Why Was the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary in Asmara?

Shannon-L-Smith
On June 23, 2016, U.S. Chief of Mission Louise Mazel invited some Asmara based diplomats to a dinner party at his residence to honour the visiting top U.S. diplomat Dr. Shannon L Smith. Present was Ambassador Iqbal Jhazbhay (South Africa), Ambassador Christian Manhal (EU), Ambassador Andreas Zimmer (Germany), et.al (Credit: Amba. Iqbal Jhazbhay)

By Aghade,

Top US officials are not known for frequenting Eritrea. Hence, whenever they visit the capital Asmara, people tend to ask a lot of questions. We know two major events occurred in June 2016 that might have prompted the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Dr. Shannon Lee Smith, to visit Asmara recently: Ethiopia’s unsuccessful 2-day full military attack against Eritrea and the release of the (now widely-discredited) report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.

Mission Classified:

For starters, it’s important to note that Dr. Smith’s visit to Asmara has not been logged in the State Department’s Travel Schedule. Usually, diplomatic missions by key US officials don’t get logged (sometimes for months) for three reasons: it’s a hastily arranged visit due to unexpected or urgent matters; the administration does not want to disclose the overall objective of the mission; or they do not want to provide a formal endorsement for the mission. So, we may not know for some time if Dr. Smith’s recent visit to Asmara is an official one. If it was a classified mission, however, I am afraid one should not expect any treasure from meeting with Al Capone’s agent in the middle of night in the dark alley.

Mission Well-Timed:

The old expression, “timing is everything,” is even more pronounced when you look at the next battle front for Eritrea.  It is not a secret that the COI have been collaborating with several subversive “Eritrean” groups that receive significant material and financial support from the US and the regime in Ethiopia. Over the last two years, we have seen their meeting schedules and photos and noticed a great deal of similarities in their talking points. The subversive groups and their benefactors have had a lot of influence on the COI report, so much so that the report is littered with false or exaggerated statements taken from their propaganda stories.

Even though the COI report is now widely discredited, it is easy to see how the US would want to leverage the report to gain some concession from the Eritrean government. The US has significant influence on the UN Human Rights Council, and at minimum it could have the council extend the mandate of the COI for another year, two, or three. They could (and I predict they will) do this under the pretext to verify some of the assertions made in the report, such as rape, murder, shoot-to-kill policy, etc. In fact, the draft resolution submitted a few days ago by Djibouti and Somalia is a tell-tale sign – more investigations and travels to Eritrea for the COI to collect “evidence”.

Mission’s the Same, Over and Over:

In diplomacy, minimum leverage that offers sweeping discussion is better than none at all. Here are some burning issues the US and Ethiopia have been raising for the last 12 months, directly and indirectly:

– Allow unimpeded access for US diplomats in order to re-open its Embassy in Asmara

– Expel armed Ethiopian opposition groups, especially Ginbot-7, TPDM, and ADFM

– Start discussions with the World Bank to accept the hundreds of millions of old Nakfa banknotes now found in the hands of the Ethiopian regime and its supporters in the Sudan

– Begin pre-dialog meetings with the regime in Ethiopia to implement the EEBC border ruling of 2002

– End all National Service Programs

– Meet with Eritrean “opposition groups”

– Release high profile political prisoners

– Implement the 1997 draft Constitution

The timing of Dr. Smith’s visit to Asmara was obvious. She went to pressure the Eritrean government to negotiate and ultimately accept what I call the “US – Woyane terms.” From the standpoint of the majority of Eritreans (both inside and overseas), there is nothing to negotiate “with a gun pointed at your head”, or when the terms of negotiation are designed to weaken the security of Eritrea and strengthen the enemy (the regime in Ethiopia), or when it is obvious they (US, UN, EU, Ethiopian regime) have no intention of holding up their end of the bargain. Interestingly, the UN Human Rights Council is already in the process of extending the COI mandate (for reasons I indicated above) and Ethiopia is preparing to assume a seat for two years at the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.