings, Ethiopian rulers may not have been in constant “control” over the coastal territory, especially as that term is understood nowadays.  But Massawa was the main port for the transit of goods for Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian rulers on the highlands had to deal through peaceful and/or non-peaceful mechanisms to maintain, sometimes successful and other times not so successful, presence over the coastal region.  We are not talking about a sea across seven mountains and rivers; we are talking about a short distance of couple of hundred kilometers even at its furthest.  But even when Ethiopia did not have control due to invasion of her coastal territory by outside forces, she never ceased demanding the return of what was illegally taken from her.  This was evident from the historical facts that during times of success the Ethiopian rulers were able to reassert their authority on the Red Sea coast and even to extend it to the Dahlak Islands and the distant port of Zeila on the Gulf of Aden.  (Buxton at 43.)

The fact that the people in the coastal region converted to Islam, or the highland inhabitants continued to ascribe to a Coptic brand of Christianity, has evidently created difficulty for continued effective control of the coastal region by Ethiopian kings who often were Coptic.  But one should not automatically assume that because Moslem Turkey and Egypt had an easier interaction with the local Moslem population, these areas were under Ottoman/Egyptian control in the period preceding the building of the Suez Canal.  Actually what the Turks did in that period was to recognize the local chieftains of the Samahar, the lowland between the Ethiopian highlands in current day Eritrea and the port of Massawa, by bestowing on them the Moslem title Na’ib, and count them as allies. 

Even at the best of times, Ottomon control in that region was limited to Massawa and some islands on the Red Sea.  Turkish claims over the coast of Ethiopia and as far as Cape Guradafi were “dubious.”  (2 Mordechai Abir, Ethiopia: the era of the princes; the challenge of Islam and re-unification of the Christian Empire, 1769-1855 at xxi (1968)).  The Red Sea trade declined due to the wars within Ethiopia during the Era of the Princes.  Consequently, Ottoman authority in this coastal region in the second half of the eighteenth century had already dwindled so much that the whole coastal region was left “altogether to local rulers.”  (Id.) 

For James Bruce who visited the region in 1769, the Na’ib was the de facto ruler, and outsiders paid monthly fees to the ruler for use of the coastal region.  (Id. at 6.)  During the time that the coastal region was in the hands of local rulers, granted that these coastal inhabitants were Moslem, the local leaders of this territory were given the Moslem title Na’ib, and these local rulers were generally recognized as rulers of the coastal region.  However, and most importantly, during those times, the Na’ibs along the region of the Samahar also recognized the over-lordship of the rulers of Tigre.  The Na’ibs knew that Massawa’s fate rose and fell with the fate of the highland region and one can fairly assume that they were cognizant of this fact and its consequences and would have conducted themselves in a manner befitting the circumstances, especially knowing the proximity of the highland rulers.  A letter sent by British Consul Plowden in 1849 to Palmerston from Adowa in 1849 clearly put the state of affairs at the time when the Ottomans had asserted some presence at the Ethiopian Red Sea coast:

The forces of Djaj Oobeay [Dejazmach Wubie, then ruler of Tigre] have made a descent upon the coast, declaring that the Turkish troops, by occupying the mainland, had trespassed upon the ancient dominions of Abyssinia, and had, by crushing the Na’ib, prevented the chief from paying to Oobeay his accustomed tribute.

(Abir at 135.)  Thus, Dejazmach Wubie never stopped descending on Massawa to request tribute from the Na’ib there before Egyptian arrival in the coastal regions.  Once Egyptian forces established posts on this Ethiopian soil in the 1860s, Dejazmach Wubie continued his campaign for Ethiopian control of the coastal region and never gave up his efforts for several years afterwards.  (Id.)  Even after he was overpowered by Turkish/Egyptian colonialist pursuit, he never left the invaders at peace by creating an atmosphere of perpetual threat of raids and attacks by the army of Ethiopia.  (Id.)

The recognition of mutual dependence was not one-sided either.  The rulers of Tigre, confident of their grip over the coastal region through their over-lordship on the Na’ibs were willing to recognize that the Na’ibs’ authority also extended to some parts of Hamasien, a highland and clearly undisputed area of Ethiopia, now within current day Eritrea.  (Abir at 5 ( citing G. Lejean, Voyage en Abyssinie (1868); J.S. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (1965);  E. Ruppelle, Reise in Abyssinien (vol. I) (1838); E. Combes & M. Tamisier, Voyage en Abyssinie (vol. I) (1838).)

