The giddy excitement that marked Ethiopia and Eritrea’s historic summit

The giddy excitement that marked Ethiopia and Eritrea’s historic summit

In his boldest move, Abiy offered last month to make peace with Eritrea, 20 years after the neighbors started a border war that killed an estimated 80,000 people. "We congratulate you and are with you.!"

"The events of these past two days between Ethiopia and Eritrea are like the fall of the Berlin Wall".

The initiative came on the heels of a visit by Eritrea's high-level delegation to Ethiopia last month, including Yemane Gebreab, President Issaias Afeworki's special adviser and Foreign Minister Usman Salah.

Images of both men hugging took the continent by the storm, trending all day on social networks.

Ethiopia's state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported that Ethiopian Airlines would begin passenger flights between the two capitals as early as next week.

But Mr Abiy's decision to fully accept a peace deal that ended a border war between the two East African nations has been most surprising of all.

Abiy's chief of staff wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning: "Our two nations share a history and bond like no other". "Received the first call from Asmara in Eritrea!" said Ermiyas Teklu in Ethiopia after speaking to his uncle and his family.

However, Ethiopian troops have yet to withdraw from the disputed territories along the border, and numerous Ethiopian residents of Badme are against ceding their town to Eritrea.

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With laughter and hugs, the two leaders of longtime rivals Ethiopia and Eritrea met for the first time in almost two decades Sunday amid a rapid and dramatic diplomatic thaw aimed at ending one of Africa's longest-running conflicts.

The two leaders personally symbolized the breakthrough, embracing warmly and swaying side by side to live traditional music at a lavish state dinner in the Eritrean capital.

Ethiopian access to Eritrea's ports will be an economic boon for both, as well as posing a challenge to the increasing dominance of Djibouti which had benefitted from importing and exporting the vast majority of goods to Africa's second-most populous country.

The talks were the product of an unexpected peace initiative by Ethiopia's new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which could transform the Horn of Africa region, ending decades of animosity during which both countries remained isolated and dominated by their security forces.

"We have agreed to open up embassies in our respective countries, allow our people to visit each other's cities and allow our airlines and ports to operate freely", said Abiy, in comments covered by Eritrean state television.

Since taking office in April, Abiy has driven whirlwind reforms reversing some of the touchstone policies of the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

The announcement promised to end of one of Africa's most intractable military stand-offs, a conflict that has destabilised the region and seen both governments funnel large parts of their budgets into security and soldiers.

However, it has also attracted opposition from hard-liners in the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that has dominated the ruling EPRDF coalition - and by association the country and economy - for almost three decades.

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