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Surviving the West: Eritrea after 32 Years

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Tuesday, 16 May 2023

Surviving the West: Eritrea after 32 Years

Posted byBy Larmbert EbituMay 16, 2023Posted in Horn of AfricaMillitary

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki attend a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 15 2023. Picture: JOE CASH/REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki attend a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 15 2023. Picture: JOE CASH/REUTERS
As Eritrea gears up to celebrate its 32nd anniversary of independence on May 24th, it’s worth reflecting on the country’s remarkable journey towards self-determination. Unlike many African nations that continue to grapple with neocolonialism and external interference, Eritrea has defended its sovereignty and charted its own course.
However, this independence has not come without challenges, including persistent efforts by Western powers to undermine Eritrea’s progress and stability. That threat has been portent over the decades. But it is even more potent today, in light of renewed US hostility, making this anniversary all the more significant.

There are various ways in which the US has attempted (but ultimately failed) to destroy Eritrea over the years. >From economic sanctions to political subversion, these tactics reveal a pattern of hostility towards a nation that has dared to forge its own path. This Eritrean story is one of resilience and determination to stand up to external pressures at any price. It is, so to say, a present-day example for other African countries to emulate.

Handouts instead of Helping hands

In his 2007 paper, President Isaias Afwerki recounted an incident that occurred in early 1992, shortly after Eritrea gained independence. Apparently, a certain Western country had offered to provide Eritrea with some amount of food and commodity aid.

This was meant to help the country deal with the effects of war and drought. However, President Afwerki and the Eritrean government declined the offer, opting instead to rely on local resources and citizen mobilization. From this 2007 narration, President Afwerki naturally believed the aid offer was well-intentioned.

With hindsight, however, it is clear, this unnamed Western country, which we now know was the US, had ulterior motives. Its subsequent actions have since revealed its true intentions. The motive was to make the then barely months-old Eritrea aid dependent on the West, as were other African countries.

This was the first, and the most cynical of anti-Eritrea plots meant to destroy Eritrea even before it could crawl! And it would have succeeded, were it not for President Afwerki’s commitment to Eritrean independence and self-reliance. The experience, suffice to say, set the tone for Eritrea’s approach to development and foreign aid thereafter.

Containing Eritrea through Proxy

Eritrea’s rejection of Western aid, and subsequent pursuit of self-reliance, meant it was free to chart its own development course. The West took this as a direct challenge to their development paradigm, a repudiation of their interests. Eritrea’s economy didn’t have the vulnerabilities of others that depended on their aid, without which they could collapse.

This lack of leverage over Eritrea, and subsequently the inability to arm-twist the country to do its bidding angered Western countries. However, it was the fear that other African countries would emulate Eritrea’s self-reliance path, that deeply troubled the West. They immediately set toward ‘containing’ Eritrea, making sure it would pay the heavy price for daring Africans to become self-reliant.

But that ‘containment’ could not be implemented internally, seeing as Eritreans were fully behind their government. So, they had to attempt it through an external proxy. The opportunity came when tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998 led to a devastating two-year border conflict. This was a conflict of regional causes, with some historical factors at play.

But the West saw an opportunity to exacerbate and prolong it at Eritrea’s cost. They provided significant military and economic support to TPLF-led Ethiopia, which they saw as a more pro-Western country. This conflict would end after OAU brokered a ceasefire, but having dealt Eritrea with severe economic and humanitarian impacts. Nevertheless, Eritrea, rather than break as the West had hoped, instead further shifted its focus toward regional security and self-reliance.

Regional destabilization

Between 2000 and 2008, Eritrea focused on regional security and signed agreements on economic cooperation, border security, and regional stability with neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa. It established diplomatic relations with Somalia in 2000 and signed security and development agreements with Sudan, Djibouti, and Somalia in subsequent years.

These were significant steps towards regional unity and stability in the Horn of Africa. But they did not sit well with Western countries who feared that Eritrea’s success would establish it as the gatekeeper to the region. So they fomented suspicion, and armed rival militias and warlords in Somalia to perpetuate the instability and breed extremist groups like Al-Shabaab.

These counter-actions didn’t stop Eritrea from taking the initiative and hosting talks to reconcile Somalia’s warring factions in Asmara, leading to the Djibouti Agreement. But not to be deterred, the West wasted no time sabotaging the implementation of this agreement, arming and urging factions to continue hostilities. Ironically, they also took every opportunity to blame Eritrea for its failure, in effect, accusing the peacemaker of being the troublemaker.

