The Fever Has Broken

We are committed to Eritreans and working with their government to promote rights and liberties, economic openings, and improved regional relations.” – U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas Greenfield (12 Dec 2013)

Time for the United States to remedy its breach of duty to Eritrea
Time for the United States to remedy its breach of duty to Eritrea

By Bereket Kidane,

Many venerable United States diplomats and undersecretaries formerly responsible for America’s Africa policy are preaching improved relations between the US and Eritrea.  They no longer see the scapegoating of Eritrea as useful or beneficial.  They recognize that US policy in the Horn needs to change.

Their latest proposals are significant in that these diplomats generally don’t go out on a limb and start proposing changes on their own.  They usually have discussions with current policymakers and  take their temperature first before they start advocating a departure from current policy.  So in that sense, their proposals reflect the current thinking of the Africa desk. 

Why the change of heart now?

As it turns out, US foreign policy is dynamic.  It is constantly evolving and changing as the needs and interests of the United States change.  Much of it is driven by the realization that US policy aimed at isolating Eritrea and changing it government has not only failed but is no longer desirable in light of what has happened in South Sudan as well as post-Meles Ethiopia.

It was significant for Ambassador David Shinn to mention that any policy change has to start with Ethiopia handing over Badme and allowing demarcation to proceed.  Frankly,  that is the big enchilada.  It is the whole kit and caboodle.  Equally significant was Ambassador Cohen’s idea of having a European country sponsor a resolution to lift the UN sanctions on Eritrea.


The Algiers Agreement was an iron-clad contract, final and binding in nature, that afforded no loopholes to either of the parties.  One could argue that the United States has been negligent in its duty as the chief guarantor of the Algiers Agreement and the subsequent decision that came out of the Hague.  It should be found liable to Eritrea for breach of duty because Eritrea did act in reliance of the United States’ guarantee of the agreement.  In contract law, even the smallest breach of duty is seen as seed to a poison.   And what a poison it has been to the region.

When it comes to Ethiopia and the United States there has always been a Principal-Agent relationship.  Ethiopia, particularly under Meles Zenawi, was America’s agent and representative in the Horn acting with actual and apparent authority to translate America’s policy goals in the region.  As such, both Ethiopia and the United States are jointly and severally liable to Eritrea for their breach of contract.

It is time for the United States to remedy its breach of duty to Eritrea and enforce the Hague-based International Court of Justice’s demarcation decision in its entirety not just as a matter of international law and justice but also as a starting point to improve its relationship with Eritrea and reverse its disastrous policy in the Horn.

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