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Lying the Ladder against the Wrong Wall: EU’s Facile Policy Shift on Eritrea

Lying the Ladder against the Wrong Wall: EU’s Facile Policy Shift on Eritrea

By: Dawit Abebe

Last month the European Commission has announced its new plan to boost its developmental assistance to the Eritrean regime by rowing back from its older assertion. The objective behind the change is said to be “the curbing of the massive exodus through building the capacity” of the government of the source nation.

According to data from the EU, Eritrea is now the second largest source of migration to arrive in Italy by boat, after Syria. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says the number of Eritrean asylum seekers in Europe tripled to nearly 37,000 in the first ten months of 2014, of whom 34,000 came by sea.

The EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Never Mica, told Reuters that EU would try to address social and economic exclusion in migrants’ countries of origin in a bid to halt the crisis. He added, in the context of Eritrea issues such as democracy and human rights would be among the things that will get adequate attention.

Anybody who is with a conscious mind may argue that EU has to do something to curb the ever increasing problem of illegal immigration that is inundated the continent. According to the study conducted by the EU, the number of immigrants is still rising sharply. During the first two months of 2015 for example, the number of migrants arrived to the EU via Italy raised up 43 per cent vis-á-vis the same period of 2014.

The question, however, is about whether the new plan, aimed at boosting the financial support for the Eritrean government, will bring the desired outcome or not. One is not expected to have political savvy, the answer is crystal clear, it doesn’t! It is enough to analyze the following justifications as they easily witness the paradox between the means and the end of EU’s recent inducement program to Eritrea.

Missing the root cause

The recent fiat by the EU is aimed at managing the pain not curing the disease; a medicine that is prescribed without thorough investigation of the sickness. Why do the Eritreans fleeing out of their country in such a huge number? Why do they opt to such a precarious journey? The reason is the regime in Asmara and its draconian rules made the country a place where that suit only for those lunatics who aspire for the “pursuit of misery”. The lack of freedom, poor educational prospects, limited career opportunities and prolonged and mandatory national service left the Eritrean youth no chance but migration. They are thwarted in their attempt to pursue their dreams. Eritrea is not a place for dreamers; you have either to get out of the country or you die with your dream.

The EU could not see the pathological nature of president Isayas’s regime when it renders support to some reforms in human rights and democratic frameworks. Since a genuine reform automatically brings unintended consequences, even the demise of the regime, the leadership in the higher echelon equate such changes with suicide. Hence, the regime is neither interested nor capable of making such bold reform measures.

Walking the talk?

Europe is the epitome of modern form of governance, which is heralded the birth of popular sovereignty. The foundational principles such as freedom, equality, and fraternity, in their modern form, were debated, analyzed, and practiced in Europe, before they were cascaded to the rest of the world. Any seminal work written on issues of European foreign policy teaches or preaches about the old mantra of a global order that is decorated by the politics of democracy and free market economy. They further argue that, “two democracies cannot fight each other”, so that the “matured democracies” have responsibilities to the planting and triumphant of democratic form of governance. The real question is, however, about integrity of policies. Is the EU walking its talk?

By any standard, the current multi-million euro financial inducement package for Eritrea is a quick fix. It compromised a long term and genuine change in creating a peaceful, democratic, prosperous and globalized Eritrea for a myopic end. The regime in Asmara is among the first from the bottom, almost in any indices that exhibits countries’ governance rank. Last month, for example, an interim report of a UN investigation said Eritrea was ignoring human rights laws and exerting pervasive state control and ruthless repression on the population. Surprisingly enough, nine months ago, similar statement from Brussels had presented its “deep concerns” about the political prisoners in that country. Pledging a huge sum of money before witnessing, at least, a modicum of progress from those somber reports is a failure.

Eritrea’s ruling elite is not only harsh to its own people but also to its neighbors and the International community. It has marginalized itself from the burgeoning development undertakings that globalization is facilitating in the region and the world at large. That is why some commentators dubbed the pariah east African nation as “the North Korea of Africa.”  This government is the one which fight with all its neighbors- without any exaggeration there is no single neighbor that the Eritrean government didn’t provoked a conflict with. It also spurt all forms of contact with IGAD, the regional body. All these tell that a European unilateral engagement with the regime in Eritrea is nothing but a soundless clap by a single hand.  As one of the most trusted authorities on the area, David Shinn, convincingly claims, any effort that is aimed at engaging Eritrea should be seen in accordance with wider regional problems that has been “fermented” through times.

Betraying the aspirations of the people

The regime in Asmara is on the brink of the abyss. Its incompetent policies coupled with the deep rivalry among the ruling elites are pushing that country faster in to the edge of collapse. On the other hand, there is a voracious appetite for a genuine change in the heart and minds of the ordinary Eritreans. Notwithstanding, the European Commission is holding back the aspiration of the people by providing a breathing space for Issaias.

It would be better, if the EU were able to inoculate Eritrea against the metastasizing tumor in Asmara. Even, it would also be better if Brussels were remain silent from supporting Isayas’s inner circle, thus it will not extend the agony of the Eritrea people. This frivolous act, consequently, has put EU in the pillory of international criticism.

How can the fruit of a foreign policy measured at best? Is it by urgency or importance? The age old principle claimed that important things must not be at the mercy of urgent tasks. Checking whether the ladder is lying on the right side of the wall must be the first task. No matter how fast someone moves in the stairs of the ladder, if it is in the wrong side of the wall he/she cannot reach at the desired end, sadly he/she may even moves faster away from the intended destination.

The point is not against the idea of “Bring Eritrea in from the Cold,” the argument, however, is on the “how”.  If EU wants to minimize, if not stop, the huge influx from Eritrea, it must focus on winning the war rather than the battle. To this end, first it must craft policies that are aimed at drying the quagmire of repression and the resultant hopelessness. Those policies per se are not ends, there needs to be the necessary push to force the regime in Asmara to repudiate its anachronistic tricks and veer to democratic governance, cooperation and peaceful coexistence in the globalized world. Second, since the country has tied-up by multi-faceted external problems, EU needs to consider the crucial part that, individual regional member states, IGAD, and the global community have to play.


Dawit Abebe

Is a political commentator and can be reached at



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