Egyptian presence in the Ethiopian coastal region was also so negligible as not to deserve such a mention in a boundary decision affecting Ethiopia.  It unfortunately only gives some support to an agenda of interference in the affairs of the region by the Egyptians ever ready to see a weak, divided, and disrupted Ethiopia.  By so including Egypt as a past “sovereign” over the northern Ethiopian territories, the Commission has, knowingly or unknowingly, given a green light for Egyptian ever-present desire to influence events in the horn region.  Besides, the Commission has, by so doing, also lent support to EPLF’s likely desire for Egyptian protection or alliance in the future in case Ethiopia reasserts her rightful claims, especially the restoration of her Red Sea coast.  It is troubling to see the Commission giving prominence to a historically dependent power like Egypt, first on the Ottomans and later on Britain, which even at the best of times was only serving as an agent of these other forces.  This action by the Commission only adds more fuel to an existing tension, often brought about by Egyptian muscle flexing, motivated by a desire to unilaterally impose an unfair and inequitable use of the Nile waters on riparian states.  A Commission supposedly created to bring peace is here seen recklessly endangering it by extending “authoritative” recognition of colonial dominion to a small and dependent colonial power with dubious historical claims of control in the region. 

Egyptian presence in Massawa before the advent of the Suez Canal was minimal.  It was in the late 1840s that Egypt began to assert a presence as successor to Ottoman rule in the region and this action was mainly influenced by its being privy then to the European colonial concepts of how a nation can assert “effective control” over a distant colonial territory.  The following apt observation clearly underscores the Ethiopian conception versus the European conception (which the Egyptians very likely took into account in making their assertions on Ethiopia’s coastal territory):

Ethiopian notions of borders and of the delimitation of areas in the nineteenth century were very different from those of the Egyptians, who were already influenced by European thought. . . . Even the areas stretching as far as the lowlands and the plains of the Sudan, which were not under direct rule of the Ethiopian lords, were still considered as belonging to Ethiopia.  They would be penetrated from time to time when a provincial governor could disengage himself from the unceasing struggle for power, and the inhabitants would be forced to pay tribute.  Thus, the [several inhabitants, nomadic or semi-nomadic of Northern Ethiopia which now constitute Eritrea] were considered by different Ethiopian rulers as their subjects although an Ethiopian [administratior] might not have been seen within those areas for decades.

(Abir at 116-17.)  If Ethiopia were privy to the European doctrine of effective control, she could very likely have done the way the Egyptians intentionally did, especially during initial Egyptian encroachments.  But for the Europeans, and Egypt for that matter, enforcing the “effective control” doctrine was necessary, however unfair it was to small nations like Ethiopia.  This was because Europeans and the Ottomans, and later Egypt as their agent, came crossing high seas, deserts, and mountains in order to assert control over foreign lands that are not contiguous, i.e., physically detached from the metropolis.  That was not the case for Ethiopia.  Descending the highland just for a hundred kilometer or so would bring the Ethiopian kings into the coastal region or going for less than a couple of hundred kilometers to the west and north would bring them to the lowlands. 

Why would an Ethiopian sovereign think that a land adjacent and proximate could be considered a foreign territory as long as the local rulers of that adjacent land pay tribute and declare their allegiance? After all is not this doctrine designed only for colonial seizure of distant lands?  Does it really matter that the Ethiopian ruler perhaps only showed up to demand such tribute and allegiance only after a decade or so?  Why should the classic doctrine of sovereignty over contiguous regions through assurances of allegiance and payment of tributes by the local sovereign be disregarded when it concerns Ethiopia, and a colonial doctrine of conquest be applied to her disadvantage?  After all, is not this ancient doctrine which created the basis of state formation in Europe and other places since time immemorial?  It is only the obfuscation of these two completely separate doctrines that could lead one to totally ignore Ethiopian past sovereignty altogether over the territory now called Eritrea but give prominence and recognition to Ottoman/Egyptian and later Italian sovereignty instead.

