Congressional Fact Finding Mission to Eritrea, Key to Resolve Disinformation

congressional fact finding mission
“In order to improve relations, a strong signal needs to be sent to Asmara from Washington. […] President Isaias would very much like to put his relations with Washington on a more constructive footing. […] It is, therefore, up to the United States to take the first step.” – Bronwyn Bruton
By Abel Kebedom,

I am writing this short article not because I am a supporter of the Eritrean government but as an American citizen and proud tax payer, out of my firm belief that US government officials are required to give congressmen and women of the United States unbiased and unfettered information so that the latter can draft policies that could address the underlining problem correctly.

Hence, I am baffled by the ignorance and purposeful deception of the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, during the witness testimony they gave to the United States Congress’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Hearing conducted on 14 September 2016.

The witnesses’ statements provided during the hearing forced me to ask myself a very interesting, timely and significant questions. If the U.S. has gotten it wrong in Iraq, Syria, Libya and other countries, why is not learning from those mistakes? If the US continues to make similar mistakes here and there, it is likely that the admission of mistake by US officials for the errors in judgement they committed in the aforementioned countries was not genuine. It is possible that the admission of mistake has been used as a cover up for a hidden policy that the successive U.S. governments did not want to disclose to the American Tax payers.

That is why the American officials are admitting a mistake until they commit another disastrous mistake that costs the lives of innocent civilians who have done nothing wrong. How is that admitting wrong in Iraq does not become a teaching lesson for the next wrong in Libya?

I am asking these questions because the U.S. Africa desk officials seem to repeat those errors again and again and do not seem to learn or acknowledge them until they commit another disastrous mistake.

Everyone knows that it has been quite some time since Eritrea and the United States became unfriendly nations to each other. However, instead of exploring and presenting the issues that led to the downward spiral in diplomatic relations in an honest and logical manner, it seems what we have been told by the Honorable Undersecretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her previous charge de affairs to Eritrea are rosy words that mask the real issue. Is that what politics means?

If human right is a reason for the diplomatic break down between Eritrea and the United States, why is that Human rights is not a problem to the relation between Djibouti and the United states and for that matter between the highly repressive and genocidal minority regime in Ethiopia and the United states?

The good thing is, we all know that human right is not the real issue. It is my understanding that everything what has been said in the hearing by the American officials goes back to a policy that has been formulated based on wrong information, personal acrimony towards Eritrean government officials and simply to appease the so called allies in the region. I would like to elaborate my observations point by point.

1) US policy on Eritrea does not seem to be based on facts on the ground in Eritrea

When asked about the ideology of the Eritrean government, the Hon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her former charge de affairs to Eritrea, who was presented as an expert, did not seem to know a lot about it. To my surprise, they seem to know a lot about things that the Eritrean government did to American institutions within its sovereign rights, including the expulsion of the USAID than what the US did to Eritrea.

What the Hon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield did not mention is that the Eritrean government signed the binding and final agreement to solve the border problem with Ethiopia that costed the lives of more than 100,000 people on both sides believing that the US government would honor its words to serve as a guarantor of the implementation of the agreement and punish the party that refused to fulfill its commitment.

However, as soon as the International court in the Hague gave its verdict, the US not only decided to disengage from the process but also sided with Ethiopia and worked hard to change the verdict in favor of Ethiopia. If anyone disagrees with the previous claim, he/she better read the former UN ambassador John Bolton’s book.

What is even more surprising is that the former charge de affair who came to help the undersecretary didn’t know how Sawa graduates were classified into the University, Military and community service categories.

If you are a US charge de affair sitting in Eritrea, what else do you want to know other than about the widely criticized national service program? Isn’t that at the center of the human right issue that the honorable undersecretary mentioned as a main reason for the bad diplomatic relationship between Eritrea and the United States?

I might be wrong but it seems to me that the charge de affairs did not want to mention that students who scored a good grade go to a university because that sends a message that there is a mechanism set for classifying the students into different categories. Isn’t that misleading the congressmen and women?!

2) American policy towards Eritrea is guided by Ethiopia

To be honest I have problems with some of the witness testimonies given by Ms. Bronywn Bruton. However, overall, I found her witness testimony to be more credible than the witness statement given by the Hon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her previous charge de affair to Eritrea. In her Testimony, Ms. Bruton highlighted very important points.

  • Ethiopia’s rejection of the Ethiopia – Eritrea Border Commission (EEBC) final and binding decision is the center of all crisis in the horn of Africa. The Hon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s decision not even to mention this very important and significant factor in her testimony is an insult to the law makers. It is important to note that all the witnesses, regardless of their conflicting views, agreed on Ms. Bruton’s assessment. Hence, the US implicit support to Ethiopia’s violation of international law, even going to the extent of withdrawing that information from law makers, makes the US Africa desk a party to the problem and suffering of innocent people in the region.
  • The Hon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield request to Eritrea to reduce the national service to 18 months but staying mum on Ethiopia’s occupation of Eritrean sovereign territory and continuous attack on Eritrea is a continuation of US effort to appease Ethiopia in return for its service to America. Hence, the US is using Eritrea as a bargaining tool to get what it wants from Ethiopia. Isn’t that misleading the Law makers?
  • US has been misled by Ethiopia not only in Eritrea but also in Somalia.
  • There is a fear that the incompetence and dishonesty of American diplomats in the region could lead to another disastrous war in the Horn of Africa.

3) Distorting the truth about Nevsun Resources Ltd

What is surprising to me is that the US diplomats did not seem even to fall in line with the previous statements made by their current charge de affair based in Eritrea.

Nevsun is a public company and if there is anything that hates to happen to it is bad publicity. Bad Publicity hurts stock prices. It might be true that the company was misled by an Eritrean contractor that used national service recruits to complete a small project for the company during the early years of the Bisha gold mine project. When the information came out, Nevsun took a very fast corrective measure and instituted stringent verification mechanisms. It is surprising that the issue that happened about a decade ago is now presented as a normal business practice in the company.

The truth is the company recognized the problem and found a solution for it long time ago. The company needs to be commended for that. This information could be collaborated simply by asking the current charge de affairs based in Asmara. Yet without making any fact checking, the hearing was discussing on what should be done to stop that.

I just want to advise the congress men and women on the need to verify information that has been presented to them by people who have conflicting interests.

4) Eritrea has a secular government

I heard witnesses who mentioned the lack of freedom of religion in Eritrea. It is true. But the fact is religion becomes a problem in Eritrea, only when it is found to be a reason for Eritrean youth not to complete the national service.

If anyone could mention religion as a reason not to carry out the national service, then religion is in contradiction with the government policy and the government response is very harsh. I am not saying the government way of solving problems is correct. What I am trying to stress on is that the US law makers deserve to know the truth in its entirety.

As a conclusion, feeding elected law makers with wrong information or withdrawing information that could be used to draw a correct government policy to bring a lasting solution to the serious problems prevailing in the Horn of Africa is a responsibility of American diplomat’s in the Africa desk.

If they fail to do that then it is a disservice to the American tax payers. Thus when dubious and inconsistent information is given to law makers, it is a must for the latter to go and verify the information on the ground. That is why I am supporting for the American lawmakers, including the honorable Christopher H Smith, to do what several European law makers are doing, to go to Eritrea and understand the good and the bad and draft a policy that reflects the situation on the ground.

I doubt the Africa desk allows them to do that, but trying does not hurt all.