September 12, 2015

The Pillars of
Eritrea’s Regional Policy

Eritrea’s regional policy is anchored on the promotion of safe neighborhood. For motives that are not difficult to figure out, Eritrea’s detractors, and particularly Ethiopia, however continue to willfully distort this policy. Eritrea is falsely accused of, and maliciously portrayed as, a purveyor of “regional destabilization”.

In the event, Eritrea Profile will publish Eritrea’s official submission that was sent to UNSC member States in October 2011 when these accusations were gullibly recycled by the Eritrea-Somalia Monitoring Group: Although it has various facets and dimensions, Eritrea’s regional policy may be succinctly described as anchored on the promotion of a safe and cooperative neighborhood. This policy emanates from, and is underpinned by, compelling economic, political and security considerations. The economic rationale is clear to merit lengthy elucidation.

The reality of regional economic complementarities amid the inexorable trend of globalization; the exigencies of creating a regional common market to attract foreign investments of scale; as well as historical affiliations and trade ties that obtain between the peoples of the region that transcend the limits set by geographic boundaries dictate that functional regional economic blocs are fostered and consolidated.

The political imperative is equally evident as almost invariably in all these countries, the same linguistic and ethnic groups straddle the State boundaries. The fact is the peoples of the Horn of Africa region are bound by deep historical ties as well as cultural affiliations. Security considerations assume paramount importance due to deleterious spillover effects of turmoil or instability in any country; the tendency of opposition movements to seek haven in neighboring countries; as well as a recent history of tragic intra-state wars.
This policy precept has been pursued and implemented by the Government of Eritrea through a three pronged strategy:
i) promotion of regional security architectures that can play a pivotal role in prevention, management
and resolution of conflicts;
ii) strict adherence to international laws and conventions of conflict settlement and associate instruments; and,
iii) Cultivation of robust bilateral ties with individual neighboring countries.

To this end, Eritrea joined IGAD in 1993, soon after its independence and contributed its share when the latter was revitalized in 1995 to promote the aims described above. Eritrea, together with Ethiopia and Uganda, also formed, at that time, what was commonly referred to as the “frontline States” when the Sudan was pursuing the spread of fundamentalist ideology to the Horn of Africa region and beyond.

In 1995, Eritrea was dragged into minor skirmishes with the Yemen when the latter did not only lay new claims on, but also put settlements in, the Hanish islands. These islands were always part of Eritrea (during Italian, British Temporary Administration and Ethiopian colonial rules). Unfortunately, the new claims by Yemen occurred to spawn tension and confrontation – albeit minor and ephemeral – between the two sisterly countries. The underlying dispute and the delimitation of the maritime boundary of both countries were soon referred to international arbitration on the basis of an agreement brokered by the French Government and signed by both parties. The arbitration award was not decided in Eritrea’s favor. But, in line with its strict adherence to international law, Eritrea gracefully accepted the verdict and evacuated its troops from the islands promptly.

From 1991 until 1998, Eritrea and Ethiopia worked closely to bring about a solution to the Somali crisis. Eritrea’s moderating role was widely acknowledged at the time, since Ethiopia – as it is the case today often mingled its involvement in the regional efforts with its inherent mistrust of any central government in Somalia and predilection to seek a fragmented and balkanized Somalia.

Eritrea’s constructive and disinterested role in Somalia was not dampened in the years following the war with Ethiopia. Eritrea continued to promote, in its modest capacity and principally through the regional forum of IGAD as the most appropriate vehicle, an enduring solution to the crisis in Somalia.

In its genuine efforts and quest to cultivate a common regional consensus on the diagnosis and most viable solution to this seemingly intractable problem, Eritrea did not hesitate to go against the international current to publicly pronounce its views and opinions with honesty and candor. Especially towards the end of 2006 when some IGAD member States coalesced, under the prodding of the US Administration, to contemplate and literally endorse military invasion by Ethiopia, Eritrea passionately advocated against this ill advised and unwarranted measure which could not but plunge Somalia and the Horn of Africa region into a far deeper crisis. In the extraordinary Summit that IGAD convened in August 2006, Eritrea argued against the misguided approach that mingled the “war on terror” with the complex clan conflict in Somalia and against singular military solutions that either failed to comprehend, or deliberately misconstrued the multi-faceted features of the Somali conundrum.

