While there had been no recent battles, the two countries had never signed a peace deal – and some considered them to still be at war. No one expected the two leaders to meet. But suddenly, there they were, shaking hands, and declaring that war between their nations was over.
I’m not talking about North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. I’m talking about another historic meeting that took place this week – between Ethiopia’s recently elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki.
If you don’t know much about the history between the two countries, here’s a quick recap. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year conflict, but this was followed by a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed 70,000 people. A peace deal brought the violence to an end in 2000, but it was never fully implemented and the two countries have been in a state of ‘no war, no peace’ since then.
But recently, the two countries have declared an end to war – and this seems to be bringing about rapid change. Next week, after 20 years of it being impossible to travel between the two countries, daily flights between Ethiopia and Eritrea will resume. The countries have agreed to re-establish trade and diplomatic ties, and family members divided by the dispute are now able to telephone each other for the first time in years.
HOPE FOR CHANGE
There are hopes that this peace deal could also lead to an improvements for the persecuted Christians in Eritrea – a change that is desperately needed. Eritrea is known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’, and is number 6 on the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. More than 300 Christians were arrested in Eritrea last year, and many believers are held in miserable conditions, some in shipping containers in scorching temperatures.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister has a Muslim father and Christian mother, and has championed religious and ethnic tolerance. This can only be good news for Christians who face persecution in Ethiopia, which is itself number 29 on the 2018 World Watch List, partly due to government restrictions on religious freedom – perhaps something that will change with this appointment.
STAND WITH YOUR CHURCH FAMILY IN THE HORN OF AFRICA
Please join us in praying that this peace deal will bring positive change to the lives of our brothers and sisters in the region – it’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.