In a span of a month, three towering figures – if retired – in American foreign policy establishment on Africa publicly called for an end to the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict and the rapprochement between the United States and Eritrea. In mid-December 2013, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen argued that bringing “Eritrea in from the cold” was overdue. On January 13th, onetime US Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn concurred and offered a critical analysis of the context leading up to and sustaining the Eritrean-Ethiopian deadlock, which deteriorated US relations with its former Horn of Africa ally, Eritrea. The next day, Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who recently spearheaded US diplomatic initiatives on Sudan and South Sudan, also welcomed Cohen’s call for an US-Eritrean rapprochement but opined that the estrangement persisted not for lack of trying to break it. While Cohen did not say anything that implies the process would be easy, Shinn and Lyman are right to point out the difficulty – past and future. All these are welcome signs of – or at least invitations for – the much needed thawing of relations between the United States and Eritrea, which have shared, albeit underappreciated, strategic interests in the […]
Princeton Lyman: Previous attempts to ‘bring Eritrea in from the cold’ have proved difficult, but we should still try
Princeton Lyman is a diplomat and former United States Ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa. The below is a response to Hank Cohen’s blog for African Arguments ‘Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold’ See also Amb. David Shinn’s piece: ‘Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold (But It’s Harder than It Sounds)’ Ambassador Cohen is right that ending the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea is long overdue and would be of great benefit to both countries and the region. The same is true for better relations between Eritrea and the US. But Ambassador Cohen does not mention that the African Union was instrumental in calling for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Eritrea. Not a few Africa countries have been upset by perceived Eritrean actions either in Somalia or elsewhere in pursuing its conflict with Ethiopia. Eritrea has become somewhat of an outlier. And rapprochement has proved difficult. In 2008, when I was at the Council on Foreign Relations I made a major effort to bring Eritrea and the US together. After months of discussion on how to do this, I suggested to the Eritrean ambassador the Council sponsor a meeting between Eritrean officials and a distinguished […]
This is not a rejoinder to Hank Cohen’s piece – Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold – published by African Arguments on 16 December 2013. It is rather an analysis of the same issue with the added suggestion that it will be exceedingly difficult to achieve the laudable goals identified by Ambassador Cohen. I agree with Cohen that it is long past time to end the stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is also time for the United States to try again to improve relations with Eritrea. I accept there is no solid evidence that Eritrea is continuing its support for the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia, thus removing this argument from the list of reasons that obstruct better relations. Finally, there is some evidence that both the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea are more willing to see an end to their conflict. President Isaias Afewerki’s silence following the death in 2012 of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was also helpful. But it is important to take into account the complicated background that led to this conflict. The movement of Eritrean troops into Ethiopia in May 1998 represented the culmination of a long list of grievances on both sides […]
After being part of Ethiopia for forty years, the people of Eritrea held a referendum in April 1993 and decided to establish an independent state. The referendum took place in the aftermath of a thirty-year insurgency against two successive Ethiopian regimes waged by the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF). At the same time, an allied insurgent group, the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), took over power in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, after the military collapse of the Soviet-supported regime headed by President Mengistu Haile Mariam. Between 1993 and 1998, the two “brother” governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia, headed by the EPLF and TPLF, enjoyed excellent relations. They maintained a common economic system that allowed landlocked Ethiopia full access to the Eritrean Red Sea ports of Asab and Masawa, including control of their own handling facilities for the transit of cargo. The relationship started to cool in 1997 when the Eritreans created their own currency, the Nakfa. They did this without arranging to establish a system of daily settlements for cross border trade between their currency and the Ethiopian Birrh. This could have been done through a facility provided by the International Monetary Fund. Without such a facility in place, […]
Crisis in the Horn of Africa: politics, piracy and the threat of terror, Peter Woodward Peter Woodward will be known to many as a long-time historian of the Horn of Africa and particularly Sudan, where his Sudan, 1898-1989: the unstable state is an essential work. His newest book is an overview of the entire region with a sexed-up title, probably seeking to play in to the hands of the so-called ‘policymakers’ eager to find assistance on approaching issues of strategic interest, notably, Islamic terrorism and maritime security. They may be somewhat disappointed. Woodward’s book is a somewhat drier (and better) affair, comprised by a short history of each of the countries in the region (Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, with Eritrea and Djibouti sharing a chapter), and including broader sections on ‘The Evolution of the Horn’, ‘Regional Relations’ and ‘International politics.’ It is more a history of the Horn within an evolving international system, than a focus on any particular ‘hot button’ issues. Woodward is a writer of traditionally scholarly style and is always eager to comment on the development of a body of literature which influenced the way in which the outside world has considered the Horn. For example, that […]
