Note to our readers: We are including here another article written by guest contributor David Elias. His articles on Eritrean President Isias Afewerki have generated a great deal of discussion. Please us the comments section to voice your opinion.
Eritrea’s Trifecta: Bronwyn Bruton, Isias Afewerki, Henry “Hank” Cohen
In my previous articles, I have tried to show the yawning gulf between the self serving assessment of the PFDJ cabal as regards its success in 2016 and the reality on the ground. I have also tried to shed light on the all too obvious tendency of President Isaias to antagonize the fundamentals of Eritrea’s national interest and sabotage any prospect of improvement in the lives of Eritreans.
In fact, the regime in Asmara has shown a marked consistency in its almost deliberate sabotage against anything that could remotely be considered normal behavior in its relations with the rest of the world, most notably with its neighbors. As if to spite the exceptionally patriotic people of Eritrea, President Isaias and his narrow circle of yes-men have pursued policies that appeared to be motivated by a manic desire to scuttle the aspirations to see their young country emerge victoriously out of conflict and poverty through their toil. Despite the sloganeering about turning Eritrea into an African Singapore, the regime has done everything to nip any prospect of improvement of life in Eritrea in the bud.
A regime that would have the world believe that it has a fierce sense of independence and self reliance has nonetheless often displayed the propensity to sell Eritrea short at every opportunity that presents itself. There is nothing that is not for sale in Eritrea including ports, natural resources and worse, slave labor. This is a regime that has single-handedly managed to shatter the lofty ideals for which generations of Eritreans made the ultimate sacrifice. As is the tradition, President Isaias will be telling his people in the coming few days that whatever they might experience by way of frustration is unbecoming of genuine Eritreans; that what might appear to them a series of failures is indeed a qualified success; and for good measure, he will lecture the world that they have a lot to learn from Eritrea’s unique experience under his leadership.
As I indicated in my previous posting, President Isaias is not alone in this make-believe campaign to transform Eritrea’s ills into advantages and to sell this fictitious reality to the rest of the world. The PFDJ regime, as cash strapped as it often is when it comes to answering the bread and butter questions of Eritreans, has never had any problem spending tons of money in its lobbying campaigns to sway the world’s attention in its favor.
The two most unabashed defenders of a regime that has long lost any saving grace in the face of the great majority of Eritreans and the bulk of the international community are a rather odd couple in the US lobby corridors. Herman “Hank” Cohen, an eighty something years old former US diplomat in charge of African affairs and Bronwyn Bruton, a rookie in the lobby business, are generations apart. They are however sworn partners in this lucrative business of trying to sell a non-existent image on behalf of a regime that has spent the better part of the last two or so decades making enemies out of all its neighbors and state and non-state entities beyond. These two, while generations apart, are joined in the hip as much in their Faustian deal to do the bidding of a regime damaged beyond repair as in their rather curious antagonism against Eritrea’s southern neighbor, Ethiopia.
Needless to say, the big wads of cash Yemane Gebreab ( Yemane Monkey) and Hagos “Kisha” (Hagos the Sack) have long made a habit of throwing at unquestioning promoters from the West has had a distinct role to play in enlisting the odd couple in this hapless business of salvaging a semblance of credibility in favor of a regime long proved beyond the pale.
The central thesis of the campaign being waged by these two lobbyists is that the regime in Asmara is not as bad as it is made out to be by the international community’; that there is more to the situation in Eritrea than what the international media often portrays; that Eritrea is led by a leadership that understands what it does; that the regime in Asmara, far from being a sponsor of terror and destabilizing campaigns, is in fact the only source of stability in a troubled Horn of Africa region hence a sleep candidate for a potential role as the West’s errand boy in the entire East Africa.
What is so ironic, if not downright preposterous, about this thesis does not lie in its all too generous description of the state of Eritrea. Nor is it about the hyperbolic praise of the Regime’s clean bill of health in all matters domestic and foreign. Both are absolutely groundless of course. But these are not what make their campaign interesting, as it were. What is most striking about the central theme of their campaigns is the fact that no other effort is made to try and prove how valid the claims about Eritrea are than to engage in a litany of spurious accusations against Ethiopia.
The international community is ill disposed towards Eritrea because it doesn’t understand how worse Ethiopia is relative to Eritrea. If Eritrea is often accused of atrocious human rights record against its own people, Hank Cohen and Bronwyn Bruton’s response is Ethiopia’s record is even more abysmal. If Eritrea spends what little resources it has in trying to destabilize the region, it is solely because it wants to draw the international community’s attention to Ethiopia’s continued only God knows what effort to annex Eritrea or at least its ports. Eritrea’s erratic behavior including the indefinite suspension of normalcy both in its domestic as well as foreign engagements is only a function of the international community’s failure to censure Ethiopia for insisting on dialogue as the only way to resolve differences. Herman Cohen and Bruton would have us believe that Eritrea’s dictatorship problem, migration crisis and even its time honored trouble making proclivities will come to an abrupt end if only Ethiopia was to be exposed to the international community for the difficult interlocutor that it is.
