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Correcting a distorted narrative

Regrettably, New African’s article  on “Eritrea-Ethiopia Tensions”  (July 2016), uncritically  relied on two Africa “experts”  for its perspectives on Eritrea.  Both  are avowed Eritrea detractors  who haven’t  been in Eritrea  for almost   two decades. Consequently,   the narrative projected  was replete  with  a litany of factual  errors,  bias and inherently flawed analysis.

The author even indulges, taking his cue from Dan Connell, in un-professional   and libellous invective on the person of the President. Connell   is no ordinary journalist. He is a self-professed agitator for “regime change” in Eritrea, a known operative – “an embedded mole and foot soldier” – doing the bidding of higher powers.  He distorts Eritrea’s reality to rally support for his zealous “liberating   mission” –  another “white man’s burden”, so to speak.

The oversight isn’t limited  to lack of full disclosures  of the informants’ motives.  Ethiopia’s unprovoked  aggression  against  Eritrea  last June  is depicted  as merely another  episode in a perennial  “border  dispute”. Both countries  agreed  to settle their “border  dispute”  through   international  court  adjudicated   “final and binding”  arbitration.   Eritrea accepted  the ruling.  Bur Ethiopia’s decision   to renege on its treaty obligations   has and continues  to stoke tension.   This,  however, doesn’t diminish   the legality  and finality  of the settlement.

Ethiopia’s  attack  in June  had nothing  to do with  the putative “border  dispute”.   Ethiopia’s   regime doesn’t  deny this indelible  fact either.  Its confused  and contradictory press statements   dithered  from blanket denial   to belated  rationalization of its unlawful  act as a “response to subversive proxy activities.  Besides distracting   from Ethiopia’s obvious internal   quandaries,   the attack  was intended  to advance ocher hostile agendas.

Furthermore,   among  numerous errors and misconceptions,   the author  states:   the” international community   has always viewed Eritrea’s  existence  with  disdain”. This sweeping generalization   is grossly inaccurate.

True, Washington  has persistently  opposed Eritrea’s  legitimate national  rights  at every historic juncture.   Successive  US administrations   supported   and armed Ethiopia’s  wars against  Eritrea. Post-9/11,   with  Ethiopia  christened an  “anchor”  state, an ally in the crusade against  terror,  misguided   US policies resurfaced.   Washington   has gone co extreme  lengths  to provide diplomatic  support  for Ethiopia’s refusal   to abide by the ruling  of the Permanent  Court   of Arbitration.

Influential   though the US may be, a bellwether  of international behaviour it isn’t.  Eritrea  enjoys normative  diplomatic   and economic cooperation   with  all other  major powers, countries  and multilateral institutions:    including   UN  agencies, the AfDB  and the AU. For instance, this year Eritrea and the EU signed   a €22o m agreement slated for energy development.   Foreign investment, particularly   in the extractive-industry,    remains   high with numerous  multinational   companies participating.

To portray  Eritrea  as “an isolated, hermit  kingdom”   is thus a deliberate distortion   peddled   mostly by US-funded   outfits.  As one “Western embassy” in Eritrea  emphasised  to a Danish  Fact Finding  Mission:  “Eritrea has fallen victim  to a massive propaganda   campaign   from other countries,  especially  Ethiopia  and its allies … Human   rights  reports from international   NGOs either lack knowledge  of Eritrea  or they are part  of the propaganda   against the country.”

These detractors deliberately maintain   that  Eritrea’s  “self-reliance” policy is isolationist. The policy champions  an independent   political line.  Economically   it mobilises one’s own resources and internal capacities  for development.   It aims to develop self-confidence  that  leads to an unswerving  commitment  to stand  on one’s own  feet rather  than be subjected  to the denigration   that comes with  aid-dependency   and  its crippling  conditionality.   Assistance is acceptable  provided  equal partnership   is consented   to. As attested to by independent   observers,  the policy  isn’t without   its success.

Eritrea  is one of a few African countries  to meet most of the UN Millennium   Development   Goals by achieving   considerable  success in health  and education,  without donor  aid.
Within   chis  milieu,  some are mobilised  to distort  this remark able African  experiment.   Eritrea’s achievements  in the face of sustained  hostilities  aren’t  inconsequential   to the repertoire  of African experiences.   To parse its lessons requires a sincere,  contextualised examination.   Context   is everything!

  • H.E. Estifanos Habtemarlam, Eritrean Ambassador, UK & Eire

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