Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

17 February 2013

Eritrea: Reality Check for Eritrea

column

A few years ago, according to Wikileaks, a whistleblower, an American Ambassador to Eritrea described the persona of President Isaias Afewerki as having an exaggerated sense of self-importance and fantasies of unlimited success, as well as behaving contemptuously towards others, believing that others were envious of him, and of Eritrea, and that both he and Eritrea were special and that the normal rules do not apply.

As this behaviour is not special to him, many in the know about the People's Front for Democracy & Justice's (PFDJ) history attribute the eerie nationalism of the President and colleagues to the secretive and manipulative nature of the Front.

Speaking about the secretive nature of the PFDJ, the acclaimed commentator on the Horn, Dan Connell, once likened it to Russian dolls called Matryoska, alluding to the difficulty of pinning down the decision making set up of the organisation. Regimenting the rebels and the populace was achieved through zero tolerance to dissent and inculcation of a fictitious narrative of Eritrea as different from the rest of Africa.

In the past 20 years, the regime which turned Eritrea into a large dungeon has done everything possible to perpetuate the psychology of "uniqueness". it has promoted a rabid nationalism which portrays Eritreans as people who stood defiant of a conspiracy by the international community during the struggle, the post independence era, and through deadly conflicts with all most all of its neighbours, and not to forget the endless and torturous National Service Program.

Representative of this mindset, in a recent documentary broadcasted by Press TV, an Iranian television network, entitled, "Eritrea: A nation in isolation", a female student is heard saying "because the world is jealous" in reply to the journalists question "why does Eritrea received bad press?"

Twenty plus years of this smug world view perfected the President and his government in the skills of self-righteous indignation when accused of breaking rules, accusing others of irresponsibility, reacting intensely to any suggestion of criticism and vilifying everything from democratic order, freedom of press, free trade, to supra national bodies.

At the last African Union Summit, Girma Asmerom, ambassador of Eritrea to the Africa Union (AU), managed to suggest that almost all of these points provided a highly accurate description of his President and the government he served during his intervention in the debate.

Reflective of the void of the popular siege mentality, he said: "To derail and frustrate, if possible to also dilute, the legally and conclusively resolved border issue and to prepare the ground for crisis management, the United States Administration has resorted to futile efforts of bringing up unrelated issues to the matter."

In fact, evidence suggesting Eritrea's delusional psyche as a nation is now even more evident in its newly found song, accusing countless organisations in what it calls a bid to destroy the five million people of Eritrea because they threaten the United States and Western agenda for world domination. The driving forces are identified as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) but they include the Open Society Foundation, almost all international NGOs and United Nations (UN) agencies, and human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has recently earned the fury of the Eritrean authorities by issuing a long overdue report on forced labour in Eritrea.

Eritrean officials decry the organisations for trafficking Eritreans, while, in reality, Eritreans are fleeing the country on their own to save their lives from the annihilating polices of the regime. While this is the truth, Eritrea's megalomaniac officials condemned the organisation, in what looks like a witch hunt, taking Eritrea as a victim of its resources and warned others: "These countries may have an African face in the presidential palace but the West runs them! And when and if any country fails to follow the path; the wrath of these destabilisation forces will fall upon it, as it has on Eritrea today."

What is amazing out of Girma's intervention is his condescending advice to the Somali government to be inclusive. Eritrea has one of the least inclusive governments in Africa and its president has made it clear he does not anticipate the operation of any democratic parties during his lifetime, nor does he has any plan for retirement.

Not only that, what made the sage advice more ridiculous is the fact that Eritrea does not recognise the new Somali government as legitimate. Worse, Girma said: "the Eritrean government is strongly committed to Somalia's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and independence; we expect all countries and organisations to show the same commitment."

Eritrea's commitment, of course, has been most vividly demonstrated by its continued support, over several years, for Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups and its support for any and all opponents of the government in Mogadishu.

Equally confusing, and indeed nonsensical, was his demand for the implementation of the Ethio-Eritrea's Boundary Commission's Decision. The sole stumbling block to this remains, as it has been for eight years, the Eritrean regime's continued refusal to hold a dialogue on implementation of the decisions, and Eritrea's continued activities intended to try to destabilise both Ethiopia and the region.

These destabilisation efforts provide the most obvious contradiction to the almost desperate efforts by the Ambassador and by the government in Asmara, to present Eritrea as a stable country, with a genuine interest in the workings of the AU and in the peace and stability of the region. The known facts about the aggressive acts of the regime over the last two decades are open contradictions to the pretentious diplomatic maneuverings of the ever busy diplomats of Eritrea.

If there is anything that is consistent about Eritrea's foreign policy, it is its absurd attempt to project Eritrea as a peaceful nation when the central facet of its foreign policy is actually one of belligerence. It tried to overthrow the government of Sudan in the mid-1990s by force, went to war with Yemen, and attacked Djibouti, and of course invaded Ethiopia in 1998 to launch a two-year war during which it repeatedly refused to negotiate.

In his intervention, Girma went even on to request the AU to urge Ethiopia "to withdraw from sovereign Eritrean territory including the town of Badme". In an attempt to evoke sympathy, he tried to draw a parallel between what he called the "occupation of Eritrean territories" with "Israel's occupation of Palestine territories".

Refusing to admit the fact that Ethiopia's repeated call for dialogue on the implementation of demarcation and normalisation of relations have been repeatedly turned down by Eritrea, he said he had been instructed by the President to say that Eritrea would negotiate with Ethiopia in the afternoon, if Ethiopia withdrew its troops in the morning.

He underlined the insignificance of this by immediately saying that this was not a precondition, adding "the problem has nothing to do with the issue of 'political will' or 'dialogue'.

In fact, Ethiopia has made it absolutely clear, time and again, that it has accepted the decision of the Boundary Commission on delimitation of the border. It has repeatedly called for the two sides to discuss the specific demarcation of the decisions, a normal practice in territorial disputes.

It is the Eritrean regime's total unwillingness to hold a dialogue and its continued destabilising activity through surrogates that have remained the hurdles for settling the issue. Girma's claim that Eritrea wants implementation of the border decisions flies firmly in the face of the overwhelming evidence of Eritrea's intransigence and belligerent behaviour.

Eritrea's call for this is, at best, mere lip service to peace and mere parody, at worst. The current effort to present a false image of Eritrea is, of course, deliberately intended to try to garner sympathy from the international community in order to try and gain support for the lifting of the UN sanctions.

The diplomatic charade of presenting an Eritrea in peril is used to add to the regime's method of refusing the genuine demands of the Eritrean people for justice, democracy and development and holding its own people hostage, by perpetuating a psychology of war. Eritrea's false tears for peace and its diplomatic maneuvers are no more than a smoke screen.

As it is well known, Ethiopia has offered to talk any place, any time, on numerous occasions, although Eritrea has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no interest in peace.

Nonetheless, at the core of the matrix lies Eritrea's foresight and ingenuity. It is indeed saddening that a 30-year struggle for independence has ended with an experiment to forge a culture of rogue behaviour, all in the name of self-reliance.

Samuel Addis is a lawyer by training. He is now engaged in areas of foreign policy and international relations.

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