The list can go on forever; but the most ridiculous bottom line is this: what these boldfaced liars masquerading as seasoned analysis would have us believe is that Eritrea’s importance to the West–not to its people, that’s irrelevant–is a function not so much of anything it does right as the failure, as it were, of the West to fully take into account some of the bad publicity its southern neighbor gets. By all standards, these lobbyists lack even the smallest shred of integrity as they take everything Yemane Gebreab shoves down their throats lock stock and barrel. All Eritrea is ready to offer is nothing but what Herman Cohen believes Ethiopia lacks, real or perceived.
And this, mind you, has nothing to do with what all this would mean in terms of easing the monumental burden Eritreans have long had to endure in the hands of this narrow cabal surrounding President Isaias. What the regime is aiming to achieve by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying is a better chance at hiring its services to the West, perhaps for a couple hundred less thousands of dollars. The regime has perfected the art of enslaving its people in its enigmatic journey towards enslaving itself at the service of the powers that be.
This is of course a Sisyphean task, par excellence, for the regime in Asmara has in the last twenty something years done a very good job of alienating itself almost literally from the entire international community. I will raise a few examples by way of illustration.
Eritrea’s dictator is endowed with a perverse logic of blaming everyone for his frustration with what he claims is the international community’s failure to force Ethiopia to implement the demarcation of the border between the two countries. This same perverse logic plays into their argument that it is only by engaging in a series of nefarious campaigns of reckless adventure and unmitigated violence in defiance of international law and ordinary commonsense that they can draw the international community’s attention. As the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia’s report has indicated several times, this is “routinely cited by Asmara as justification for its support to Ethiopia’s armed opposition groups such as the ONLF and OLF.” As the UN Monitoring Group’s report also repeatedly pointed out, whatever its frustration with border issue, “the means by which the leadership in Asmara apparently intends to pursue its objectives are no longer proportional or rational.”
Recent history suggests that the regime in Asmara deliberately enjoys living in a state of tension and rows with all its neighbors and indeed with regional organizations, including IGAD and the AU, as well as international aid agencies, happily denying reports from UN organizations that it is suffocating its people under a blanket of unparalleled suppression. This sort of attitude does in fact seem to be the specific preference of the illusions under which President Isaias Afewerki and the small cabal around him seem to operate.
They continue to evaluate and categorize the integrity of regional and international organizations according to their stance towards the regime, with no reference to the accuracy of the information purveyed. Indeed, the more any country or organization suggests that the Eritrean regime should return to any normal orbit of behavior, then the more it becomes the victim of stringent criticism. It has been far more usual for any weak attempts by Yamane Gebreab to ingratiate his regime with the West through empty promises such to be overshadowed by far more frequent and categorical verbal abuse and criticism meted out against the very Western countries by President Isaias. The regime in Asmara appears to glory in alternate bouts of abuse against and false starts at rapprochement with the international community, though it certainly seems to prefer the former.
It has long appeared to reject any AU’s efforts towards lasting peace, security, stability and regional integrity. It did once boycott its membership in the AU because it believed to be an “incapable” and “inefficient” organization “without teeth”, and “impossible to lay trust” on it. Then, after seven years of criticism, it returned to the organization in January 2010. This is in fact the only nation in Africa that has achieved the unprecedented, if dubious, honor of being referred unanimously by the AU to the UN Security Council for sanctions.
That is of course why it continues to attack the AU and other regional organizations merely because of the AU’s unanimous stance requiring Eritrea to behave normally and stop destabilization in the region. The regime goes on to claim that “there should exist a strategy (in the AU) that could resolve basic issues”, by which it appears to mean the sanctions issue on Eritrea. In fact, as the regime conveniently forgets, AU member states unanimously called for the UN Security Council to sanction Eritrea in order to bring an end to its disruption in the region.
Given its attitude to the AU, it’s hardly a surprise to see Eritrea constantly campaigning against IGAD as well as against Ethiopia and other countries in the region. Eritrea of course pulled out of IGAD in 2007 claiming it was dismayed by IGAD support for the AU-backed call from the TFG in Somalia for an Ethiopian intervention to oust the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu. It subsequently insulted IGAD as “an inept organization” and worse, as a body “spearheaded by Ethiopia and the USA”, apparently for the sole reason that IGAD had the temerity to request the Security Council to add to targeted sanctions after Eritrea persistently and repeatedly continued to disrupt the Horn of Africa sub-region. IGAD is of course composed of member states whose integrity and capacities Eritrea consistently disparages, but despite its continued mistrust of IGAD Eritrea did once formally request to rejoin the organization. From the perspective of observing the Eritre an regime’s illusions that requesting to rejoin IGAD without any changes of policy will be enough to persuade IGAD to drop its support for stronger sanctions against Asmara.
At the same time, Asmara went on to accuse Ethiopia of working for regime change in Eritrea and of trying to gain access to the Red Sea, the same accusation being repeated verbatim by Herman Cohen and Bruton. It even defended its acts of disruption in the region by repeating, yet again, the outstanding border issue with Ethiopia as its excuse. Eritrea continues to repeat this allegation despite Ethiopia’s repeated expressions of readiness for negotiation of the demarcation of the border on the ground, based on the decision of the Ethio-Eritrea Boundary Commission. Ethiopia has made this quite plain for the last twelve years. Ethiopia has also made it quite clear it believes in the peaceful resolution of any misunderstandings. Irrespective of whether the problem is one of argument or even military conflict, it must end in negotiation, not armed destabilization.
