When the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea embraced in Asmara last month, promising to end the two-decade-old state of war between their two countries, it looked like a sudden breakthrough.
But the rapprochement was, in fact, the culmination of a year of back-channel talks, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
One of the drivers behind that process was the United States, which has been a major player in the Horn of Africa for decades.
More surprising was the role played by a much smaller nation: the United Arab Emirates.
The oil-rich Gulf state has gained increasing influence in the region in recent years, according to UAE and Ethiopian officials and diplomats.
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Driven in part by a desire to tap Ethiopia’s growing economy and in part by a fear that rivals such as Iran and Qatar could gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa, the UAE has pushed into the region for more than a decade.
Its newfound assertiveness underscores the shifts underway in the continent, where China now challenges the historic power of western nations and where Russia, Brazil and the UAE and its Gulf States are growing in prominence.
Publicly, the UAE downplays its influence. Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem al-Hashimy, told an event in Washington last month that her country had “played a humble role in trying to bring these two countries together”.
But two diplomats in the Gulf told Reuters that the UAE has privately taken credit for the peace agreement.
The Ethiopian prime minister’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega, acknowledged meetings with UAE officials, but said the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea were responsible for ending the war.
Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Ghebremeskel, was not available for interview when Reuters visited the country’s capital, Asmara, last month.