In a spirit of Pan Africanism or Neocolonialism? Response to the Signatories of the Open Letter to President Isaias Afwerki
Dear Signatories of the open letter to President Isaias Afewerki,
We at Serawr Research and Information Centre, write in response to your open letter to President Isaias Afewerki. While the assembly of Africans to discuss issues of common interest is to be commended, you did not disclose any information about how you got together and came to agree on the content of the letter. Was the letter a product of a discussion amongst all the signatories or were the signatories asked to sign a prepared letter?
The inaccuracies and the lack of analytical depth in this letter can lead one to assume that there was no considerable consultation or conferring with an individual that is aware of Eritrea’s affairs, or that the signatories had been misled and misinformed by an individual who claimed they had. General ignorance on Eritrea can be excused due to the internationally prevailing narrative of Eritrea that has been synthesized on account of western nation’s regime change motives for Eritrea.
However, one of the most disturbing aspects of the letter is the portrayal of Eritrea as lagging behind the other African countries that you claim to “have made the most progress”. You attributed this to the greater freedoms and political pluralism that these countries have which, you assert, attract investment and tourism. Although you claim to write “in spirit of Pan-African solidarity”, the main message and purpose of your letter is no different to the neocolonial powers that have been extensively demonizing Eritrea in the past two decades. Eritrea’s only crime being pursuing the ideals of Pan-Africanism, and refusing to be subjugated to the geopolitical interests of external powers.
You have been paraded as African “intellectuals” and “activists”, yet you painted a misleading picture of progress in the continent. Contrary to your claim, the western imposed economic and political liberalisation process on Africa countries, have not produced a political and economic system that benefits the interest of citizens of these countries. These developments have also caused persistent ethnic and religious conflict and polarization.
In contrast to the Western countries that built a well advanced political systems long before extending more rights, the mechanically copied Western political systems by these African countries, were built on the sand with no foundation, and no considerations to the internal dynamics of the continent. Moreover, the very western political system that was meant to serve as a model has been facing its own crisis.
The challenges African countries face are much more fundamental than “governance and development”. The ever dissolving sovereignty of these countries has eroded their political power to take actions that can protect their national interest. Much of the real economic and political power is held by external powers and multinational companies. With the exception of a few African elites, the millions of African people have no stake in the modern economic exploitation that replaced colonial exploitation of African natural resources.
Therefore, what African countries need is not “intellectuals” who advocate for a political system that has failed the African people, but for the real and principled Pan-Africanists, who can critically and accurately analyse the past, present and come up with ideas of system that can both protect the rights of the people and make sure African countries are no longer the playing ground for external interests.
Your understanding of progress is importing externally prescribed political and economic programs to your country. You should know that any country first has to look ingenious and internally resourced solutions to its political and economic developments. African countries have failed to design their own independent political system that can help them to stand as independent nation using their own internal resources – primarily their people. Importing western political system without building the very foundation of the nation exposes the country to neo-colonialism.
The main purpose of this response is to give you the real story behind what Eritrea is all about; how the so-called international community violated the collective right of Eritreans as people; how Eritrea has been able to overcome the existential challenges; and how it is moving forward, including dealing with the consequences of one very challenging periods in its history.
Before addressing these issues, we would like to highlight some of the most fundamental mistakes with your approach and understanding about the issues at hand. First, your points of departure and ending only deal with the consequences and not with real causes of problems. The strategy that the enemies of Eritrea employed to carry out their regime change agenda in Eritrea, was by producing all forms of crisis through, including physical military invasions, economic and political pressures, sanctions, information warfare, and isolating Eritrea diplomatically.
It does not end there, while on the one hand they invested heavily to carry out their evil agenda, however, they turn around and come, dressed as humanitarians blaming the Eritrean government for the consequences. This is the very reason the real causes of the consequences are often covered up or ignored. In the same way, you have shied away from addressing the real causes and only limited yourselves in shedding your tears for the suffering of the Eritrean people.
