Eritrean History 101: Receiving “Marching Orders” is Anathema to Our DNA
In a recent article, “A Request: More Honesty, Less Nonsense”, I discussed the issue of the fabrication of information, pointing out how things like “fake news”, misinformation, and disinformation have become increasingly salient and problematic issues within societies around the world.
The central focus of the article was on how during recent months and weeks, generally corresponding with the global Covid-19 pandemic, there has been much false information and a lot of fake news about the local conditions and general situation in Eritrea.
Unfortunately, however, the false information and poor, irresponsible reporting swirling around about Eritrea have not just been restricted to the supposed conditions in the country during recent times. A lot of commentary and numerous analyses by talking heads, so-called regional experts, journalists, and other members of the cognoscenti about the ongoing Nile dispute, and Eritrea’s supposed role within the issue, has also left a lot to be desired. For instance, in a recently published article examining the dispute about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) involving Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the author suggests,
“Another foreboding sign is the uptick in visits to Cairo by…Isaias Afwerki [the Eritrean President]. He has held two meetings with al- Sisi at the presidential palace in the Egyptian capital in as many months, the most recent being on July 6 when the two leaders again discussed “regional security” and Ethiopia’s dam. Eritrea provides a Red Sea corridor into landlocked Ethiopia which would be more advantageous to Cairo than long flights across Sudan.
Nominally, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal in July 2018 to end nearly two decades of Cold War, for which Ethiopia’s Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the Eritrean leader may be tempted to dip back into bad blood if it boosted his coffers from Arab money flowing in return for aiding Egypt.”
While this is only one particular example, there is an abundance of others which similarly suggest that Eritrea may become, if not already, militarily involved on behalf of one of the parties, is renting out its services or territories, is choosing between sides, or is cynically playing off different parties against one another. Overall, such perspectives and lines of analysis are deeply flawed and wildly off the mark, revealing a poor understanding of some of the fundamental basics about Eritrea.
First, it is well to note Eritrea’s longstanding general regional policy and approach. In brief, it may be described as being anchored on the promotion of a safe and cooperative neighborhood. Additionally, since its independence, the country has always strongly believed in non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states, respect for sovereignty, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the strict adherence to international law. In particular regard to the ongoing disagreement between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan pertaining to the GERD, the Eritrean president long ago stated his conviction that the issue not be politicized in the pursuit of short-term gains. Eritrea recognizes the right of Ethiopia to develop its water resources for the benefit and well-being of its citizens. At the same time, it also regards the Nile as a tremendous blessing for the countries and peoples of the region and believes that the Nile basin countries should collectively share in its many benefits and advantages. Finally, Eritrea advocates close consultation, coordination, partnership, and cooperation between the countries involved in order to bring about a just, peaceful, and sustainable resolution that is beneficial to all.
What also cannot be overlooked is the fact that Eritrea has only just emerged from 20 years (1998 to 2018) of destructive conflict and a tense “no peace, no war” stalemate. While war has never been the desire or preference of Eritrea, the country was forced to take up arms in order to defend its territorial sovereignty and maintain its hard won independence. By any objective measure, the past two decades were extremely difficult and trying for Eritrea. The country was confronted by countless challenges, various hardships, and numerous setbacks, and it paid an enormously high price in national blood, treasure, and lost opportunities.
However, two short years ago, Eritrea and Ethiopia, longtime bitter foes, courageously decided to end their dark chapter and agreed to peace. As a result, after decades of conflict, instability, and crisis, the Horn of Africa has finally begun witnessing encouraging developments. Peace and cooperation are opening great opportunities for prosperity and better circumstances for ordinary Eritreans, Ethiopians, and others across the region. Notwithstanding several outstanding challenges, in a public statement released to coincide with the second anniversary of the peace agreement several weeks ago, the Eritrean government forthrightly articulated that, “This is a peace agreement that has enabled Eritrea to extricate itself from war and the threat of war to funnel its undivided potential and energy towards peaceful development. Resources and capabilities that were squandered in war and conflict are now marshaled and leveraged towards reconstruction. The bilateral peace agreement has spurred a wider momentum for peace, stability and cooperation in the turbulent Horn of Africa region.” Furthermore, the government statement points out that, “We will not spare efforts to bolster the peace process and the cooperation frameworks we cherish with Ethiopia..,” and that “…first and foremost, we will continue to funnel our efforts to rebuild and strengthen our nation in the political, developmental, social, cultural, and security sectors of nation-building.”
Within this context and overall historical backdrop, to somehow think or believe that Eritrea would now so easily jeopardize what it has worked so long and hard for by simply or casually choosing to “dip back into bad blood” or conflict to boost its “coffers” is beyond preposterous. To discerning observers, such claims will recall past false reports about the country, such as the 2,000 troops it was falsely accused of dispatching to Somalia over a decade ago.
In any event, the present reality is far different to the misleading suggestions being bandied about. Rather than seeking out war or conflict, picking sides, or playing off different parties against one another, Eritrea is focused on peace, development, and cooperation. Based on its modest capacity, and using its generally positive and cordial relations with the governments and leaderships of the countries of the region, Eritrea has only sought to support a peaceful settlement and an enduring resolution to the ongoing dispute. Notably, this closely aligns with one of Eritrea’s longtime general principles and goals: “to become a respected member of the international community, by coexisting in harmony and cooperation with its neighbors; and by contributing, to the extent of its capability, to regional and global peace, security, and development.”
Finally, one last point that needs reiterating is that, contrary to the slew of recent misguided assumptions and inaccurate claims, receiving “marching orders” – from big or small powers – is anathema to Eritrean DNA. The notion that Eritrea is now willing to serve as a proxy or act militarily at the behest or upon the delegation of others in the ongoing Nile dispute is belied by the fundamental fact that it has historically been, and continues to remain, firmly guided by a clear policy of nonalignment, independence, and self-reliance. The country is singularly and unfailingly averse to dependency or polarized alliances and it is fiercely protective of its sovereignty. Anyone that fails to understand these indelible facts should enroll in Eritrean History 101.