Resolving the militarised territorial dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea


The militarised territorial dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea was prevented from escalating in 2017 by the timely diplomatic intervention of the African Union and was ultimately resolved after the Government of Saudi Arabia mediated a peace agreement.

The mediation services and peacekeeping mission provided by the Government of Qatar served to prevent an outbreak of armed conflict following the clashes on the Djibouti-Eritrea border in 2008. Despite the imposition of sanctions on the Government of Eritrea in 2009, the conflict remained unresolved and highly militarised, with both countries maintaining large military forces in the area. During the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis, the governments of both Djibouti and Eritrea backed the decision to isolate the Gulf state in solidarity with powerful regional actors, most notably Saudi Arabia. In response, Qatar withdrew its peacekeeping force from the disputed territory after seven years of operating.1 Eritrean armed forces returned to the contested area almost immediately, bringing the former belligerents back to the verge of war.2

The African Union (AU) immediately called for calm and dispatched a fact-finding mission to the area to discover what was happening but refused to deploy a peacekeeping mission, as requested by the Government of Djibouti.3 The dispute remained unresolved and a potential source of armed conflict until the 8 June 2018, when the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia met to resolve their own long-standing territorial dispute. In addition to formally ending the dispute and normalising relations between their two countries, the meeting sparked a rapprochement with other governments in the region. The Government of Somalia soon reconciled its own differences with the Eritrean leadership, sending a delegation along with the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia (the Joint High-Level Committee) to Djibouti in September 2018. The Committee was tasked with opening a new era of cooperation in the Horn of Africa by resolving the dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea. After initial talks, the governments of the three states signed the Djibouti Agreement, formally entering a period of cooperation.4 The following week, representatives from across the Horn of Africa were invited to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah to formalise their commitments to peace.5 On 16 September, the Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders signed their deal. The following day, the Government of Saudi Arabia hosted the first face-to-face meeting between the Djiboutian and Eritrean leaders in over a decade.6 These efforts have greatly reduced the risk of interstate conflict not just between Djibouti and Eritrea, but across the entire Horn of Africa.

1 Reuters Staff. “Qatar withdraws troops from Djibouti-Eritrea border mission.” Reuters. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

2 Aaron Maasho. “Djibouti, Eritrea in territorial dispute after Qatar peacekeepers leave.” Reuters. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

3 African Union. “AU Commission calls for Restraint on the Djibouti-Eritrea Border.” AU Press Release. (2017) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

4 UN. “Horn of Africa: UN chief welcomes Djibouti agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.” UN News. (2018) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

5 Fatah Arahman Youssef. “President of Djibouti: Saudi Arabia Helped Us Open a New Page with Eritrea.” Asharq Al-Awsat. (2018) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

6 Camille Lons. “Saudi Arabira and UAE Look to Africa.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (2018) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Risk of an interstate conflict

Type of Initiative

Diplomacy, Mediation of a peace agreement, Resolution of a militarised territorial dispute, Stabilising international borders

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The African Union, UN, and the Government of Saudi Arabia




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