The State of Eritrea covers 117,600 sq km (45,405 sq mi) and it is bounded on the east by the Red Sea, on the southeast by Djibouti, on the south and west by Ethiopia, and on the north and northwest by Sudan.
It became a de facto state in 1991 after a long secession war, later formalized in 1993 by a referendum.
Isaias Afewerki is the only President of Eritrea since independence with no constitution or election.
Eritrea’s population is estimated about 6 million in 2014. Asmara is the capital, while Massawa is the main port.
Two recent and seemingly incongruous events may one day be seen as symbolic turning points for Eritrea, an authoritarian, one-party state often referred to as Africa’s hermit kingdom.
The first was a bloody clash on Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia in June 2016, which left hundreds of people dead and brought back memories of the devastating 1998-2000 war between the two archenemies.
The second was an academic conference in the Eritrean capital of Asmara in July, the first of its kind in 15 years. Visiting academics were shocked by the relative freedom for debate — on everything from women’s rights to foreign policy — in the notoriously repressive state.
“It was as much a political event as an academic event,” said Harry Verhoeven, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who attended the conference. “It was remarkable — by regional standards and certainly by Eritrean standards.”
These apparently contradictory episodes were in fact both subplots of the same story: Eritrea’s gradual emergence from more than a decade of international isolation and the uncertain attempts to come to terms with that shift by its rival neighbor, Ethiopia.
The conference indicated that the Eritrean government is coming tentatively in from the cold; the border war showed that Ethiopia is worried that a rehabilitated Eritrea could threaten its regional dominance. Together, the two events demonstrated that the 17-year-old status quo of “no peace, no war” is coming undone.
In April, Ethiopia announced that it is working on a new policy toward its Red Sea neighbor. The details are still emerging, but one thing is clear: The government recognizes that its strategy of containment, imposed on Eritrea after the end of the border war in 2000 and ratcheted up with a U.N. arms embargo in 2009, has failed. For the first time in years, there is serious talk of a change of course in Addis Ababa.
The U.N. sanctions regime is dependent on support from the international community, which is gradually eroding. The sanctions were always controversial for singling out Eritrea as a uniquely bad actor in a region of bad actors.
Now there is growing consensus at the United Nations that the main justification for the sanctions no longer applies: There is no evidence that Eritrea is still supporting al-Shabab militants in Somalia, and though it continues to support armed opposition groups in the region — notably in Ethiopia — its neighbors do as well.
Ethiopia may be able to stave off a softening — or lifting — of the sanctions until the end of 2018, when its term as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council is slated to end. Tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti, which have spiked in the past week following Qatar’s decision to remove its peacekeepers from the troubled border between the two countries, may well strengthen Ethiopia’s case in the short term.
But in the long run it will struggle to persuade other members to continue the status quo without the backing of the United States, which now that President Barack Obama — and in particular his national security adviser, Susan Rice, who was seen as implacably hostile to the Eritrean regime — has departed may be less inclined to keep Asmara in the penalty box.
“They didn’t have an inch of space when she was there,” Bronwyn Bruton, the deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., said of Rice. Now that Donald Trump is in office, “all the African strongmen are rejoicing,” she added.
Wider winds are blowing in Eritrea’s favor, too. The war in Yemen, which is less than 70 miles away across the Red Sea, has sparked a rush on Eritrean coastal real estate by Gulf states looking to base their troops there. For example, the United Arab Emirates has been leasing the port of Assab since 2015 and is reportedly building a military base there. Meanwhile, some 400 Eritrean troops are reportedly fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, in return for which Asmara has received fuel and finance.
“The Gulf countries have repositioned Eritrea in the geopolitical context of the Horn in quite a remarkable way,” said Kjetil Tronvoll, a senior partner at the International Law and Policy Institute in Norway.
Meanwhile, the migration crisis has spurred renewed engagement by the European Union, which is desperate to stem the flow of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean. Eritrea was Africa’s largest single source of refugees to Europe from 2014 to 2016, a distinction that won President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since 1993, an additional source of income.
In 2015, the EU approved a 200 million euro aid package for Eritrea, though it has yet to disburse all the funds. This came on top of promises of training for the judiciary and security services designed to combat trafficking.
Individual European countries and humanitarian agencies are also stepping up engagement. Germany has resumed technical assistance programs while Britain’s Department for International Development is planning to open an office in Asmara. U.S. State Department officials, who long avoided the country, have started visiting again.
Most unnervingly from the Ethiopian perspective is Eritrea’s strengthening relationship with Egypt, Ethiopia’s historic rival and now the closest thing Eritrea has to a regional ally.
Addis Ababa accuses Cairo of working with Eritrea to support armed groups that have attempted to sabotage the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the continent’s largest hydroelectric project, which Egypt regards as an existential threat because of its dependence on the Nile River’s downstream waters.
High-level exchanges between Asmara and Cairo have intensified in recent months. Afwerki traveled to Egypt in November to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Eritrea’s foreign minister held talks with his Egyptian counterpart in May.
Multiple Egyptian delegations have descended on Asmara, fueling rumors of a potential Egyptian air base in Eritrea. Such a provocation is highly unlikely, analysts say, but not impossible: Egypt has not ruled out the possibility of airstrikes against the dam.
Meanwhile, Eritrea has made its own efforts to rid itself of pariah status. It has begun courting foreign investors, especially in the mining sector. Three new mines are expected to be operational by 2018, joining the majority-Canadian-owned Bisha gold, copper, and zinc mine, which opened in 2011 and generated nearly $2 billion in revenues in its first four years of operation.
(The mine has been dogged by allegations of forced labor and dangerous working conditions.) The government also created a free trade zone in the port of Massawa in an effort to attract more investors.
This comes on top of small but symbolically significant measures by the government to improve its terrible reputation on human rights. According to the Atlantic Council, some 50 foreign journalists were permitted to enter and report on the country between May 2015 and May 2016, and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was recently permitted to tour a prison.
Much of this is worrying to Ethiopia, which dislikes the prospect of Eritrea projecting its influence over the Red Sea littoral — a deep-seated anxiety tied to its own landlocked status. Addis Ababa also worries that Afwerki will use his growing financial resources to step up support for armed opposition in Ethiopia at a time when the country is already under a state of emergency following months of unrest. Above all, Ethiopia fears encirclement by hostile regimes.
But so far it has struggled to craft a coherent response to Eritrea’s rapidly changing circumstances. “Ethiopia was completely blindsided by what happened in Yemen,” said Cedric Barnes, the director of research and communications at the Rift Valley Institute. “They seem to have lost their way diplomatically.”
Unlike Eritrea, Ethiopia has only distant relations with the Gulf states, and its efforts to dissuade the UAE and Saudi Arabia from engaging with Asmara have apparently been unsuccessful. As a result, it has resorted to displays of military strength, including bombing the Bisha mine in 2015. In private, government officials in Asmara claim that scores of similar provocations have occurred in recent years.
Analysts are unsure what a new Ethiopian policy toward Eritrea might entail. Some suggest it will amount to little more than a re-articulation of its existing approach, setting firm red lines and spelling out exactly what sort of military action their breach might warrant.
Others wonder if the government is considering secret bilateral talks, perhaps including the offer of withdrawal from the border town of Badme, which Ethiopian troops have occupied illegally for the past 15 years.
But war — to bring about regime change in Asmara — is not out of the question either, though military overstretch and fear of full-blown state collapse north of the border make this unlikely.
The problem is that domestic politics in Ethiopia makes bold thinking difficult. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front is deeply divided, and the prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, lacks the authority to make a bold move toward resetting relations with Eritrea.
Whatever happens, hawks in the military and intelligence agencies will need to be brought onside, which will mean avoiding anything that looks like a humiliating climb down from the country’s aggressive stance.
Eritrea may have earned the title of Africa’s North Korea, but it has no patron like China that can force it to the table. Afwerki still benefits from the status quo, which justifies keeping the country on a permanent war footing. Reports that Eritrean troops have occupied disputed territory following the withdrawal of Qatari peacekeepers from the Djibouti border last week serve as reminder that Eritrea can still play the part of regional spoiler.
And though it’s now less isolated, Asmara remains much weaker than Addis Ababa. In the end, movement must come from the Ethiopian side. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation,” Verhoeven said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic.”
President Isaias Afeworki has sent messages to several Heads of State and Government urging them to use their influences in the UN Security Council to redress the injustices perpetrated against Eritrea.
In his message, President Isaias stressed that the UN Security Council has the obligation, primary responsibility and legal mandate to ensure and promote the security and peace of sovereign countries and thereby guarantee the maintenance of international peace and security.
The President referred to the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that raged for two years from May 1998 until June 2000 entailing a huge loss of life and enormous destruction of property. The “border dispute” was a simple ruse as the boundary between the two countries was defined and determined without any ambiguity in colonial times. But Washington feverishly worked at the time, through the State Department, to drive a wedge between the two peoples who have deep historical and strategic ties in order to foment a crisis and micromanage the affairs of the Horn of Africa.
President Isaias went on to highlight that even though the “border conflict” was legally adjudicated on the basis of the Algiers agreement, the US Administration used its clout in the UN Security Council to further exacerbate the crisis and to block the enforcement of the final and binding arbitral decision.
The final and binding legal Award was not, however, amendable to alterations through diplomatic maneuvering, President Isaias noted. In the event, the US and its allies concocted a fictitious case accusing Eritrea of supporting “Al-Shebaab” to impose unwarranted sanctions against the country in December 2009 in the name of the UN Security Council.
Demonization campaigns that have been underway under the bogus pretext of “violations of human rights”; periodic military attacks launched against the country; and organized criminal networks of human trafficking set up to precipitate and incite illicit migration of Eritrean youth are part and parcel of these schemes of harassment, President Isaias added.
President Isaias finally stressed that it is high time that the flouting of the rule of law; the violation of international law; and, the prevalence of the rule of jungle are terminated once and for all. He further reiterated that the UN Security Council is bestowed with the legal obligations and responsibility, above any other body, to remove occupation from our sovereign territories; rescind the unwarranted sanctions imposed against Eritrea without factual substantiation; and, bring to an end the incessant attacks perpetrated against the country through various forms.
Source: Eritrean Ministry of Information – June 06, 2017.
This article attempts to analyze a post Isaias Afeworki’s Eritrea and about the revenge-oriented policy of President Isaias Afeworki against both Ethiopian and Eritrean Highlanders.
In the last 20 years, nothing good is heard of Eritrea except frustrating and saddening stories that are featured in the international Media.
A hero for some and a pariah for others, Eritrean president Isaias Afeworki has almost completely isolated the tiny red sea state from the globalized world and ruled it with iron fist since its independence in 1991. Eritrea graduated as rogue state and is listed in the book of failed states.
It has been repeatedly said and analyzed that the country is ruled by fear not by rule of law since there is no constitution, no political and no economic policy which directs the path of the state.
Hence, there is no actual government but the liberation front still governing it. Scholars rightly argued that process of statehood of the country is not yet started and the practice of democracy is either denied or postponed indefinitely as well.
The country is perceived as belligerent to the horn and beyond. Thus, its foreign policy spearheaded by the president who is personally is unpredictable to anyone, especially to neighboring countries.
The indefinite forced conscription, the extra judiciary acts, poverty, torture, lack of freedom and the right to work are the driving factors for migration. As a result, Eritrea is the largest refugee producing country after the war torn Syria in the world. The UNHCR reports show that 5000 Eritreans flee every month.
This number shows that 60,000 Eritreans out of the approximately 6 million populations become refugee every year. This indicates that the country donated 25% of its population to the world refugee crisis so far.
Current political development inside Eritrea
The regime is losing its popular legitimacy (the only card it had to rule) very fast and is reaching to the point of no return. Hence, the only tactics which Isaias used to stay in power was that of popular legitimacy.
Now, every Eritrean is accusing him of infidelity and organizing to fight the regime at any cost. Threatened by the development, Isaias has responded by extreme use of force to the extent executing genocide acts, banning private Medias, jailing top party and government officials, forcing youngsters to leave the country, jailing religious leaders and even expelling diplomats.
Expectedly, the measures taken could not stop the growing pressure from its own people. Additionally, it has established more than 10,000 torturing and jailing cells which are said to have sheltered hundreds of thousand political prisoners. Any form of measures could not, however, stop the anger of the people.
At times, Isaias employed Ethiopian opposition groups based on Eritrea to monitor the security situation and spying Eritreans. This did not bring any meaningful results though. Hence, Isaias continued employing foreign mercenaries to silence his own people.
The ‘No War No Peace Policy’ how did it go?
The ‘no war no peace policy’ that has existed between Ethiopia and Eritrea after the devastating war in 2000 onwards has truly weakened the state of Eritrea and partially Ethiopian north part. It could be said that the policy damaged more to Eritrea than Ethiopia. However, arguably enough, it did benefited Isaias personally to stay in power untouched. We should differentiate the people, state, and Isaias Afeworki’s personal interest.
Following the policy, the state becomes weak and fragile while the people of Eritrea become poor and hostage. They are pushed to flee at intimidating number. However, Isaias continued to rule the country at will, no matter what happened to his people and his country.
We should not be puzzled here. The aim of the policy was not to create fragile state and social crisis in Eritrea. To my best understanding, it was aimed at containing and eventual demise of Isaias.
The Ethiopian Foreign Policy and the rhetoric of the Ethiopian leaders usually treat the Eritrean people as brothers and favor them positively even more than their own leader does. However contrary to this rhetoric, the no war no peace policy missed its target and went awry.
Isaias personally is happy of it and is living comfortably with it, no matter what. What was the ultimate goal of Isaias? Very clear! To stay in power at any cost and he did it, he won it.
Who is suffering from the “no war no peace policy”? Surely, not Isaias! It is rather the Ethiopians residing in the northern part and the whole of Eritreans.
The most horrifying thing is that Eritrea itself is sinking into the hands of Arab countries’ incursion. Who is to be disadvantaged if the State of Eritrea is dominated by the Arab storming? You may not say it is Isaias? Not at all! Isaias by now is above 75 years old and is done with power. He showed us practically that he did not come to power to save or create democratic, developed and sovereign Eritrea. He did come to simply sit in power and rule at will. He did it so.
