Is the Eritrean Regime Holding Nation Hostage?

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[Global: Africa]

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia---The Eritrean regime is trying hard these days to be loved and paid attention to.

The tragedy is the system is incapable of understanding it does not and cannot deserve anything of the sort. The U.S. administration quietly rebuffed a letter dated July 30, 2011 from beleaguered Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki anxiously wanting to get President Barack Obama’s attention.

Obama rightly distrusts unelected leaders who are not accountable to their own people. Obviously, the leader of the free world has nothing to gain from lies or half truths that come his way from dictators. Regimes that rely on torturing others are intolerable.

Isaias has not only subjected his people to mass poverty, mass ignorance, and murder but is also said to be aligning himself with Al Shabab in order to kill and terrorize innocent Somalis and other Africans.

In response, the U.S. has allocated some drones to the Horn region in partnership with Uganda, Ethiopia and other East African states to try to quell Al Shabab and its backers.

The Eritrean leader’s July letter to Obama tries to explain why he should not face more UN sanctions and why Ethiopia should move out of “sovereign Eritrean territory” meaning from Badme - an allegation no longer credible. In reality, this is a demarcation issue and a call for a talk on how to demarcate the border does not necessarily make Ethiopia an aggressor. The only way to find out is to sit down and talk.

This commentator has tried to reached out to Eritrean Ambassador to the African Union, Ato Girma Asmerom, several times in the last three weeks for an interview mainly centered on the Badme myth.

When phone calls were not answered, interview questions were hand-delivered to Ambassador Girma’s office in the Ethiopian capital. In view of the fact that several past requests from this reporter for a Q&A with Eritrean strongman Isaias Afewerki and his top aides have been ignored, it seems the current attempt to gain information from another Eritrean official has also failed.

The proposed discussion points for Ambassador Girma are referenced below as the reader may be interested in the issues raised.

The following are the questions submitted to the ambassador:

1. Some critics, foreign and Eritrean, say the government is holding democracy hostage because of Badme – a desolate village believed to be the size of not more than three to four football stadiums yet to be transferred to Eritrea under UN plan. Is that an unfair criticism?

2. Once the border line between the two countries is marked and land swap is carried out, Eritrea is to get Badme but it will also return to Ethiopia productive pieces of border land bigger than the size of Badme, according to the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission. Why has Badme become a thorny issue for both countries?

3. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi bluntly told Eritrean professionals, and opposition politicians and students in Addis Ababa earlier this month that he won’t give up Badme unless it is in exchange for real and verifiable peace from Eritrea. His stance seems to enjoy the tacit support of the AU, UN and the super powers. Why?

4. The Prime Minister also stressed he would never initiate war and send Ethiopian troops to kill young Eritrean soldiers and draftees in order to reach Asmara. Eritrea has in the meantime kicked out UN peacekeeping forces tasked to assure peace so that the two sides could focus on
development. In their absence, Eritrea remains in a state of war not very conducive for democratization or investment. Do you regret the expulsion of the UN troops?

5. It seems Eritrea is yet to present strong evidence to counter charges that it is arming terrorists and committing acts to destabilize the Horn Region. What are your hopes there would be no additional UN sanctions on Eritrea?

6. Do you think Eritrea’s membership with IGAD will be restored anytime soon?

7.  If, as President Isaias says, there is no famine or hunger in Eritrea, why is the government not confident enough to allow neutral experts to confirm that people are not starving or malnourished? Were the Eritrean professionals meeting in Addis Ababa earlier in September wrong in calling for a humanitarian access to people affected by drought in the country?

Of course this is an interview that never was - destined to be dead on arrival. The attempt could be likened to an independent Libyan journalist trying to talk to tyrant Gaddafi or his confused advisors and ask them if they have ever heard of such ideas as human rights or democracy. “Who are you talking to? You spoiled son of a rat! I will come to Benghazi and cat your tail off”, Gaddafi would be barking out of his bunker somewhere in the desert.

Free press is the number one enemy of tyrants and their cronies. This is true of Isaias and his misguided emissaries - including Ambassador Girma - who have chosen a comfortable, easy, corruptible leadership style without having to face any challenges from journalists or from ordinary people. Independent, responsible media coupled with a democratic opposition are a key to a society is to function properly.

Evidently, Isaias’s Badme ploy and his claims of the “Ethiopia threat” are a bogus pretext to stay in power indefinitely and to prevent the people from demanding their right to democracy and freedom.

The regime is the most secretive in Africa and does not believe it is unanswerable to its people or to the rest of the world. The country is now affected by drought and the US and some UN agencies and non-governmental aid givers have expressed fear Eritreans may be facing a hidden famine. The burden of proof is on the Eritrean government. If Isaias is confident there is no famine, he should have no problem letting neutral aid experts to determine whether there is hunger or not. There is no reason why the Eritrean independent press or the democratic opposition should accept his claim.

One last point about rats:  It should be noted that thousands of regime supporters are defecting and quietly joining the pro-democracy camp. But there are still some diehard, non-thinking Isaias cult believers and greedy beneficiaries. If Isaias says they are rats and orders them to grow tail, they will grow tail the next hour.

If he tells them to march on the streets of Western capitals or attend his misinformed, disingenuous gatherings, they will show up with even longer tails on their behind. The encouraging truth is they are fast becoming extinct like dinosaurs before them.

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