Peacebuilding in the Borderland:- Shifting Identities and Tactics of Survival as Processes of Peacebuilding in Irob, Ethiopia

Miss Zula Afawork Ghebremedhin

This paper analyzes the role of shifting identities as tactics for peacebuilding in the borderland. The mountainous region of Irob, located in the borderland between Ethiopia and Eritrea was heavily impacted by the border conflict between the two countries in 1998-2000. When the hostilities erupted, Irob was turned into a garrison area where destruction of property and looting of sacred ground occurred. Before the war, inhabitants of Irob used to navigate both Ethiopian and Eritrean national identities and freely cross the porous border. Following the war, the Irob considered death and destruction a token to the Eritrean identity. An internalized hatred enforced a shift in identity to fit the Ethiopian post-war political configurations. Additional negotiations were fashioned to survive the closure of the previously porous border between Ethiopia and Eritrea by employing indigenous knowledge. Through an active interpretation of their daily lives through indigenous folklore, poetry and storytelling, the Irob are able to forge tactics of survival to secure their livelihood. Therefore, by navigating everyday peace and conflict by evoking traditional values, the Irob forge a notion of peacebuilding which ensures their survival. In peacebuilding theories, it has been established that peace emerges as a result of conscious or unconscious efforts of everyday folk and powerful geopolitical figures. But the processes of peacebuilding have not been fully captured with empirical research due to the academic focus on conflict. In fact, the academic gaze conceptualizes peace as a stale point which is achieved as a result of cessation of war. While the borderland is regarded as the perpetual conjunction of ideational and literal conflicts. Therefore, this paper attempts to identify the dynamic role of peacebuilding in the border, critically analyzing the borderland community’s negotiations of everyday life managing violence and peace. This paper attempts to shed light on a local notion of peace and contribute to the debate of peacebuilding as a continuous process, which involves shifts of identity and selfhood. This study relied on secondary ethnographic accounts gathered through the archives of the Irob diaspora’s websites. The historical, cultural elements were captured from visual and audio recordings of local dancing, poetry recital in Tigrigna and Saho language.