Bringing Eritrea In From The Cold
The London Conference on Somalia was a missed opportunity to test Eritrea's
commitment to re-engage with its neighbours.
Article | 15 March 2012 - 12:22pm | By
> Omar S Mahmood,
> Feysal M Osman
Conference on Somalia last month represented the best chance in years for a
coordinated international response to the conflict in Somalia. But some
instrumental actors were left off the guest list.
Crucially, Eritrea did not receive an
e-wrong-route-to-peace-%E2%80%93-by-richard-dowden/> invitation, despite
having clearly demonstrated its ability to influence events in Somalia in
Since the conference, Eritrea has been highly
-20120220> critical of discussions, rejecting what it viewed as an
externally-driven process which ignored the wishes of the Somali people.
Given Eritrea's interferences in Somalia in the past, however, this critique
has a puzzling and hollow ring to it. What seems more likely is that
Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki was less aggrieved at the failure to
incorporate ordinary Somali voices than the failure to include Eritrea.
This exclusion also came just a few months after the UN Security Council
ctions-Travesty-of-Justice--134996438.html> refused to delay its vote over
whether to impose sanctions against Eritrea in order to first allow
President Afewerki to speak to the body. Information Minister Ali Abdu
called this a travesty of justice and insisted, "there is absolutely no
justification for rushing into these kinds of destructive sanctions or this
Eritrea's omission was driven in large part by the belief it has been a
destabilising influence in the region for some time. The nation stands
accused of funnelling supplies, weaponry, and financial assistance to
radical Somali groups, such as Hizbul Islam and al-Shabaab as part of a
trea> proxy war with Ethiopia for much of the last decade.
These actions earned an initial round of sanctions from the UN in December
2009, marking the first time the African Union has
> called for such measures against
one of its own members.
A July 2011 UN report contained serious allegations of a terrorist plot
devised by Asmara to attack the January 2011 African Union summit on
This led to a second round of
> sanctions, belatedly
imposed in December 2011, focused on disrupting Eritrea's cash flows by
targeting its nascent mining sector and diaspora tax.
Asmara's absence at the London Conference was probably of most benefit to
Eritrea's historical enemy Ethiopia. Yet, beyond the assertions that Eritrea
is a destabilising force, it is unclear what Eritrea has done recently to
garner the level of opprobrium from which it suffers.
Kenyan assertions that Eritrean planes flew arms to al-Shabaab militants
last October during its invasion of Somalia were
> refuted by the
UN. Just this week, two German tourists were released by the Afar rebel
group ARDUF (thought to be supported by Asmara), who captured them during a
80H0F720120118> bloody operation in January 2012. And despite
-tourists> declarations from ARDUF that the Eritrea government had nothing
to do with the kidnappings, Ethiopia maintains its claims of Eritrean
> involvement, and
sanctions-against-eritrea.html> plans to seek even tougher sanctions against
Eritrea has also recently sent signals that it wishes to come back in from
the cold. In 2007, Asmara furthered its diplomatic isolation by suspending
membership to the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a
regional East African organisation, over Ethiopian actions in Somalia. In
July 2011 it sought to reactivate this association.
But rather than beginning a process of re-engagement, the
Ethiopian-dominated organisation called for additional
> sanctions. Earlier that
year, Eritrea also
ssion-114212594.html> reopened diplomatic relations with the African Union.
And last August, President Afewerki conducted a '
> peace trip' to Uganda,
where he held security talks with Yoweri Museveni. The fact that Museveni
not only received Afewerki, but also came to a joint
> agreement on security
issues in Somalia, represented a rare level of mutual understanding from two
previously strongly-opposed parties.
Whether these moves demonstrate a legitimate change in foreign policy or are
little more than strategic manoeuvring in the wake of increased
international pressure remains to be seen. Nonetheless, for a country
obsessed with sovereignty and self-reliance, Eritrea wants to be bestowed
legitimacy; a legitimacy Asmara feels the international community has
wrongly denied it time and time again.
The London Conference was a chance to provide Asmara such legitimacy, and
gauge its true intentions for the future of Somalia.
While the planners may not have wanted to invite a perceived adversarial
presence, Asmara has the ability to affect future events in Somalia,
positively or negatively. Eritrea is likely the country in the region most
familiar with al-Shabaab, its leadership structure, financing networks and
supply routes - information that will be useful for future operations
against the radical group.
Thus engaging Eritrea on security issues, in the wake of its recent interest
in enhanced regional cooperation, presents a greater set of potentially
advantageous outcomes for Somalia's future than assuming Asmara's continued
Whether Addis Ababa or anyone else likes it, sanctions or not, Eritrea can
affect events in Somalia. The international community must recognise this
fact and allow Eritrea a chance to play a constructive role going forward,
as a preliminary move to wider re-engagement. If Asmara fails to be a
positive actor, it will find itself returned to diplomatic isolation. But at
least Eritrea will not be able to say no one let it try.
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Water under the bridge? Two men in Asmara. Photograph by Carsten Brink.
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Received on Sat Mar 17 2012 - 08:11:42 EDT