The garrison established in Massawa by the Ottomans/Egyptians during 1847-1848 was no larger than one battalion.  (Abir at 136.)  Ethiopia was at the time busy under Emperor Theodros creating a unified state and the implications of this Egyptian strategy was as yet not on the Ethiopian high list of priorities.  The Egyptians were also doing what they were doing not by force as to attract any attention by the local rulers or Ethiopia but only peacefully.  (Id.)  Actual Egyptian assertion of authority did not occur until 1866 perhaps due to the urgency for such control as the Suez Canal was soon to open in 1869. 

The Egyptians began to consolidate their hold on Massawa only after the British left from Magdala.  (Darrell Bates, The Abyssinian Difficulty 218 (1979).)  Following the death of Theodros and the emergence of Yohannes as the strongman, the Egyptians took advantage of the internal disorder and invaded Ethiopia from Zeila under the Swiss-Egyptian, Munzinger Pasha, who was defeated by Yohannes.  By the time Yohannes was in control of the internal situation, Ethiopia’s Red Sea territories had been snatched from her, with Italy in Assab, France in Obock (Djibuti), and Britain in Zeila.  (A.B. Wylde, Modern Abyssinia 23-28 (1901); Ernest Work, Ethiopia: A Pawn in European Diplomacy 56-58 (1931).)  Compare this historical fact with the Commission’s statement that “[p]rior to the 1880s, large parts of [the territory that now forms Eritrea] had been subject to Ottoman and Egyptian authority,” as if these nations had been there for a millennia, when in fact Ottoman presence in earlier times was only “dubious,” and Egyptian’s may only have been effectively there for no more than fourteen years and even then were being menaced by Yohannes all the time, between 1866 and 1880. 

By 1880, with Egypt having fallen under British protectorate, British diplomats were determined to restore Ethiopian sovereignty over the coastal region.  British military attaché Sir Charles Wilson advocated return of some territory to Ethiopia.  A British officer, Colonel J.D. Stewart pressed that at least some coastal region south of Massawa be returned to Ethiopia.  Another officer, Capitain Speedy, writing to Lord Napier, suggested that the port of Zula and a strip of territory be ceded to Ethiopia, but Lord Napier, in reply, advocated the return of Massawa to Yohannes, considering this act as “recovering  the territory wrestled from him [Yohannes].”  (See generally Zewde Gabre-Sellassie, Yohanes IV of Ethiopia: a political biography 122-27 (1975).)  Unfortunately, this attempt by the British diplomatic and military establishment failed to materialize since Italy began to strengthen the foothold it got in the region through cajolery and gunboat diplomacy.  The British did not aggressively pursue an Ethiopian cause thereby displeasing the Italians, an European power, again leaving Ethiopia as the pawn in international diplomacy.

Our learned Commission, unfortunately, continues to extend to Egypt even today historical recognition as past sovereign but ignore Ethiopia’s proven sovereignty over the region.  Thus, the above-discussion has shown that there was no sufficient basis for the respectable Commission to make a sweeping statement like “large parts of [the territory that now forms Eritrea] had been subject to Ottoman and Egyptian authority.”  Thus, in the face of so much historical evidence, even assuming there is some doubt as to Ethiopia’s continued “control” over the coastal region, why should Ethiopia be denied the benefit of the doubt while even dubious assertions of “control” by Ottoman Turkey are given more prominence?  Why should a dwindling Ottoman power be given the benefit of the doubt, despite a “more logical” interpretation of historical and geographic facts that would normally dictate interpretation in Ethiopia’s favor? 

No ancient state on earth this proximate to the sea has ever been subjected to a systematic distortion and revision of its history just to deny it of its natural access to the sea, except Ethiopia, which the Commission half-heartedly recognized as “for long an independent member of the international community.  Think of any ancient nation and there is none. 

This predominantly negative outlook towards non-European kingdoms and the general disdain of Europeans towards these nations could only explain this biased approach to history.  It is sad to see that such disdain towards Ethiopian control continues to be entertained even to this day, albeit now with the use of manipulative platitudes, and unfortunately, with a mendacious agenda to revise history, and the blessing of an acquiescent leadership in Ethiopia.

