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20-Year Conflict Ends as Eritrean, Ethiopian Leaders Embrace Peace

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The long-running conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia caused tens of thousands of deaths, deepened regional poverty, and caused large outflows of refugees. The new peace agreement could bring much needed prosperity to the two countries and fulfills Global Goal 16, which calls for peace and justice. You can take action on this issue here.

After nearly 20 years of conflict, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea met on Monday to declare a “joint declaration of peace and friendship,” according to Al Jazeera.

It was the first time leaders from the two nations had met in more than 20 years, the BBC reports. And it’s the latest in a series of political reformations by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who, since taking power has freed political prisoners, initiated economic reforms, and lifted a state of emergency, BBC notes.

"We agreed that the airlines will start operating, the ports will be accessible, people can move between the two countries, and the embassies will be opened," Abiy said at an official dinner with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, Al Jazeera reports.

"We will demolish the wall and, with love, build a bridge between the two countries," he continued.

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The landmark decision has the potential to transform relations between two countries that have been stuck in a hostile land dispute following a war that killed more than 80,000 people between 1998 and 2000, according to Al Jazeera.

It could have ripple effects throughout the region and the rest of the world. The conflict has caused a refugee crisis, deepened local poverty, caused political instability, and dampened regional economic efforts, The New York Times reports.

Ethiopia and Eritrea both struggle with high levels of poverty, a problem exacerbated by the long-running conflict. In Eritrea, more than 69% of the population live in poverty and 31% of Ethiopians lived below the poverty line the last time it was measured by the World Bank in 2011.

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The peace agreement illustrates how seemingly intractable border disputes — which are rampant throughout the world and cause widespread strife — can be resolved with political leadership.

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The document signed by Ethiopia and Eritrea includes five pillars of action that touch on nearly every point of contact between the two countries — political, economic, social, cultural and security areas.

The countries will resume diplomatic, transportation, trade, and telecommunication activities and Ethiopia will cede the border town Badme, which had been the primary source of contention ever since an United Nations border commission tasked with restoring peace declared the town part of Eritrea in 2000.

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Through the agreement, Ethiopia will be able to transcend its landlocked status because it now has access to Eritrea’s ports on the Red Sea.

In this new phase, the two leaders also said they will work together to promote regional peace. That’s a huge shift from the past two decades, during which the two countries deliberately opposed each other on nearly every issue, according to the BBC.

The response to the meeting was jubilant, with Eritreans and Ethiopians taking to the streets to celebrate and applauding the bold move on social media.

Whether or not the agreement will hold remains to be seen, but the starkly different tone adopted by the two countries suggests that they’re ready to start a new chapter.