Back to Front Page

East Africa: Eritreans' Impasse - Political Not Economic



Zeray Hailemariam Abebe  02/23/16


It is to be recalled the EU has declared its 200 million Euro so called aid to the regime in Eritrea which is in sharp contrast to its old 'core principles'. This is particularly the case for the EU, which has placed human rights at the centre of its comprehensive approach towards the horn of Africa.

This piece of article is principally intended to challenge the 'core principles' of EU approach towards the volatile region of Horn Africa in its engagement with Eritrea.

Eritrea has developed a global status as a 'regional peace spoiler' and exporter of political instability which is reportedly said to have been obscuring the efforts to bring peace and the process of economic integration of the region. For the last twenty years, the ruling party of Asmara has clashed with Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti and finally with Ethiopia irresponsibly which claimed hundreds of thousands of human and material lose. The one-man rule in Eritrea acted illegally and seriously weakened and violated international laws, as a result created political instability which has obscured development efforts in the whole region.

Besides its support to Yemeni, Sudan, Ethiopia outlawed armed groups, the government of Asmara has been caught red-handed while training, financing and arming the internationally Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group operating in Somalia.

Expectedly, Somalia remains a breeding ground for terrorists who pose serious threat to the whole region and beyond. It was for this obvious reason that the UN Security Council adapted an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Eritrean leadership, owing to Eritrean involvement in Somalia conflict and refusal to withdraw its invading forces from Djibouti territory in December 2009 which toughened again in November 2011 its sanctions.

Albeit, the rulers of Eritrea are reportedly continuing interventions secretively in Somalia, for example in the form of challenging of funds to Somalia, including to individuals associated with Al-Shabaab or other militants opposing to the recognized government of Somalia, the UN sanction partially contained it. Hitherto, it was still reported that the Eritrean Mafia-styled regime channels more than 80,000 US dollars to Al-Shabaab monthly.

The UN bothered of Eritrea's continued destabilizing role in the region and serious human violation activities at home was forced to appoint special rapporteur on the situation inside Eritrea. Thus, the Inquiry Commission appointed by the UN Human Rights Commission came up with 800 paged reports last June 2015 concluding that gross human rights violation amounting to genocide has been committed inside Eritrea by the current regime since 1991. The report confirmed that systematic killings against the ethnic group of Kunama, Afar, Saho was taken place. Sexual abuse and sex slavery was committed by the authorities against very young girls who are brought to Sawa Military Training Camp in the name of national service. To put it precisely, all forms of human rights violation are being conducted in Eritrea. The report was almost entirely poured with unwavering support from the people of Eritrean in particular and the international community in general who demonstrated in Europe and other western countries in support of it.

As the hostile foreign policy of Eritrea has been engaged mainly in dismantling peace and harmony in the region, the state has been increasingly singled out as regional spoiler and almost completely isolated from the international community.

It, however, seemed that majority of the European states got confused or intentionally ignoring the bottlenecks facing the people of Eritrea. EU missed the fact that it is the regime who is the main source of the political turmoil both in the Horn that masterminds the exodus migrations at home.

The political and social crisis rampantly happening in Eritrea currently has been designed knowingly since day one so that it can keep the people politically divided and weak. Such ugly tactics applied by the regime helped it to distance its own people far from demanding democracy, justice and economic development and most importantly it helped the ruler from being checked.

Actually, there is a joke inside Eritrea that the prisons outnumber the schools. No party election, no congresses exist. Having made sure the silence of its own people, the regime has been engaged in serious human rights violation activities and collaborating with outlawed terrorist groups in the whole Horn of Africa. The silence of its people gave it the confidence to act at will regardless of set international and continental rules. We cannot talk about local rules since there are none set so far.

The political crisis in turn created social and economic crisis. Thus, hopeless societies are majority. Acute poverty and illiteracy are rampant and are the sources for migration. Not a single Eritrean knows about the country's political system or has no prediction where his/her country is heading. Social confusion accompanied by fear and poverty is dominant mentality in today's Eritrea.

If there are no clear political principles, there could not be economic strategies in the first place. All do not exist in today's Eritrea. As a result, citizens are confused what to do. Hence, they choose to flee to escape the forced conscription, beatings, killings, detention.

If citizens are obscured the right to learn, work, practice own religion, move freely within, then what follows is that fleeing at any cost. That is what perfectly Eritreans are doing now. Any able Eritrean aspires not build his own nation but escape the horrifying measures of the regime at any cost. That is how more than 400 Eritreans risked their lives while crossing the Mediterranean Sea illegally. That is why we see occasionally Eritreans being killed, slaughtered and raped in the desert of Sinai.

We have never seen while a farmer aspires to migrate to the Western countries where even he/she never knows about the states' existence. Farmers are snatched their produce by the regime leaving them to starvation. More than 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers fled Eritrea so far. Religious leaders, followers and ethnic groups who faced painful beatings and detention left Eritrea.

To put it shortly, it is political crisis which pushed more than 20 per cent of the population of Eritrea to flee. Who is left in Eritrea? Only aged, children and authorities. It is obvious to see aged and children in the streets of Asmara and other towns than to see youngsters.

The EU is acting wild. It should rather concentrate on the main sources of the migration issue rather than exacerbating it. Its financial aid would simply add a fuel into the fire. The regime will gain financial capacity to increase its atrocities and the migration of Eritrean will continue.

In conclusion, the EU and other partners must know that the driving factors of Eritrean migration is political not economic. Hence, it needs political support not financial support. The financial help of EU to the regime meant funding Al-Shabaab indirectly.

 The writer is a researcher of conflict and intra-state relation in the Horn and can be reached at


Back to Front Page