There is nothing more telling than what the Commission left out without saying.  If someone says “large parts of,” then one would expect to hear about the “remaining part.”  But the Commission kept silent, thereby leaving one with the impression that whatever was not controlled by the Ottomans and Egyptians was up for grabs by anyone.  The Commission could at least have recognized what every writer of Ethiopian history readily admitted, i.e., the highland regions of the territory now called Eritrea were undisputedly under Ethiopian sovereignty through Tigrean rule.  One can not help but conclude that, by its silence, the Commission has betrayed the inner logic at work here: it may not after all be as impartial as it claims.  But then, wasn’t the five arbitrators the very selections by the two regimes?  If impartiality were sought, the best forum would have been the International Court of Justice, which both parties avoided.

2.  After 1880 But Before Italian Annexation of Ethiopia’s Northern Territory

The Commission did not want to address the unfair arrangements that were left in place by European powers between 1880 and 1906.  The Commission, as if giving recognition to Ethiopia’s struggle to keep itself independent, remarked as follows:

During that decade [1880s], Italy began to assert a colonial presence in the region, first at the Red Sea port of Assab and in 1885 at Massawa.  Subsequent Italian attempts to expand its control inland were successfully resisted by Ethiopian forces.

[Underscoring added.]  One can see that the Commission continues its denial of Ethiopia’s sovereignty over both Assab and Massawa by saying that Italy began to assert its presence not on Ethiopian territory, but “in the region.”  With the building of the Suez Canal, there was a scramble for territory on the Red Sea, and everyone knew Ethiopia was too weak to defend her coastal territory, and that is where the Italians were, denying Ethiopia her historical sovereign right.  The Commission refused to acknowledge this historical fact.

The Commission, in the quote above, was using the term “successfully” as a red herring, in order to appease unsuspecting readers of the insidious plans underway.  Ethiopia did stop the Italian advance inland several times, but the success of Ethiopia was more on an African army for the first time defeating a technologically advanced European army, not on the stopping of Italians from seizing Ethiopian territory.  The Italians had successfully settled on the coastal regions of Ethiopia, but only the gallant sons and daughters of Ethiopia stopped their inland designs.  The most Ethiopians could do at the time was to stop further advance inland, but not displace the Italians from their foothold at the coast. 

If Ethiopia had proceeded to advance to remove the Italians from the coastal region, both France and Britain would have interfered in support of Italy, and that would have created a totally different ballgame.  The French and British were content with Ethiopian victory, since not only did the victory not threaten their colonial possessions in the region, but actually helped their cause by relegating Italy as a “second-rate” colonial power and hence a lesser threat in the colonial rivalry.  But the scenario would have been different if Ethiopia proceeded to displace Italy from Ethiopia’s coastal land.  That would have made Ethiopia the true rival and the two powers would never have let that happen for various reasons.  The European colonialists were determined at the time to keep Ethiopia landlocked and to control the trade from inland in the first place.  Besides, the European-based world outlook then prevailing would never have allowed a non-European nation owning a coastal territory.  Especially, this was unthinkable at such a sensitive spot as the Red Sea, the main international highway at the time between east and west before the emergence of airplanes, due to the Suez Canal.

Menelik’s awareness of this whole global colonial scenario and his decision not to pursue the Italians despite the victory at Adowa was what saved the day for Ethiopia.  European colonial powers would easily have reversed the gains he scored at Adowa.  However, despite his inability to remove the Italians, Menelik continued to assert Ethiopia’s right of access to the sea through the return of her northern territory.  He never abandoned his quest for the restoration of Ethiopian territory.  Had it not been for the Suez Canal, and the resultant scramble for a foothold by colonizers on Ethiopia’s Red Sea coast, there would not have been all these machinations and subterfuges to deny Ethiopia of her rightful access to the sea.

3.  The Commission’s Decision to Forego Presentation of Pertinent History

The Commission at section 2.6 postulated:

There is little need to present any detailed account of the history of the Parties or their relations outside the events that are immediately relevant to the issues before the Commission . . . .

It is not hard to imagine that a decision on a boundary regime between two disputing parties not relying on a sufficient historical account affecting such boundary could only be inherently deficient.  The Commission did not want to see the larger picture at all.  It only wrapped itself up with the submissions by two unrepresentative dictatorial regimes who only less than a decade ago were rebel movements, and found it fit to determine the fate of 65 million people in Ethiopia and 3 million people in Eritrea based upon their narrow submissions.  Why would a future successor regime be bound by such an unbalanced decision?  One can ignore the past that made up the present in this region only at one’s own risk, and by so doing one is only acting the way the ostrich did, bury ones head.