Strategic Depopulation

In 1995, the government of Eritrea introduced the National Service Program (NSP) for Eritrean youth. The program requires able-bodied Youths to serve in the military or in a civilian capacity for some period, learning skills and cultivating the attitudes necessary to defend Eritrea’s legitimate political and economic interests.

Realizing how this program shielded Eritrean Youths from their manipulative influences, the US and its allies started targeting them. From the early 2000s, western countries started granting blanket asylum in their countries to lure Eritrean youths.

In 2001, the US granted blanket asylum to Eritreans on a large scale, and continued to date. This European Union followed the same lead starting in 2009, mostly targeted working-age adults. The vile goal of all these blanket asylums was to drain Eritrea of industrious and talented young people and to weaken Eritrea’s economy.

It is what one might call: “strategic depopulation”, with the vile objective being to wean Eritrea’s youth from the country’s National Service and the arduous tasks of nation-building, necessary to keep their country independent and self-reliant.

Sanctions on Eritrea

By 2009, all the coercive plans by the West to subdue the government of Eritrea and undermine the country’s independence and sovereignty had failed. Hillary Clinton, the then US secretary of state would describe Eritrea as a “bad good example” of governance.”

With the government refusing to kowtow to their directives, the West increasingly started targeting the Eritrean public. The idea was to incite and turn the masses against the leadership of President Afwerki.

To accomplish that, they turned to sanctions, with the first package coming in December 2009. The sanctions included an arms embargo, travel restrictions on Eritrean individuals, and freezing of the assets of certain individuals and entities.

These were imposed as a means to undermine the government of Eritrea and its self-reliant economy. The objective was to constrain Eritrea’s capacity to export goods, tarnish its international reputation, and hinder its ability to engage in trade and security cooperation with other nations.

Cultural Terrorism

While they plotted to destroy Eritrea’s economy, the West also worked to under the country’s culture and identity. At around the same time, media propaganda, disinformation, and cyber-attacks against Eritrea increased. The vicious campaign involved spreading negative, malicious, and damaging images of Eritrea and its people.

Disinformation to sow discord and confusion within the Eritrean society also increased. Then in 1994, the United States Department of State designated Eritrea as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for international religious freedom. This vile designation remains to date.

The designation was made under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which requires the Secretary of State to identify countries that engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” They based their designation on a number of preposterous reasons not worth repeating.

But it is enough to observe that these lies were meant to give the wrong impression that the government was violating religious freedom by restricting religious practices, targeting minority religious groups, and imposing stringent regulations on religious organizations.

Simple due diligence shows that Eritrea is a highly pious country of religious pluralism with centuries-old Abrahamic faiths that live in exemplary co-existence and harmony). The country has a complex religious landscape, with various religious groups coexisting, including Christianity (both Orthodox and Protestant denominations), Islam, and traditional indigenous beliefs.

In retrospect, the idea of demonizing Eritrea’s religious piousness, was actually because Eritrea had cushioned its religious landscape from the influence of Western perversions such as homosexuality.

Military Bases to Counter Eritrea

Western countries including the US and France, and their client states such as Japan, have established a number of military bases in countries that border Eritrea. The number of these bases increased in the 2000s, and have since been used to monitor Eritrea’s activities and to project US power in the region.

The US has also conducted a number of military exercises in the region. These are obviously a veiled way of threatening Eritrea. Nonetheless, Eritrea has remained steadfast and refused to be subdued.

Conclusion

The US-led West has a long history of hostility towards Eritrea. It has used a variety of methods, including economic sanctions, cultural terrorism, military bases, blackmail, and slander, to try to undermine Eritrea’s independence and sovereignty. Despite these efforts, Eritrea has persevered and emerged stronger than ever before.

The Eritrean people have shown that they are determined to defend their country and build a better future for themselves and their children. The US should end its hostility towards Eritrea and respect the country’s right to self-determination. Indeed, the US does well to work with Eritrea to promote peace and stability in the region.

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ERi-TV, Eritrea - ጸብጻብ ዑደት ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቂ ኣብ ዋዕላ ደቡብ ኮርያ አፍሪቃ | Reportage on President Isaias Afwerki's visit to South Korea for the South Korea-Africa Summit, held from June 3-4

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