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ERITREA, MINING AND THE WHY NOTS OF CHARLES WYATT

As if Eritrea has absolutely nothing to do with the Horn of Africa region, Charles Wyatt begins his article [Eritrea is the new frontier for mining companies, even in spite of UN sanctions – posted at Minesite.com] with a ‘history/geography lesson’ by locating Eritrea just outside the Horn and framing Somalia as main body worth designating to be called the Horn while blaming Ethiopia for ‘pestering’ Eritrea and Sudan is a bit too far up in the north to be included. Djibouti? It just happens to be there.

That, in a nutshell, is the geography of the Horn – according to Wyatt. What is he driving at?

In his brief history lesson on Eritrea (1890 –1993), he comes up with the classic storyline – without the rough edges – even Eritreans themselves repeat ad infinitum and hence, nothing new there.

In his short history of Eritrea, Wyatt deliberately fails to mention that soon after the 1998 border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia was settled in December of 2000, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission passed the judgment that Eritrea was the aggressor in igniting the conflict and, more specifically, that it was accused for using disproportionate military response in trying to settle a relatively minor clash along the borders of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea accepted the judgment and took the responsibility.

He goes on to blame the UN for imposing sanctions on Eritrea – again as if it has nothing to do with subversive acts to further destabilize the already precarious and volatile political conditions in Somalia. In his eyes, Eritrea is a victim of regional and international conspiracy that is working hard to undermine its sovereignty and that Eritrea is doing its best to ‘hold its corner’. He writes, “... and that's hardly what the UN envisaged when it put in the sanctions at the behest of the US.” He is probably not aware that it was the African Union that took the initiative to inform and urge the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Eritrea.

What is Charles Wyatt really after?

According to him again, all is well in Eritrea and that its goldmine is just lying there waiting to be extracted and that it has ‘a very sensible mining code’ and that its return on investment is promising. He has not compared Eritrea’s long-term share to other resource-rich countries. Not unlike the classic gold rush of the Wild West, no wonder global mining corporations are rushing to Eritrea and Wyatt is doing his bit to reassure shareholders and encourage potential investors to turn a blind eye and rush.

All that glitters is not gold, and definitely not in Eritrea.

Wyatt has the audacity to portray ‘little’ Eritrea [according to him] as the leading nation in the region to have managed to organize a geo-conference on the prospects of mining operations in the ‘Arabian-Nubian Shield’ and goes on further to tell the UN to eat its hear out!

In his overgenerous article on the good news for modern Eritrea, Wyatt refuses to see the dark elephant in the room. He writes as if the Government of Eritrea is the sole owner of the mining resources in Eritrea. The only reference he makes of the Eritrean people is that they are (using Rupert Baring’s words): proud, independent and honest and that he [Baring] has never seen any sign of the corruption endemic in so many parts of Africa.

Who is corrupting who in Africa now?

Has Wyatt tried to invest a little effort in doing research (may be he does know anyway) on Eritrea’s:

  • human rights record
  • independent media shutdown
  • slave labour
  • indefinite national service
  • number of prisoners
  • number of hidden prisons
  • severe prison conditions
  • number of Eritreans fleeing the country
  • widespread poverty and encroaching famine
  • absence of private enterprise and opposition parties
  • displaced village communities to make way for mining

Yet, Wyatt is still happy to endorse the Baring’s statement that “he has never seen any sign of the corruption endemic in so many parts of Africa”.

All that is left for Mr. Charles Wyatt to do now is to visit and read reports by quite a few concerned and prominent international organizations on human rights and freedom of speech areas, another few government reports with a spice of independent and reliable Eritrean websites

This is where the Canadian Bill C-300 comes in.

It is a legislation waiting in the pipeline that is aimed at curbing Canadian mining corporations from brushing off their corporate responsibility – especially when operating in countries where peoples are incapable of holding these corporations accountable for their impact on the environment and vast human settlements on their own soils.

