Eritrea: Ethiopia, the US
and the UN
Dade Desta firstname.lastname@example.org Jan 20, 2014
I. Eritrea Desperately
Sought US’ Attention; And She Got It
The US has a short memory of
its long history. Eritrea’s is the opposite. In its short history, it has piled
up grudges after grudges against everyone but itself. It externalizes its
troubles, blames others for everything that goes wrong. Most of the blames are
directed at the US. Recently, the Eritrean government media has accused the US
of causing the recent Lampedusa tragedy that consumed 365 Eritreans who fled
their country and were about to reach the Italian coasts. And why would the US
take the blame for this? Someone wrote, “That is because the last three letters
in “Lampedusa’ stand for ‘USA’”.
The US is too big and too busy
to follow up on Eritrea’s actions. That seems serving the Eritrea regime well.
No single day passes without the Eritrean media tirelessly throwing the sink
dirt on the US. Two years ago, Eri-Tv editorial claimed 9/11 was self-created
by the US itself to justify her other sinister actions that followed. The
President himself said “America created the 1998 Badime war.” The CIA deploys
plenty of its resources to weaken Eritrea by draining it of its youth, and many
Such messages are exclusively
catered to jealously guard the President’s supporters from falling out. Isaias
needed the enmity of the US to deflect all dangerous internal questions- more
threatening to his power than the absence of good relations with the US. Isaias
was able to project the dual impression of an underdog fighting a giant power,
on the one hand, and a sense of parity on the other by appearing to challenge
the biggest power on earth.
In the meantime, Isaias has
done a few things to the US. He jailed two embassy workers for years
incommunicado. He kicked USAID out USAID from Eritrea. The first peacekeepers
and mission observers in UNMEE that were singled out and declared persona
non grata were those who came from USA and Europe. The US was not that
furious on all of this. But, it was when it learned the involvement of
Eritrea’s hands in Somalia siding with the islamists and terrorists. Eritrea
was taking this risk not out of love for the islamists but primarily out of
crazy urge of seeking the attention of the US. One could argue that Eritrean
involvement was mainly meant to sabotage Ethiopia. Yes, but even that was hoped
to eventually help secure US’ attention.
Why do we think Herman Cohen’s
recent memo nailed it for the Eritrean regime when he encouraged the US to open
up military cooperation with them? Because Isaias said he would be more likely
to satisfy U.S. demands on human rights in the context of a growing military
partnership, but would not do so if merely hectored by the State Department.
The U.S. is using Djibouti as a
watchtower to monitor and respond to terrorist activities in the strategic
regions of the Horn and the Red Sea. From a geographic perspective, Eritrea
might have been a better choice to station U.S. military facilities than the
much smaller Djibouti, also hosting a French military base. Besides, Eritrea’s
expressed wish to host American forces at the time has been reported by major
media outlets. In 2002 President Isaias made an offer to the then U.S. Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who was visiting the Horn countries: “We have very
limited resources, but we are willing and prepared to use these resources in
any way that is useful to combat terrorism. The United States can have access
to Eritrea's military bases as part of its war against terror." Mr.
Rumsfeld did not clearly disclose then if the U.S. would take up Eritrea on its
offer beyond stating that he was there to thank the Eritrean government for its
support on the war against terrorism and that his visit has nothing to do with
any specific transaction.
Secretary Rumsfeld left Asmara
for Addis Ababa to meet Ethiopian leaders on similar mission. A week before
that the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki
were in Washington as guests of President George Bush to discuss regional
security issues. Eritrea’s eagerness to have U.S. forces stationed in the Assab
area also was confirmed by a media interview with the then Eritrean Ambassador
to the United States, Girma Asmerom. Assab, it should be noted, became utterly
non-functional since the entire Ethiopian import-export traffic shifted to
Djibouti. With this in mind members of the Ethiopian House of Representatives
confronted Prime Minister Meles about the reports of U.S. plans to use the port
of Assab as base for its counter terrorism activities. Meles explained that he
had been given assurance from the U.S. administration that there would not be
such a plan.
