Can the Fox Monitor its Activities in the Chicken House: The EU and Eritrea

by the Strathink Editorial Team

The European Union (EU) has announced its decision to grant Eritrea €200 million of “new long term support to promote poverty reduction and socio-economic development.” European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said: “The EU provides development aid where it is most needed to reduce poverty and support people. In Eritrea, we have agreed to promote activities with concrete results for the population, such as the creation of job opportunities and the improvement of living conditions. At the same time, we are insisting on the full respect of human rights as part of our ongoing political dialogue with Eritrea. As in other countries, the EU engages with governments around the world to promote human rights, democracy, and people-centered development everywhere. ” [1]

The EU funds will provide support to the energy sector and governance through 2020. According to the press release, support for governance has two goals: to 1) strengthen Eritrean capacity to better manage public finances, and: 2) help Eritrea implement the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (the United Nations mechanism examining human rights performance of all 193 UN Member States). Economic governance support will be given to the production of reliable statistics, and to help build a conducive environment for the private sector.

It is clear why the EU is providing Eritrea with these funds. The fallout of the recent migrant crisis has Europe facing a number of significant economic, political and social problems that are gnawing at the fabric of the union. The economic burden of absorbing the 750,000 migrants who have fled to Europe this year alone is staggering. The social implications of this massive influx already are causing tremors across homogeneous enclaves of European communities. Politically, the EU must do something.

While it is impossible to even pretend to fix Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, throwing money at Eritrea at least will have the appearance of responding in some way. Right?

Maybe not. The assumption of money spent on Eritrea’s energy sector is based on job-creation, particularly for the massive number of Eritrean youth fleeing the country. However, mandatory military service for an indefinite period of time—sometimes life long—challenges the basic assumptions of generating jobs in Eritrea to deter migration. The European labor market is definitely a pull factor for Eritrean migration. But a bigger push factor is the draconian military service that suffocates Eritrea’s youth in an endless cycle of national servitude for—what?

The funds intended to improve governance in Eritrea are transparently ill-intended. The EU claims that the money is for helping Eritrea implement recommendations of the U.N. mechanism for examining human rights performance. This is meaningless. The Government of Eritrea has not even allowed the member of the Human Rights Commission to enter the country and has dismissed all of its findings out of hand. . How will this even work? It is like giving money to the fox to monitor his activities in the chicken house.

Strathink has written about the EU and its wholly misguided response to the migration crisis via Eritrea. Today we would like to posit a different approach to thinking about this recent folly.

Who made the decision in Eritrea to accept this aid?

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki has never been reticent about his views on foreign aid. Almost five years ago, President Isayas suspended relations with the EU and expelled nearly all of the foreign aid agencies working in the country.

Has the President changed his mind and accepted the very aid he believes “cripples people?”

Or is someone else calling the shots?

Strathink would like to posit this idea: Has the President’s serious health problems incapacitated him to allow others to make decisions? How else do we understand such a fundamental shift in his thinking? If these funds are not direct aid, which group in civil society will have the courage and capacity to monitor compliance of the Universal Periodic Review? Or will it be presidential cronies looking to enrich themselves before the fall of the current regime? Has the EU struck a deal to temporarily take attention away from its failure to address the migrant debacle by throwing money at Eritrea—maybe at certain Eritreans?

The Strathink editorial team genuinely wishes itself to be dead wrong on this issue. Let us know what you think.



[1] European Commission press release, EU announces support for poverty eradication in Eritrea, Bussells, 11 December 2015.




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