Why Eritrea Is Threat To Peace

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Isaias’s wars against neighboring states were not aimed at defending the Eritrean people or their national sovereignty but were meant to bully his neighbors and to display his military might to the rest of the world.

[Horn Of Africa: Opinion Article]

The Bush Administration’s declared position has been to designate the Eritrean government as a terrorist state unless there is ‘regime change’. The recent US decision to label Somalia’s Al Shabab militants as ‘terrorists’ sends a message to President Isaias Afewerki that his regime may be next. The Eritrean strongman is deeply involved in the Somali civil strife reportedly siding with the Al Shabab group which is fighting to oust the secular pro-Ethiopian Somali Government.   

The US sees Isaias’s totalitarianism and his dangerous regional ambitions as the chief source of tension and instability in the Horn of Africa. In recent years, Mr. Isaias’s army has attacked Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan. Only Ethiopia responded in kind after Isaias invaded it in May 1998. The war ended in Isaias’s disastrous and humiliating defeat in June 2000 with Ethiopian forces penetrating deep into Eritrea and occupying an estimated 25 percent of its territory. 
It is hard to speculate how all-out wars with Yemen or Sudan would have played out had these countries followed the Ethiopian path by launching counter attacks against invading Isaias troops. One point is for sure: dictators never win wars. They are only good in creating havoc, bloodshed and starvation to their own people and their neighbors. Only free and democratic people have the right and the chance to win legitimate wars.
Ugand’s Idi Amin provides a relevant example of why dictators love to wage wars, only to lose them in the end. After murdering hundreds of thousands of his citizens, the Ugandan tyrant invaded neighboring Tanzania in 1978 as part of his ambition to dominate the African Great Lakes Region. The Tanzanians, under the late President Julies Nyrere, reacted swiftly and in no time overrun Amin’s ‘mighty’ army, forcing Amin to flee after 7 years in power. Uganda’s horrors finally ended. Decades later, the Amin era continues to haunt Ugandans.      
As in Amin’s Uganda, the magnitude of the devastations in Eritrea caused by Isaias’s barbaric policies will be assessed objectively once the country is liberated, which may happen any time soon. Since 1998 alone, conservative estimates indicate that tens of thousands of Eritreans have lost their lives because of unnecessary wars initiated by Isaias coupled by his relentless criminal crackdowns and political purges. In addition to human loss, Isaias's reckless 1998-2000 adventures cost his impoverished country an estimated .5 to one billion US dollars in national wealth.
The world has come a long way since the end of the Amin reign of terror when democratic governments never bothered to have the Ugandan dictator pay for his crimes. Amin lived and died in peace in Saudi Arabia. Dictators mustn’t die in peace! Now the standards have changed and it is very unlikely that Isaias will be allowed to retire in peace. Like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, potential charges of crimes against humanity are inevitable against the Eritrean strongman before the Hague International Court of Justice. These two African dictators are believed to have murdered tens of thousands of innocent people as they wielded absolute power in their respective countries. Now, the more they feel they are in danger, the more brutal they will become in a futile bid to last a little longer.    
Isaias’s wars against neighboring states were not aimed at defending the Eritrean people or their national sovereignty but were meant to bully his neighbors and to display his military might to the rest of the world. It is so tragic that a poor nation emerging from 30 years of bloody and ruinous independence struggle should produce leaders whose prime goal is more militarism instead of more peace.   
Eritrea’s rush to rearmament after independence in 1993 coupled by Isaias’s misplaced policy of “might is right,” and his roguish support of armed factions in neighboring countries continue to foment bloody divisions, suspicions and animosities among the peoples of the Horn of Africa. Isaias actions not only hurt the peoples of the region but also jeopardize our American national interests and undermine our plans for a peaceful and prosperous Horn of Africa.
Given Isaias’s economic dilemma, it may not be hard to kick him out of office after all. AFP news agency recently reported that close to 87 percent of Eritrea’s gross national income comes from European governments and from remittances by Eritreans with dual citizenships residing mainly in North America and Europe. Experts point out that declaring the Isaias government a terrorist state and imposing economic sanctions would rapidly deplete his coffers which he desperately needs to support his underpaid 350,000 standing army, the largest in Africa.  



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