Failing that, Canadian and other mining corporations will be acting irresponsibly and behave in way that encourages business-as-usual attitudes by ignoring well-documented abuses that are being committed by the Government of Eritrea. For its part, this Government is unrepentant and unwilling to be held accountable for all the atrocities and hence, it cannot be trusted to guarantee equitable share of the nation’s resources. It doesn’t have the political, social and economic infrastructure to administer or deliver and nor does it have any plans to change its governance ethic in the foreseeable future.

In fact, in spite of Wyatt’s assertion that the future is bright for Eritrea, the output of the current and massive mining operations might spell more disaster for the stability of the Horn of Africa.

Whenever Eritrea is accused of any wrong-doing within its borders or on neighboring countries, the Government of Eritrea and its apologists have a mantra that is written on a stone tablet: where is the evidence?

1 June 2010

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For those who are not yet familiar with the evidence, here are some.

BBC

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8428881.stm

The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on Eritrea, accusing the country of backing Islamist insurgents in Somalia. The resolution places an arms embargo on Eritrea, and also imposes travel bans and asset freezes on businesses and individuals. Members of the Eritrean leadership are expected to be affected. Eritrean officials have repeatedly denied the allegations, calling them a "fabrication" of US intelligence. The resolution was backed by 13 votes to 15. China abstained while Libya, the only Arab council member, voted against.

Amnesty International http://thereport.amnesty.org/sites/default/files/AIR2010_AZ_EN.pdf#page=84

Freedom of expression was severely restricted and legitimate criticism of the government suppressed. Independent journalism, political opposition, unregistered religious groups and civil society were highly restricted. Perceived critics of the government remained in detention. Deserters from the armed forces, those evading mandatory military conscription, and their families, were harassed, imprisoned and subjected to ill-treatment. Family members of

detainees reported that international communication was monitored by the government and could lead to reprisals.

Reporters Without Borders

http://en.rsf.org/eritrea-world-s-biggest-prison-for-17-09-2009,34480.html

Eritrea now has at least 30 journalists and two media workers behind bars, which means that, exactly eight years after the round-ups of 18 September 2001 that put an end to free expression, it has achieved parity with China and Iran in terms of the number of journalists detained.

“Eritrea’s prisoners of conscience are not just the victims of their jailers’ cruelty,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They are also, and even more so, the victims of indifference, tacit consent or overly timid efforts on the part of the country’s international ‘partners’. The Eritrean government has become a disgrace for Africa.”

IREX

http://irex.org/programs/MSI_Africa/2008/eritrea.asp

Indeed, last year Eritrea scored the lowest of all countries studied by the MSI, not only in Africa but when compared to the countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe studies as well. One panelist wrote, “…the first MSI Eritrea report of last year was an eye opener for Eritreans. A lot of people didn’t know or didn’t want to admit it was that bad. Everyone understands the importance of strong media sector to support governance and development—particularly in Africa.” Eritrea again scored the lowest of all countries studied in 2008.

These results very much reflect the extent of damage that has been, and is being, inflicted on the media sector and the formidable challenges Eritrea faces to develop and establish an independent media culture in the coming years.

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

http://www.uscirf.gov/images/ar2010/eritrea2010.pdf

The religious freedom situation in Eritrea remains grave, particularly for Jehovah’s Witnesses,

members of other smaller, non-traditional religious groups such as Evangelical and Pentecostal

Christians, and dissident Muslims. The government continues to intervene in the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, the country’s largest Christian denomination, and to suppress Muslim religious activities or groups viewed as radical or simply as opposed to the government-appointed head of the Muslim community. Despite these well documented reports, Eritrean officials continue to deny that there is religious repression in Eritrea, claiming that their actions are necessary to maintain social harmony.

Human Rights Watch

http://www.hrw.org/africa/eritrea

Eritrea has avoided international attention in recent years in ways that may have protected the Red Sea country's rulers from proper scrutiny but benefit no one else. Even those who recall that the continent's youngest state gained its unlikely independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a bloody thirty-year struggle may be shocked to hear that the optimistic nationalism of the 1990s has been dissolved under President Isaias Afewerki into a despairing void, causing thousands of Eritreans to flee the country that they fought so hard to establish.

 
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