Thus, when the Italians formally began to establish their presence in Ethiopia’s coastal territory at the beginning of the 1880s, they had to use deception and disinformation to control Massawa, as well as to maintain their presence in Assab.  An Italian named Bianchi was authorized by Italy to convince Yohannes to conclude a treaty of friendship and commerce in order to pave the way for Italian control of Massawa, but Yohannes refused.  (Works at 60 (citing Italian diplomatic papers).)  On February 10, 1885, a few days after Italians took over Massawa, King Umberto made a last attempt to convince Yohannes to make the Italian taking a legitimate one, but Yohannes refused.  (Id.)  The Italians also tried to take advantage of existing rivalry between Shoa and Tigre and tried to foment differences.  They thought they secured an agreement of neutrality by Menelik in exchange for 5000 guns to Menelik.  The Italians had to give many assurances to Menelik to the effect that their presence in Aussa was not intended for taking possession in behalf of Ialy but “to defend Ethiopia’s rights in the regions menaced by Francia (French in Jibuti).”  (See generally id. 115-17 (citing Italian diplomatic papers).)  Nevertheless, Menelik, after securing the guns, dismissed the agreement of neutrality and joined forces with Yohannes.  These guns brought the greatest victory of an African people against European colonialism at Adowa for the first time.  Menelik outsmarted the Italians and stopped them from advancing inland.  Without these guns, there would not have been the victory at Adowa. (See id. at 66-67.)

The whole strategy of Italy and the two colonial powers in the region, France and Britain, at the time was to compete with each other and to deny access to the only independent African nation.  Thus, Italian presence in Assab stopped French ambitions in that direction.  But France had an eye on the Gulf of Tajura, a natural outlet for commerce from Harrar, which would enable France to control the caravan trade routes from Harrar and profit by Ethiopia’s trade through Djibouti.  England had an eye on the source of the Nile once she came to control Egypt, and the Red Sea was a passage way to the English colonies in the east with the building of the Suez Canal.  It hoisted its Union Jack in Zeila in order to deflect this French ambition.  By 1884, the three powers were jealous of each other on the one hand and ready to strike on the other.   At the Berlin conference in late 1884, the colonial powers had already carved out their interests at the Red Sea: Italy, the whole of Ethiopia from Eritrea to the Ogaden, and to Somaliland; England in Zeila and Berbera, and the whole Nile basin from Kenya to Egypt; and France at the port of Djibouti. 

Italians came to Assab after the purchase of a piece of land from the local ruler by one Sapeto, an Italian citizen, in 1869 for 6000 Maria Thersa dollars.  Sapeto posed as just another businesman establishing a company when he made the deal with the local ruler.  Later, this Italian “company” supported by two gunboats of the Italian government and one company boat took possession of Assab and thus began the Italian colonization of the strip of coastal territory there.  France also purchased a piece of land from the Denakil ruler in 1862 at the northern shore of the Gulf of Tajura.  (See generally Works at 11-22.)

Ernest Works described these European machinations as “intricate, devious, complicated, mysterious, at times, hidden trails by which Europeans, between 1880 and 1906, sought to filch from the Ethiopian his lands and to outdo each other in the attempt.”  (Works at 25.)  A.B. Wylde, British Vice Consul for the Red Sea area, admitted the unfair dealings by the colonial powers towards Ethiopia when he said:

   From the north he [Yohannes] ought to have been safe if our treaty with him (that of 1884) went for anything.  Look at our behaviour to King Johannes from any point of view and it will not show one ray of honesty, and to my mind, it is one of our worst bits of business out of the many we have been guilty of in Africa, and no wonder our position diplomatically is such a bad one with rulers of the country at present.  England made use of King Johannes as long as he was of any service, and then threw him over to the tender mercies of Italy, who went to Massawa under our auspices with the intention of taking territory that belonged to our ally, and to allow them to destroy and break all the promises England had solemnly made to King Johannes aftr he had faithfully carried out his part of the agreement.  The fact is not known to the British public, and I wish it were not true for our credit’s sake; but unfortunately it is, and it reads like one of the vilest bits of treachery that has been perpetrated in Africa or in India in the eighteenth century.

