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Is the EU trying to salvage a naturally dying regime in Eritrea?


Is the EU trying to salvage a naturally dying regime in Eritrea?


John Abraha Dec 27, 2015

Despite the expressed concerns from countries in the Horn of Africa, eminent personalities and many organized Eritrean opposition groups worldwide, the European Commission DG Development Cooperation have decided to resume its development finance to Eritrea and have approved 200 million euros under the 11th European Development Finance (11th EDF). Commissioner Neven Mimica and some European diplomats are trying to justify the commission’s move in line with steaming irregular migration and as a means to break the quarrels between Eritrea and the European Union and its member States. The concerns and oppositions to the move by EC DECVO basically emanates from three points; one is that there is no guarantee that the Eritrean Government will use the fund to improve the wellbeing of the Eritrean people; rather it can embolden the tyrant leader to continue to destabilize the Horn of African region. The second point is that the driving force behind the irregular migration from Eritrea is political rather than economy. The third point- sympathizing a dying regime which turns its country to a state prison, no strong public institutions (except, of course, the ailing military and security apparatuses), a country where more than 200 of its citizens are crossing the border to get shelter in neighboring countries every week, would help prolong the suffering of the Eritrean people. 

The regime in power in Eritrea had fought for more than 33 years for Eritrean independence which it achieved in 1993 when Eritrea was seceded successfully from Ethiopia.  Unfortunately, the dreams of many Eritreans to see a free, prosperous and vibrant Eritrea could not come true. Rather, the country is becoming literally a State prison. A British politician Glenys Kinnock, once an utter fun and supporter of Eritrea and the Eritrean President Isayas Afeworki, in her article written on 18 October 2015, has to say the following “when Eritrea finally achieved independence in 1993, we rejoiced at what we and countless Eritreans, thought was the beginning of a future of freedom. We were so wrong, she added. She went on saying, Twenty-two years later, Eritrea is now being described as Africa’s North Korea – and the cruelty that is inflicted on Eritrean people by the Afewerki regime justifies that description.”

I remember, after the Derg regime was toppled down, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), now People’s Front for Democracy and Justice’s leader Isayas Afeworki had convened a meeting in Asmara with the Eritrean youths. One of the participants had to ask ‘what is your intake regarding election and multiparty system in Eritrea?’ the President’s answer was unequivocal; no other party than EPLF is fit for Eritrea and that the issues of democracy and development will not come in to being unless Eritrea demarcate its boarders with all its neighbors. No one seemed to take the President’s response to grow big to provoke all its neighbors, to create a one-man regime and turn the country in to a hell. 

The regime didn’t west time to provoke Yemen by controlling Hanish islands, then under the territorial administration of Yemen. After a heavy war, the case was brought to the international court of justice and the ruling was in favor of Yemen. Eritrea had to withdraw its troops disgracefully from the Yemeni territories. Soon after, in May 1998, Eritrean troops invaded several kilometers inside the Ethiopian territory. The attempts by the Ethiopian Government, Rwanda and the United States, among others to persuade President Isayas to withdraw its troops from the Ethiopian territory and to maintain the status quo ended without success. The response from Eritrea was full of arrogance. Ethiopia had no other option but to go to war to defend its territorial integrity. After two years of bloody war which claimed more than 70 thousand lives from both sides, Ethiopia has regained its territories by defeating the Eritrean forces. Eritrea was condemned by the United Nations for provoking Ethiopia and invading a sovereign country’s territories. Eritrean provocation didn’t stop there, Djibouti and Sudan are other victims of similar actions, Somalia is still fighting the terrorist group Al-Shabab, a group sponsored by Eritrea.

The border demarcation commission established based on the Algiers agreement to demarcate the Ethio-Eritrean border was made a virtual demarcation and had requested the two countries to apply physical demarcation. Even though the decision was made without making physical survey and despite it splits localities and in some places churches, Ethiopia has accepted the commission’s decision. According to international practices, and in search of lasting peace in the border areas, Ethiopia has suggested consultation between experts of the two countries to implement the physical demarcation to which the Eritrean side rejected consistently. Many countries and eminent personalities have tried to mediate on the issues but the Eritreans are remained stubborn.

One critical question should be raised here is, why is the Eritrean Government so adamant?   In my opinion, the Eritrean Government is consistently rejecting any discussion in this regard; because, for one reason or another, the regime has failed to deliver what the people expected it to deliver, and it had to come up with a presumably sound reason to justify its failure. Taking in to account the ultra-nationalist feeling of Eritreans, one may not get more compelling reason, than keeping alive the border issue to appease the people.

