There is no place that is as humbling as Badme. It is hard to imagine the many thousands that have died for it fighting in one of the world’s bloodiest wars. There are few that live here and many are entering the uncertain prospect of joining Eritrea with no local input.
The Band-Aid solutions of donors are what sustain it today. There is little development except the scattered mud hut homes that reflect the temporary homes of the destitute – on borrowed time.
“There is much politics to Badme that what the place offers,” an elderly woman heading to Sheraro, a two-hour drive on a bumpy road told The Reporter. “When you see it, hard is to tell why many young people died for it, but for us, its home. Despite its shortcomings, its where most of our relatives perished in and where we also want to buried in. But life is hard.”
It seems hard.
Like Sheraro, Zalambessa and other border towns, war and the no-war-no-peace agenda of Ethiopia and Eritrea has truly affected Badme, a village in the Gash-Barka region of the border. Both nations have claimed the area; have thousands of their citizen’s die and ultimately opening endless negotiations and conflicts that would be ignored when not on either side’s favor, despite the Algiers Agreement through the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission in 2002, which said it belonged to Eritrea.
“I do not have the heart or the know-how where Badme should belong. But all I want is for the town to be developed. That is to have us have basic electricity, water and peaceful existence,” a young man inside a newly named youth center named after Melez Zenawi said. “Many have died for it, but we have yet to see what the cause was. If the cause was good, why do we have unfortunate and miserable lives to begin with?”
For a long time, there has been internal displacement of thousands inside refugee camps on what for the last two decades has been under an imminent war and a population estimated to be 2000, living in its bubble. The Ethiopian government has given it little attention and gave its responsibilities to donors, while it focused on securing the disputed border.
“I have lived as a refugee here, becoming a refugee in my own nation. As a man in my 30s, I have lived my adult life, knowing there might be a war starting anytime and I will be the thousands of faceless people that would perish. People my generation are the faceless prisoners of a war, which should have been settled in the boardrooms and in peace. But here we are. Look what I have accumulated so far, just a one room shack and nothing else”, Eyob Hagos, a father of four, said.
A year ago, in the dawn of a change of government in Addis Ababa and an effort by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) was finally made and the highlight of that effort became the future of Badme, a place where he lived and worked in as a member of the Ethiopia’s military intelligence team during the 1998-2000 war. As part of that effort, the Ethiopian government had finally agreed to cede it back to Eritrea.
Walking around the town, it is easy to understand how its narrative has reached the dead-end that have been impacted by conflicts, many with no electricity, young people seating idly and a place that is dusty and equipped with a long school funded by donor states. There is a monument for the dead and burial sites for about a dozen and makeshift restaurants selling cheap beer that is hot and humid because of the lack of electricity of the area.
With the exception of old public buses and automobiles belonging to charity organizations, there is the presence of military cars, but for a year, the area has been less militarized. To the area, the soldiers were for the most part strangers, but they have since become better and engaged citizens, Henok Asgedom told The Reporter.
“For the most part, we only saw them driving past us, with little acknowledgements, but for the last year, we see them wondering the streets, enjoying a beer and having normal conversations. The new era has humanized them.”
Badme, what Foreign Policy magazine called, is indeed “the dusty village which has nothing but symbolic value to either side – Ethiopia and Eritrea. The poverty, the dead-end opportunities for young people and no needed infrastructures and memories of conflicts and wars, many have left.
Meles Yosef, named after the late Prime Minister has seen many of his friends leave for better opportunities, in nearby towns and even outside of Ethiopia. For the 47 year old, the war of two decades ago was devastating. He lost many of his family members and his life seemed be doomed.
He left for Shere, but slowly returned to Badme, as his second hand cloth business became successful and he started making money and eventually settled back. He met his wife here and as a father one, he enrolled his child in the lone school that is a stone throw away from his home.
“When the last war broke, I was young. But I remember it like yesterday. I was devastating as almost all my family perished and I became one of the few that survived. I still have nightmares, but being a father gave me a second chance at living. I do hope his generation will not experience what mine has had. War is tough and it’s real. I still have the scars after many years,” he said.
“Twenty years after that era, we live in Badme, as it’s our last. While I came back for the economic opportunities, I use the excuse that I do what I do for my child. But deep in my heart, I was just coming home, the home that wasn’t for me. Here in Badme, I feel like I am closer to my parents, the parents that died not knowing the reasons for their death. I feel that I am at home”.
He certainly is at home!
Ed.’s Note: Samuel was recently on a region wide tour of Tigray and this is the third part of a series of articles he would be writing on his experience.