Job title: conflict negotiator

After the bloody election riots at the end of last year, a proposition was made in Kenya, whereby opposition leader Raila Odinga became the prime minister and his rival Mwai Kibaki remained president. One of the negotiators in the Kenya crisis was the Ethiopian professor Hizkias Assefa. MO* asked this specialist about possible solutions for Zimbabwe’s political crisis.
A second Kenya crisis is unlikely, according to Assefa: ‘Repeating this kind of power-division will be very difficult in Zimbabwe. Odinga and Kibaki were members of the same party. Odinga even campaigned for Kibaki during the presidential elections of 2002. Even though they have their differences, they can still work together. I doubt whehter there is as much mutual trust between Tsvangirai and Mugabe’. The diplomatic offensive of the British, who – with the permission of the US – openly support Zimbabwean opposition leader Tsvangirai, has estranged both parties even further from each other, claims Assefa. ‘As long as the Zanu-PF-party links its future to Mugabe, no advances will be made. However, a new leader within the Zimbabwean government party would be an acceptable partner for negotiations for Tsvangirai’.

Assefa works for the ‘Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’ of the American ‘Eastern Mennonite University’. He has already negotiated in several conflicts. ‘When I was in school, the first civil war in the Sudan was going on. The peace agreement that was reached after long negotiations in 1972 was very inspiring to me. I wondered if we could learn lessons from it to apply to the conflict between Ethiopia and the Eritrean insurgents.

Eritrea became independent, but there’s still no peace. In July, tensions in the border regions even rose again. Eritrea made it impossible for the UN-forces stationed there to do their job. Other than in the Sudan, where the central government lays claims to geographical areas of the different ethnic groups who oppose it, the border-conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea has much more to do with national pride, says Assefa. Badme – which is central to the conflict – does not have any oilfields or any other natural resources nearby, contrary to the Sudanese town of Abyei. Assefa: ‘The leaders of both countries are just too proud to admit to any compromise about the border that was fixed by the former Italian colonizer. Even though this border is completely arbitrary, since the population on either side of it is exactly the same.’ Assefa calls for a demilitarized border zone, which would be under mutual Ethiopian and Eritrean control.

You can listen to the complete interview with professor Hizkias Assefa on

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