Therefore, it is none of Isaias business whether Eritrea is drifting to the hands of extremists after him. Nor does he care if the “no peace no war” policy disadvantaged Eritrea or Ethiopia. He could calculate it that did the policy go against my power or not.
Calculated from this, Isaias emerged victorious no matter what as far as his stay in power so long. What was to be considered as defeat for him was that if the Ethiopian leaders together with Eritrean forces intended to shorten his power.
The no peace and no war policy applied for the last 16 years much helped Isaias to stay in power and execute so many ugly acts against the Eritrea state, the people of Eritrea, Ethiopians, and the horn at large. Isaias got plentiful time and confidence to train, finance, and arm all forms of terrorists to sabotage Ethiopia which is a partial successful project.
For example, Ethiopia is busy in Somalia situation as Isaias projected rightly. He also attempted to bomb inside Ethiopia and able to divert the mind of Ethiopian leaders from focusing at domestic politics. Using the prolonged “no peace and no war” policy, Isaias played destructive role in Ethiopia.
He organized and financed the Ethiopian toxic Diasporas owned Medias to daily create mistrust among Ethiopians. Isaias dreams to disintegrate Ethiopia and is on the way to do so. The future will hold the truth regarding who is wining against whom.
He kept the organization of OLF, ONLF, Ginbot 7, and so many Ethiopian outlawed groups alive inside Eritrea and helped them spread toxic and decisive propaganda which ultimately produced the last protests and put the continuity of the state at crossroad.
If Ethiopia had coordinated and supported the helpless and frustrated Eritrean people and advanced or used any means possible to avoid Isaias, the policy could have been acknowledged as successful and historical in both peoples. Eritrea would have a new responsible leader by now and the two brotherly people could have lived peacefully.
However, Isaias stayed happily and the two people go migration and risked their lives on the course. Hunger and uncertainty prevailed in both peoples. Hence, what is the point of prolonging the “peace no war policy” when measured from both peoples’ benefit? I do not see anything positive of it personally.
What kind of Eritrea post-Isaias would be?
Currently, Isaias is busy contracting Eritrea to Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is reportedly gained military bases in the islands of red sea, UAE owns Assab port for both military and logistics purposes, Saudi is also stationing in the coastal areas of Massawa ports. The Brotherhood and Wahabists are swimming deep inside Eritrea and busy doing their usual business.
It should not be forgotten that the tiny Qatar and Saudi are the leading countries in sponsoring and spreading Wahabism in the horn of Africa. Ignored by the west, Isaias turned his back to the oil rich gulf countries.
The Arabs are allowed to teach Wahabism, financing and training Eritrean Muslims in the coastal areas. In exchange, Isaias gets financial and military support. Good business to him! The vast border with Sudan is also left unchecked giving opportunities for Sudanese, Qataris, and Saudi Wahhabis to conduct anything they want.
What kind of Eritrea will be after Isaias so? It is unpredictable but the current Eritrea will either be possibly fall apart or it will be totally at the hands of Arab direct influence. More ironically, the Christian highlanders are becoming too divided following the conflict-ridden policy of Isaias.
The Seraye, Akloguzai, and Hamassen are becoming hostile even in dealing against the common enemy-Isaias. The mistrust developed among them is beyond words and very dangerous. Additionally, it is these people fleeing the country at considerable rate. Contrary to this, the Muslims lowlands and coastal areas are becoming very integrated and armed with the help of the stated foreign Arab countries.
Thus, it is simply to predict what kind of Eritrea will be post Isaias. Eritrea will be engulfed by civil war among the highlanders and Arab supported lowlanders. The Arabs have military bases inside Eritrea and it is very predictable who win the civil war.
It is the jihadists who can win with military presence of the Arabs. Eritrea, rightly, will be Arab forces dominated state which closes the chapter of integration policy or any aspirations towards to it.
Let’s say that if Eritrea is dominated by Wahabists or jihadists supported by Egypt, Saudi and Qatar, what will the Ethiopian security issue look like? Ethiopia will be trapped by sworn enemies. The Wahabism project will not stop there. They will work hard to export directly to Ethiopia. Confrontation will be the game of the day. Egypt will jump and take advantage of it. The rest will be history.
The “no peace no war” policy gave Isaias the advantaged to project successful tactics to bleed Ethiopia. One of which is: he could maintain forces inside Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea. These forces are still engaging Ethiopian in all war fronts.
Be it hybrid war; color revolution and direct war, Ethiopia tastes the bitter fruit the policy it used to claim weakened Isaias. Isaias again has invented to revenge Ethiopia: he gave military and other bases to the stated counties intentionally to make Ethiopia suffered from in the future.
Failed Eritrea, South Sudan, and Somalia are all headache to Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian leaders should pay attention to scholars on the subject and design sound policies to predict and prevent Eritrea from falling into sworn Enemies.
However, leaving Eritrea to the hands of enemies will cost us much later. What should be done now? Gather scholars and consult with them. They have curing medicines for this, I assure you!
4/ Leadership Behaviour and the Emergence of Police State
5/ National service and militarization of national security
6/ Post-Ethiopia-Eritrea war: National security in structural crisis
The State of Eritrea, the latest African state next to South Sudan to join the UN family of nations, won its independence as a de-facto state in 1991, and de-jure state in 1993 through referendum. However, Eritrea had passed through historical ups and downs on the march to independence: first colonized by Italy and transferred to Britain as ‘mandate territory’ until 1952.
Upon the United Nations ‘decision, Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia as an autonomous region, a situation that soon deteriorated. The federation was not well-come by all actors including the Eritrean contending parties and Ethiopian government. After ten years, the federation was abrogated and Eritrea was re-integrated into Ethiopia in 1962.
On the eve of the abrogation of the federation, the Eritrean, particularly the Muslim lowland Eritreans and later joined by the highlanders, declared the bloody armed struggle in 1961that lasted for three decades. The post independent state and nation- building process was framed to be the slogan ―Hade Hizbi, Hade Libi (1)
Eritrea‘s post independent state and nation-building process was not smooth even though the success of the liberation struggle sparked prospects for a strong, united and stable Eritrea. The crisis is not solely the result of the challenges of new state building process but also strongly related to the evolution of Eritrean nationalism and its foundation; the contradictions and divisions among Eritrean nationalists on the idea of the state of Eritrea and Eritreanism
Methodologically, the study examined the national security challenges of the post 2001 Eritrean in relation to the different theoretical approaches to national security, Eritrea‘s historical trajectories, Eritrean identity formation, the nature of the nationalist movements and goals of the struggle, the post-independence state building processes and the policies designated to ensure the goal.
Moreover, externally the national security of Eritrea would also be examined in relation to the challenges that evolved out of the 1998 2000 war with Ethiopia: as Eritrea‘s national significant others.
This study to critically analyse the post-independence nation building project in Eritrea, and its subsequent dynamics with a particular focus on the post-Ethiopia- Eritrea war of 1998-2000. The study mainly uses secondary data including books, articles, government policies, declarations, interviews of top officials, and updated discussion papers posted in different Eritrea related websites.
1/ Literature Review
National security, traditionally, has been exclusively defined as state‘s ability to survive and prosper in the self-help anarchic international system (Wing, 2000). State‘s security threats were viewed external in their origin, and militaristic in their nature. The instruments of defense were military capabilities, and wars were considered to be fought outside the jurisdiction of the state (Ibid). Therefore, national security was defined as phenomenon of war: focusing on the threat, use and control of military force (Walt, 1991).
However, the end of the cold war served as a major blow to the traditional schools, and led to the emergence of alternative voices within the security studies calling for – widening and ultimately deepening of the subject (Hough, 2004). The Widening schools argued for horizontal inclusions of symmetric and asymmetric threats (both military and non-military) that could emerge both from outside and inside of the state, and instigated by both state and non-state actors (Ibid, Buzan, 1997).
The Deepening schools, however, argued for vertical actors’ redefinition of referent objects for security to include non-state actors, mainly human beings (Williams, 2004). Accordingly, states are thus not only the referent and providers of security but also could be source of threats to their citizens. And the major threats to national security are emanating from within the state due to lack of agreed consensus on the idea of the state, that is, the nation and its organizing ideology, by all responsible actors though external threats are existential but could be easily deterred.
According to Buzan (2008), national security is basically about building an established legitimacy on the idea of the state by those who are claiming to be nation-builders and citizens of the state through establishing an imagined community. The idea of the state is thus the pillar to national security supported by defensive physical base (territory) and established institutions of the state. It is ―needed to be firmly rooted in the minds its citizens and in the minds of other states, so that the idea of national self-rule is needed to have a high legitimacy in international system (Ibid: 78).
Most states, however, are multi-ethnic nations as opposed to the traditional conception of nation-state which makes national security predicaments very complex especially to nation-builders in the third world. Cognizant of this, since the African states are creations of colonialism which makes them inorganic, failed to evolve from internal struggle, and incompatibly transplanted over pre-colonial primordial identities, the post-independent nation-builders therefore inherited the protracted and conflicting nation-building process (Meressa, 2013).
The decolonized states thus emerged as ―part-nation-states (Buzan, 2008) sharing the same ethnic groups with their neighbors, and such ethnic groups remain marginalized minorities which later paved a fertile ground for secessionist- irredentist movements to challenge the nation building process, and poses actual and potential national security threats (Ibid) .
The problem with ―part-nation state is that being ethnic groups living on the other side of the border are made to be minority, and the nation-builders of the process of becoming (states which are not full-fledged) designed their strategies of reintegrating ethnic groups on the other side of border as mobilizing instrument and eventual formation of relevant enemies of the national security. Moreover, such national security is naturally vulnerable to secession irredentist obsession that weakens the very idea of national security (Meressa, 2010).
The failure to build strong idea of nation-state and national security of non-western mainly African states is further complicated by their late entrance to nation-state system and early stage of nation-building process that constrains nation-builders to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of their society (Ayoob, 2005, 1995). Besides, the simultaneous and contingent nature of nation-building process of African states also served the nation-builders to rely on the ―idea of war makes state, and their preoccupations with war making, expansion and resource extraction as means of state making in hurry (Tilly, 1985).
Therefore, the national security challenges that new states face are, on one hand, the results of externalizing and overemphasizing on externally incoming threats and hence securitization and militarization of the nation-building process internally (Bundegaard, 2004). On the other hand, failure to cultivate, strengthen and build an integrative consensus of citizens on the idea of the state which ultimately results in winner-loser complex and negation of the core idea of the state (Medhane, 2004).
2/ Eritrea’s national security predicament: Historical antecedents
2.1/ Colonial Legacy: Identity invention or imagination 1890 to1952
Eritrean national security challenges are, partly, part of the broader African security challenge; imagining and building decolonized nation-state system, and neutralizing the colonial induced differences through forging mobilizing principles of commonly colonized and oppressed people, and ultimately forming new colonially created territorial identities (Bundegaard, 2004; Meressa, 2013).
In line with this, today‘s Eritrean nation-building challenges are basically the results of divergent conceptions of the idea of Eritreanism that traces back to post Italian periods, and the subsequent developments of divergent strategies of framing the future Eritrea and Eritreanism (Yosief, 2013).
Most literatures and informants indicated that the half a century Italian rule did not have a substantial impact on the Eritrean identity formation. Even though the Italians boasted the economic wellbeing of Eritrean in relation to Ethiopian, and were able to elevate the Muslim lowlander Eritrean (local known as Metahit) to the parity with the Christian Eritrean, it was not effective in forging new identity and western types of elites to lead the post-colonial nation-building process (Tekeste, 1997).
The highlanders (locally known as kebessa) who were considered relatively politically conscious due to their access to the state system and modern missionary education were still with their pro-Ethiopian ties, and demanded unconditional union with Ethiopia (Ibid). Muslim lowlanders, in their demand for immediate independence, failed to convince the highlanders to form a collective post-primordial identity of Eritreanism. Instead, the Muslim League (later Eritrean Liberation Front) evolved into Islamic primordialist armed movement in 1961(Meressa, 2013).
The parity system, however, laid the basis to the later politicization of Muslim/Christian, lowlander/highlander dichotomies of Eritrean politics and nationalism. And hence, Eritrean identity remains dominantly primordialist (Muslim/Christian, Metahit /kebessa) though they claimed Eritrean identity was/is western industrial exposed modern identity when they pretend to view Ethiopian counterparts, as their relevant others, as uncivilized traditional societies.
The Italian period based modernist school of Eritrea identity, according to Abdulkader (2013), argued that the Italians introduced positive innovations, such as urbanization, a transportation system (especially the railways) and the development of the Massawa and Assab ports. They also encouraged the migration of peasants from Tigray to Eritrea, who settled in kebessa as labor force.
In addition, the Italians recruited a large number of soldiers (askari) into their army who settled in cities and towns. This group contributed significantly to the urbanization process and developed a national consciousness due to their involvement in various colonial wars.
The British mandate period based modernist school of Eritrea identity, however, rejected the Italian thought and argued that Eritrean identity consciousness begun to surface onto the Eritrean political spectrum during the British mandate period (Yosief, 2013).
The British in their attempt to prepare the Eritreans to decide their future allowed freedom of speech and association, and as a result the Eritreans began to structure and define their future state (Ibid; Tekeste, 1997). And hence, the pre-colonial and colonial (pre-mandate era) Eritrean identity was not historically and politically sufficient enough to justify their subsequently evolved colonial thesis (Meressa, 2013).
The 1946 Bet Georges conference was the first historically noticed intra-Eritrean gathering to debate on their future, and determine their identity consciousness. However, the conference ended up without agreement due to the divergent views of the existing Muslim and Christian political groups on future Eritrean state and Eritreanism.
The divergent outlooks were reflected in the organization of the contending groups and their mobilizations. Most of the Muslim lowlanders (ML) were organized around the ―Al-Rabita al Islamiya al Eritriya (the Muslim League) mainly since December 1946, and claimed independence of Eritrea on the basis of anticipatory fear and mistrust that the union would bring oppression under autocratic and Christian Ethiopia (Mesfine, 1988).