(Wylde at 39.)  As we noted above, in December 1883, Lord Napier emphasized Ethiopia’s urgent need for access to the sea by advocating the return of Massawa to Emperor Yohannes as he considered this to be “recovering the territory wrestled from him.”  (Zewde Gabre-Sellassie at 125-26.)  Yohannes also continuously requested the restoration of Ethiopian territory when he sent letters to Queen Victoria, complaining that “messages do not return, merchants cannot trade, and such articles as we require cannot enter.”  (Id. at 129.)

When, in 1885, Yohannes heard the Italians had occupied Massawa, as a first step towards further expansion inland, and their sending out expeditions to spy out land, he contemplated withdrawing to Begemidir, abandoning Tigre, and reuniting with the forces of Amhara.  He also sent a letter to Menelik urging him to be united for a common cause and to denounce the aggression, also advising him to withdraw into Kaffa and continue the struggle from there.  (Zewde Gabre-Sillassie at 182.)  He declared that “Italian deception of and bad faith will never cease” and that the Italians “are not serious people but intriguers” who have come “to seek aggrandizement but with the aid of God they shall depart humiliated, discontented and with honor lost before the world.  If we remain united we can conquer, not only the fiacchi Italians but also other strong nations.”  (Works at 61.)  These statements are not statements made by one who is not unaware of Ethiopia’s legitimate rights over the coastal region and the hinterland.  These are statements by one who was clearly disgusted with the whole designs of Italy to strip Ethiopia of her rightful possessions of the Red Sea coast. 

When Menelik heard of the occupation of Massawa, he immediately called Count Antonelli, the Italian consular, to his palace and declared to him that the “act was the prelude to certain and swift war between Italy and Ethiopia.”  (Works at 61 (citing Italian diplomatic papers).)  Menelik then dispatched two letters to Italy addressed to King Umberto and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting an explanation why the Italians are occupying an Ethiopian territory, Massawa.  King Umberto replied that the reason for the action was due to developments with the Dervish in the Sudan and that Italy has no other intentions than friendship and commerce with Ethiopia.  (Id. (citing Italian diplomatic papers).) 

The Italians then proceeded to take Ailet and then Seati on the track to Asmara and the whole intention of Italy was clear.  The coastal region was only a rest station for further advancement to conquer the whole of Ethiopia.  (See Zewde Gabre-Sillassie at 182-86.)  In March of 1886, Ras Alula Aba Nega, the Ethiopian General, clearly spelt out Italian intentions and his opposition to it:

You Italians have come to Massawa, you claim to facilitate commerce with Ethiopia, with amicable intention toward our country and not in the spirit of conquest.  You know how the Egyptians took away our land and how we were always at war with them.  You see that our friends took not just Massawa but also other posts and therefore for the sake of your friendship I request the withdrawal of all troops.

(Id. at 199.)  And following the Dogali incident, on January 24, 1887, after the Ethiopian army practically annihilated an Italian punitive expedition force, Ras Alula again commented:

We can remain in peace and amity if you stay in your own territory.  As the whole area from Massawa to here owes fealty to the Emperor this cannot be viewed as yours.

(Id. at 223.)  As Italians didn’t stop their occupation of Massawa as well as their incursions, Yohannes had to declare a proclamation, the most memorable statement by any Ethiopian King, where he called a “march towards Massawa”:

   Here my countrymen, my nobles, my soldiers and my people.  Your government orders you to march towards Massawa for a war . . . March forward and do not remain behind.

   Oh! sons of Ethiopia bear in mind that Ethiopia is primarily your mother, secondly your crown, thirdly your wife, fourthly your child and fifthly your grave.

   Hence, when you march you must realize that you will be defending your country which corresponds to the love of a mother, the glory of a crown, the kindness of a wife, the joy of a child and the charity of a grave.

(Id. at 236.) 

