Bringing the Eritrean People in from the Cold

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strathink Editorial Team

The Commission has concluded that Eritrean officials have committed crimes against humanity. Crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts – have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign since 1991 aimed at maintaining control over the population and perpetuating the Eritrean leadership’s rule.

Mike Smith

Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea

Press Conference (Geneva, 8 June 2016)

On Saturday, Eritrean forces launched an attack on Ethiopian soldiers at the Tsorona Central Front. It comes as no surprise to Horn of Africa analysts—informed analysts, but more on that later. The Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea held a press conference just days before the attack recommending Eritrean government officials be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for “crimes against humanity.”

What does President Isayas do when confronted with such a powerful accusation by the United Nations? He instructs his troops to attack Ethiopia on the border.

The Eritrean President’s belligerence is not new. Since Eritrea’s independence, President Isayas has been the Horn of Africa’s rogue state—providing support to terrorist groups to create conflict, insecurity and instability throughout the region. His efforts to destabilize neighboring countries have been fully documented by the United Nations Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group.

Recently, Eritrea’s President, Isayas Afewerki has been ramping up his aggressive rhetoric aimed at Ethiopia. At the occasion of Eritrea’s 25th anniversary of independence, the President accused Ethiopia of being hostile to Eritrea’s sovereignty. However, there are a number of facts that inconveniently contradict the Eritrean President.

As early as the London talks in 1991, following the ouster of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the EPRDF—Ethiopia’s majority party—recognized Eritrea’s right to secede from Ethiopia. The New York Times reported, “The affirmation of the Eritrean right to secede came in a statement issued today by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the country’s main rebel group and the one that took power in the capital after Colonel Mengistu was overthrown.”

The Times further reported, “The Tigrean-dominated group, which is led by Meles Zenawi, issued a document restating what had been agreed upon in talks in London at the end of May — that the victorious rebel group, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, had the right to hold a referendum on secession within two years.”

When Eritrea declared war on Ethiopia in 1998—confirmed in findings by the United Nations—one of the root causes for Eritrean hostility was Ethiopia’s decision, following the introduction of the nakfa, to recognize Eritrean independence and require trade to be conducted in dollars, like any other sovereign state.

After two years of fighting, Ethiopia soundly trounced Eritrea’s military. However, the Algiers Agreement gave Eritrea victories not won on the battlefield but in the minds of the international community. So be it. Ethiopia is waiting for the actual, on the ground demarcation of boundary lines to replace the virtual demarcation that does not take into account anomalies, such as lines that put a house in both Ethiopia and Eritrea or a line that cuts a church in two halves.

So, Eritrea’s claim that Ethiopia is not respecting its sovereignty is hollow.

For every problem in Eritrea, President Isayas cites Ethiopia as the cause. No constitution? Ethiopia. No rule of law? Ethiopia. No elections? Ethiopia. Indefinite military service? Ethiopia.

Eritrea’s indefinite military service is justified by the Eritrean government as a bulwark against Ethiopian aggression—which brings us up to date in the latest news about the border. We assume that skirmishes along the border are not new. Earlier in the year, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn said that Ethiopia was ready to “take proportionate military action against Eritrea” for “continuous acts of provocation and destabilization of Ethiopia.”

Adding to flare-ups along the border is the support Eritrea provides to groups such as Ginbot 7. Ginbot 7, founded by Berhanu Nega and Andargachew Tsige, has raised a military that is housed in Eritrea and armed by the Eritrean government. Ginbot 7 has admitted to training Ethiopian in the diaspora to manufacture and detonate bombs in highly-trafficked areas of cities, such as shopping centers, mosques and churches.

The international community seems divided on how to respond to Eritrea’s persistent malfeasance in the region. What is puzzling, however, are the apologists for President Isayas who seem to have come under some sort of spell—people like Ambassador Herman Cohen and the Atlantic Center’s Bronwyn Bruton. Ambassador Cohen tweeted Strathink that he has never received any money from the Government of Eritrea. We assume his truthfulness. However, we are still unclear why he receives letters from the Eritrean Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs directing him to promote removing sanctions on Eritrea.

Ambassador Cohen, along with someone named George Denison, has represented a group called Democracy Ethiopia. The only information about Democracy Ethiopia is an address on the lobbying registration form: 1634 I Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. Could this group be a front for the Eritrean Government?