According to Ellingson (1977), the ML made a clear statement against unification in front of the Four Power Commission: ―Is it just that a still barbaric and primitive nation such as the Ethiopians – whose government is unable to improve the lot of its own people – should come into possession of a territory which is far more disciplined, advanced and civilized than the Abyssinians?
Conversely, most of the Christian highlanders were organized under the unionists on the basis of anticipatory hope that the union would bring dignity and freedom (Mesfine, 1988). And the remaining political groups were in between the two major organizations. From this, possible to infer, that the absence of agreed consensus on the imagined or invented idea of the state and the endemic natures of the highland/lowland, Christian/Muslim dichotomies in Eritrean politics in which the establishment of inclusive Eritreanism require to properly integrate these realities .
2.2/ The Inorganic federation: A hybrid solution and internationalization of the problem 1952 to 1961
Failing to provide an internally agreed solution, which evolved out of a half a century Italian colonial rule, to their future destiny made the Eritrean case to be decided from outside through federation that was not in the political vocabulary of Eritrean and Ethiopian in particular (Abdulkader, 2013; Tekeste, 1997; Yosief, 2013), and the colonized Africans in general. And hence, the federal concept, at least, it was not in the process -of- becoming in the continent of colonized states, at worst it was non-existing and alien to the recipients.
The United Nations (UN) imposed a quasi- federal liberal democratic constitution, the first internationally tailored inclusive constitution on Africa soil, on Eritrea2. The federation was not, therefore, among the first, second and third options of real actors to the contemporary conflict, but none to all.
The paradox was therefore Eritrea was entered into a federal marriage with a state of absolute monarchical political system which inherently antithesis to federal democratic culture. The Eritreans were, based on federal prescription, to accept the state and its leader which they labelled as ―backward, feudal, uncivilized, primitive, archaic, and inferior (Yosief, 2013) as their sovereign leader, one hand, Emperor Haile Selassie was awaited to accept and implement a federal democratic constitution on Eritrea which was ahistorical and apolitical to the organic foundation.
The prevailing paradoxes and impracticalities of the federation were well summarized by Yosief Gebrehiwot‘s article entitled ―”Eritrea: the Federal Arrangement Farce” under subtopic “You cannot give what you don’t have”: ―The farcical element in this deal can be teased out by asking this question: How was it possible for Imperial Ethiopia to let Eritrea have a federal system (and the democratic system that necessarily went with it) while it had none for itself? How was it possible for it to give what it didn’t possess? How was it possible for an absolute monarchy to accommodate an island of democratic enclave within its imperial domain? Anybody that entertained such an idea to begin with was either immensely naive or criminally irresponsible.
While the former describes the state of mind of many Eritrean elite who have made that annulment their battle cry for half a century (especially the nationalist historians), the latter description fits well the UN. Even as the UN architects knew that the federal arrangement under such a condition was unsustainable, they failed to come up with any other formula because they were anxious to get rid of the Eritrean problem from their hands as soon as possible” (December, 2013).
The federal -middle way solution- was therefore the result of Eritrean failure to provide convincing reasons to the international community, at least to the major powers of the time, that Eritrean question was colonial and its solution would be decolonization like all other colonies, and inclusive that Eritreanism was colonial creation, its people were commonly oppressed/colonized, and hence aspired to invent or imagine a collective independence or autonomy of colonially suffered people of Eritrea.
Moreover, the federation was result of international politico-legal processes of two major commissions established with a stated objective of ―to gather information and to elicit the desires and wishes of the people in regard to the country‘s future (Abdulkader, 2013): Four power commission and five member nation commission in 1947 and 1949, respectively.
The first commission failed to provide solution, and it transferred the case to the United Nations General Assembly in 1949. The United Nations then sent a commission composed of five member nations (Burma, Guatemala, Norway, Pakistan and South Africa) to Eritrea in order to gather information and to elicit the desires and wishes of the people in regard to the country‘s future. The mission, who stayed in Eritrea for two months (from 9 February to 9 April 1950) also failed to reach a common agreement to be presented to the General Assembly.
Thus, the General Assembly had to cast its vote over four proposals: First, Eritrea to be annexed to Ethiopia; second, Eritrea to be given independence status; third, the establishment of a trusteeship of the UN under Italian administration or another Western power; fourth, the partition of the territory between Ethiopia and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (Abdulkader, 2013).
The members of the UN commission did not come with a single conclusion. The delegates of Norway, Burma and South Africa proposed that ―Eritrea should be a self-governing unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown (Abdulkader, 2013), while the Pakistani and Guatemalan delegations argued ―that due to the large Muslim population and the important Italian minority, Eritrea should first become independent under a Council of Trustees and should decide about its future after a period of ten years (Ibid: 1394).
The United Nations General Assembly with support of the USA, France and the Soviet Union adopted the majority suggestion of the Commission in 1952 while British supported the partition plan of Eritrea in to Sudan and Ethiopia, as follows, ―Muslim tribal areas adjoining to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan should be included in that country. The central Christian highlands with the port of Massawa and the Semhar and the Saho tribes should form part of a united Tigray state or province (…). The Danakil country with Assab should be assigned unconditionally to the Emperor (Abdulkader, 2013).
The British position was based on the recommendation of Longrigg (1945:3), British military administrator of Eritrea, contended that Eritrea possesses ―none of the qualities of geographical or cultural singleness which should entitle it to be a unit of territory or of government. And that ―had the Italians not colonized Eritrea, which Eritrea would be partly, as always before, the ill-governed or non-governed northernmost province of Ethiopia (Ibid).
He further asserted that Eritreans were more resemble with Sudanese and Ethiopian counterparts than each other‘s. This idea also shared by Mensour (2002) in discussing the post1946 intra-Eritrean divisions in framing the future Eritrea as ―…the historical and cultural bondage of most Eritrean Abyssinians with the other part of historical Abyssinia was still strong. Sixty years of different socio-economic transformations had not been enough to cut or weaken the umbilical cord.
One major result of the federation, however, was the internationalization of the Eritrean crisis of identity formation, on one hand, and elevation of Eritrean consciousness as the federation gave them an autonomous status that had never been achieved before (Meressa, 2013, 2010).
The federation also recognized that the existential bipolar natures of the Muslim/Christian, lowland /highland division of Eritrean politics which was reflected through equal representations of Muslim and Christian in the parliament and other governance structures. More importantly, Arabic and Tigrigna were entitled equal official language status, and still remain as symbols of inclusion or exclusion (Ibid).
2.3/ Militant Identity invention and territorial Independence
There is no common ground on the basic causes of the Eritrean armed liberation struggle that lasted for three decades. This part will assess the basic reasons that led the Eritreans to armed struggle, the characteristic features of militant nationalism, and finally to make a nexus on how the liberation based identity formation affected the post-independence Eritrean national security.
Following the consistent incursion of the Ethiopian government and the observable weakness of the federation, the Eritreans began to establish an underground cell called ―Haraka al-Tahrir al-Eritrea (Arabic for ‗Party of seven member‘) or ―Mahber Shewuate in 1958 that evolved into Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) to pursue its goals ―politically and diplomatically (Tekeste, 1997). The major purpose of the ELM was ―protecting the collapse of the federation, and its members were composed of both Muslims and Christians who had sympathy for the federation (Ibid).
When the Emperor abrogated the federal arrangement in 1962, many Christian Eritreans, just like their Muslim counterparts, felt that the regime was acting against their core interests as a form of colonial subjugation which was not different than from that of Italian or British colonialism (Sherman, 1980).
According to Gebru (2009), Mesfine (1988), and Tekeste (1987, 1997), Eritrean nationalism was based on grievances as a reaction to the enduring character of the Ethiopian state that caused the loss of Eritrea‘s regional autonomy. Sherman (1980) also argued that the Eritrean grievances towards the Ethiopian state was traced back to the 19th century Italo-Ethiopian agreements and war including Wuchale treaty 1889, battle of Adwa 1896, and Addis Ababa treaty 1896, and culminated in the abrogation of the federation as well as the subsequent harsh treatments of Eritreans by the Ethiopian governments.
After a failed two decade, post-colonial, search for an all-Eritrean identity formation and destiny determination, international community‘s effort to provide a lasting solution to the Eritrean problem, and the failure of emperor Haile Selassie either to maintain the federation until the unionist group got hegemony or convince the secessionist groups that the emperor and Ethiopian state was not anti-Islamist as it was stated, the lowland Eritrean started one of the longest armed struggle in Africa to invent a militant nationalist identity, that was not the case of Eritrean history of resistance before, in September 1,1961 at Barka, by Idris Awate.
2.4/ Eritrean liberation front, Islamic nationalism, and the future of Eritrea
The armed struggle for independence started in 1961 by Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) on the eve of the abrogation of the federation 1962. It was the continuation of the Muslim dissatisfaction with the federation because they used it as transitional instrument to their stated end; independence. The abrogation of the federation was thus pretext and indeed did not mobilize all Eritreans including the larger segments of Christian highlanders who lately joined it due to the failures of Ethiopian government to peacefully contain the highlanders (Mesfine, 1988).
The ELF, however, was criticized for its layering of Islamic nationalism over colonial thought while all Christian and Muslim Eritreans share the history of commonly colonized people. According to Akinola (2007), ―the ELF lacked a clear ideological line and a political program that could safeguard the interests of the oppressed majority of Eritreans.
Instead, ―through its organizational structure and its style of work the ELF fostered religious antagonism, and fanned backward differences and sentiments, of a regional and ethnic nature (Ibid). This indeed negatively contributed to the civil war and to the post independent ―mutually exclusive and apolitical Eritrean system (Ibid: 50).
In its ideology orientation, ELF was ―pan-Arabism- Muslim revolutionary movement fighting to free Eritrea‘s Muslims from persecution and domination by the local Christian population (Saideman et al., 2005). According to the ELF‘s National Revolutionary Vanguard of the Eritrean people posted in 1978 cited in Sherman (1980), the ELF‘s relation with the Arab nations was: … not an emotional or superficial, but militant, organic, historical, and cultural one based on bonds of the joint destiny, mutual and common interests, and solidarity in the face of menace and aggression…. The liberation of the Eritrean people is interrelated to the security of Arab nation.
The layering of Muslim communal identity over territorial identity secured for the ELF much-needed outside assistance from radical Arab states such as Syria, Libya, South Yemen, and Iraq—assistance that strengthened both internal and external perceptions of the group as an Arab-Islamic organization (Ibid). To the extent ELF declared its revolution as ―the strike of the red Arab revolution in the black continent (Ibid).
In its internal affairs, the ELF relied on the petty bourgeoisie orientation, and rejected the notion of a working–class vanguard (Ibid). Second difference was on the issue of ―self-reliance. The ELF has always relied on external material support. It strongly contended that a colonial and semi colonial nation ―could not solve their internal and external problems on their own by following the principle of self-reliance which is one of the EPLF‘s unique rule (Ibid).The third differences was the economic orientation of the revolution.
While EPLF was committed to a socialist path, the ELF has advocated a ―non-capitalist road to development. The ELF believed that the Eritrean society being part of the third world has to follow the non-capitalist road to development following opportunistic alliances with the capitalist and non-capitalist states (Ibid).
Generally, the sectarian policy of ELF and divisions within it based on religion, region and personal interests not only led to civil wars that ultimately drove out ELF from the armed struggle, but also aborted the democratic political culture of the liberation struggle (Gebru, 2009) and this also negatively affected the subsequent struggle to be controlled, mobilized and strongly xenophobic to democratic differences within the parties.
2.5/ Eritrean people’s liberation front and territorial nationalism
Saideman et al. (2005) defined territorial nationalism as ―a bond based on common residence within a particular region that is distinct from the core. He further argued that ―homeland identity is significant because secessionists need first and foremost a territory they can claim as their own before they can legitimately call for territorial self-determination (Ibid).
Establishing a territorial base is probably the most important strategic consideration for a movement‘s organizer in order to distinguish itself from the host state and legitimize the ―self in need of ―determination in the eyes of both domestic and international audiences (Ibid).
In the selection of identity base for liberation struggle, Saideman underlined the importance of the ethnic compositions of the claimed territory. Accordingly, ―if the territory is dominated by a single ethnic group, a salient territorial identity is less important for obtaining the support of its inhabitants (Ibid: 29).
This is particularly true of irredentist groups. For them, it is less important to establish a separate territorial identity than it is to establish a communal linkage with their homeland. Conversely, ―if the territory is ethnically heterogeneous, a salient territorial identity is absolutely vital (Ibid).
The EPLF was realistic in out manoeuvring its predecessor by redefining the territorial conception of Eritrean nationalism over the communal (sectarian) conception of the ELF. Following the internal leadership crisis of ELF it was clear that sectarian based liberation struggle could not fit to define the objective causes of the Eritrean problems (Antonio, 2002).
Indeed, the crisis paved the way to the emergence of new non-sectarian liberation front (EPLF) and re-conception of Eritrean nationalism based on territorial identity of the commonly colonized Eritrean people (Connell, 2001; Saideman et al, 2005).
The EPLF ultimately prevailed over the ELF for several interrelated reasons. First, the EPLF, in its 1971 manifesto ―Our Struggle and Its Goals (Nehnan, 1971), rejected the ELF‘s communal identification, and self-consciously propagated a non-sectarian, territorial Eritrean identity that could accommodate everyone who supported independence (Connell, 2001 and 2005). As a result, EPLF abandoned the divisive zonal system, adopting a single command structure that reflected its emphasis on building national unity (Saideman et al., 2005; Sherman, 1980).
Second, the EPLF had layered an ideological identity onto its territorial identity. Its leadership was committed to social revolution as part of the liberation struggle, and it adopted a selective, pragmatic Marxist philosophy of conducting ―revolution before unity -emphasizing the principle of uncompromising struggle against Ethiopian state (Henze, 1985).
