UAE's quiet diplomacy will help ensure peace in the Horn

The Order of Zayed given to leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea reaffirms faith in the deal

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (C) receives Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (L) and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (R) at the presidential palace in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on July 24, 2018.  / AFP / KARIM SAHIB
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The peace deal brokered earlier this month between Eritrea and Ethiopia startled international observers and delighted residents of both east African nations. After 18 years of military tension and diplomatic isolation, one analyst summed it up well while speaking to The National: "It's phenomenal".

But two weeks later, the details of the groundbreaking deal continue to emerge.

Today's joint visit to Abu Dhabi by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isais Afwerki sheds some light on the role the UAE seems to have played in helping both countries conclude a war that claimed more than 70,000 lives.

As the two leaders penned the deal on July 9, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Anwar Gargash tweeted: “Through years of hard work to support…political continuity with Eritrea and Ethiopia, the UAE has become an esteemed partner in the Horn of Africa and is the leader of the Arab presence in this important region”. It followed the Dh11 billion aid package granted to Ethiopia by the UAE last month.

This is a victory for quiet diplomacy, the likes of which the UAE has finetuned in the Horn of Africa, a strategically crucial region blighted by decades of conflict.

The two leaders, who managed to end a seemingly intractable conflict, were both awarded the prestigious Order of Zayed. Named after the UAE’s Founding Father, it is a rare honour of significant magnitude, recently awarded to Chinese President Xi Jinping, a great and powerful ally.

By bestowing this honour on both leaders, this country’s rulers have reaffirmed their hopes and faith in a lasting peace and prosperity in the Horn of Africa, where they have strong alliances.

By operating ports in Eritrea, Djibouti and the autonomous Somali regions of Puntland and Somaliland, the UAE is able to boost trade and protect the Gulf of Aden. It is, among other things, the UAE's understated, effective diplomacy that has helped usher in a period of renewed peace in one of Africa's most war-torn regions.

And that is the great virtue of the landmark Ethiopia-Eritrea peace agreement. Traditionally the two foes have taken different sides on regional disputes – including in troubled Somalia – dealing a blow to hopes for regional peace. With the two united in promoting peace alongside the UAE, we can expect a so-called security dividend.

Ethiopia now finds itself well placed, for instance, to mediate in the border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti. Ultimately the peace will be most beneficial for the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia, who are enjoying reintroduced travel, communications, diplomatic and trade links.

But behind their joy, quietly in the background, is the delicate role of the UAE in helping bring peace to a neighbourhood sundered by war.