In his very first State of the Union address on 24 February 2009, President Barack Obama ended his hope filled speech with this statement:
“…if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”…”
Unfortunately, for Eritreans around the world, there really is nothing “worthy to be remembered” about the Obama Administration, and it has instead, left thousands with a bitter taste in their mouth, jaded and disillusioned about the promises he made back then, and the hopes he raised and the trust he betrayed.
Back in 2008, Eritrean Americans enthusiastically worked in his election campaigns and voted for him. They were hopeful that he would bring the change needed to improve US-Eritrea relations. They listened and believed him on 24 February 2009 when he said:
“…In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand… To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power… As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead…”
Eritrean Americans would soon find out that there was “no new era of engagement”, or unclenching of fists. Barely a year into office, just about 10 months later, dashing the hopes of Eritreans around the world, Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States would make Eritrea, the then youngest nation in Africa, the very first country in Africa to be sanctioned. The illegal, unfair and unjust sanctions against the State of Eritrea, engineered by Susan E. Rice and the minority regime in Ethiopia were adopted by the UN Security Council on 23 December 2009, That infamous day will be remembered by generations of Eritreans.
The Obama Administration’s unprovoked hostilities against the State of Eritrea continued throughout his presidency and in 2011, Susan Rice and the minority regime in Ethiopia led by Meles Zenawi, coaxed Africans on the UN Security Council to collude against Eritrea. Eritreans Americans remember that sad episode in history well. The length that the US, through its UN representative Susan Rice, went to prevent the President of Eritrea from addressing the Council, while choreographing the shameless video conference of Meles Zenawi and other Horn leaders brought together to “strengthen sanctions” against Eritrea, is another sad record in the diplomatic and political relationship between the two countries. The obvious abuse of power and undermining of African institutions such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) and using them as bully pulpits in order to advance US interests in the region are acts of the Obama Administration, which will not be “worthy to be remembered”
The people of Eritrea everywhere rejected the illegal, unfair and unjust sanctions from the get go. The truth about Eritrea and Somalia have since been exposed and the fact that the sanctions were based on false and unsubstantiated allegations, “evidences” cooked by Ethiopia and its handlers is a well-known fact. Through their letters and the historic 22 February 2010 worldwide demonstrations, they protested and voiced their concerns. But the Obama Administration insists on maintaining its assault on the State of Eritrea, its people and leadership to this day.
Realizing that its sanctions regime were losing support, in 2012, another assault by the Obama Administration was launched by way of the UN Human Rights Commission. A resolution was adopted at the behest of the United States and its surrogates and pursuant to that resolution, a Special Rapporteur for Eritrea was appointed and a couple of years later, the Commission of Inquiry was established. Once again, the accusations leveled against the State of Eritrea have not been substantiated and the evidence presented remains questionable and not independently verifiable.
When President Barack Obama gave what was to be the last State of the Union address of his presidency on Tuesday 12 January 2015, Eritrean communities across the United States like their counterparts in Africa, Asia and the Middle East were engaged in their own historic effort. They were engaged in a global effort, collecting and sending thousands of letters of testimony to the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea before its 15 January 2016 deadline on submissions. Unlike his first address in 2009, it did not garner much of their attention. The people of Eritrea everywhere have written thousands of letters rejecting the COIE report, questioning the credibility and impartiality of its authors and its dubious self-serving collaborators. They also reject the COIE’s misrepresentation of Eritrean society, its exemplary customs, cultures and traditions of ethnic and religious respect and tolerance.
Throughout President Barack Obama’s tenure in office, sovereign Eritrean territories including Badme, remained under Ethiopian occupation. December 2015 marked the 15 anniversary of the signing of the Algiers Agreements between Eritrea and Ethiopia, an agreement witnessed and guaranteed by the United States and others. 13 April 2016 will mark the 14th anniversary since the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission delivered its final and binding delimitation decision on the Eritrea Ethiopia border. These anniversaries are also a reminder of the Obama Administration’s conspicuous silence on Ethiopia’s continued violations of Eritrea’s sovereignty, the EEBC’s decisions and international law. They also belie his Administrations persistent calls for “respect of international law” at various international forums.
In his inaugural speech in 2008, President Barack Obama seemed to be speaking the language of Eritreans and many believed that he really understood what nation building entailed, when he said:
“…In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom…For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops, and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip, and plowed the hard earth…Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions… We are not quitters…amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future…”
But Eritreans soon found out that, that was not a recipe for all, and Eritrea would be punished for pursuing a similar route of self-reliance, hard work and sacrifice to rebuild her war torn economic, social and political infrastructures. Eritrea’s nation building strategies and policies were undermined and ridiculed and Eritrea is today being summoned to the UN Human Rights Council for pursuing the dreams and aspirations of her people and charting her own destiny and for encouraging her citizens, like the Americans back then, to see that Eritrea as “bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions”. Eritreans, like Americans, are also not quitters and take full responsibility, and are perfectly capable of charting their own futures.
On Tuesday 12 January 2016, during his last State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about his hopes and dreams for the United States and the future of all its people:
“…That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Undaunted by challenge. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future…”
There was a lot of hope placed in the Obama Administration, and considering it was really the first time that Eritrean Americans had participated in US elections in such great numbers, it has been a disappointing Administration and exposed the contempt for Africa that still prevails in Washington. For Eritrean Americans, President Barack Obama’s presidency added salt to the decades’ long injuries. His Administration will be remembered as one which continued the incoherent US policy for the region in general, and Ethiopia in particular. His legacy, unless he reverses his Administrations hostile stance towards Eritrea, annuls the illegal, unfair and unjust sanctions and restores Eritrea’s sovereignty by compelling Ethiopia to end its 15 yearlong occupation, will not be one that will be “worthy to be remembered” by Eritreans.
As Eritrea prepares to celebrate the 25th Independence Anniversary on 24th May 2016, the Eritrean people remain hopeful. Despite the incredible defamation and vilification campaigns and attempts to diplomatically, economically and politically isolate Eritrea, the peoples’ defiant resolve persists, and once again, the world has come to a new awareness and better understanding about the young nation and its people. Eritrea, like the United States, is a country that is loved by its magnanimous people, who are courageous and determined and remain “undaunted by challenge”…their struggle against all odds will be forever etched in memory and history as, “something worthy to be remembered”…