To this end, EPLF in its national democratic revolution of 1977―calls for the establishment of a solid worker – peasant alliance and the formation of a broad National United Front under the firm leadership of a proletariat party that can successfully rally all patriotic elements against the common enemy of colonial aggression (Sherman, 1980). Its lack of outside assistance and the negative implications of aid to the ELF‘s crisis due to the divisive conditionality of the Arab supports gave rise to the EPLF‘s emphasis on self-reliance in all aspects including political, military, and economy and inward-oriented development, that still remains the unique feature of the post-independent government of Eritrea (Ibid).
With regard to the evolution of EPLF‘s colonial thesis based territorial nationalism, there are still contending views, on one hand there are groups who argued that Eritrean identity as pre-existing realities that traces back to Axumit civilization (Bereket, 2010). On the other hand, groups included (Akinola, 2007; Clapham, 2000; Gebru, 2009; Mesfine, 1988; Tekeste, 1997) argued that Eritrean nationalism is a post-1960s phenomenon. Accordingly, Eritrean nationalism is neither the European type, i.e. nation as pre-requisite for statehood, nor African type based on common resistance to colonialism which was non-existent in colonial history of Eritrean.
The second group contended that Eritrean nationalism not colonial but grievance based nationalism aggravated by consistent failures and crisis, and repressive means of the Ethiopian state.
In dating the origin of Eritrean nationalism, Mesfine denounced the pre-existing Eritrean nationalism, and claimed as of the post-1974 basically due to the Ethiopian revolution and its failure to manage the Eritrean problems. the growing influence of Christian elements in the field increased to unprecedented pace only after the Dergue regime‘s major military offensives including urban terror against Eritrean youth had a transformative quality on the Eritrean nationalist politics (Mesfine, 1988).
Cognizant of this, the EPLF effectively utilized the party‘s democratic centralism modelled on the Chinese Maoist principle. According to Mesfine (1988), in its mobilization and galvanization of the Eritrean people into a uniform, disciple, mobilized people who rally around a common cause; independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia, the EPLF ―engaged in controlled social reforms from above in areas of land reform and gender issues .
More importantly, through its internal security mechanism – “Halawa Sewura” (3), – Defender of the Revolution – EPLF was able to create a hierarchical and disciplined military organization of formidable historical significance.
The EPLF‘s effective mobilization of the Eritrean people to stick to the established cause was better summarized by Gebru (2009:65) as: The techniques of organization, mobilization, propaganda, and combat were all based on Mao’s principles of protracted revolutionary war. The Eritrean revolutionaries invented nothing, but they were excellent improvisers…. The EPLF organized its members and supporters vertically and horizontally, its vertical set up involved the regular and irregular fighters, and it stretched down ward through several levels to the villages, where the cadres created zonal administration and mass association to support the Eritrean People’s Liberation Army (EPLA).
The party used to mobilize and organize the people through ―combinations of promises, mostly land reform and focused on terror (Ibid). Connell (2005) also argued that the repressive, secretive and arbitrary exercise of absolute power to make everyone in line with the discipline, traced back to the 1970s and 1980s. From that time onwards the EPLF was organized and led from within by a clandestine, Marxist core, chaired by Isaias Afwerki and strongly influenced by contemporary Maoist political currents – the Eritrean People‘s Revolutionary Party (EPRP).
Connell (2005) argument further strengthened by Gebru (2006) that EPLF ―was more tightly and rigidly organized than its predecessor and used two techniques to ensure conformity, discipline and order: the first one criticism and self-criticism locally known as ―gimgema , and the second instrument was coercion implemented by the ―Halawa Sewura -Defender of the Revolution (Ibid: 66-67).
According to the first instrument, the party made sure that its fighters are discipline requesting them correct their defects via self-criticism if not get them criticized by other members. According to Gebru (2006), the “gimgema” (4) an instrument of control to ―prevent mistakes, and cultivate openness, trust and comradeship , on one hand, it encourages ―secrecy, hypocrisy, insincerity, self-censorship, and docility for fear of ridicule and humiliation in public sessions on the other hand (Ibid: 66).
The second instrument was: coercion‘ implemented by the so called ―Halawa Sewura (Ibid: 67).The very function of the Halawa Sewura was ―to protect the revolution from internal subversion and external infiltration (Ibid), and it used written and unwritten codes to intimidate the targets so as to make them in line with the discipline. The most common instruments utilized by the party were ―isolations and public humiliation (Ibid).
The degree of punishment varies from ―mild warning, counselling, or reprimand to imprisonment in undisclosed isolated locations or hard labour including digging salt on the Red sea coast. The fate of the more defiant or unrepentant could be torture or liquidation (Ibid).
However, such repressive controlling mechanisms were not only used to punish the ordinary fighters, EPLF like its predecessor used merciless mechanism to eliminate political and military figures who were considered to challenge to the ruling clique in particular and the party in general.
The most noticed mechanism was known as ―the Menkae (5) movement -opposing group to the ruling clique came from the educated fighters who criticized the EPLF leadership as backward and strived for scientific socialism as opposed to a national democratic revolution (Connell, 2005; Pool, 1990).
The challenge to the EPLF‘s controlled and undemocratic nature by the menkae resulted in summary execution of all members of the menkae movement in the mid1970s, and the establishment of the Halawa Sewura – as defender of the revolution from internal division and external incursion (Mekonen, 2008). The repression of the menkae movement was also followed by the suppression of another opposition group from within the EPLF, known as the ―Yemin or rightist opposition (Ibid: 44), with feudalist and regionalist tendencies.
All the aforementioned structural traumas of intra-Eritrean conflicts and the subsequent repressive mechanism of eliminating opponent groups used by the liberation movements had resulted in, on one hand ,the politics of exclusion and monopolization that turned the liberation war to be undemocratic which in turn has negative implications to the post-independent nation-building project.
On the other hand, the recurrent pre-and post-independence Eritrean problems indicated that Eritrean nationalism was not established by an all-inclusive Eritrean consensus and agreements from the very beginning.
Externally, the EPLF‘s nationalism was based on grievances (Medhane, 1999) and establishment of an ever existing significant enmity of Ethiopia in particular, the international community in general. With regard to Ethiopia, EPLF defined it as an African colonizer (imperialist) (Nehnan, 1971). The grievance based nationalism against Ethiopian was framed, first, by denouncing Eritrea-Ethiopian ties: in the Nehnan (1971). Eritrea was defined as a separate unit politically, economically, socially and historically created by Italian colonialism.
Second, it considered Eritreans as betrayed people (Sherman, 1980) by Ethiopia due to Menelik‘s agreement with Italy from Wuchale to Addis Ababa treaties; the abrogation of the federation (1952 to 62); and the repressive military solutions of the Dergue regime. The failures of the Ethiopian governments further supported the nationalist movements to rally the Eritrean people against Ethiopian state.
However, the grievance based nationalism has negative implication to the future Eritrean state, that is, the continuity of Eritrean nationalism and state always depend on either weak Ethiopian state, or strong but undemocratic state towards the Eritrean (Meressa, 2010).
In addition to the Ethiopian factor, the EPLF developed a xenophobic attitude towards the international community by inventing the doctrine of self-reliance. The policy of self-reliance stated that the support from international community has negative and divisive role to the Eritrean nationalism.
EPLF also viewed the international community as betraying the Eritrean people at different historical realities in supporting the Ethiopian state following the Italian colonialism by imposing federation, the failure of the OAU and great powers to prevent Haile Selassie‘s abrogation of the federation and to support their national armed liberation struggle. Therefore, the continuity of the intra-Eritrean relations and their national security is strongly based on the activities of external actors.
Robert Kaplan in the April 2003 Atlantic Monthly edition entitled ―a Tale of Two Colonies characterized Eritrea as ―the newly independent, sleepily calm, and remarkably stable state. He further argued that the country has achieved ―a degree of non-coercive social discipline and efficiency enviable in the developing world and particularly in Africa.
According to Kaplan Eritrea has achieved such a non-coercive social function ―by ignoring the West’s advice on democracy and development, by cultivating a sometimes obsessive and narcissistic dislike of its neighbours, and by not demobilizing its vast army, built up during a thirty-year conflict with Ethiopia… ( Ibid). Hence, Eritrea‘s clarified sense of nationhood is rare in a world of nation-states rent by tribalism and globalization (Ibid).
However, Kaplan in the same edition put an opposite statement of President Isaias on the existing realities of Eritrea ―…we have not yet institutionalized social discipline, so the possibility of chaos is still here. Remember, we have nine language groups and two religions…therefore we will have to manage the creation of political parties, so that they don’t become means of religious and ethnic division, like in Ivory Coast or Nigeria ( Ibid).
The post-independence Eritrean nation-building is the continuity of the EPLF‘s controlled national mobilization of the armed struggle. The armed struggle that lasted three decades was effective in mobilizing all Eritreans all over the world, to use Kaplan‘s description as ―an almost Maoist degree of mobilization and an almost Albanian degree of xenophobia (2003:13), either willingly convinced by the stated cause: liberation of Eritrea, or coerced through the security apparatus of the EPLF mainly the Halawa Sewura (Gebru, 2009).
The Eritrean people therefore made a remarkable history in rallying and supporting the armed struggle under the principle ―Hade Hizbi-Hade Libi (one-people, one heart), and finally achieved their ―first vision: independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia” (Berhane, 2006). The unity that was demonstrated during the armed struggle to achieve the first vision was also expected and made to be the pillar in achieving the ―Second Vision; to radically transform Eritrea to the Singapore of Africa (Ibid).
The success of the second vision was stated to base on ―national unity and self-reliance as stated in the preamble of the unimplemented Eritrean constitution of 1997 while ‘sub national identity’ that promote any specific ethnicity and /or religion were strongly condemned (Ibid: 34).
Bereket (2010) and Kaplan (2003) argued that the post independent nation building was an outgrowing of the liberation conception of Eritrean nationalism as ―’the melting pot’ that united the disparate groups making up the nation and mobilized them against an alien occupying army, eventually leading to the country‘s independence through the process of ―social engineering (Berhane, 2006) of the multi ethnic Eritrean people.
However, the post-independence nation- building policy from above under the principle of ‘one people, one heart’ was criticized and considered challenging to the new state of Eritrea to consolidate a single national identity being none of the Eritrean ethnic groups are unique to it but rather Eritrea is characterized by an all-round trans-border community ties (Berhane, 2006; Ibrahim, 2010) which in turn makes Eritrea an all-round ―part nation state.
This further indicated that the nation-building process not only depended on war induced unity but also on the acts of Eritrea‘s significant other (Ethiopia and Sudan) as one defining feature of nation-state of becoming (Gebru, 2006; Medhane, 1999). An attempt to build a single national identity out of an all-round trans-border community ties, therefore, forced the government of Eritrea to frame contradictory policies which resulted in conflicting relationship with its neighbours.
According to Gebru (2006) Eritrea‘s conflicting relations with its neighbours emanated basically from the aspirations of the leadership to forge a single Eritrean national identity within a short period of time taking the triumphant militant nationalism and the war induced mobilization leaping over the arduous and protracted paths of state formation neglecting the pre-independence identity conflicts among Eritreans.
Gebru (2006) argument on the difficult nature of nation-building and the ambitious project of the new state Eritrean is further supported by Bundegaard‘s statement as: The Eritrean leadership has increasingly found itself in the hot water of state-making and nation-building “in a hurry”.
While state sovereignty may be attained under dramatic circumstances, played out on the stage of world history, the craft of state-making and nation-building is often of a less heroic and even dull, bureaucratic nature (2004). Gebru (2006) further went on to substantiate his argument that the leadership strategy was ―conflicting and self-defeating, that is, fanning conflicts with neighbouring states in order to forge a strong Eritrean identity ,and tapping the resources and markets of neighbouring countries with the aim of achieving miraculous economic development strategies ( Ibid:11). This policy was aggravated by ―the making Eritrean and nurturing Eritrean-ness as it demands self- definition and boundary delimitation which is inherently contrasts and needs relevant other (Ibid: 57).
In line with the arguments, Berhane (2006) argued that the reason for the conflicting policies of the government of Eritrea was to differentiate Eritrea‘s ethnic groups from their counterparts in the neighbouring countries by involving them in wars to severe the ethnic ties with Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan ,and Yemen and ultimately to promote national unity.
Moreover, the ideal of nation-building from above is also contested and considered as an ambitious policy failing to grasp the internal objective realities of Eritrean social makeup, geopolitical, religious, and emotional values and differences (Amanuel, 2010) that has been developed through different historical realities(Ibid; Ibrahim, 2010).
Moreover, the continuation of the war induced militant policy to the peace time nation building is viewed as unrealistic and exclusionist as it failed to reconcile the pre-independence Eritrean divisions and consequence of the civil wars .The nation building policy thus resulted in the ―proliferation of ‘loser complexes‘ (Mekonen, 2008) and ―mistrust (Amanuel, 2010) among non-EPLF nationalists.
The growing politics of exclusion between the highlands and lowlands, Christian and Muslim Eritreans became visible and burning issues to delegitimize the principle of one-people, one heart following the Ethiopia -Eritrean war of 1998 to 2000. Moreover, the war ended up the hopes for political inclusion, reconciliation and multi-partism when the government declared national security as paramount priority (Yemane Gebremeskel in an interview with IRIN, 2004).
Connell (2003) characterized the post-war trajectory of Eritrea as familiar to “crisis of the postcolonial African state and the corruption of the political process defined by the concentration of power within the executive branch of government, the marginalization of nominally independent parliaments and judiciaries, the imprisonment or exile of vocal critics, the sharp restriction of independent media and autonomous civil society institutions, the outlawing of rival political parties.
The war therefore revitalized the historical division as a means to pressure and voices their grievances against political exclusion and injustices particularity by the Muslim lowlanders.
The Muslim lowlanders were also frustrated by post-independent political developments and constitutional making process, though it remains unimplemented, particularly their concern on the failure of the constitution to incorporate Arabic as an official language which is considered not only as medium communication but also symbol of liberation and political inclusion (Ibrahim, 2010; Mensour, 2010).