It is, in this respect, of importance to note that the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea so that these could have a visible impact on Eritrea and encourage it towards to changes in its disruptive policies in the Horn of Africa. The Security Council originally granted the sanctions after thoroughly evaluating whether the Ethio-Eritrea border issue and other factors could provide any realistic excuse for Eritrea to disrupt the whole sub-region and continue to arm and sponsor terrorist groups. Its answer was unequivocal. That is perhaps hardly surprising. Any thought of lightening the implementation of sanctions appears only to lead to encouragement of Eritrean intransigence and continued efforts at disruption. There has been a proliferation of even more serious allegations leading the Security Council to consider extra investigations and to instruct the Monitoring Group to carry these out, as a prelude to granting additional sanctions as requested by the IGAD.
Despite this the regime in Asmara has continued to offer continued criticisms and insults to any and all organizations that have taken a position criticizing the government in Eritrea or calling on it to return to normal international activities. It apparently continues to believe that new rounds of criticism against the AU and IGAD will somehow persuade the Security Council not to consider further sanctions against Eritrea, and that it will be seen as immune from responsibility for its activities. Eritrea really should be aware that the only way to convince IGAD, the AU, and the UNSC, which is the major owner of the sanctions, and the rest of the international community, to change their attitude, is for it to begin to make realistic and genuine efforts to change its disruptive policies. Despite its illusions, it is by any standards easier for the regime in Asmara to change its policies than for the rest of the world to change direction. Whatever The PFDJ cabal might want, whatever techniques it tries to employ or efforts at half-hearted fence-mending it tries to utilize, these will be of no effect unless it really is prepared to change direction. Nothing else now can be expected to have an impact on an international community long inured to Eritrean twists and turns.
The regime’s lobbyists also tell us that Eritrea is more stable, hence a better candidate to do the West’s bidding, than Ethiopia which they argue is on the brink of disintegration. They point to the recent unrest in some parts of the country as proof positive that Ethiopia is indeed in a terminal crisis all the while conveniently disregarding that the regime in Asmara is straining every nerve and muscle to bring its dream of dismembering Ethiopia into reality. Herman Cohen and Bronwyn Bruton would have Americans believe that compared to Ethiopia, Eritrea is the most stable country deserving of consideration for the position of cheaply remunerated errand boy. Eritrea’s human rights problems are peanuts compared to similar challenges in Ethiopia. Because there are more people under poverty in Ethiopia than there are in Eritrea, this ridiculous argument goes, Eritrea must Ipso facto be more stable and dependable than Ethiopia. There is a glaring fallacy in all these to which the likes of Herman Cohen appear to be oblivious.
Ethiopia has embarked on the path of development, determined to close the chapter of poverty once and for all. The Government and the people of Ethiopia are endeavoring relentlessly towards achieving the vision of the nation to climb up the ladder of prosperity. Efforts to lift the country out of the poverty are yielding more than encouraging results as can be witnessed from the improved quality of life in health, education and other sectors, and from the successive accelerated economic growth registered in the past few years. Appropriate policies tuned precisely to tackle the situation on the ground have contributed to the unprecedented progress and the country now is in the right trajectory towards sustainable development. Ethiopia has managed to pull more than thirty millions of its citizens out of poverty-roughly seven times as many people as Eritrea’s entire population-within a quarter the span of time as it took Eritrea to make enemies out of all its neighbors.
Ethiopia has been holding elections periodically, whatever the setbacks here and there. There are more political parties in Ethiopia than functioning regiments in the most militarized society in the world, Eritrea. Despite the unrests that Ethiopia has witnessed the past year or so, these were legitimate expressions of people who are demanding their due from a government that has proved time and again that it delivers big on its promises. The issue of politics, economic development and stability in Ethiopia is nothing that can compare even remotely to the kind of totalitarian dystopia the regime in Asmara has brought upon the people of Eritrea. Stability after all is a function of whether there are policies and strategies readily capable of addressing the growing demands of a society under transformations, as the case of Ethiopia amply demonstrates. That the PFDJ cabal has managed to maintain a facade of stability through an unfettered use of violence against its people cannot count for anything of lasting importance. In fact, what Eritrea under President Isaias simply represents is a powered keg ready to implode from which tens of thousands of its people are stampeding to leave their country at the risk of almost certain death.
This is the kind of ‘stable’ Eritrea that is offering its services and its resources for sale and do so with the shameless support of highly paid lobbyists who won’t stop at nothing to revive a regime on the brink of death–or as the saying goes, putting lipstick on a pig. The safest part of the story, however, is while responsible governments in the region including, ironically, Somalia, are working on their stability for the purpose of improving the lives of their people, the regime in Asmara is paying millions in an ill fated public relations campaign to appear more useful for the highest bidder and do so at the expense of its people. Quite simply, this is the highest form of political prostitution that has no equal in Africa’s recent past.