For several years, combat along the tense Eritrean-Ethiopian frontier has been entirely rhetorical. This changed on March 16th, 2012 when the Ethiopian government boldly announced that it had crossed into Eritrean territory in an attack on three military installations. Citing Asmara’s role in the January death and abduction of European tourists in Ethiopia’s Afar region, Ethiopia’s retaliation represented the first direct military confrontation between Eritrea and Ethiopia since the 1998-2000 border war. Coincidentally, these events came one month before the 10th anniversary of the delimitation decision of the Eritrean Ethiopian Boundary Commission. The EEBC was the product of the Algiers Accord, which formally ended the Eritrean-Ethiopian war by referring the border dispute to arbitration. The EEBC’s findings should have been the final chapter in the bloody border row between the two countries, but instead, gave the dispute new momentum. The crux of the problem was that Ethiopia rejected the EEBC’s decision when it realized that Badme, the small piece of disputed territory that triggered the border war, and which it had acquired at a high human cost, had been awarded to Eritrea. Addis later accepted the decision “in principle,” but demanded negotiations on the normalization of relations before it would […]
Horn of Africa: Hostage to conflict – security and economic interdependence – By Sally Healy, Chatham House
Sally Healy is Associate Fellow, Africa Programme at Chatham House – she is the author of the recent report Hostage to conflict: prospects for building regional economic cooperation in the Horn of Africa The IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) region continues to raise the bar on standards of regional activism and intervention. Political manoeuvring around Somalia has intensified. Uganda, Burundi and Kenya all have troops on the ground and Djiboutian forces will join them shortly. At its recent summit, IGAD called upon Ethiopia to support operations in the country. In Sudan too there are Ethiopian forces on the ground, operating in a peacekeeping role in Abyei on the disputed border. Tremendous unresolved problems exist between the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, which are not making much headway in negotiations to resolve them. Meanwhile, relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea remain frozen. Situation normal. Regional insecurity has become such an entrenched feature of politics in the Horn of Africa that it’s sometimes hard to imagine what peaceful cooperation in the region would look like. But we should not lose sight of regional economic relations. There is an interesting juxtaposition of two things – the dynamic of conflict and disintegration in the […]
The Kenyan government’s decision to invade Somalia was preceded by an ambiguous encounter that received comparatively little coverage. In mid-October, a supposed member of Al-Qaeda, curiously claiming to be from the USA, was seen to be handing out food, clothing and copies of the Koran to famine refugees in the Ala-Yasir camp south-west of Mogadishu. Such an obvious ‘diplomatic’ gesture was certainly a rare one. Given that Al-Qaeda also operates on a somewhat fractured basis, one might also speculate as to whether the figure (who claimed to be in Somalia on behalf of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri) might have merely been inspired, rather than directed, by the organisations leadership. Links between individual fighters can’t strictly be said to always point to a major sense of organisational unity between the two at the highest levels. Yet in many ways this was rather predictable – not just because since 2007 al-Shabaab have done little to hide their ideological sympathies with their brethren across the water, but also because it points to the increasing usage of smaller groups in the Horn by larger players both within and outside East Africa. Al-Shabaab’s priorities may be inward-looking, concerned with wrenching full control away from […]
The accusations made against Eritrea of plotting to bomb this year’s African Union summit were alarming for many reasons. First and foremost, they illustrate how much the government is willing to draw on other extremist groups in the region to help achieve its aims. The country was accused of planning an attack that would have resulted in the killing of delegates from a wealth of African nations, and this implies their aims have extended to other parts of the Horn, if not to the world at large. Asmara claimed, as always, the accusations were completely fictitious. But among those arrested in connection with the plot was a member of the Ethiopia-based Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Omar Idriss Mohamed. By Maddy Fry Mohamed maintained that those involved sought not to target other African leaders but rather to simply use the Addis-based summit as a way to weaken confidence within the Ethiopian state. While Asmara’s previous activities had been limited to causing direct damage within the borders of its larger neighbour, the plot, if true, suggests even if its aims are unchanged its methods are not. Eritrea is now seeking to tap into wider networks across East Africa in order to further […]
In April 1992, the Provisional Government of Eritrea enacted the Referendum Proclamation and the Eritrean Nationality Proclamation, created a Referendum Commission and fixed the date of the referendum for April 1993. The two proclamations provided for enabling legal and administrative frameworks that facilitated the registration of Eritreans as well as the conduct and supervision of the referendum.
The first question asked during the drafting of the proclamations was: “Who Votes?” The answer: “an Eritrean”, only led to the next obvious question: “Who is an Eritrean?” The answer was found in an Italian colonial decree on Eritrean “subjects” which defined as Eritrean all persons, with the exception of Italian “citizens”, residing in the country before the end of 1933. This then was the basis for the Eritrean Nationality Law.