During the period 1880-1890, a period which the Commission dismissed as one when only “Italy begun to assert a colonial presence,” Ethiopia’s Yohanes, Menelik, and Alula were engaged in the most aggressive diplomatic and military struggles to get rid of the invaders, the Italians.  Menelik’s first complaint upon his coronation as emperor in 1889 was that he needed an opening to the sea.  There are some quarters that hold that on February 6, 1891, Count Antonelli signed a treaty wherein Italy, recognizing Ethiopia’s rightful claims, agreed to withdraw her troops from Keren, Agordat, Asmara, and Adowa, but Antonelli is said to have destroyed it later.  Antonelli however still recommended that Italy return some of the territories to Ethiopia under the treaty of May 2, 1889.  (See Zewde Gabre-Sillassie at 112, 122-24.) 

Our discussion shows that Ethiopia’s rightful clams on the coastal region and the territory now called Eritrea were constant, persistent, determined, unabated, and serious.  They were not the claims of expansionist rulers but of rulers who were sure that they were being pilfered of their rightful possessions.  Compare that scenario with the Commissions observations about the same period:

Prior to the 1880s, large parts of it had been subject to Ottomon and Egyptian authority.  During that decade, Italy began to assert a colonial presence in the region, first at the Red Sea port of Assab and in 1885 at Massawa.  Subsequent Italian attempts to expand its control inland were successfully resisted by Ethiopian forces.

The statement does not recognize Ethiopia’s continued protestations of the occupation of Assab, Massawa, and the territory now called Eritrea.  It makes it appear that Assab and Massawa at the time of Italian occupation were uncontested territories up for grabs by colonial forces.  According to the Commission, it was only “attempts to expand [Italian] control inland” that was challenged, and that was “successfully resisted by Ethiopian forces.”   In reality, Ethiopian sovereignty was seriously encroached upon by Italian control over Assab, Massawa, the lowland between Massawa and Asmara, and much of the highland territory in present day Eritrea. 

Thus, for the international community unaware of the historical facts of the region, there is not even a hint from a reading of the Commission’s observation that shows there indeed was a violation of Ethiopian territorial sovereignty through occupation of her territory both before and after the 1880s.  We saw that even diplomats at the time, including Italian diplomats, duly recognized that the action of Italy in seizing control of the Red Sea and the territory adjacent was a violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty.  The Commission’s reluctance even to acknowledge such historical phenomena makes its claim of impartiality in rendering the boundary decision clearly questionable.


In paragraph 4.7, the Commission without citing any authority observed as follows:

Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia at first sought a frontier considerably to the north of the Mareb-Belesa-Muna line, but eventually agreed in 1900 to keep to that line (in exchange for a payment of 5,000,000 lire, apparently for forgoing a more extensive claim). 

From the above observation, it appears that for the Commission Menelik was only “seeking” more land rather than demanding the restoration of Ethiopian territory, and that he dropped his “more extensive” claim following the payment of Italian lire.  Both observations are misleading, unfounded, and purely fabricated.

  A.             Commission Lending Support To The EPLF Claim That Eritrea Was An Ethiopian Colony

The Commission, in section 4.7, paints Menelik as an extortionist who “sought a frontier considerably to the north” and who later stopped his extortion upon payment of Italian lire, and not as an Ethiopian leader demanding the restoration of his country’s historically proven sovereign territory.  The statement puts Menelik on par with colonial Italy, someone only engaged in a scramble for territory.  Thus, Menelik was not demanding what is rightfully Ethiopia’s, but was another expansionist trying to take what does not belong to Ethiopia in the first place.  This is the EPLF/EPRDF version of the history of the region which postulates that Ethiopia was a colonialist nation like any of the Europeans, and hence, as a logical consequence, EPLF’s claim against Ethiopia becomes, not one of secession, but one of independence from colonial rule.  This was the very essence of Meles Zenawi’s book, Eritrean People’s Struggle From Where to Where.  In that book Meles postulated that Ethiopian history does not extend beyond 100 years and that Eritrea was a colony of Ethiopia and should be de-colonized like any other colonial territory. 


The Commission’s observation in section 4.7 is consistent with its observation in section 2.7 discussed earlier.  Thus, in section 2.7, the Commission refused to give recognition to any historical claim of Ethiopian sovereignty over any part of what is now called Eritrea, and in section 4.7, Menelik was painted as an expansionist.  Thus, according to the Commission, Ethiopian historical claims over Eritrea were non-existent, the latter only having been under the Ottomans and Egyptians until the 1880s, and later under the Italians, but never part of Ethiopia.  As we discussed in detail above, nothing could be further from the truth.