Second, having rightly congratulated the Eritrean President for Eritrea’s “normalization of diplomatic relations with Ethiopia”, you referred to “the bold step” the president has “taken to normalize relations with Ethiopia”. Eritrea’s normalization of relations with Ethiopia is not a product of the last step. It is the result of Eritrea’s two-decade long struggle for peace namely the strategic partnership of Eritrea and the Ethiopian people who brought down the TPLF regime that ruled Ethiopia for 27 years.
Your assertion that Eritrea is isolated “from the larger African family” is another false statement. How you reached such a conclusion is not clear, but far from it, Eritrea has more significant voice than most African countries and is playing a constructive and leading role in the region and beyond.
Following the end of border war with Ethiopia and the legal decision of the border, Eritrea unconditionally accepted the decision while Ethiopia rejected and refused to implement under different pretexts. It was not Ethiopia that was punished but Eritrea; to subjugate it for the geopolitical interests of external powers. Was there any African country or even gathering of people like yourselves that spoke up in spirit of Pan-African?
There was none! On the contrary African countries were instrumental in perpetuating Eritrean predicaments some through their silence and others gave a hand. Eritrea and its people prevailed victorious in both pre and post-independence predicaments not by helping voices of Africans or outsourcing external solutions but by listening to their inner voice and relying on themselves.
Now let’s move on to give you the context and understanding of Eritrea’s position, which may help you in reviewing your surface-level conclusions . Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa, which happens to be one of the most strategic parts of the world and with abundant natural resources. Consequently the region has been the subject of concentrated outside intervention for centuries.
The outside intervention has not only prevented the people of the region from solving their internal problems by themselves, but it has also been the major cause of the problems the region faces. For instance the TPLF regime that terrorized the region of the horn Africa for decades, would not have lasted that long, had it not been for the massive injection of capital and political support of the west.
The Eritrean people went through immense suffering and sacrificed the blood of so many while fighting against Ethiopian regimes supported by the world superpowers to win their independence in 1991 expecting no less and no more than full ownership of their own destiny. However, the world was moving in the opposite direction. It was the end of the cold war and the beginning of the new world order that led to the dissolving the sovereignty of African countries.
Given its history and character, Eritrea was not ready to join the jubilation of the new world order. Following its independence in 1994, Eritrea charted its journey of new chapter in a document, “A National Charter for Eritrea” that describes the vision and principles of the country.
The charter describes itself as: “”A National Charter for Eritrea”. It is not copied from books or from the charters of other countries. It starts from the realities of our country and society, and from our rich experience. It does not borrow wholesale any analyses or formulas that are fashionable in today’s world either. Rather, by critically examining all ideas and relating them with the realities of our society and our experience, the purpose is to chart an independent line that works for Eritrea.” The goals and principles are simply stated in the National Charter, yet deeply rooted in the Eritrean history and the values upheld by society and those that were developed during the struggle for independence.
This independent line has also made Eritrea the target of the most powerful countries and their institutions. Western diplomats, who were used to donor/recipient relations with African countries found it hard to adjust to Eritrea’s strong conviction in partnership and mutual interest way of dealing.
Although Eritrea’s promising start was interrupted by the enormous challenges of the last two decades, Eritrea has never abandoned its independent line. During the hostile and challenging period, Eritrea was able to build a strong relation with its natural allies, the people across the region. Eritrea made significant progress to mention some in health, building infrastructure, food security, social sector and foreign investment in the mining industry operating with deals and shares reaching in 50% for Eritrea, a phenomenon unprecedented in the developing world.
After achieving independence, the Eritrea people embarked on building their nation that was devastated by the 30 long-year war. However, this did not last long, after seven promising years, the war with Ethiopia erupted under border pretext. Although the war was meant to be about a border town badme (that was ruled to be Eritrean following international ruling), Ethiopia, under the minority rule of TPLF, expanded it to undisputed territories that include major military invasions to take over Eritrean port.
During this period, the international community led by the Clinton administration took the role of meditator. But instead of treating both sides equally and bringing them closer, they chose the wrong path of trying to find a solution at the cost of Eritrea- namely interfering in the internal matters of the country, including attempts to create divisions and widening existing cracks in the Eritrean leadership.