At this critical forum and on other instances thereafter, including at the conference in Turkey held in 2010, Eritrea tried to unreservedly elucidate, and solicit support for, the contours of an alternative and viable solution hinged on its own different perspectives and appraisal of the realities on the ground. Almost five years since the onset of these events, the perplexing situation in Somalia continues unabated and Eritrea’s premonitions have not been allayed and the level of destruction, loss of life and misery that afflicted Somalia in the last five years have been unparalleled indeed.

Eritrea has also tried to play its part in the regional and international efforts to facilitate viable and enduring solutions to the problems in the Sudan. Eritrea’s pivotal contributions in the articulation of the Declaration of Principles that IGAD enunciated in 1994 is a matter of historical record. This was the fundamental philosophical architecture on which the CPA, signed by the Parties in 2005, was later based. With its partners in IGAD, Eritrea was constructively involved through its envoy in the facilitation of the negotiations that led to the signing of the Agreement.

Eritrea’s catalytic role in bringing about an agreement between the central Government in Khartoum and the eastern opposition movements, as well as its multiple joint efforts with other regional countries Chad, Libya, and Qatar– to contribute to a congenial environment for a Sudanese solution to the problems in Darfur all fit in, and are in consonance with, its policy precepts of a safe neighborhood described above. As a result of this long-standing constructive engagement, Eritrea today enjoys warm and all-rounded ties of good neighborliness and cooperation with the Government of Sudan and the newly independent Republic of South Sudan.

Eritrea’s bilateral ties with Djibouti have been mostly smooth, despite the current difficulties that Eritrea does not believe are rooted in good-faith misunderstanding. As the parties have agreed to submit the dispute to the mediation of the Emirate of Qatar, Eritrea does not wish to go into greater details here.
Through its Parliament, Ethiopia declared war against Eritrea on l3 May 1998. Ethiopia did so by misconstruing minor border skirmishes that occurred in Badme, the Eritrean town that remains occupied by Ethiopia to date. Ethiopia had stealthily occupied the Eritrean town of Adi-Murug in the central zone few months back and had further attempted to encroach on Eritrean territories on the Assab region in January that year. The war continued for two years despite several agreements that were initially accepted and later thwarted by Ethiopia.

When the two sides finally signed the Algiers Peace Agreement that was guaranteed by the UN Security Council – explicit provisions in the Agreement inserted at the insistence of Eritrea in the face of repetitive Ethiopian breach of previous agreements and shoddy behavior of reneging on its solemn commitments – and the kernel of the problem solved legally through the arbitral decision of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) in April 2002.

Ethiopia again chose to fragrantly violate its treaty obligations and international law to reject implementation of the “final and binding” arbitral decision and to continue its occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories. Ethiopia has therefore been the principal source, and continues to be the main cause, of regional destabilization.
Ethiopia has also been actively propping up Eritrean subversive armed groups since 1998 in pursuit of its sinister aims of destabilization and avowed objectives of “regime change” that its Prime Minister has publicly admitted recently. Eritrea has not chosen to focus on this low intensity conflict because it would only eclipse the much graver breach of international law and occupation that Ethiopia is culpable of. Eritrea did, however, raise this aspect of the conflict to the Monitoring Group and indicated its willingness to submit detailed evidences. The Monitoring Group was reluctant to discuss or receive the evidence claiming that “this was not within its mandate”.

From the foregoing, it is clear that Eritrea’s regional policy has been squarely and firmly rooted on promoting a conducive environment of good neighborliness and cooperation. As a small and young country, Eritrea’s national interests do not lie, and are not served by, a turbulent climate of perennial confrontation and brinkmanship.
Eritrea does not harbor wild ambitions of regional dominance, hegemony or territorial aggrandizement as it has been historically the case with successive Ethiopian regimes. Nor has it ever espoused some crazy ideology that it craved to export to the region with messianic zeal.

In the instances in which it was involved in unfortunate confrontations – big or small – with Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen, the new territorial claims and push to redraw the colonial boundaries did not emanate from Eritrea. Eritrea’s consistent and proclaimed position is to uphold the sanctity of inherited colonial boundaries; principles which are enshrined in the AU and other regional organizations to which Eritrea is a party. In all these cases too, Eritrea has from the outset argued for the supremacy of international law; for resorting to arbitral instruments, consistent with Articles 33 and 95 of the UN Charter, as the preferred mechanism of solution.