The Muslim also negatively responded to the replacement of ethno- religious territorial administrative identities of the pre-1991 that reflects the collective identity of the people for generations by the new geographic administration into northern, southern, western, eastern and central administrative units as part of the nation-building from above (Amanuel, 2010). The government explained the abolition of the historic names as part of the new nation building policy to defuse the ethnic and sub-regional sentiments (Bereket, 2010).
The Muslims however viewed the new geographic division as part of the continuous incursion and eventual confiscation of their historical land by the highlanders in the name of resettlement (Amanual, 2009; Ibrahim, 2010; Mensour, 2002). They further contend that the program of forcible settlement of highlanders in the lowlands is part of a long-term strategy of a massive resettlement of highlanders under the policy of demographic engineering on lands that should be reserved for lowlanders (Bereket, 2010; Tekeste, 1997).
In response to those historically evolved grievances and sense of exclusion, the Muslim lowlanders tend to negate the existing state of Eritrea (Hadas Eritrea-new Eritrea) and the principle of ‘one-people, one-heart’ as a cover-up to the legitimization of the Christian highlander domination. Amanuel (2010) provided popular proverbs of the lowlanders used to express their dissatisfaction with the post independent state of Eritrea: “I am not seeing my image in the mirror of Hadas Eritrea”.
In addition to this, there is also another proverb that indicate the extent of political exclusion and lowlander’s attitude towards the national currency (Nakfa6) and the recognition of the camel on the currency as symbols of resistance: ―the camel is in and the owner is out (Ibid).
Even though the lowlanders expressed their grievances and viewed the state of Eritrea as dominated by the Christian highlanders, the later groups are not to accept the concerns of the former. The highlanders too are frustrating by the government‘s repressive measures mainly following the Ethiopia-Eritrean war and they defend the accusation of the lowlanders -that the state of Eritrea is Christian and the government is pro-Christian, being the government is becoming power of injustice for all (Bereket, 2010).
4/ Leadership Behavior and the Emergence of Police State
The current institutional decadence and totalitarian governance in Eritrea can be viewed as part and parcel of Eritrea‘s long march to independence and the way the nationalist conception and liberation struggle was framed.
According to Tronvoll (2009) the ‘seeds of dictatorship’ in Eritrea were sown already at the embryonic stage of the EPLF when it faced an internal dissent movement from the leftist intelligential groups known as menkae. The internal rift later resulted in the elimination of the menkae accusing them of – individualism, – subjectism, and ―destructive ultra-leftism (Gebru, 2009).
According to Gebru (2009), the emergence and the elimination of the menkae subsequently exacerbated the politics of mistrust and fear, and aborted the political culture of rational dialogue and compromise (Ibid). Indeed he further argued that ―the incidents have inaugurated instead a political culture of coerced consensus clocked in the trappings of national salvation and laid the foundation of cultism surrounding the much vaunted charisma of Isaias (Ibid). The ultimate result was thus the instrumentalization of violence and arbitrary detention without due process as major means of dealing with internal dissent (Tronvoll, 2009).
Externally, the post-independence Eritrean leadership has been increasingly preoccupied with nation-building strategies to make Eritrea as Tiger of the Horn of Africa within a short period of time guided by the traditional principle of ―war makes state (Tilly, 1985) as Eritrea was the only example in post-colonial Africa that established through protracted war (Clapham, 2000).
Being Eritrea was to face Ayoob‘s Security Predicament of the Third world state of ―late entry to the state-making project, and the simultaneous and contingent natures of the nation-building (1995) with its neighbours, the leadership framed the nation-building strategies from above under the principle of ―Hade-Hizbi, Hade-Libi” to continuously project the war induced mobilization through securitization of every sector, over-politicization of the nation-building and militarization of the young generation through national service (Bundegaard, 2004) which is too big and expensive for a war-torn small and young state of Eritrea .
5/ National service and militarization of national security
The national military service, as one major component of nation-building, was introduced with the objectives as stated in the 1995 National Service Proclamation of Article 5: to establish of a strong defence force ;to preserve and entrust future generations the courage, resoluteness heroic episodes shown, in the armed struggle by our people in the past thirty years; to create a new generation characterized by love of work, discipline, ready to participate and serve in reconstruction of the nation; to develop and enforce the economy of the nation by investing in development work our people as a potential wealth; to develop professional capacity and physical fitness by giving regular military training and continuous practice to participants in training centres; and to foster national unity among our people by eliminating sub-national feelings.
Taking into account that the state of Eritrea was born out of war, the national military service was primary aimed at ensuring the inter-generation transition between ‘Yika‘alo‘ (7) and ‘Warsay‘ (8) which in turn to accelerate the ―Eritreanization of the nation building (Connell, 2001) to fit the founding pillar of self-reliance similar to the armed struggle so that indoctrination and militarization of the new generation under the revolutionary slogan:―An army without a revolutionary ideology is like a man without a brain. An army without a brain can never defeat the enemy (Ibid).
According to national service proclamation of 1995, thus all Eritrean citizens aged 18 to 40 have the duty to fulfil the ―Active National Service of six month regular military training given at a base and the participation to a twelve consecutive months of active national service and development programs under the Army Forces for a total service of 18 months (Chapter- II, article 8).
In post-independent Eritrea, Sawa, the centre of post-independence Eritrea‘s military training, is considered as the symbol of inter-generation transition (between Yikaalo and Warsay), nation-building and melting pot of collective identity of the existing diversity to the new generation-Warsay; as Nakfa-revolutionary base of armed struggle, was the symbol of resistance, heroism, protracted war and independence accomplished by the old generation-Yikaalo. The end result of the militarization and securitization was therefore a huge military build-up and militarization (both in human and material).
The militarization together with the longest protracted liberation war aggravated the superiority and the invincibility of the Eritrean army. This indeed contributed to conflicting policy towards all its neighbours based on border, religion, economy as well as its hegemonic and leadership tendency in the region.
According to this study, Eritrea‘s all round conflicts with its neighbours seems to test the success of military indoctrination and transition to the new generation -Warsay under the supervision of the old generation-Yikaalo ultimately to redefine the Horn of Africa‘s power structure in particular, and Africa in general.
According to Connell (2001) ―the Eritrean leadership was obsessed with the problems of miscalculations about their reputation they had cultivated for years of being the best fighting forces in Africa as they were the longest guerrilla fighters. In the post independent period they persisted in their belief of having disciplined military that can easily bully the neighboring countries, and therefore could be changed into economic power (Clapham, 2000; Connell, 2003; Gebru, 2009; Gebru, 2006).
Eritrea’s last war; Ethiopia-Eritrea war 1998 to 2000, however, resulted in a negative repercussions to its national security as it signified the failure of the invincibility of the Eritrean army, the inter-generation transition, and negative implications to the historical intra-Eritrean divisive factors.
Furthermore , the war forced the leadership to redefine new policies: internally the government issued national emergency with tight control in order to contain internal problems signaling that the state would be swallowed by its neighbours mainly Ethiopia; externally the state also engaged in proxy wars in order to contain the internal challenges, and to maintain its external power balance.
Even if the Eritrea‘s direct war making capacity is deterred, it continues to engage in proxy wars by supporting Islamic groups in order to contain the internal divisive factors and to continue regional power projection. However, this further aggravated Eritrea‘s isolation from regional and international actors.
6/ Post-Ethiopia-Eritrea war: National security in structural crisis
Kaplan (2003) in his comparative analysis of Yemen and Eritrea argued that ―Eritrea has achieved a degree of non-coercive social function by ignoring the West’s advice on democracy and development, by cultivating a sometimes obsessive and narcissistic dislike of its neighbours, and by not demobilizing its vast army, built up during a thirty-year conflict with Ethiopia…, hence,…Eritrea‘s clarified sense of nationhood is rare in a world of nation-states rent by tribalism and globalization (Ibid).
Conversely, Connell (2003) characterized the trajectory of the post-independent Eritrean state as a familiar path of the “crisis of the postcolonial African state and concluded that ―the corruption of the political process …a giant step backward for the objectives, the values, and the vision…Eritrea was (and remains) a contradictory reality…
There is a common agreement that Eritrean national security and the leadership acting behaviour was radically relapsed to one of the most totalitarian state following the Ethiopia-Eritrean war of 1998to 2000.The worst impact of the war was the erosion of leadership legitimacy and invincibility of President Isaias from with the party and the critical Eritrean mass, particularly from the top political figures and the academician. The first criticism to the President‘s leadership inability came from the intellectuals known as ―the G-13 and their petition manifesto known as ―the Berlin-Manifesto (Bereket, 2010).
In the first part of the petition entitled ―a hard-Won independence was nearly lost (2000) criticised the conduct of state both domestic and foreign affairs, and about the nature and style of the leadership in the post-independence period. The manifesto also criticized the policy of self-reliance as senseless arrogance. Finally they expressed their frustrations on the concentration of power in the hand of the President and the eventual one-man leadership.
The Ethiopia-Eritrea war ended-up Eritrea‘s military invincibility and weakened the leadership‘s arrogance of power projection and instigating instability against its neighbours. Economically, the war ended up Eritrea‘s vision of ―Singaporization”- to “be Horn of Africa Industrial Houses (Gebru, 2006).
The port-based national economy (Massawa and Assab) lost its comparative and competitive advantage to Djibouti for decades to come, and the policy of ―self-reliance proved to be a structural failure to a poor war torn state in era globalization. Indeed, the war made Eritrea a contained and isolated state in era of global interdependence.
Since 1998 Eritrea government is at unwinnable hot and cold wars with its neighbours and international community, harboring proxy warriors via supporting terrorist groups like Al- Shabab. Torture and imprisonment of its citizens are aired as endemic identity of the regime; the critical young generation is either in the military trenches indefinitely or fleeing the state as a result it remains with under and over aged people, no constitution, no parliament, no judiciary, no election, no functioning institution (Yosief, 2013).
Eritrea is called the North Korea of Africa that makes it functionally ‘failing state’ to use Yosief Gebrehiwot expression that Eritrea is in the process of Somalization, hence potentially a ―failed state in the war hotbed region of the Horn of Africa. The process of Somalization of the Eritrean state is reaffirmed by President Isaias Afeworki in his New Year ( January 1, 2015) address to nation that in the past fifteen years Eritrea was under national state of emergency due to the declared war from Ethiopia, and political and diplomatic sanction by the USA led UN security council as result Eritrean development is paralyzed, it loses its young labor forces due to the externally induced migration and the remaining citizens are forced to stay in military trenches indefinitely. In generally Eritrea is in ―Hostage and freezing.
The young and small war born state of Eritrea is facing all-round national security predicaments from its inception. The national security crises are the results of complex historical evolutions and protracted conflicts both against external actors and among the Eritrean themselves. The national security crises are basically cantered on the lack of agreed consensus among the Eritreans themselves on the idea of Eritrean state and the feature of Eritreanism.
This is also related to the existential division of the people of Eritrea into highland/lowland, Christian/Muslim as the prior defining features of Eritrean politics. These divergent outlooks are the results of historical evolutions that traces back to the European colonialism, federation with Ethiopia and armed liberation struggle. The nature of national mobilization during the armed struggle has also its own contribution to the current challenges as it was based on both internal as well as external enmity.
Moreover, the post-independence nation-building from above under the principle of ―one people, one heart, which is the continuation of the armed struggle, also have grave challenge as it failed to integrate the existential realities of Eritrean multi-ethnic societies and their historical dichotomies. The nation-building strategy also failed to take into account the basic feature Eritrea‘s an all-round ―part-nation-state.
Hence its attempt to forge a single national identity through melting down diversity and erecting artificial borders with its neighbours through war encouraged by the invincibility of the guerrilla army based on the traditional national security principles ―war makes state and militarization as guarantees to defeat external threats strongly affected the very idea of national security. Hence, the conflicting relation with its neighbours and exclusionist internal policies ultimately results in grave national security crisis and emergence of totalitarian leadership and police state.
The post-2001 Eritrea is repeatedly viewed as North Korea of Africa: young and small state with arrogantly isolationist foreign policy that could not burden totalitarian police state, that the port-based national economy (Massawa and Assab) lost its comparative and competitive advantage to Djibouti for decades to come, and the policy of ―self-reliance proved to be a structural failure to a poor war torn state in era globalization, that the critical young generation is leaving the state and the remaining population is in a military uniform waiting for an imaginary enemy, that all the critical state institutions are decayed, the only state with no constitution, that the core security apparatus are in crisis that the regime is relying on forces recruited from neighbouring states, like Democratic Movement for Liberation of Tigray.
In general, Eritrea is in the process of becoming second Somalia in a region where fragile states is pervasive, and terrorism is becoming epidemic , and the neighbouring states mainly Ethiopia should thus develop a road map to contain the worst case scenario: state collapse on the red sea.
1 – Tigrigna for “One People, One heart”, Eritrea’s Motto of nation building
2 – The 1952UN Federal Constitution on Eritrea titled “Shaping a People’s Destiny: the Story of Eritrea and the United Nations” published by United Nations Department of Public Information
3 – Tigrigna for EPLF‟s Intelligence organization, Defender of the Revolution
4 – Tigrigna for Criticism and Self-criticism
5 – After the Tigrinya word for bat, and derived from the opposition’s habit of mobilizing support through discussions and propaganda conducted with fighters at night (Pool, 1990:76). On every occasion, in every valley and hill-top, at the highest pitch of their voices they began spreading news that there was no democracy and the rights of the freedom fighters were violated (Ibid).According to Medhanie cited in Mekonen (2008:42), in the Eritrean Tigrinya/highland tradition, a bat symbolizes dishonesty. Remarkably, the Tigrinya word “menkae‟ also stands for “left”, denoting at the same time left wing conservatism.
6 – Nakfa is the military and political base of the EPLF during the armed struggle. It is known in the history of Eritrean liberation struggle as symbol of resistance, heroism, determination of the Eritrean guerrilla fighters in their struggle against the Dergue regime of Ethiopia. It was the stronghold of EPLF where they defeat the Dergue’s an all-inclusive military campaign known as “the red star campaign” in cooperation with the TPLF. The Eritrean national currency thus named after the place Nakfa.
7 – Tigrigna for “able”. It refers to the guerrilla generation of Eritrea who achieved the first Eritrean vision: independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. It mainly refers to the EPLF fighters. It is also called “the Nakfa” generation.
