The Tragicomedy of the anti-sanctions demonstrations by the Eritrean Diaspora.

March 4, 2010


From the outset, let us be very clear about the important points in the UN  Resolution, which passed by a vote of 13-1, as a result of Eritrea’s refusal to withdraw its troops following conflict with Djibouti and arming groups  undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia.

Resolution 1907 (2009) stipulates:

1.     Arms embargo.

2.     Travel restrictions, and

3.     Asset Freezes.

When you breakdown the above statements, it means that the resolution bans weapon sales to and from Eritrea, which has been known to supply weapons to opponents of the Somali government, including the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabaab. It also imposes an asset freeze, and restricts the travel of those who violate the terms of the embargo and impede the resolution of the border conflict with Djibouti -- including black-listed individuals from Eritrea's political and military leadership.

Before these sanctions were imposed, there were endless talks and countless threats thereof for years in the unlikely hope that the Asmara regime would come to its senses where it did not have any. Its direct involvement in war torn Somalia and reckless encroachment into Djibouti demanded punitive action. It should be remembered thatthese sanctions are selective and do not target the economy or trade, to minimize its impact on the population at large.

The defiance of the Eritrea leadership could not have come any sooner. It instructed its diplomats abroad to blame the US, Britain and Ethiopia among others for this resolution and to go on the “offensive” by labeling the resolution "fabricated lies mainly concocted by the Ethiopian regime and the U.S. administration."Esaias Afewerki’s Al Jazeera interview, which predated the Diaspora anti-sanction demonstrations,was full of words like “lies”, “fabrications”, “cover ups”, “jokes”, “fantasy”, “deliberate distortion of facts”, “ never” done this or that, and placing blame on the US, Britain, France and Ethiopia. The journalist herself was not spared from being labeled as a fabricator of lies, putting to question her journalistic credibility.  This interview would have been passed as comical and goofy, if it were not a response by Eritrea’s leader to very serious questions raised by the international community.

It would also have been discarded as another aha moment exposing the egomaniacal personality of Esaias Afewerki. However, the Eritrean Diaspora’s anti-sanction demonstrations was impacted by the Eritrean leadership which told its Diaspora members that they will not be considered Eritreans if they did not take part in these demonstrations. The implications are clear. Your family members and businesses in Eritrea will suffer if you did not take part in the protests.

These threats were taken very seriously by those few whose interests are intertwined with that of the regime in Eritrea. But, the best they could show for in the Washington, D.C. demonstrations was no more than 1,000 supporters, most of them allegedly bused-in from other states. There were very few foreigners and Ethiopian nationals were conspicuously absent from this demonstration. However, the sad part of this particular demonstration was the presence of several young children, who were potentially in harm’s way, if riots were to break. Although the freedom to protest is a basic human right in democratic countries, unlike in Eritrea, exposing these children to dangerous situations is tantamount to child abuse. What was more tragic was the choice of an 8 year old boy, to be the main spokesperson of the demonstration. This smart looking child, with a good mastery of the English language, was given the entire stage to spew very choice words for the United Nations and President Barrack Obama. You can see that he was well-coached and told to memorize his speech.

Is this how low we have fallen? Are we so incapable of articulating our differences on the adult forums that we subject our young to brainwashing and outright abuse for our selfish motives?

My hope is that our Eritrean brothers and sisters in the Diaspora will be able to see through this charade by Esaias Afeworki and his elk and that the sanctions will give them yet another opportunity to rally against the dictator in Eritrea.

In the meantime, U.N. member states are urged by the resolution to conduct inspections on suspicious sea and air shipments “to and from Somalia and Eritrea.”The regime´s notorious leaders will now have no additional arms to play with, their travels abroad will be banned and their bank accounts will be frozen.  This will give a fresh opportunity and ammunition for Eritrean opposition forces and civil society members to weaken the regime in Asmara. Foreign investors and nations will realize the negative consequences of dealing with a ruthless and inept regime and will shy away from investing in Eritrea.

Let us vow to support the heroic peoples of Eritrea, who will soon see their independence and freedom that they have fought for many decades