By Amanuel Biedemariam,
For many underdeveloped countries particularly African, Diplomacy means: to be flexible, to acquiesce, compromise, undermine-once-principle and values to accommodate suitors at the expense of long term interests of the nations they claim serve.
Eritrea’s firm and principled stances are therefore aberration to the norm and thorn on the sides of those who benefit from the diplomatic acquiescence or submissiveness of countries that sell their souls in order to remain in power for financial or other gains. Many considered those stances undiplomatic. However, as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin the cat. Eritrea’s diplomatic approaches prove that there is alternative to the diplomacy that African nations practiced for decades.
According to major dictionaries, Diplomacy is: 1) The art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations 2) Skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility.
Eritrea’s principled approach to diplomacy is based upon, 1) Long term interests of Eritrea 2) uncompromising stance on ensuring sovereignty 3) ensuring Eritrean people’s needs first 4) unwavering vigilance on national security.
As for the skills on handling diplomacy, Eritrea’s approach is based on experience, astute observation of international developments, patience, flexibility, doggedness in pursuit of interests and, meticulously-approached-understanding of global politics. It is based on the belief that international laws and systems have a role to play and, by adhering to international laws, systems and norms. It is based on positions of strength. It is also based on the will, drive and unity of the Eritrean people.
The people of Eritrea participate as extension of the government’s diplomatic core, voluntarily. Eritreans in the Diaspora are briefed by their embassy officials’ regularly; they are aware and astute about Eritrea’s diplomatic needs and engage proactively as needed.
Prior to the passing of the sanctions, individuals from the US State Department worked hard to include Eritrea in a list of countries associated with terrorism and targeted the 2% rehabilitation tax that Eritreans in the Diaspora pay. To counter, Eritreans waged effective public campaign and stopped it. The campaign by the State Department was an effort to intimidate Eritreans and stop them from supporting their government. This strategy is effective for most communities from other countries. Eritreans however, were invigorated and used the opportunity to come together rallied behind the government.
Furthermore, Eritrea’s diplomacy is never conducted at the expense of another nation or for political expediency. It is based on pursuing mutually beneficial interests for all involved. It is conducted by paying hawkish attention to Eritrean national interests and not by sacrificing principle or values
US in the middle
After World War II, when most African nations received independence, to ensure its national strategic interests, the US denied Eritrea the opportunity to become independent. In 1991, as Eritrea won independence, the former Soviet Union fell which paved ways for the US to assume superiority over international affairs. Not-long-thereafter, in 1998, Eritrea was forced to face yet another challenge to her existence. A war that lasted for over two years was waged under the guise of border war that took the lives of tens of thousands Eritreans needlessly.
Furthermore, a sophisticated asymmetric-warfare was initiated to subjugate Eritrea. The agenda is to isolate, render Eritrea a failed state and undo hard won independence. To that end economic and diplomatic isolation was the method applied to strangulate Eritrea.
Disconnecting Eritrea diplomatically also meant economic suffocation. Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen made trilateral pact to encircle and strangulate Eritrea whilst Ethiopia and the US used the African Union based in Addis Ababa to campaign and further-alienate Eritrea. The Arab League was used to condemn Eritrea at every turn to validate the demonization and justify punitive measures. The European Union was also used to ensure that EU countries cannot engage on economic activities, trade, developmental assistance or cooperation. Wikileaks exposed how Germany backed-off from funding the Bisha Gold mine under pressure or at the behest of the US.
These collective campaigns were-then used to pressure the UN particularly China and Russia into going-along with punitive sanctions against Eritrea. Done in escalating fashion, the first step was the arms embargo, Resolution 1907 (2009), a sanction imposed based on lies. Later, under pressure from the US, in 2011, the UN passed Resolution 2023. The second sanction was meant to deny Eritrea the revenue-stream from the mining sector. This time however, Russia objected and the UN passed a “watered-down” sanction.
These economic, political and diplomatic webs are what Eritrea was forced to contend-with. The layers of diplomatic hurdles were insurmountable by any standard, however, and when it is African nation like Eritrea targeted by the US, that nation is almost doomed.
Deconstructing the Diplomatic Hurdles
The people of Eritrea are no-stranger to western designs and machinations. Years of struggle have made them aware and able to stand against it. The homeland is vigilantly observed by the gallant Eritrean forces hence more manageable, relative to the task of establishing or re-establishing diplomatic ties independent from US pressures.
Eritrea’s diplomatic successes are too significant to detail in this piece. It is, therefore, important to highlight, a) the mindset and b) the ways Eritrea victoriously managed to expose the diplomatic hurdles that aimed to stifle the nation.
Firstly, it is the mindset of veteran Eritrean leadership that believes peace is prerequisite for success (Eritrea cannot afford to be entangled in endless conflicts) and that Eritrea must overcome and defeat all challenges to her sovereignty to be considered viable.
