The recent peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea is being widely celebrated by their people. However, once the confetti settles, what will peace between the two nations look like?
Before the peace accord, a long and bloody conflict defined the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea for nearly 20 years. Eritrea was formerly a province of Ethiopia until it gained independence in 1993. With the split, families were separated and lines were drawn in the sand. The fighting that started soon after was one of Africa’s most costly and devastating conflicts.
Three months ago, Ethiopians elected 41-year-old Abiy Ahmed as the new prime minister. Ahmed met with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in Addis Ababa. Together they contrived a five-pillar agreement to end the conflict between their two nations.
Peter* from Ethiopia serves with Global Disciples. He says, “What they speak of is really forgiveness for what happened in the past, love, and peace. That is the language the prime minister of Ethiopia is speaking and the same that the president of Eritrea is echoing.”
With this new peace agreement, borders will be reopened and trade reinstated between the two countries. The key now is seeing whether the peace agreement will stand as each government holds to their side of the deal. Previous attempts at reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea have failed.
Christians in Ethiopia are also wondering what peace with Eritrea could mean for the spread of the Gospel.
Eritrea is number six on Open Doors’ World Watch List, which rates countries with the worst persecution of Christians. According to Open Doors, the majority of Christian persecution in Eritrea stems from dictatorial paranoia. There is only one sanctioned church denomination: the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Believers in other denominations are persecuted by the EOC and Muslim communities. They are often arrested by the government, who accuses them of spying for the West.
Peter explains, “Before Eritrea became independent, in Eritrea all the denominations—whether Lutheran or Protestant, or Evangelical, Pentecostal—all churches were there. When Eritrea became independent and started persecuting, then many of them went underground…. There are underground churches in Eritrea, even if most of them are in prison.”
Now, some are hopeful that Ethiopia can be a good example of greater freedoms to their Eritrean neighbors—including religious freedoms.
“I was watching on Sunday the celebration of the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia in which the different religious leaders gave a speech in the presence of the president and the prime minister and the government officials from both countries. It has really demonstrated it is possible for different people groups and different religious groups to live together in peace, respecting one another, [and] sharing the love of Christ.”
As the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia reopens, it could mean growing evangelism access for Ethiopian churches near the border. “Those [churches] who are bordering with Eritrea speak the same language and it will give them access easily to cross,” says Peter. However, just how much Eritrea will tolerate has yet to be seen.
*Name changed for security reasons