By Simon Keleta,
Eritrea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems to have been quite busy this past year. The effect of Eritrea’s growing relations have clearly borne fruit within the halls of the UN. To understand the gains made in 2015, we must first recall UN Security Council Resolution 1907 and the conditions that brought sanctions on Eritrea in 2009.
Knowing that European Union (EU)-member states were historically reluctant to support anti-African resolutions not sponsored by Africa as a whole, Susan Rice exploited Eritrea’s temporary absence from the east African regional bloc, the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to rally members of the African Union (AU) in an anti-Eritrea resolution that was made to appear as an “African Initiative.”
Revelations from Wikileaks make this reality clear. Let us not forget the cable from September 29, 2009: “Rice reminded Museveni that past experience suggested that the UNSC would not block a resolution led by African members and supported by the African Union. She shared the U.S. read that, if Burkina Faso and Uganda co-sponsor this resolution, the British will support, the French will ‘keep their heads down’ and will not block.”
Everything about the sanctioning of Eritrea was exceptional. The AU called for UN sanctions on one of its own African states, Eritrea, in an emergency midnight meeting, which a January 19, 2011 article in the AFP called an “unprecedented step”. They have relied on a succession of rare events in the face of Eritrea’s reservations to make the sanctions possible.
Observing the events since 2009 up until the end of 2015, one can safely say that the game has changed. Recognizing the isolation strategy and Rice’s role in it, Eritrea has taken a number of measures to defeat isolation attempts.
On November 18, 2011, Reuter’s acknowledged a “charm offensive” by Eritrea. Reopening her mission to the AU that closed in the wake of sanctions and pushing for readmission to IGAD, Eritrea built new international relationships while fostering old ones.
Diplomatic engagements and partnerships since then have snowballed, accelerating this past year. Once again, on August 21, 2015, VOA’s David Arnold declared a “charm offensive” by Eritrea, noting the slew of recent and repeated visits by highlevel European delegations that included, inter alia, the British, Danes, Norwegians, Dutch, Swedes and Swiss. A number of foreign newspapers and think tanks have also sent their emissaries to Asmara.
Visits by European delegations are still ongoing in 2016 as they seek to partner with Eritrea to address mutual problems for mutually beneficial gain.
On June 7, Norway’s NRK reported that State Secretary of the Justice Ministry Jøran Kallemyr visited Eritrea “to obtain confirmation that they intend to comply with the maximum limit of 18 months of national service…and to assess the state of the country.”
“My impression is far better than I had thought…we walked around freely at night…the TV in the bar showed BBC World and there were internet cafes with access to Facebook,” said the Secretary.
Secretary Kallemyr also met Eritrean Minister of Justice Fozia Hashim, reviewing the recently published Criminal, Penal, and Civil Codes and indicating that they were “extremely important when it comes to human rights issues.”
Unlike superficial analyses or confrontational approaches by human rights NGOs, Norway and other EU states have identified, through official partnerships and state visits, the Eritrean state’s nascent and underdeveloped legal bureaucracy as one rate-limiting impediments to human rights and economic progress in Eritrea.
On December 11, the European Union announced that €200 million would be disbursed to Eritrea through 2020 as part of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF). The money is slated to go towards supporting the energy sector, providing social services, and improving governance. This deal makes Eritrea, the highest per-capita recipient of EDF funds.
More important than the money allocated to Eritrea, however, is the relationship the deal builds and the message it sends to the world: Eritrea is not isolated. The victim of a seventeen year US-backed Ethiopian isolation strategy and territorial occupation, Eritrea has effectively taken bold new steps towards neutralizing that strategy and strengthening Eritrea’s hand in the protracted attrition war.
Eritrean diplomacy in 2015 expanded and redoubled with Arab states of the Gulf and Red Sea basin. In September 2014, a new conflict in Yemen drew security and geopolitical concerns of regional and global powers.
Three weeks before the start of 2015, the former Israeli Deputy Minister of Defense Ephraim Sneh, writing for Al-Monitor, indicated,
“there is one thing the United States can do. Opposite Yemen, on the other side of the straits, lies Eritrea. Over the last decade, the United States has espoused a policy designed to isolate and weaken the country. The wisdom of this policy should be reconsidered, given the new regional configuration.”
With the start of the Saudi military campaign in Yemen last March we immediately saw a deluge of allegations about Eritrea’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen and the regional ramifications.
Initial reports came from intelligence firms like Stratfor and Indian Ocean Newsletter (ION).
The world later learned that Eritrea would join a regional anti-terror alliance spearheaded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and based on “strategic cooperation”. Quickly, the rumor mill went wild.