The second most important aspect is how Eritrea managed to expose the machination methodically:
Those who demonize and try to destabilize Eritrea own no moral or legal high-grounds. Every attempt against Eritrea was illegally conceived, based on false morale pretext and designed to stop Eritrea’s progress by any means necessary. It is not humanitarian, justice-minded or democratic.
These machinations are obvious to the people of Eritrea. They understand that the west, in one hand is subjecting the youth to the trenches to defend and turn around blame Eritrea for the national service program that aims to develop while defending Eritrea.
Eritrea’s consistent adherence to the rule of law; the unity, determination, strength and the perseverance of the people Eritrea managed to expose the duplicity and foiled the agendas that aimed to, in one hand blame Eritrea for host of human rights violations and destabilizing roles in the region while allowing the rule of law to be undermined by Ethiopia that openly declared regime-change, hosted countless anti Eritrea groups and openly bragged for militarily-attacking Eritrea on numerous occasions. Ethiopia is brazenly occupying Eritrean territories and provoking hostilities rather than seeking peace and stability. Disregarding these obvious violations, the US labels Eritrea problem maker of the region. This however is a miscalculation based on the notion that Ethiopia will prevail and Eritrea will fail.
Ironically, everything they tried worked against them. In a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 25 of 2012, President Obama made the following remarks:
“I recently renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea. We’re partnering with groups that help women and children escape from the grip of their abusers. We’re helping other countries step up their own efforts. And we’re seeing results. More nations have passed and more are enforcing modern anti-trafficking laws.”
As confusing as it may sound this is an expression of incoherent policy that intended to destabilize by encouraging uncontrolled youth flight. That led to refugees flooding the Sinai believing Eritrea to be get-unchallenged-asylum-card. Israel, a country that grapples with the right to return for Palestinians, allowed refugees access and soon found out that it opened uncontrollable floodgates. Israel was then forced to deal with the consequences by systematically kicking-out the refugees and drew attention from rights groups. What started as a ploy to destabilize Eritrea became a source of major national and regional security issue for countries involved. Europe is dealing with these issues in the same manner.
Most of the countries that granted asylum to those that claimed to have fled Eritrean national service are now forced to retract their asylum review process based on Danish authorities’ report that went to Eritrea and did extensive research. The 79 page report called, “Eritrea: Drivers and Root Causes of Emigration, National Service and the Possibility of Return” which concluded that Eritrean migrants aren’t refugees is now the bible that Europe is using to refuse asylum. Most European countries and others are adopting the report to make asylum decisions with the hopes to stem the flow of refugees.
Eritrea was forced to deal with many issues in ways no African country has to deal with. How Eritrea dealt with the adversities was a reflection on the nation. And Eritrea dealt with it with class, dignity, by standing firmly on principles that ensured-advocated dignity and proper treatment of Eritreans. Eritrea kept open communication with all affected countries and used the issue to attack the underlying causes that lead to instability and offered/showed the world alternative solutions. In other words, Eritrea diplomatically unraveled the agendas while reestablishing longstanding relations with many of these countries.
The results are reflected on the level of interest EU countries are showing. From May 26-28, a group comprised of representatives from the EU, British, French, Italian, Switzerland, Belgian, Turkish Ambassadors and first secretary of Embassy of Check Republic have conducted a three days tour in the Anseba and Gash Barka regions, witnessed development-activities and experienced the prevailing peace in Eritrea. Many of these countries have economic interests in Eritrea.
Eritrea exhibited tremendous resolve and creativity when dealing with international matters. Eritrea’s neutral non-interference policy also contributed on how countries perceived Eritrea.
The regime in Ethiopia tried to align and malign Eritrea by associating her with many issues and countries with lies. That failed because as time went on countries and the world understood why these lies are fabricated continuously.
Eritrea’s diplomatic challenges emanate from one source and that is the US. On every turn Eritrea was forced to climb mountains to achieve small diplomatic progress. Overtime, however, the people of Eritrea have managed to make significant diplomatic strides. The cold war and the unipolar world the US maneuvered ill-served the people of Eritrea for decades. To be shunned by the US means denial of rights as a nation and ultimately death and, only handful of nations mange to escape it. Eritrea’s brilliance is, therefore, a unique development on international affairs.
The problem with the US led unipolar world was that nations were often forced to work against their national interests. However, competing international powers and their geopolitical interests is leading nations away from US led agendas into focusing on their own interests.
Eritrea’s diplomatic achievements are, therefore, a fruit of the people’s dedication, hard-work and perseverance. Eritrea is amongst the most strategic places in the world. Eritrea is also endowed with riches that will sustain her for generations. To ensure a bright future Eritrea played it right and today finds herself in a position to rip the benefits. For most countries diplomacy is a matter of success or failure. For Eritrea, however, it is existential hence victory is a must.