B.               Defaming The Name Of A Popular Ethiopian Leader

The defamation of one of Ethiopia’s historical icons, Menelik, was perhaps the lowest point of the Commission’s decision.  Menelik is considered the most forward-looking leader of Ethiopia.  He is credited for ushering Ethiopia into the technological age.  He is the leader who led the first African army that defeated a European army that came with superior technology.   He is a leader remembered for his wisdom, benevolence, humor, diplomacy, governance, leadership, vision, respect to Ethiopian tradition, and respect to his elders and his peers.  He was magnanimous and merciful in victory, and visionary in defeat.  One can say ad infinitum about the virtues of this great Ethiopian leader.  It is painful to see that, even after about a century after his death, a Commission of distinguished jurists, supposedly constituted to bring peace between states, nations, and peoples, has opted not to let this great man sleep in peace.  It seems as if General Baratieri and his soldati annihilated at Adowa are coming from the dead with the help of the EPLF and EPRDF, and speaking through the mouth of this august Commission.

It cannot be said that the Commission was not aware of the high regard Ethiopians have for Menelik.  But only due to the current Ethiopian regime’s antagonism to this Ethiopian icon, and hence its representatives’ silence and acquiescence in this campaign of defamation, could the Commission utter such blasphemy.  What is most troubling is the fact that the Commission made such reprehensible statement without any need for it to make and without support for its allegations.  There is no proof that Menelik received five million lire from Italy.  It is only a figment of EPLF imagination, or propaganda of hate. EPLF on the one hand claims that Ethiopia had no past sovereignty over any part of Eritrea.  On the other hand, it spreads a fabricated story that Menlik sold Eritrea for Italian lire, a statement of apparent anguish, but designed to defame Menelik. 

Even assuming Italy gave money to Ethiopia at the time, this by itself does not mean much since it is also possible Italy may have given the money to ensure the safety and release of Italian soldiers who surrendered to Menelik at the Battle of Adowa.  The Commission did not lay down sufficient foundation to enable it to make the horrendous allegation that the money was in exchange for Menelik’s dropping his demands and Menelik understood it to be so.  The Commission did not lay a foundation that there was a quid pro quo to enable it to make a deductive reasoning which its selection of the “apparently” language would normally demand.  It is disingenuous for an august body like the Commission to engage in spreading unfounded rumors and allegations.  It only lends support to EPLF’s unceasing campaign to trample over anything Ethiopian.  For all we know, Menelik never stopped demanding the restoration of Ethiopia’s northern territory and her access to the sea till his death.  The remark was obviously unnecessary, does not promote the cause of peace, and only puts the Commission’s credibility further down among Ethiopians.



An attempt has been made to put the historical record straight; to expose the abdication of responsibility by the regime of Meles Zenawi, the rewriting of history by the EPLF, and the slanting of the truth by the Commission to fit an undeclared political agenda.  It seems self-evident that Ethiopia does not have a decision by which she can abide in the future.  It is extremely disconcerting to see when a revised history of Ethiopia concocted by EPLF and EPRDF has gained a formal and official status in a decision by an international arbitration panel.  One can not help but wonder that the Isaias-Meles strategy is being implemented continuously and with precision right under our nose. 

Ethiopia’s proven history of territorial sovereignty over her northern territories is now presented as pure fiction right under our nose.  Long-dead treaties, invalidated by events and officially by Ethiopia decades ago, are exhumed by the EPRDF’s acquiescence to decide our fate today.  One of Ethiopia’s ablest leaders is painted as an extortionist that surrenders his demands when paid in Italian lire.  The charge is ad infinitum.   All said and done, it all comes down to this: ETHIOPIA HAS NEVER BEEN LET DOWN THIS LOW IN HER ENTIRE HISTORY.  Our nation’s history has never been so distorted this much before on the international arena.  When the last time Fascist Italy’s representatives were defiling Ethiopia’s name before the League of Nations, there was a man defending her name, Haile Sillassie.  This time around Ethiopia awaits the restoration of her history, her name, her pride, and the glory of her leaders.  Let us hope that that day would not be slow coming.

May 25, 2002