Of course, little was said about the fact that Eritrea and her President, Isaias Afewerki, for more than a decade had been the leading proponents for such a coalition to secure the Red Sea, home to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
For a region fraught with piracy, illegal fishing, terrorism, weapons and human trafficking, infiltration by intelligence and mercenary firms—as we saw with PVI International in 2011—and a slew of other criminal activities, it only makes sense that adequate measures be taken to bolster intra-regional security. Let it not be forgotten that the Horn of Africa is targeted by Daesh (aka ISIS) to be the seat of the al-Habeshia Caliphate.
By October, the new report by Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) made a number of allegations regarding Eritrea visà-vis Yemen.
Using vague language open to all kinds of interpretation, the SEMG warned that Eritrea could violate UN Security Council resolutions if it used the alleged financial compensation from neighboring states “towards activities that threaten peace and security.”
How exactly would the use of the purported monies, ostensibly legal, be tracked? Are the currency notes bugged with GPS tracking devices and surveilled?
UN Security Council Resolution 2244 resulting from the SEMG report extended the sanctions committee mandate through 2016 despite the US, according to Herman Cohen, being the only Council member favoring the extension. Looking beyond the final vote count favoring extension, this new diplomatic development of Eritrea winning favor with most members of the Security Council must be appreciated.
Additionally, the resolution called on “Eritrea to cooperate with the SEMG, including on public finance issues in accordance with the SEMG’s mandate, in order to demonstrate that Eritrea is not violating the terms of relevant Security Council resolutions”.
Security Council member Venezuela took the lead in objecting and watering down the draft resolution’s stipulations for investigating Eritrea’s finances and its efforts received support from Angola, Chad, Nigeria, China and Russia. According to sources within the UN, this type of support for Eritrea is not solely a result of nations standing on the side of justice but rather a result of the meticulously planned, expanded and executed diplomatic efforts by Eritrea’s Permanent Mission to the UN and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this past year.
The lies of the SEMG have become obvious to Eritrea’s international partners. First, there were accusations that Eritrea had “2,000 troops” in Somalia. Next, there was “support to armed groups” in Somalia. Later, there was the accusation of government sanctioned human trafficking. Then there was the claim that “Eritrea provided military and logistical support to three armed rebel groups in South Sudan.”
All of these claims, as the latest ones about Yemen most likely will, have been debunked and each SEMG report since 2010 has received less and less support for continued sanctions on an increasingly internationally aligned Eritrea.
The latest machinations by the SEMG’s sponsor and patron, the current US Administration, to hang the ever-looming threat of expanded sanctions over Eritrea’s head should be seen as desperate, last-ditch efforts to generate leverage over a nation over which it has little.
How do we know this is the case? We know because US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazier said the US didn’t have any leverage on Eritrea to an audience of largely Eritrean and Ethiopian students in 2006 at the University of Washington.
As such, the SEMG has consistently assisted in “leverage creation” by using the latest regional issues to manufacture creative, new evidence against Eritrea. With no hard evidence and Eritrea’s expanded diplomacy, support for sanctions is dwindling.
Without getting overly optimistic, perhaps the annulment of the UN sanctions is near. If not annulment, the Eritrean people and state’s six-year contingency efforts may render them effectively annulled.
However, there remains one major obstacle. On February 20, 2014, Ethiopian State Minister for Foreign Affairs sent a memorandum to all diplomatic missions around the world briefing them on Eritrea and providing instructions on moving forward. According to the memo,
“The former U.S. Permanent Representative to UN, Ambassador Susan Rice, was instrumental in adopting the [sanction] resolutions. The current US Permanent Representative, Ambassador Samantha Power, may not be as strong on Eritrea. But since Ambassador Susan Rice is serving as the National Security Advisor of President Obama, she will ensure the continuation of U.S’s policy of sanctioning Eritrea.”
Note the word “ensure“. In life, nothing is certain but death and taxes—and, apparently, Susan Rice’s promotion of TPLF’s anti-Eritrea policies in Washington. It was likely that Rice pushed Obama to become the first US president to visit Ethiopia and compelled him to congratulate democracy in the country this year in spite of the very embarrassing fact that they won 100 percent of the vote.
This type of exceptional and high-level US support that the TPLF regime has enjoyed for the last seventeen years is on its final leg. It would not be a surprise to see Rice make a final push to award the Eritrean people with a goodbye “gift” before she leaves office in less than a year.
Under the tutelage of Rice, the Commission of Inquiry’s allegations of “crimes against humanity” are clearly intended draw an indictment of President Isaias Afwerki by the International Criminal Court prosecutor and to expand UN sanctions to target mining companies by December 2016.
This reality is not lost on the Eritrean people, who have become acutely familiar with Rice and her antics. The same goes for Baroness Glenys Kinnock—the Susan Rice of the UK.
In response to all their hostilities on behalf of the US and UK as well as all the hostilities by their regime change activists, under the pretext of human rights, the Eritrean people have put up a valiant fight this past year.