8 – Tigrigna for “heir” .It refers to the post-independence Eritrean generation who is expected to ensure the second Eritrean vision: making Eritrea the Singapore of Africa. It is also called “the Sawa” generation.
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* Previously published on African Journal of Political Science and International Relations Vol. 11(5) on May 2017 and Department of Political Science and Strategic Studies, Mekelle University, Ethiopia. February, 2017
Recent exchanges on [social] media among self-claimed propagators of the so called ‘Agazian’ movement, the antagonists, and few independents have attracted the attention of many active youth. And it has also provoked me to write on the general issues attending the movement.
Even though brotherhoods such as Agazianism had been declared dead long time ago due to multiple historical and political changes both at home and elsewhere in the world, recent signs of resurrection of the idea signals the rise of the movement from its grave. On the face value, such resurrection of the issue appeared to many a good news to be embraced. However, an in-depth observation on what is in it gives a quite different and grim reality.
The writer of this piece believes that the resurrection of the issue of Agazianism is not a simple matter worth relegating to dust bins. We need to bring it to light for more discussion and public scrutiny, and criticism so that the general public would be able to make an informed decision on the subject matter.
I know that publicizing this blatant issue and racist movement is tantamount to giving credit to the proponents of the agenda. However, looking down the agenda and ignoring to write about it would also create them an opportunity to advance their agenda unnoticed by the public. Thus I preferred the first strategy despite its limitations to the second one.
Of course, few print and online media have also published the work of many writers from the two side of the aisle. And such media coverage has also been another pushing factor for me to jot down on the issue. On this raw, ‘Wurayna’, the local Tigrigna magazine, and An Eritrean news site Awate could be mentioned. In the first case, the owner and managing director, Getachew Aregawi in his latest edition has given considerable coverage for the Agaizian movement. As may be imagined, he has also shown his soft spot to the movement in several occasions in this publication. In the later one, the administrator of the site awate.com has also written recently an article in opposition to the movement. Although I mention those names only to showcase the contradicting positions of people on the matter, the dissemination of same opinions by different people on social media is almost a daily phenomenon.
On this article I would try to discuss briefly what constitutes the contemporary agazians, the major ideological pillars of the Agaizian movement, their position on state, religion, multiculturalism, and the prospect of the two which are the targets of the movement, Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the eye of agazians. When I talk about agazians, I would like it to be understood as a movement that ties up the two Tigrigna speaking people living on both sides of the Mereb River, as the advocates themselves believe. Thus, it is considered as one movement, and readers should look at the whole discussion of the issue from this perspective.
Who are in the Movement?
According to data obtained from social media updates of individuals and groups and well thought-out publications posted on various media, the type and form of the movement, and the people claimed to be spearheading the movement are diverse in terms of ideology, geography, and certain markers of identity. Among them, however, the group led by an Eritrea expatriate known by the name Tesfazion and his same version from Tigray that suffers from an absence of organization and an ideologue appeared to be vocal and visible.
Getachew Aregawi in his latest piece published on his own magazine has singled out the existence of three types of groups advocating the agenda of the movement. According to him, The Association of Agaizian brotherhood, the Native Agaizian, and the National Front of Agazians are the three movements working for the restoration of the unity, honor and reputation of the Agaizian people that is believed by the propagators as being lost before 3000 years. Based on the coverage he gave to each movements on the magazine, I come to understand that the last two are the most active and strong movements currently.
In spite of the seeming difference among the movements regarding the interpretation of history, policies, political goals and strategies, they dominantly share the same views on major aspects pertinent to the movement. I will discuss this in length on the ideological pillars of the Agaizian movement on the following section.
Significant part of the history of Ethiopia is unwritten and thus unknown. It had been written either by foreigners who had little, if not nothing, familiarity with and knowledge about the cultures and beliefs of the society or the chronicles of the time who had a specific interest in it, or by somebody whose knowledge of history is obtained from oral accounts passed down from generation to generation. As a result in all possible scenarios there is a greatest possibility for our history to be heavily vulnerable to distortion, manipulation and grave errors. Despite this, we are still struggling over whether this or that history is right or wrong only to justify our current actions. The identity of the members and supporters of the movement, therefore, should be understood against this background.
While discussing Agazianism with my friends as to what actually initiated the movement and who possibly could be the members of the movement, one of them opine that those who lost hope in TPLF and EPLF/PFDJ are most probably the initiators of the idea. Especially, from the Eritrean side, the youth pushed out of their home by the current regime and residing abroad are the ones who lined themselves with the movement. The likes of Tesfazion who perceived regime change in Eritrea in the near future as an unlikely has crafted a new political strategy under the name of agazianism that has in the long run the potential to divide the people in both countries and lessen the unity of the people in their respective nations and as a result create a vacuum where his movement would possible fill.
He comes to recognize that the supremacy of the highlanders in Eritrea is eroding and is under threat from the non-Tigrigna speakers whose influence in the country is perceived as growing. So to consolidate the power of the people he belongs to, he should solicit support from Tigrigna speakers from the other side of the river under the pretext of reunion and brotherhood. That is why in his latest video on YouTube he explained that the disintegration of Ethiopia is none of his business in so far as Tigrigna speaking Ethiopians come to his rescue. Of course, his respect to other people with different language and religion is regrettably low or non-existent.
On the other hand, from the Ethiopian side, let alone ordinary/independent folks, even members of the TPLF, member of the ruling coalition party in the country, has fallen victim of this movement. This is partly, according to some, due to lowering level of trust in the party and their perception that Tigray is impoverishing over time due to the no peace and no war situation with Eritrea and the closure of the Port of Asseb and Massawa. Their frustration is believed to be one of the factors pushing them toward the margin and ultimately inside the movement.
However, the growing mutual ethnic hatred, escalating narrow nationalism and chauvinism evident in Ethiopia can be also considered as the other push factor for the Tigrian elites to become desperate about the movement. Those narrow nationalists have set out in search of ‘brothers’ to minimize competition from within, and expanding opportunities in the new union. But there is no surety whether this goal would actually materialized in actual terms.
Several historical accounts have been recorded to date about the people of ‘Agazians’ and virtually all of the accounts agreed on the fact that they are immigrants who crossed the red sea to Abyssinia before the birth of the Christ. The understanding of their history is uniform and is almost congruent with what most history texts contain. And their entire ideology embodied in Agazianism is predicated on such historical narrations, even though there is no evidences of any sort to substantiate or support it unequivocally.
Major Ideological Pillars of the Movement
A political movement without one or another type of ideology to guide its actions and behaviours and explain its position vis-à-vis other political actors is like a traveler without a compass. In the absence of ideology, movements of any kind are destined to have no vision or at least a clear road map as to how to accomplish its political ends.
In similar vein, the agazians movement has appeared to possess certain ideological pillars from which its political philosophies are emanated and the success of its vision of creating strong and sovereign agazians state is predicated. Even though Getachew wrote that the three agazians movements have different ideological basis, they do have certain common points to be shared. A thorough analysis of those movements provides that religion, language, conception of common enemies, and the scope of the territory/ jurisdiction, of the would be Agaizian state are the main issues equally agreed and shared by the movements. Therefore, we would look in to the position of the movement on sovereignty, secularism and multiculturalism. The first three elements can be understood in terms of an identity marker, and the last one as geographical or spatial marker. Now I will try to elaborate in detail how they characterize the would be agazians state in terms of the above ideological foundations of the movement in both side of the River.
Religion is believed to be one of the unifying element of the people of Agazian state. The movement maintains that Christianity and its historic relation to the state of Israel is one of the major, and perhaps the foremost element helpful to mobilize the people. It further points out that the state of Israel is the kind of republic envisioned to be built on the land of Agazians. To accomplish this political nationalism a common hatred to all kind of religious followers currently living in and around Agazian land is a precondition.
In other words, Islam-phobia is the guiding principle of Agazianism. The movement has gone up to pledging to put in place a wall to prevent the Non-Christians and non-Tigrigna speakers from entering their territory and ultimately keep the purity of the republic. For instance, one Eritrean has written on awate.com this:
Trumpian on me when he said in yesterday’s video that the Agaiazian Nation will build fences to protect itself from the filth of Affar and Oromo surrounding it. His fear of Islam is out of this planet and he lumps all Moslems as nut-bars who will one day kill all Christian Agazians.
Language/ethnicity is the other idea where Agazian nationalism is going to be established. In this regard, Tesfazion believes that there is no successful country created by needling together multiple identities and if there was ever one, it is doomed to fail. He asserts that the Agazians in the organization did it single handily to reclaim the 3000-year-old heritage of their forefathers that was watered-down and corrupted by the invasion of Islam and then Amhara. He implores those who he calls the Agaizians in both Eritrea and Tigray to unite and establish the Agazian Nation of 8 million strong, where the rights of the ethnic groups are protected under its emblem, and an ancient civilization with a track record of enshrined rule of law, he offers. He contends that the Aksumite Civilization does not belong to backward Ethiopia.
There should not be a country called Eritrea or a province called Tigray, he said, both are the same people and TPLF and EPLF are one movement that were created to serve as vanguards of the Agazian Nation of our forefathers. To add, Getachew has also confirmed that the two organizations are not more being the quintessential of failure and miscarriage of the long struggle of the two people believed by the proponents of the movement to be the building blocks of the future Agaizian state
Spatial /Territorial scope of the future republic extends from north of Eritrea to Alawah River located in Amhara regional state. Leaders of the movement believes the Eritrean state should be replaced by the Agazian Nation based on the dominant Tigrinya ethic group, with its dominant culture, language and leadership lording over the Agazians. To his credit, he believes in a democratic governance where the inalienable rights of the minorities are respected, allowed to prosper, where the rule of law is supreme to protect every citizen to blossom unimpeded, Salih argued. But in reality, as Tesfazion reiterates in most of the videos released on YouTube, the minorities have no place in his future republic, it is a concentration camp, if there is any.
The prospect of Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopia and Eritrean are two sovereign states recognized by the international community. Both are home to people with different religious, ethnic, gender, professional and other affiliations. It is true that the two states and their respective peoples share historical and cultural; and they were once up on a time under one political union. But as every theory/practice on state formation can tell they have come to form separate independent states.
The state formation both in Ethiopia and Eritrea have undergone a series of ups and downs and is the result of a long fought struggle of their people. Despite this, the prospect of the two states have come to encounter challenges posed from the Agazian movement. The survival of those ancient and sovereign states as united as ever is now under attack from the same enemy.
This nascent nationalist movement is a challenge to the two states in their effort to nation and state building they have long been carrying out. It is a danger to the two states in any way comprehendible, if not now, in the near future. But the governments of the two states do not look serious about the possible danger of the movement.
Considering the multi-religious and multi-ethnic composition of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the project of the movement to create an agazians state by carving a certain territory from Tigray, Eritrea and even Amhara national regional state the prospect of civil war in these areas is pretty certain. The movement has gone so far as to declaring non- Christians and non-Tigrigna speakers as savages, enemies; and plans to eliminate them to create a pure state of agazians. In the words of Tesfazion, the Godfather of the movement, a state that lacks purity in its population is doomed to fail; and he proposes the elimination of those people from both sides of the river in the process of creating an Agazian state.
State building is not an easy enterprise. More difficult thing for most states particularly in Africa states known by their diverse population is the process of nation building. Ethiopia and Eritrea have gone so far in accomplishing the two projects. Nonetheless, the agazians dream is to reverse the gear and trapped the states in prolonged war and ultimately bring to their disintegration. To do so, the movement has engaged in engineering a new identity called agazians with the possible effect of redefining the geopolitics of the region.
As to Fukuyama, nationalism or national identity can be forged in different mechanisms. Among them, the first is defining of political borders to fit populations; second, the moving or physical elimination of populations to fit existing borders; and the third way is, the cultural assimilation of subpopulations into the dominant culture often involve violence and coercion. I believe the first two are the principal mechanisms Agazians would like to apply to establish their nightmarish Agaizian state. He insisted that national cohesion may express itself as external aggression. It is based on the view that the political boundaries of the state ought to correspond to a cultural boundary, one defined primarily by shared language and culture. This is exactly what the forerunners and followers of the Agazian movement are agitating to be done in the effort to form their future state.
If there is any means, however, to form the future state of agazians, it would only be accomplished on the grave of the Ethiopian state. Many opponents of this movement are clear about its political goals being disintegrating Ethiopia and inciting hatred and civil war among its ethnic groups. Knowing this, everyone, from both Ethiopia and Eritrea have to be vigilant to protect their people and their states and defend the unity and territorial integrity of the nations every single time. Indeed as my mini-research on the movement conducted in Raya (Tigray) suggests it has almost no root both in terms of ideology and an actual movement. Many participated in the research have no clue as what the name ‘Agazian’ stands for and the ideological components driving the movement at all. But there is no guarantee that the movement would regain or re-sew a breath of life in the future as the place is adjacent to where most of the proponents of the Tigray version of the movement are found.
Lately but not least, the government particularly of Ethiopia should be able to single out those who instigate ethnic hatred in the country, as it is hoped it is dealing with the situation, and make sure that any further agitation is not fomenting by any means available on the land. We need not to overlook this emerging racist and treasonous move as it may gain momentum in the future and pose challenge to the unity and integrity of the Ethiopian state and pose peace and security related challenges thereto.
My personal take on the whole situation of the movement, therefore, is that it must be contained before it intoxicate the youth generation; and further pressed until it goes back to its grave once and for all.
This piece of article is to examine the hostile foreign policy of Eritrea, under President Isaias Afeworki, in the last 25 years: the motive behind and the realization of the intended goals. Eritrean scholars are welcomed to respond to this article critically.
For the last 25 years, Eritrea is being ruled mercilessly by lifelong one-man rule self-declared President Isaias Afeworki. The country does not have well defined and established courts, constitution, and foreign policy, political and economic policy. Statehood process is not yet established. There is no government but one armed political front governing the tiny bankrupt country. Hence, state building, democratization process is either denied or postponed. And, economic development process to improve livelihood of citizens is either obscured indefinitely.