In the first two years of the dispute, the TPLF carried out three massive invasions that caused the loss of thousands of lives and material destruction. When its military adventure failed, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed the Algiers agreement in that gave its final and binding rule in 2003. There was a great hope that the international ruling would finally bring peace. After initially accepting the ruling with fun fair, the TPLF rejected the ruling. Then it continued putting obstacles by coming up with different excuses and employing different tactics for the next 17 years.
After Ethiopia’s two-year-long military adventure on Eritrea failed, and legal concussion of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border problem was reached; the policy Ethiopia and its ally USA, pursued, was holding Eritrea a hostage of the no-war-no-peace situation in a hope it would collapse from internal economic and political pressures.
The main top targets of this policy were degrading Eritrea’s military capability to defend itself and the Eritrean economy. The Eritrean mining industry started off well with a few mining companies engaging in exploration in the early 1990s, however, this was brought to a halt when the conflict resumed with Ethiopia. Overcoming enormous obstacles, Eritrea managed to get back into developing the mining industry.
This sent shock waves through Ethiopia and some Western powers. Urging his partners in crime for sanction on Eritrea, this is what the Former Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said: “if you think Eritrea is a problem now with no economy, wait until it is flush with cash,” according to Wikileaks Cable dated, Tuesday, 26, May 2009.
Using its massive influence at the UN, the US imposed the first international sanction mainly targeting Eritrea’s capability to defend itself from Ethiopia’s aggression that was adopted by the Security Council two days before Christmas day in 2009. The main fabricated story that was used to justify this sanction, was the “presence of 2000 fully equipped combat Eritrean troops supporting for Islamist rebels in Somalia”.
Then the US went for the kill targeting Eritrean economy in December 2011. Susan Rice, USA’s Ambassador to the United Nations, declared “Yes, the United States is very much interested in additional pressure and sanctions being applied on Eritrea. This is something that we’ll continue to discuss and debate in the Security Council. But from the U.S. point of view, we think that that is timely.
True to her words a bit watered-down – from an earlier draft that seek to ban companies from investing in mineral resources and prohibit the payment of a remittances tax- yet with strong references to both targets, sanction was imposed by the Security Council on December 5, 2011.
The process of imposing the sanctions were riddled with manipulation, bullying and lies including the most wild and fictional allegations that ‘Eritrea plotted to bomb the African Union Summit in Ethiopia‘. The main source for most of the allegations in particular the alleged plot to attack the AU- solely came from Eritrea’s arch-enemy, Ethiopia. Hence the quality of the report is closer to fiction. Not only did the US brought itself to the level of the Ethiopian regime, but it also brought the UN down to the same level.
After all the Ethiopian regime, according to the leaked cables from the American embassy in Ethiopia confirmed the Ethiopian regime planted three bombs in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa: “An embassy source, as well as clandestine reporting, suggest that the bombing may have in fact been the work of the GoE security forces.” The regime went on to blame Eritrea and Oromo Liberation Front.
Having used false allegations and misinformation to justify the sanction, the supposedly independent body – the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) – reported that it found no evidence of Eritrea support to Al-shabaab, yet the sanction remains intact until 2018.
Eritrea has also been the subject of intensive information warfare. In the past two decades so many stories were manufactured, including to justify sanctions, tarnish the image of the country and manufacture crisis within the country. The propaganda law “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, seem to have worked well. Stories that were dismissed as laughable and ridiculous initially, have come to define Eritrea.
Global media organisations such as the Financial Times went as far as reporting that two arch enemies Iran and Israel, had established military bases in Eritrea. Eritrea extended invitation to these media organisation, but reporting the truth is not their main purpose.
The campaign against Eritrea was not only limited to media organisations. Large Western academic institutions and think-tanks became a platform for presenting biased reports, and spinning a politically motivated garbage as a scientific production that were then presented at the United Nations human rights hearings and used to justify actions against Eritrea and to tarnish the image of Eritrea.