 The Eritrean regime has one ready-made answer to almost all questions of Eritreans- the border issue. The 1997 draft constitution has never been implemented, because, according to the regime, the border issue is not settled. There is no multiparty system, no election, and the reason is border issue. For questions on why the national assembly hasn’t met since 2002? why there is no independent judiciary? why extra-judicial executions, torture, arbitrary detentions? Why are Eritreans not allowed to move, speak, assembled or organized freely? Why is there an indefinite compulsory military conscription and forced labor? Why is there a shoot to kill policy for those who cross the border? For all these and other questions, the immediate answer is that their land is “occupied by Ethiopia”.

The purpose of this article is not to enumerate the wrong doings of the repressive regime in Eritrea, rather; I am trying to argue that the decision taken by the EC DEVCO to resume its financial support to Eritrea will not bring the intended results of steaming irregular migration, rather it will be considered as rewarding a bad behavior and could embolden the tyrant leader to continue to destabilize the Horn of Africa region.

It is clear that this time around more than ever, the EU institutions and countries are overwhelmed by the issue of Migration. The unprecedented migration flow to Europe creates an increasing public criticism towards the institution for not making adequate efforts to address the crisis. On the other hand, analysts are arguing that the migration crisis has put the founding achievements of the Union such as the Schengen agreement at risk. To this effect, EU institutions are looking for as much cooperation and partnership as possible to halt irregular migration notably with countries of origin and transit.  As Eritrea is ranked 3rd in the list of refugees entered Europe next to Syria and Afghanistan - a war torn countries, it is expected that the EU would try to push Eritrea to cooperate in this regard.

The financial support extended from EC DEVCO is believed to support mainly two areas namely the energy sector and good governance. The brave Eritrean people deserves prosperity and wellbeing, and like any ACP country, Eritrea should get support from international development partners. The point here is whether development partners like the EC DEVCO should give money to a naturally dying regime without any reliable guarantee that the money will achieve the intended objective or to engage the regime, as per article 96 of the Cotonu agreement and find a real solution. Article 96(a) requires a thorough examination of the situation in a partner country with a view to seeking a solution before extending financial support.

As far as my knowledge is concerned, the EU has never made such examination regarding the situation in Eritrea in view of political engagement. That is where I differ with the EC DEVCO’s decision. Any attempt to halt irregular migration without a deep analysis of the political situation would be a futile effort. The EC DEVCO’s hasty decision to extend 200 million Euro to a one-man regime, without any potential hope that the regime will change its behavior, in my opinion, is not only a wrong prescription, but also it is rewarding a bad behavior. Further, this move by the EC DEVCO would possibly undermine EU’s efforts to bring lasting peace in the Horn of Africa region.   

Only in the month of December 2015, two groups of terrorists recruited by Eritrea have been apprehended by the Ethiopian defense and security forces in Adiarkay- around Gondar and in the Ethiopian Somali region. Two Eritreans are detained in Addis Ababa for their participation in instigating the student’s violence in some parts of Ethiopia.   

Further, the recent UN commission report  has labeled the conditions in Eritrea “slavery” and said that “some of the gross and widespread human rights abuses which are being committed in Eritrea, under the authority of the government, often constitute crimes against humanity”. A member of that UN commission of inquiry said: “We seldom see human rights violations of the scope and scale as we see in Eritrea today.” The list of atrocities goes on. Few, if any, detainees are brought to trial. “Disappearances” are commonplace. According to Human Rights Watch, prisoners are held in crowded underground cells or in shipping containers with no space to lie down.

These are the main reasons for such large numbers of Eritreans to risk everything including the “shoot to kill” policy operated in border areas – to escape their country to seek a better life for themselves and their families.

Haile Menkorios, once a rank and file of the regime in Eritrea, escaped miraculously from detention with the G15; is now a special envoy of the UN to Sudan and South Sudan. He said once to Eritrean youth in Ethiopia “the reason why Eritreans are risking to cross the harsh Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea is that there is a worst burning fire in Eritrea.”   

This being the situation in Eritrea, where people are deserting their country because they can’t live and work peace fully in their homeland, the EC DEVCO is ignoring the chronic problem- the political situation and trying to cure the less chronic one which is job creation. 

This move by EC DEVCO could in my opinion be serve to cover its face in front of the critical criticisms, but it will never halt the flood of migrants from Eritrea. The reason is clear, the majority of Eritreans are abandoning their country not in search of job but in search of peace and security.  

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