Therefore, no political scientist can exactly categorize the types of government or state in Eritrea. Some attempted to equate it with the government of North Korea which is somehow wrong. In the 21 first century, be it dictator or democratic governments have defined courts, economic policies and constitutions regardless of its effectiveness. None of them exist in Eritrea nowadays. However, for scholars who closely follow the daily activities of the government of Eritrea, they usually call it totalitarian regime. Yet, an exact definition which fits the behavior and structure of the state of Eritrea is not found. To put it shortly, I call it a mafia styled regime.
Since day one, Isaias Afeworki carefully avoided having clear rule of law like constitution, court, political and economic policy knowing that he would be accountable for the massive mistakes he would commit later. For Isaias, having constitution and court, independent Media, democratic elections would mean obstacles to do what he wants. If he had democratic elections, he knew that he could not stay in power for long. If he had court, clear constitution and independent Medias, he knew that all would turn against him knowing that it would be him the first who would commit crimes. Knowing his behavior well, he had to avoid all of them. To avoid them systematically, he had to fabricate and create possible reasons. Entering into war with neighboring countries was the best convincing reason to postpone all the question of the people.
Therefore, the hostile Foreign Policy of Isaias Afeworki starts from these calculations. After all, he knows well the mentality of his own people and comrades that everything he says are believed at least that time. He knew well that the Eritreans would say ERITREA first at the expense of human rights, rule of law and economic development! Hence, to prolong his power and remain unaccountable to all sins he projected to commit, he had to use the mentality of his own people and comrades timely. The questions of democracy, justice, constitution, economic development, and equality of nationalities, religions, rule of law and other basic staffs would be delayed or denied if the country is perceived under war. And, those who raise the question would be labeled as BANDA, sellouts. It was betrayal but effective strategy in staying in power. A tactics used by Isaias for the last 50 years.
Expectedly, he had to provoke Sudan first. He had good reasons to trigger the war with Sudan since it was widely suspected of spreading Islamic fundamentalism in the horn of Africa that time. Thus, Isaias was taken seriously not only locally but also by Ethiopia and the international community at large. Hence, nobody suspected him of his future projects. Once, he won the hearts of the local people and outside world as a leader against any terrorism, he had to deepen and use it against others to realize his project of prolonging his power by postponing the basic questions of his people. Thus, he personally triggered the minor disputes he had with Yemen again over Hanish islands and made it serious war which helped him gain the blind support of his people though not his close comrades. His comrades knew that was unnecessary war instigated by his personal calculation. The international community had run hurriedly to reconcile the issue which Isaias wanted it to be. Isaias wants always to attract the attention of the international community at the expense of his people blood and country damage.
The offensive he projected against Sudan and Yemen benefited Isaias for seven years not to implement the much loaded demands of the people. The Eritreans could not raise questions of writing constitution, establishing courts and democratic principles since the country is under “attack” by neighbors. However, the cards of Isaias lasted not long. People had begun raising the buried questions again. He had to find other new reason to suppress the promises for long again. Ethiopia was the best candidate. This is for reasons that since Ethiopia was portrayed as ‘colonialist’ country in the minds of Eritreans and since the 30 years long armed struggle of Eritrea was waged against it, Isaias found best reason to blind his people.
Expectedly, Isaias sent his secret brigades to instigate war against Ethiopia via the small town of Ethiopia’s Badme in the west direction remote area where nobody can know who started the war. I know well that even his defence minister, foreign minister and generals of the army did not know who provoked first since he did it by few loyal lower rank solders. Ethiopians were shocked. Eritrean were surprised since most trusted their leader that Ethiopia begun the war to re-take Eritrea. This tactics somewhat is easy to be taken serious by Eritreans taking the past bad history into accounts. Isaias become the happiest leader in the world by misleading his people. His Medias and cadres commenced massive false propaganda to confuse the people locally and mislead the international community to give the impression Ethiopia invaded Eritrea. It is fairly to say he won the propaganda that time. Most countries and all Eritreans except few trusted the massive propaganda and Ethiopia was portrayed as invading country against small country.
However, when Isaias attempted to prolong the war indefinitely and in the same time, Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Eritrean occupied territory justifying that it had not the intention to invade other areas but restore its forcefully occupied territory, Isaias begun losing grounds. Eritreans and the international community started staring at him, what is going on? Who had begun the war? Why Isaias? Why Ethiopia pulled its advancing troops since Eritrean troops were in no position to defend? Why why?? Now, the truth hid from Eritreans for the last 15 years is coming out. The reverse is true now that almost all Eritreans got the secret that why Isaias did that. Everything turned against him.
The main reason Isaias did invade Ethiopia was not just because he wanted it or he had land claims. Not at all! He used it to postpone the demand of democracy and constitution and stay in power unchallenged which he did it. For example, the constitution draft of Eritrea before the war of Ethiopia and Eritrea says: “An Elect president stay only for four years if not elected again”. It further underlines: A president should be Eritrean by blood.”
Isaias could not pass the two basic points. For example, it is absolutely against his ambition to be a president of Eritrea for just 4 years or more four and he is not Eritrean by blood either but Ethiopian born and grew in Eritrea. Everyone knows this.
Quickly, when a country is under sovereign attack, it is a crime to raise questions of democracy, justice, economic development etc, he declared. For this reason he stayed in power unchallenged up to now. Those who raised the question are now killed, jailed or vanished.
In conclusion, the tactics and strategies Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea applied to stay in power are provoking neighboring countries first and spread false propaganda as if Eritrea is attacked. Then by declaring state of emergency to suppress questions of constitution, democracy and development, he silences everyone and it was an effective mechanism.
The results of being unpredictable leader for the last 25 years: Eritrea is left without constitution, court and clear economic policy. The political crisis brought social crisis followed by mistrust among Eritreans, frustration, hopelessness, acute poverty and fleeing. Every month, not less than 5000 Eritreans leave Eritrea. Eritrea’s government may have committed crimes against humanity, including a shoot-to-kill policy on its borders, a UN investigation says. “It is not law that rules Eritreans – but fear,” says the report, which details extrajudicial killings, sexual slavery and enforced labour.
As a result, it is second to the war torn Syria in producing refugees in the world. It is said 20% of its population migrated. It is isolated completely from the international community. Ultimately, scholars listed it in the fast falling, rogue states. Eritrea turned into hell. The one man betrayed and killed, tortured and raped his country and people. Surely, 30 to 50 years under peaceful circumstances will take to rebuild Eritrea since serious gab of generation is created. The current generation is all completely not educated. One can imagine what uneducated generation meant for a poor country in transition like Eritrea. May the almighty God save Eritrea from being another Somalia?
It should not be confusing within the Arab politics that seeing them competing or quarreling sometimes does not mean they are divorced. However, it should be also clear that they cooperate when the issue is outside the Arab politics. For example, they had been cooperating in spreading Islamism in the horn of Africa throughout the century though for different purposes. What Egypt need in the horn is to contain Ethiopia from using the Nile River and Saudi is for just Islamizing the region. Nonetheless, the current nature of competing does not seem will be resolved easily. It seemed serious and complex which can lead into proxy war in the horn of Africa, which is directly security threat to Ethiopia under any circumstances. Let us carefully examine it as follows.
The dance began in mid-2015 the time Egypt agreed to transfer some of its territorial integrity in exchange for a series of lucrative contracts and promised diplomatic help, to the Saudi by giving up control over two of its islands: Tiran and Sanafir. Expectedly, Egyptian people were not precisely content by the move and responded angrily which led to the deal dead in the water. The kingdom of Saudi roared and begun responding in kind to Egypt to remind the other just how mighty it can be if pushed too far.
The first tangible blow came when Egypt voted this October in favor of Russia’s draft proposal on Syria to the United Nations Security Council, thus directly positioning itself against Saudi Arabia and its ambition to see Syrian President Bashar Assad fall from power. In an analysis for al-Monitor, Khalid Hassan wrote: “The draft was unacceptable to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which seeks to depose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and which viewed Egypt’s vote for the resolution as a deviation from the Arab position.” The vote triggered the first public condemnation by the Saudis of the Egyptian regime. “Saudi Arabia has informed Egypt that shipments of oil products expected under a $23 billion aid deal have been halted indefinitely, suggesting a deepening rift between the Arab world’s richest country and it’s most populous.”
To make matters worse, in December 2016, news broke that Saudi Arabia would open a military base in Djibouti. The Egyptians were shocked which automatically they responded:
“Cairo is totally against the deal because it considers Djibouti to be under the Egyptian sphere of influence and because its location is important for national security.
But why is the Horn of Africa so decisive to Egypt’s national security? Just Nile River’s water and to contain Ethiopia from using it by any means possible!
Egyptian diplomatic sources revealed that Cairo started almost a month ago moves to stop the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Djibouti to build a Saudi military base. The future will decide if it is possible for Egypt to stop the agreement between Saudi and Djibouti anyway. The hostility between the two stated countries is also deepening and further expanding to other areas. A source said, “Egypt is worried about a Saudi-Moroccan expansion toward this particular region, particularly after King of Morocco Mohammed VI tour to notably Ethiopia which came in parallel with Saudi contacts with Djibouti to establish the Saudi military base.
To further frustrate and kneel down Egypt, Advisor to the Royal court of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed al-Khatib, made an unscheduled visit to the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which Egypt considered the visit as a dangerous move intended to harm the interest of 92 million Egyptians. For his part, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn called Saudi Arabia to support the project financially and to invest in Ethiopia in the areas of energy. However, the head of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, Anwar Eshki, has denied media reports claiming that Saudi Arabia intends to finance the construction of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam adding that he denied reports claiming that Al-Khatib’s visit to Ethiopia was retaliation for Egypt’s recent support of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, whom the kingdom opposes. That is why I say surely that the Arab politics is unpredictable since it is a childish calculation.
There were some mediating efforts for reaching reconciliation between the two countries, but there is no sign for their success so far. The Egyptian leaders lamented and said: “what is happening is an attempt to pressure Egypt. Egypt will only kneel to God.”
As for Iran, experience has proven that for every misstep the Kingdom has taken, Tehran’s traction has amplified tenfold, said a political analyst. What about Ethiopia? Will it be prepared to gain some benefits from this move?
UAE incursion in the horn: what is the motive?
Over the past 15 months, the United Arab Emirates has been building up its military bases in Eritrea. According to unconfirmed reports, the UAE took on lease Assab for 30 years. As a member of the Saudi-led coalition engaged in the Yemeni conflict, the United Arab Emirates has conducted operations from the Eritrean port of Assab. The United Arab Emirates will probably continue to strengthen its military ties to countries throughout the region. On April 2015, the UAE consulate in Djibouti was closed after minor dispute giving an opportunity for Eritrea to house Saudi and UAE. Thus, it is gaining a breathing ground.
UAE has secured military longer-term strategy, which also includes military assets stationed at a base in eastern Libya, near Egypt. Strategically speaking, the Saudi and Emirati existence in Eritrea and Djibouti was meant to contain the perceived enemy Iran expansion in the name of Yemeni conflict. However, both UAE and the kingdom will now use the bases to contain Egypt also. What can Ethiopia benefit or not?
Implications to Ethiopia
Given the past records of Saudi, UAE, Qatar, and their messenger regime of Eritrea, the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia’s security will be targeted. We should be reminded that there was a time when Eritrea supported Yemen’s Houthi fighters and functioned as a transshipment location for Iranian supplies heading to them. In the recent dance, Iran is rejected and the future will decide what the later will do to Eritrea if UAE and Saudi continue to settle there. Suffice to it; Sudanese troops also have participated in Saudi led military operation against Yemen which is shamefully against the Sana Forum. Thus, power balance of the region is changing. The political arrangement of the Horn is unpredictable. Friends can be enemies and enemies can be friends overnight, just like that. What is the position of Ethiopia in this regard?
Last months, Egyptian leaders were busy begging Somalia, Somaliland, and Djibouti to secure commercial and military base lands, which all deals were unsuccessful for the sharp decision, came from Somaliland leaders. Stating Egypt’s move is against Ethiopia and only for its own self-interest, Somaliland leaders refused to provide any base lands. The Somali leaders responded similarly though what the response of Djibouti was unknown at least for this author.
The Egyptian motive in the horn of Africa is not secret that it wants to encircle the historical perceived enemy – Ethiopia from halting the ongoing construction of Renaissance Dam which is being built on the Nile River. Thus, Egypt is conspiring to weaken Ethiopia by engaging in proxy war through supporting Eritrea, Al Shabaab terrorist groups in Somalia and some local anti-peace elements. Hence, it is simple to conclude that Egypt can side with anybody ready to wage war against Ethiopia for the sake of securing the Nile River fully. Egypt’s move is, thus strategically and is expected.
The Qatari government is also famous for sponsoring anti Ethiopia groups in the region including Eritrea, Al Shabaab, and local rebels. Surprisingly, the tiny oil rich Qatar is against Saudi influence in the Arab world by projecting its own influence in the horn of Africa and beyond. Qatar is also strong in sponsoring Eritrea to involve in Somalia’s proxy war against Ethiopia.
Exactly, the proxy war is among Egypt, Iran and Saudi for own deep interests in the horn of Africa. Qatar, Eritrea, UAE might have big role but are not the deciders. Saudi is known for organizing and spreading fundamentalist Islamists in the horn particularly to Ethiopia. And again, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia are next-door countries to Ethiopia. What happened to those countries has direct implications to Ethiopia. I do not see anything Ethiopia is doing to halt such serious encirclement against it by the stated countries so far. The strength of Al Shabaab against Ethiopia in Somalia attributed hugely to Saudi, Qatar, and Egypt through Eritrea. What is more worrying is that the stated opposing Arab countries are one in the issue of being against Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Foreign and Security white paper clearly states that Ethiopia cannot remain peaceful if the horn of Africa remained in state of anarchy. For example, the political crisis in Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan has been affecting seriously to Ethiopia’s political, economic, and social orders. Egypt, Qatar, Eritrea are struggling to set foots in our backyard so that they can get bases to destabilize Ethiopia. In Somalia, Saudi, Eritrea, Qatar and Egypt have been playing the cards against Ethiopia’s constructive role in stabilizing Somalia. As a result, IGAD is seriously weakened. The Sana’a Forum where Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti established for this purpose has been dead the time Sudan, Djibouti sided with Saudi led coalition invaded Yemen who was member state of the forum. The Forum was a military cooperation where it was mandated to defend each other. However, we have seen the friends turned against each other abandoning the agreement.
