If you heard Prime Minister Meles Zenawi last year announcing a new strategy against the Asmara regime, the latest attacks on military camps deep inside Eritrean territories should come as no surprise.
Described as a declaration of war by Eritrean diplomats at the time, the strategy was to effectively respond to Eritrea’s regime attacks in kind.
The three Eritrean military camps destroyed by Ethiopian army last week are the first apparent realization of the new approach.
Showing to the world that Asmara has fewer friends than one may imagine, the big players only asked both sides to ‘show restraint’; when in fact it was only Ethiopia who waged assaults and the Eritrean regime surprisingly vowed not to retaliate. Of course this is only a fact if you discount Italy’s stance to effectively support Eritrea’s subversive activities by denouncing Ethiopia’s rights to defend itself. Who was supporting Gaddafi until the last minute? If once again Italy wants to back another disturbed leader, good luck to them.
Asmara should not blame anybody but itself for its isolation. There is literally no neighbor it didn’t clash with since its birth some 20 years ago. From the establishment of the Somalia transitional government to the election of Barack Obama, on almost any major agenda Asmara chooses to stand apart from Africans and most of the world.
Back in September when the United Nations was busy contemplating the next moves against his country, the Eritrean leader in his speech to the General Assembly said that he had different pressing matters, like trying to prove to the world that he is vindicated since most of the global problems didn’t come to an end because of Obama’s election.
The self absorbed Washington, as Isaias Afewerki may well understand, doesn’t care if human rights are respected or not across Africa.
Under their biggest ally, PM Meles’ regime, whether or not the opposition has a space to operate and if suppression is making violent opposition grow threatening the stability of the country are all irrelevant concerns. They continue to send billions to ‘the war on terror ally’. That being said however, who said Obama is another messiah to save the world which now more than ever has other big players at the table, giving African dictators more bargaining chips against Washington if it goes out of the way to push for democracy.
As Americans want to proclaim when criticized, the extent to Africa’s democracy is of African’s success and failure. I would also say that the aid, since it is coming any way, should have helped democratization as promised by Obama in Accra.
But last time I checked, Isaias Afewerki isn’t an Ethiopian opposition leader or a human right activist. With or without Washington’s aide, he has the absolute authority to do good by his people who used to adore him.
What went wrong was that Eritrea’s regime, with its tiny country and the six million people it suppresses, wanted to be more equal among the sub region’s equals. More insanely the regime saw war as a means to this goal.
After losing the conflict in 2000 with Ethiopia, at a cost of 100,000 dear lives, the latest approach seems to be partnering with anybody with any crazy idea against the Ethiopian government.
The news of abductions and killings including foreign tourists, not to mention the insecurity the locals there must feel, is not a reality we have to learn to live with. Especially when we can do something about it, such as going after the camps the attackers come from, as we just started to.
Despite Meles’ personal infamous tolerance, even for an outright invasion in 1998, he now seems to command a self initiated strategy or a group directed tit for tat approach.
As officials say, there is no turning back. The ball is now in Asmara’s court. What will they do? I am not sure even God knows what Isaias Afewerki will do. But what President Isaias should do is rather simple.
Talking to his former buddy would be a very good start.
Isaias will not find a more sensible partner than Meles. If Meles steps down before the much needed normalization process between the two countries is started, he may find it impossible to find listening ears from the remaining TPLF hardcore.
More than anything however, a peace with Ethiopia means a lot more for the Eritreans he must still care for. They will have a break from preparing for another war, and they can enjoy more economic opportunities including coming here and rejoining the international fore.
I personally would like to see more than a stable Eritrea. A prosperous and democratic Eritrea; a country that doesn’t abduct independent journalists or imprison a patriarch is hardly more than what Eritreans deserve after all they have gone through. It may appear ironic to wish this for Eritrea while living in a country that rights groups say forces more journalists to flee than any country on the planet. To our regime’s defense, the ideals are in place. We just have to start appreciating them. But for Eritrea, it is a job that starts from zero.
Also, despite both Meles’ and Isaias’ indifference to a united, strong Ethiopia; Ethiopia’s landlocked growing economy that overheats from unbearable overhead costs including paying for port services and the equally apparent worthlessness of Eritrea’s assets which are otherwise vital economic powers if capitalized by Ethiopia, are more evidence to a noble call for an absolute cooperation if not for an outright unification.
It so happens that these days from Axum to Lalibela, Ethiopia’s history that dates back three thousand years seems to shrink by the day to a couple of hundred years and to a size of city governments. However, history would be on my side if I dare dream of a unified Ethiopia with an Eritrean territory as an autonomous federal state.
What seems right to demand of Asmara at the moment is however only to stop sending militants to attack Ethiopia.
As our diplomats said last week, it is time to talk, not to shoot. It would be benefiting for the two countries, peoples and their futures to start a dialogue and to start it soon. More importantly, it is a smart thing for the Asmara regime to do.