The Atlantic Center’s Assistant Director of Africa Bronwyn Bruton’s support for President Isayas is equally puzzling. Strathink has posted her most recent apologia for the Eritrean President. Ms. Bruton made a career in Washington, D.C. by promoting herself, in her words, as “an expert on Somalia and al Shabaab.” She published a number of articles that, essentially, “calls for the United States to signal that it will accept an Islamist authority in Somalia—including the Shabaab—as long as it does not impede international humanitarian activities and refrains from both regional aggression and support for international jihad.” This approach, called “constructive disengagement,” was meant to cut off U.S. support of the Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in favor of al Shabaab.

While promoting al Shabaab and Isayas Afewerki, Ms. Bruton repeatedly has condemned the Ethiopian Government. This is what she told Politico in 2014 about Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Ethiopia:

That anti-terror proclamation has been used to arrest scores of peaceful Muslim demonstrators. Just two days before Kerry’s arrival in Addis Ababa, nine prominent journalists and bloggers were arrested in Ethiopia, apparently for the crime of collaborating with foreign human rights groups; they are being held incommunicado. An uncounted number of other journalists and political activists are already in jail. In March, seven female marathon runners were arrested simply for shouting their support of those incarcerated by the regime. Not to mention that Ethiopia has also been accused of mass human rights violations in its eastern Ogaden region, of using torture in its prisons and of withholding food and humanitarian relief from opposition supporters. This repression has been extraordinarily effective: During the country’s 2012 elections, the ruling party won 546 out of 547 seats in the federal parliament.

This is what she said about Eritrea following her visit to Asmara and three hour interview with Isayas Afewerki.

They’re doing their best to reach out to Europe to demonstrate that the narrative of human rights abuses on Eritrea is false, they are trying to repair relations, they are working very hard on health and social service programs. They’re doing a lot of infrastructure work. They’re courting international investors.”   

Responding to the recent fighting along Ethiopia and Eritrea’s border, Ms. Bruton offered the following explanation.

I cannot of course rule out the possibility that Eritrea may be single-handedly responsible for this latest border skirmish. But Ethiopia’s failure to offer any specific explanation of what Eritrea has actually done to provoke such a significant strike should be regarded as a red flag of blame, as should Getachew’s press statement in Addis Ababa on Tuesday morning, in which he argued that Eritrea simply deserved to be attacked: “We believe that the regime doesn’t have any moral ground whatsoever to complain to the international community that it has been attacked because it has all along been working to invite such an attack from any responsible country in the region.”

Getachew then referred to Eritrea’s efforts to “destabilize” the region. This is a constant Ethiopian refrain, but because he made no specific allegation, it remains unclear what Ethiopia thinks Eritrea has done to provoke an attack. [1]

In article posted on aigaforum.com, the editor writes that Ethiopia has floated the idea of forcing the President out of Asmara—in the same manner Mengistu Haile Mariam was forced out of Addis Ababa. Aigaforum writes:

 With patience running thin the Ethiopian government is almost at a decision point to demand the removal of Isaias Afeworki from power. Sources familiar with the issue told Aigaforum the government has floated the idea to key western nations as a comprehensive plan for the horn of africa region. The Ethiopian government has informed many western nations that if Isaias Afewerki is not removed from power there will be war and Ethiopia will defend vigorously. 

 The issue of Isaias Afewerki’s removal from power gained momentum over the last few weeks with Al- Shabaab deadly attempt to overrun Ethiopia’s AMISOM military camp in Somalia. However, our sources told us the recent clash between Eritrea and Ethiopia in Tserona Northern Tigrai region may have given the proposal more ammunition.

Ethiopia is on the record saying that if there is war, it will be the last war. And why not? How many years must Ethiopia tolerate Eritrea’s bad behavior? Ethiopia is surrounded by Somalia, South Sudan and Eritrea—three states struggling to overcome economic stagnation, poor governance and conflict. As long as these countries are unstable, Ethiopia faces the risk of further violence spilling across their borders. The potential for wide expanses of sparsely populated space along porous borders becoming awash in guns is high.

And what about the Eritrean people? How many more years must they suffer under the brutal governance of a man suffering from megalomania? The hubris of the Eritrean people is itself a prison. They must break free of an outdated mythology that has stolen the gains of independence and rendered the people pawns in Isayas Afewerki’s one-man show.

So, we say to Ethiopia “Do what you must do.” The international community has not been an honest broker between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Herman Cohens and the Bronwyn Brutons will continue their misguided attempts to bring Eritrea in from the cold. Eritrea, as long as Isayas Afewerki is in power, will remain isolated on the frozen tundra of oppression.

Do what you must do, Ethiopia, to save yourselves–and the Eritrean people will finally be free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] www.atlanticcouncil.org

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