Furthermore, Eritrea has faithfully and strictly adhered to the Awards rendered by these bodies irrespective of its gain or loss in the outcome. This was not only the case with the Arbitration decision on the Hanish Islands. Eritrea also accepted the decision of the Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission although it had compelling reasons to believe that the former exceeded its mandate to rule on the jus ad bellum dimension of the conflict which was assigned to the OAU by Article 3 of the Algiers Agreement.

But, intoxicated as it apparently were, by an obsessive desire to portray Eritrea in the most negative light, the Monitoring Group fell into the same trap when it describes Eritrea’s foreign policy. Thus it claims:
“Eritrea’s relations with its neighbors, since gaining independence, have been turbulent. In the process of defining the new State’s borders, the country has clashed with three of its neighbors – Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti – and maintained a complex, and somewhat ambiguous relationship with the Sudan…”
It further states:
“…In the course of the current mandate, the Monitoring Group obtained evidence of Eritrean support for armed opposition groups throughout the region, including, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan”.
Although Eritrea’s modest initiatives to contribute to a lasting solution to the Somali crisis date back to the early 1990s, the Monitoring Group distorts Eritrea’s legitimate role in Somalia as rooted in, and a simple extension of, “its proxy war” with Ethiopia.

In addition to the myriad accusations it has leveled against Eritrea, the Monitoring Group falsely asserts that “there is no evidence to suggest that Eritrea, either in terms of unilateral initiative or through participation in multilateral forums, is employing its privileged relationship with al-Shabaab or other opposition groups for the purpose of dialogue or reconciliation”.

In the Sudan, Eritrea’s long and constructive engagement is misconstrued with the Monitoring Group insinuating, without credible basis, of recent Eritrean “subversive activities to undermine the new State of South Sudan”. It relies on obscure “SPLM political figures and numerous Eritrean sources” to cast aspersions on Eritrea’s underlying motives and speculate, on the basis of innuendos:
“the principal reason behind this new tension has been Eritrean alleged concern that a smooth transition to independence of Southern Sudan might lead to closer relations between Khartoum and a number of Western Governments. Some SPLM officials also ascribe the growing friction in their relationship with Asmara to close cooperation between the Southern Sudan leadership and Ethiopia”.
The Monitoring Group’s freewheeling slander continues without let-up in other sections of the Report too. In a sinister desire to evoke a subliminal correlation with the present realities in Libya, it insults the Government of Eritrea and asserts:
“…The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has also long been a patron of the Eritrean leadership, contributing both direct financial support and in-kind contributions including allegedly, petroleum products”.
Eritrea’s position on development assistance is well known to merit elaboration here. But one wonders what the threshold of the Monitoring Group is for a donor State to become a patron of the receiving State? We are curious indeed to know who would be, by its standards, the patrons of Ethiopia (for instance) – which gets billions of dollars, of development assistance annually?

The Monitoring Group also tries to associate Eritrea with presumed military ambitions of Iran in the area. It thus claims:
“… The Monitoring Group has obtained multiple, credible reports of military cooperation between Eritrea and the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2009… The Monitoring Group believes that the Sanctions Committee, with the assistance of the Monitoring Group, should continue to monitor this relationship closely”.
UN Security Council Resolution 1907 was adopted on 23 December 2009. Hence, besides being factually incorrect, the reference in question covers events that occurred prior to the UN sanctions on arms embargo. And as Eritrea had every right to establish military ties with any other State, the singling out of Iran is intentional and smacks of ulterior motives.

Indeed, in this and the other cases that it compulsively expounds, it is evident that the Monitoring Group’s intentions are to depict Eritrea as a “pariah state”. In most of its descriptions and interpretations of Eritrea’s foreign policy, one gets the uneasy feeling of reading almost literally the same words, the same script expounded in the foreign propaganda bulletins of the Ethiopian regime and other avowed detractors of Eritrea.

It is sad and unfortunate that the Monitoring Group has failed utterly to recognize the multi-faceted dimensions and complexity of the environment it was entrusted to investigate to end up as an unwitting mouthpiece of those who have long harbored ill-will against Eritrea and whose objective is, in the words of Jendai Frazer, the former US Assistant Secretary for Africa, to “pin down and punish Eritrea,” and who enunciated them long before the recent mayhem in Somalia was exploited.

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