To mention some, Brussels-based think-tank, the International Crisis Group, produced documents that are aimed at instigating unrest in Eritrea and giving a false hope for the possibility of regime change in Eritrea. The documents were littered with their failed predictions. Not only did the group make a very bleak predictions about the possible downfall of the Eritrean government, but also about the “non-viability of the nation itself”. The group was so sure of its “academic study” that it discussed the threat the “inevitable collapse of the state poses to regional security”.
Similarly, Chatham House, the world-leading international affairs think tank became a platform for presenting biased papers on Eritrea. A paper that predicted the collapse of the Eritrean economy in a matter of months, and others that attempted to undermine the final and binding Algiers agreement, are some of the many that can be mentioned
Draining Eritrea’s manpower
For a small country of five million people that is defending itself from a large country with a 100 million population, manpower held a strategic role. Therefore, draining Eritrea’s manpower, became one of the main targets. Although the Eritrean people have been able to withstand these hardships because of their resilience that was built over a century of turbulent past, the state of affairs have led for many Eritreans to leave the country and facing great difficulties in a process.
This is an area that the enemies of Eritrea could claim victory as they see it as a main propaganda tool and shed crocodile tears for the suffering of Eritrean people.There are a combination of push-pull factors that contribute to the migration of people from the less developed countries to the developed parts of the world. When it comes to Eritrea, however, it was adopted as a policy by the US.
The US has been implicated in this matter as the leaked cables exposed its policy in encouraging Eritrean youth to leave their country. Using its massive global influence, USA pressured its allies for blanket acceptance of all Eritreans as refugees, which led for many thousands of people from other countries to claim asylum as Eritreans. This is an area that enemies of Eritrea could claim victory as they see it as a main propaganda tool and shed crocodile tears for the suffering of Eritrean people.
Conclusion and the way forward
The above-described circumstances are some of the main challenges Eritrea had to endure in the past two decades. These enormous challenges including military invasions, sanctions, political and economic pressures, have affected Eritrean people greatly. The ugly war that was waged on Eritrea required a rule of engagement fit for the challenge. Eritrea has come out of the trying times that put its very existence into question as a formidable nation and with its principles intact.
Now Eritrea is in the process of refocusing its effort and resources towards improving the living stand of its people and building a strong and viable political and economic system. Equally, building on the peace process with Ethiopia and the region at large remains one of Eritrea’s priorities.
Although the TPLF has been kicked out from the centre of power in Ethiopia, it is still the main obstacles to the positive changes that are taking place in Ethiopia, and to the ongoing peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The recent development in Ethiopia testifies that the anti-peace elements in particular the TPLF can only thrive where chaos, conflict, divisions and hate, prevails in Ethiopia and in the relations between the two countries. Moreover, as Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, recently confirmed, after the opening its border with Ethiopia, crimes including assassination attempts were carried out in Eritrea, which led to the closing of the border between the countries.
There is no doubt that with the great cooperation between both countries, these obstacles will be overcome. But it is clear the peace building process is still at an early stage and will need great focus and defeating the anti peace elements.
There are also some Western-based elements that spent two decades of their time and effort for the regime change agenda in Eritrea. Having been swept away by the massive changes that followed the end of the twenty seven-year rule of the TPLF regime in Ethiopia, these elements have been trying to regroup and come up with different initiatives and tactics. It is highly likely that this open letter writing to the Eritrean President was organised by these elements.
By now it should have been clear to these elements that are trying to create a false narrative and repositioning themselves to advocate or impose a particular political and economic system in Eritrea that if it was difficult yesterday, it would be impossible today.
However, for the well-meaning friends, rest assured that Eritrea is dealing with all the consequences of the past two decades. Eritrea is also in the process of building a strong and organized system that will make sure the popular participation, protect the rights of its people and that can withstand and adapt to future domestic, regional and global challenges.
The Eritrean Minister of information stated that Eritrea is open to those who want to come to Eritrea and see for themselves. Many people, including journalists, top officials of countries, admitted changing their misguided and misinformed views they held about Eritrea after visiting the country. Therefore the signatories of the open letter should also visit Eritrea and make informed views based on reality.