The US had high hopes for
Eritrea until the war broke. The Eritrean leader was one of the African leaders
President Clinton included in his “African new breeds” complement. During the
war, the US moved fast to help without officially condemning Eritrea for the
aggression she committed. The US-Rwanda proposal was packaged to face-save
Eritrea and prevent an all-out war everyone saw coming. Eritrea rejected the
proposal not because it was unfair but Eritrea thought it had advantages should
a total war break-out.
The US, too, thought Eritrea
stood relatively stronger and Ethiopia might suffer the unknown consequences of
a military defeat. Ambassador Shinn was present when US war experts were
explaining the possible outcomes of the war to Ethiopian officials using
satellite footages. “You will lose the war” was the message highlighted.
WikiLeaks file later showed that PM Meles was so furious up on reading the
Eritrean President’s interview claiming Washington told him that they feared a
full-fledged war would disintegrate Ethiopia.
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
facilitated a sanction resolution on Ethiopia and Eritrea. That was totally
unfair as it treated the victim and the aggressor in the same way. It is
obvious the US was trying hard to discourage Ethiopia from launching an
offensive but it seemed nothing would stop Ethiopia from trying to regain its
territory. A week earlier from the final offensives, Holbrooke came to Ethiopia
to warn Meles in a direct language. People in the know reported Meles was so
agitated by the bullying approach of Holbrooke and there were an unpleasant
exchange of words between them. Even after the offensives, US was still active
in mediating the two parties. US never lost the trust and confidence of
Ethiopia and Eritrea until 2002.
One main reason for the
deterioration of U.S. - Eritrea relationship U.S rejection of the Eritrean
offer of Assab. Apparently, U.S. officials rejected the offer not to upset
Ethiopia or so were perceived by Eritreans.
The U.S. -Eritrean relationship has dramatically altered to the point where the
U.S. once considered the option of listing Eritrea as a sponsor of terrorism
due to its involvement in helping extremist Somali forces. Herman Cohen erred
and said this: “In 2008, the George W. Bush Administration declared Eritrea to
be a ‘state sponsor of terrorism.’” It didn’t happen.
In fact, one piece of
information that came out later last week regarding this issue deserves to be
looked at. Ambassador Princeton Lyman tells us how the US was so close to
designate Eritrea and how Eritrea successfully danced away from it. Lyman was
literally tricked the Eritrean way. He thought a discussion was needed before
the designation of Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism would be declared.
He asked the Bush Administration to hold the designation process. Lyman said,
“Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, the Eritrean
ambassador traveled home, promising me a list of Eritrean delegates when he
returned. I did not hear back from him for months. When he finally contacted
me, he told me that President Isaias had in fact killed the idea.” One
of the US diplomats who understand the Eritrean leadership better was Dr.
Jundiai Frazer. In her opinion and as reported in WikiLeaks files, it is not in
the mentality of the Eritrean leadership to negotiate but rather to force action.
Frazer said, even when Eritrea solicited the US intervention in the peace
processes, it was with the view that Washington would impose a solution on
Eritrea later paid the price of
all that at some other venues. The US was instrumental in passing the UNSC
sanction resolutions (1907 and 1922) imposed on Eritrea citing Eritrea’s
support to radicals in Somalia and its destabilizing role in the region. In
contrast, Ethiopia remained a key partner of the U.S. and is reportedly one of
the major U.S. foreign aid recipients in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Cooperation
between the US and Ethiopia has grown so mutual, so multi-tracked.
David Shinn said, “Whatever Washington does in the coming
months, its relationship with Addis Ababa is more important than the one with
Asmara. Although the United States might decide to try again to improve
relations with Eritrea, it will not do so at the expense of its ties with
Ethiopia. Ideally, the United States, Ethiopia and Eritrea will collectively
decide the time has come to normalize/improve relations so that Eritrea can
come in from the cold.” If the US thinks that way, there won’t be any
disagreement with what Shinn said above as long as he doesn’t tie normalization
with any territorial transfer, Badime or otherwise. Don’t complicate it. Saving
Eritrea from the cold must be good enough. Eritrea should not be rewarded for
being saved from the cold.