Eritrea has come under heavy criticism from the US and the United Nations for its military ties with nuclear ambitious Iran and Somali militants with Al-Quada connections. I spoke with Woldeyesus, Head of the Eritrean People´s Party, and I first asked him what President Isayas hoped to achieve by continuing to associate himself as head of state and government with globally ostracized leaders and entities, among them Iran´s Ahmadinejad and Somalia´s al-Shabaab.
Woldeyesus: All past actions and reactions of Isayas Afwerki have proven beyond doubt - to all sensible Eritreans and to the world at large - the sheer irrationality of the man. His associations and diplomatic relations cannot be expected to have any logic, and one should forget about any immediate or long-term benefits from such associations to the people Isayas is supposed to be leading. For sure, the Eritrean petty dictator obtains financial benefits from globally ostracized regimes and organizations that help him fund his security apparatus as well as his aggressive and meaningless adventures in the region. In short, by his irrational associations with this and that rogue regime and terrorist outfits, Isayas may hope to ´bully´ and thus draw the attention of Europe and the United States. Unfortunately, he sometimes feels his misdeeds serve him well – e.g. look at the recent 122 million euro grant from the Europeans with the illusive hope of keeping open "a window" for dialogue with Isayas lest the man and his regime do worse than what they are doing. But isayas cannot do worse to Eritrea and its neighborly peoples. We feel the sane world should stop living in illusion and, instead, make pressure bear on Isayas and cut short his lunacy.
Michael: There are reports of alleged Eritrean transfer of weapons to Al-Shabaab and other militants fighting to topple the UN-backed interim administration in Somalia. What should be US and UN reaction?
Woldeyesus: The UN and the US will not follow EU´s delusion and still dream of keeping open "windows" for dialogue with a deaf regime that has for decades ignored all calls for the resolution of problems in a civilized manner. Today, Eritreans are not only politically suffocated but also being famished to death. Thousands are languishing in countless prisons, and thousands of others have fled the country. In a just world, the United States and the UN would be expected to salvage Eritrea from total collapse. This can be done through several means within their reach. They can impose a total blockage on the regime. They can also empower, through several possible means, Eritreans in the Diaspora who are intimidated and exploited by the regime that holds their relatives hostage inside the country. Gone are the days of liberation movements. But still, we can talk of democratic opposition forces working outside the country because they are banned from existence inside the homeland. There should be serious consideration of supporting democratic alternatives to dictatorial regimes like that of Isayas by providing political and material support to opposition Diaspora organizations and civil societies in the form of capacity-building and raising people´s awareness for human rights and democracy. The EU is not yet willing to do this. And so are the Americans.
Michael: Eritrea has a sovereign right to give bases to anyone. And there are reports of a secret military pact purportedly allowing Iran to open a military base at the Red Sea port of Assab. Given Iran’s nuclear ambitions and hostile anti-western stance, would the US or Israel tolerate a military base there?
Woldeyesus: I cannot doubt that Isayas can rush where the devil fears to tread, as they say. Internal sources close to the regime have disclosed this report to the opposition sometime back. Of course granting a military base to Iran at Assab will prove yet another adventure by the absolute ruler in Asmara, and it can be disastrous. However, it is not only the United States and Israel who would be concerned by the presence of nuclear Iran at the Straits of Bab El Mandeb. France, and then the whole of Europe and almost the entire Arab world would be concerned. No one will tolerate it. But, as we know Isayas, he can try such an adventure and a provocation for limited benefits.