Generally speaking, the military projects of the Arab countries in the horn of Africa are becoming practical. Even if they fight each other, the war will be in the already war stricken horn of Africa. Thus, direct national security to Ethiopia given the Arabs past actions against Ethiopia. Careful scrutiny is in no time needed. However, if it is left unchecked, the military projects of the Arabs will surely disturb the whole region and mainly Ethiopia. Ethiopia should be awakened and must not be fooled by temporary gains. It should strategic study centers who monitor the situations.
After observing the attempts reading the New York Times article titled “It’s Bad in Eritrea, but Not That Bad”, I sensed something fishy and did little research on the possible connection between the Eritrean Regime, Nevsun Resources and the author’s institutional affiliation; i.e., The Atlantic Council.
The author of that article, Bronwyn Bruton, is the deputy director of the African Center The Atlantic Council. And, the Atlantic Council have been busy trying to white wash the internationally recognized human rights violations of the Eritrean regime.
In the financial report of the Atlantic Council, Nevsun Resources is listed as one of the big donors of the institution. Nevsun Resources is listed with those who donate from 100,000- 249,999 USD.
The temporal finding: I hate to use the term but it is called ‘Intellectual Prostitution’ and Corporate Interest. It works as follows:
1. Nevsun Resources is involved in mining sector in Eritrea and the Eritrean regime provides cheap labor (The Never Ending National Service) to Nevsun. The Eritrean regime gets huge sum of money.
2. For continual profit the Eritrean regime must survive to continue the National Service ( Modern Day Slavery)
3. Nevsun is accused and criticised by Right groups about its involvement in modern slavery.
4. To cover its involvement in the most scandalous modern slavery Nevsun Resources provides the Atlantic Center significant amount of money every year and the center defends the interests of the Company in all possible terms.
That is what is Bronwyn Bruton, the Deputy Director of the African center of the Atlantic Council is doing. She tries to defend the indefensible.
5. The Eritrean regime, Nevsun Resources and The Atlantic Council profits out of the Eritrean youth plight and slave labour.
This week the World Wide Web was awash with an Ethio-Eritrean matter. Conflict, that is. The only mutual agenda the two had for a decade and a half.
Last Sunday, the two countries clashed on the border. It was deemed one of the biggest since the end of the 1998-2000 war.
True to character, both left the world pretty much in the dark regarding the cause and result of the conflict. The motive behind the conflict? That is always for analysts to sort out.
After days of inquiry and reflection, we present here what we know and what we think we know.
1/The flash point
The major fighting started last Sunday at dawn around 5 am local time in Tsorena (Tserona) area, as HornAffairs reported that day. It went on most of the day – at least until 6:30 pm. There were also fighting around mid-night and on Monday morning.
We had accurately listed the areas as Akran, Kolo berendo, Kinin and Kinito. However, the general name Tsorena could be misleading since the Eritrean town by that name is several kilometers to the north of the clash point.
Tsorena is a reference to the general area that was also one of the flash points during the 1998-2000 war. It was in that sense both HornAffairs and the Eritrean foreign ministry used the name Tsorena. See the map below.
2/What triggered the clash?
As stated above, the main clash was last Sunday from 5 am and nightfall. However, we learned later that heavy artillery shelling was heard as far as Zal Ambesa town on Saturday night. That makes it difficult to weigh the diverse hypothesis floated regarding what might have triggered the clash.
The first hypothesis – which we mentioned last Sunday – was an alleged attack on Ethiopian troops while the latter were holding a football match among Brigades. Even though we had noted the time of the match was not clear, the Eritrean Information Minister mocked us on twitter saying: << [they] claimed that its troops were attacked by Eritrea while “playing football” (at 5:a.m.?) >>
The second version issued through proxies yesterday claimed that its troops were attacked by Eritrea while "playing football" (at 5:a.m.?)
As we indicated on the subsequent news post, the brigade-level football match took place about ten days earlier. Yet, an informal game at 5 am would still be plausible.
The second hypothesis came from Gedab news (Awate). It claimed: “the shoot-out between Eritrean and Ethiopian border-patrol soldiers of last weekend was triggered when some of Eritrea’s conscripted soldiers crossed the border to Ethiopia, were shot at by Eritrean soldiers, and members of armed Eritrean opposition groups hosted by Ethiopia returned fire.”
While this hypothesis is plausible, it is curious why Wogaheta radio, a radio service in Mekelle, Tigray, dedicated to Eritrean opposition, did not seem aware of the clash until Monday.
It remains uncertain whether the clash had an immediate trigger and which side was responsible for it.
Yet, we can conclude: Either it was Ethiopia who started it (without an immediate provocation) or took it beyond the usual scale of response (even if triggered by an Eritrean action).
This conclusion is compatible with various accounts we have heard since Sunday, including the version of the Ethiopian government.
3/ Who lost this round?
On Thursday, the Eritrean foreign ministry issued a press release claiming: “TPLF troops were compelled to retreat to locations beyond from where they initially unleashed the attack. In this reckless attack whose ultimate aim is difficult to comprehend, more than 200 TPLF troops have been killed and more than 300 wounded. These are conservative estimates.”
[TPLF is a regional party running Tigray region and one of the four parties that make up the ruling party EPRDF]
We find the statement implausible.
First, as HornAffairs reported on Monday evening, Ethiopian troops advanced a few kilometers and captured a low-lying area located between their positions. In light of the importance of the place, we do not believe they would relinquish it anytime soon. Nor was there a significant counter attack since Monday that could force them to.
Second, for anyone who carefully read the tone and sequence of the five statements Asmara issued between Sunday and Friday, the distress is evident. Take the first statement; it was issued on Sunday about 15 minutes before midnight. This is highly unusual for a regime that chose to remain quite during previous incidents.
It appears the first statement was an SOS to the world. The subsequent two statements – issued after fighting stopped – were aimed at calming and reassuring its officers and supporters. The last two statements were probably meant to prevent whatever Addis Ababa may be cooking or to capitalize the usual victim-hood narrative.
Bottom line: Our initial report that the Eritrean troops lost the afore-mentioned location was correct. And they didn’t recover it.
As usual, neither side is providing reliable information or access to media. However, HornAffairs believes to have a reasonable estimate.
We have learned Ethiopia had four regiments near the clash point, while the Eritrean side engaged three regiments.
HornAffairs was able to confirm from multiple sources that about 60 Ethiopian soldiers received medical treatment for battle injuries. Using the standard assumption that there would be a 1:3 or 1:2 ratio between killed and wounded, we assume 20-30 Ethiopian soldiers were killed.
We were not able to get an exact figure on Eritrean causality. However, we learned from Ethiopian sources that two Eritrean regiments were “almost destroyed.”
Of course, we also heard higher claims but this one appears plausible. It is also compatible with our initial information that a mechanized company in charge of the captured location had surrendered and that ranking officers were captured. It was also deemed credible by people with military experience in the area whom HornAffairs consulted.
A typical Eritrean regiment is estimated to have about 450 personnel or three company. Therefore, two regiments were “almost destroyed” would mean that the personnel of the two regiments were killed, injured and captured, yet a sizable number might have retreated.
HornAffairs have also confirmed the chief of one regiment was captured. One source told us his military rank is Colonel but we were not able to verify. The captive told Ethiopian officers that he was a veteran of the armed struggle for the secession of Eritrea and later retired but recently summoned to lead the frontline regiment.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Asmara and Addis Ababa had sent a note to the two governments reminding their obligation to provide access to Prisoners of War if there are any, our sources disclosed. Neither government responded to ICRC so far.
Several theories have been floated on why either side would want this clash.
The first theory was that it was another skirmish accidentally escalated. However, the various factors we mentioned above do not give that impression. At any rate, it does not answer the legitimate question “why an accidental escalation this time”?
The second, perhaps popular, theory was diversion. For example, the Daily Mavrik suggested that the clash was a “weapon of mass distraction” that served both sides divert attention from a bad week. According to him, Ethiopia may want to divert attention from the clash with Al-Shabaab in the previous week. However, the hypothesis was based on Al Shabaab’s claim of kill which no one corroborated.
Several analysts floated the hypothesis that Eritrea might want the clash to divert from the report of the UN Inquiry Commission, which accused the regime of crimes against humanity. Indeed, the news of the clash helps Asmara shift the spotlight from its human rights record. Or, at least serves as a showcase of the “threat from Ethiopia”- which Asmara cites as a cause and justification for all sorts of things.
However, the Atlantic Council – sympathetic to the Asmaran regime, argues: “the Eritrean regime has little to gain from contributing to a media narrative that is already focused on its “bad behavior” at home and in the Horn…If anything, media headlines about the border are likely to draw more attention to the crimes against humanity charges, by keeping Eritrea’s affairs in the news.”
The third explanation is the one suggested by the Ethiopian government. The Communication Minister – after claiming it was triggered by Eritrean action – suggested it was “to give a lesson”, “was a proportionate response” and “was a deterrent” to Asmara. Nonetheless, Eritrea has been accused of more serious misdeeds than whatever happened in the weekend. For example, just in the past few months, it was accused of the abduction of Ethiopians from border areas and the deployment of the Asmara-linked Ginbot 7 group in southern Ethiopia. Neither case prompted a military response. Thus, leaving the question why now unanswered.
There is one more hypothesis that is worth considering.
Despite the scathing report from the Inquiry Commission, there is no guarantee the westerners will step up pressure on Asmara. If anything, it appears the westerners are warming up into the idea of extending a lifeline to President Isaias Afeworki. The Gulf nations’ embrace of Asmara, as member of their anti-Iran coalition – probably with a nod from Washington – is uncomfortable for Addis Ababa. The Europeans plan to increase aid to Eritrea so as to curb refugee flow is another development that undermines Ethiopia’s policy.
The threat this poses to Ethiopia’s ruling party cannot be overstated. It is a factor often overlooked by analysts.
“The Asmaran regime is dying” is virtually the only point concurrence that makes the status-quo acceptable for various groups. Any sign of revival will put the current strategy into question and brings serious questions to the fore. Not to forget, President Isaias will certainly step up his support to Ethiopian rebels.
Addis Ababa simply cannot afford this.
Yet, persuasion might not help change the direction of things. The Ethiopian government cannot cite its internal political dynamics to lobby for a sanction on Eritrea. Whereas, the anti-Iranian coalition, the refugee crisis, and the declining links between Asmara and Al-Shabaab are unhelpful to Ethiopia’s argument. The possibility of sending Eritrea to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which the westerners could have endorsed, is undermined by Ethiopia’s and AU’s campaign against the later.
Then, what is better way to drive the message home than a military action and visible troop mobilization?
A while ago, a western Ambassador sympathetic to Eritrea commented in private, “your government is very articulate and amenable to reason on most issues. But when it comes to Eritrea, they are obstinate and irrational. They block everything making it a national security matter.” Translation: we could not convince them into endorsing any engagement with Eritrea.
Perhaps, “we will rock the boat” was the message of last weekend to the West and the Saudis.
Last Sunday, Ethiopian and Eritrean troops had one of the biggest clashes since the end of the 1998-2000 war.
The Eritrean government issued its first statement regarding the clash on Sunday minutes before mid-night.
Since then, Asmara has been issuing statements every other day and two statements on Friday.
Interestingly, in its latest statement, Eritrea blamed United States for “instigating” the clash.
Read the five statements below.
It appears more statements are forthcoming. We will keep an eye.
TPLF Regime launches an attack
The TPLF regime has today, Sunday 12 June 2016, unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose and ramifications of this attack are not clear. The Government of Eritrea will issue further statements on the unfolding situation.
Ministry of Information
12 June 2016
Update on TPLF attack against Eritrea
The attack launched by the TPLF regime on the Tsorona Central Front on Sunday, 12 June 2016, has been repulsed with TPLF troops sustaining heavy causalities.
The Government of Eritrea will issue detailed statement on the purpose, scope and implications of the latest act of military aggression by the TPLF regime. It is nonetheless clear that mounting opposition from popular movements of the Ethiopian people, endemic corruption and associated economic crisis, as well as the desire to stem promising progress in Eritrea are indeed some of the factors prompting the TPLF regime to indulge in reckless military adventures.
Ministry of Information
14 June 2016
The Sunday attack of June 12, 2016, launched through the TPLF regime on the Tsorona Front was quashed on Monday (13 June) morning entailing heavy losses to its troops.
TPLF troops were compelled to retreat to locations beyond from where they initially unleashed the attack.
In this reckless attack whose ultimate aim is difficult to comprehend, more than 200 TPLF troops have been killed and more than 300 wounded. These are conservative estimates.
Why did this callous bloodshed happen? And, for what purpose?
Those who have instigated this reckless act have attempted to provide the TPLF with political, media and diplomatic smoke-screen, both before and after the attack. They have also deceitfully tried to apportion equal blame to the aggressor and the victim. The Government of Eritrea will address these dimensions of the attack in subsequent statements.
Ministry of Information
16 June 2016
Eritrea is aware of Washington’s instigation not only of the attack against Eritrea that the TPLF launched last Sunday, June 12, 2016 but also in its deployment of weapons along the border for a much expanded offensive. Eritrea will disclose these facts in due time.
In the event, shedding crocodile tears and issuing a bland statement by the spokesperson of the US State Department calling on “both sides to show restraint” cannot impress anyone.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
17 June 2016
Eritrea is appalled by the statement of UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban-ki Moon, on the TPLF attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Front. The facts of the matter are fully known to the Secretary General. In the circumstances, we find the statement that apportions equal blame to the victim and the aggressor and calls on “both sides to show restraint” untenable.
This unfortunate statement can only corrode further the moral authority of the Secretary General’s Office.