By Fred Opolot,
Mid last month, Uganda hosted President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea who was here on a three-day state visit.
To appreciate the significance of this historic visit, one needs to understand the position with which the Government in Asmara finds itself.
In 2007, Eritrea pulled out of the regional block, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in response to IGAD’s support of Ethiopian military intervention backing the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia. Furthermore, Eritrea is under sanctions by the UN that accuses the country of bankrolling Al Shabaab.
To compound Eritrea’s situation, the UN, on July 30, released a report accusing it of having planned bomb attacks on Addis Ababa, with the intent of disrupting the African Union Summit of January this year. The report also accused Eritrea of planning to destabilise the region.
Afewerki’s visit should, therefore, be viewed in light of President Museveni’s tireless efforts in trying to attain peace in the Great Lakes Region.
At the joint press conference, President Museveni referred to his Eritrean counterpart as a freedom fighter and equated the efforts of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) in improving the livelihood of Eritreans, to the struggles of the National Resistance Movement of Uganda.
Such references are based on historical events in Eritrea that had been colonised by the Italians, occupied by the British and then handed over to the Ethiopians who ruled it for 30 years, first with the help of the Americans, then later with the Soviets.
Through the leadership of President Afewerki, the country later broke away from Ethiopia in 1993. It is this resilience that President Museveni refers to.
Eritrea has important historical links to the current leadership in Somalia. It once served as home to leader of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and the leader of Hizibul Islam, Sheikh Dahir Awayes.
As a progressive measure, Eritrea has applied to rejoin the IGAD, and has called for an internationally-brokered political and diplomatic solution and non-isolationist measures, to its long-standing territorial row with Ethiopia, which it says is the main problem in the Horn of Africa.
Therefore, continued isolation of Eritrea by the international community can be self defeating, as their active participation in the current conflict resolution process may persuade some belligerents that they had allied with to come on board.
The intervention by AMISOM is not the first attempt by the world to bring an end to the anarchy and restore order to a country that has had no government for close to two decades. In 1992, the UN, through a coalition led by the US, sent peacekeepers to provide humanitarian relief and restore order in Somalia, a venture that was hastily shelved after the US suffered heavy casualties.
In the last four years, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), under AMISOM, have played a leading role in the pacification of Somalia by winning the hearts and minds of the people, in the provision of basic medical needs whilst militarily engaging the insurgents, hence the eventual fleeing of Al Shabaab from Mogadishu.
For President Museveni, Afewerki’s visit cements his place on the international arena as a peacemaker and stabilising figure in the region. His continued efforts to engage and galvanise support should bring Eritrea back to international fold, therefore, ensuring lasting peace in Somalia and the Great Lakes region.
The writer is the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre
Original title on New Vision: The real reason for Afewerki’s visit