Many Diaspora Eritreans are engaged in serious and rational discussions about the UN sanctions to counter ruling PFDJ’s attempts to influence public opinion mainly through its media outlets. Pockets of PFDJ sponsored anti-sanction protests and appeals for reversal of the UN decision are currently underway. The new Media and Human Rights Project (MHRP) has asked a number of Eritrean activists and independent thinkers for their views on the sanctions. While there is a general consensus on why the UN has decided to punish the Eritrea regime, the perspectives presented here are varied and distinct from each other. We hope readers would join in this discussion and send in their feedback to contact addresses below.
We are beginning this series of interviews with human and political rights activist Abdurahman Alsayed (UK) who is Executive Member of London based CDRiE, Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea.
MHRP: Some experts say the regime could easily have avoided the sanctions by making some concessions, for instance, recognizing the UN backed interim Somali government and denouncing Al-Shabab’s terrorism. Others claim that the regime wanted the sanctions to happen so that Eritreans will continue not to pay attention to injustices at home. Do you agree with such view?
ABDURAHMAN ALSAYED: I don’t think recognition of one entity or the other warrants UN resolution, nor do I believe the Somali conflict would come to an end for lack of support from the PFDJ. I believe the major regional and international players have made up their mind to punish the PFDJ regime, and in doing so, they may be using Somalia as a convenient pretext. In any case, Eritreans have no alternative but to keep their attention focused on the PFDJ as the main cause of our national pain. As long as the current repressive and undemocratic system is in place, Eritrea’s problems will only increase and eventually endanger the very existence of our sovereign nation.
Q: Why hasn’t the UN made public the evidence used to justify the sanctions?
Probably the evidence may implicate other countries or they may not have any evidence at all. Remember, the issue of Somalia is more of a concern to Ethiopia, Kenya and America than it is to Eritrea. Ethiopia and Kenya occupy Somali territories – Ogaden/Somalia Kilel and NFD (Northern Frontier District) respectively, while America has some security concerns emanating from the failed state situation. This means, the three countries may be more involved in the Somali conflict through supporting one group or the other than any other country, including Eritrea. Hence bringing out any evidence that overlooks the interference of others may fail to find buyers and harm the credibility of the body that issues it.
Q: With the sanctions, the international community wants to tame the Asmara regime while the Eritrean people want their liberty. Where is all this leading to?
A: In reality the UN Sanctions won’t necessarily help resolve the Inter-Somali conflict. This is a conflict that needs a different approach to what has been tabled so far. (see my previous article on this). Instead, the sanctions may help the Eritrean people as it may become an opportunity for Eritrean democrats to use the momentum to bring the attention of the international community to the plight of the Eritrean people.
Q: There is news of some pockets of anti-sanction protests by Diaspora government supporters in some western cities. Who are these protesters and isn’t it a bit late now for a plea not to implement the sanctions.
A: In the absence of leadership and credible opposition, it is always possible for ordinary people to be confused and search for solution to Eritrea’s problem elsewhere. However, the overwhelming majority of Eritreans today realize that the real problem in Independent Eritrea is the PFDJ leadership and not the UNSC Resolution 1907 or any other external factors. PFDJ’s refusal to opt for democratic and constitutional governance is depriving Eritrea of opportunities to prosper and contribute to regional and international peace and stability. It is sad to see our once a promising country being considered an outcast among the nations of our region. The main cause for this state of affairs is no one but the PFDJ leadership. Any genuine Eritrea loving Eritrean should therefore direct her or his resource towards putting pressure on the PFDJ leadership to change course and pave the way towards democracy and rule of law.
Q: Do you think the opposition forces are doing enough to take advantage of the UN sanctions? What should they be doing at the moment?
A: To answer the first part of your question, It is no secret that the opposition camp is often busy with petty issues and eaten out by unnecessary internal bickering, which undermines any chances of our taking appropriate advantage of any opportunity. In view of this situation, one has to be realistic and should not raise public expectation concerning the opposition making any use of any opportunity.
As for the second part of your question, I think our Diaspora civil society groups enjoy greater flexibility and are better placed to set up a joint-committee or joint task force (JTF), draft joint action plan and move on to utilize the UNSC Resolution 1907 in a way that would help the people of Eritrea attain freedom from tyranny and put PFDJ injustices to an immediate end.
Q: The Eritrean regime believes it is in Somalia in order to weaken Ethiopia which it says might be mulling to take over Assab by force. Is that a good enough reason to side with terrorists?
A: I am not aware of this saying, but if true, then certainly that is not a good enough reason. That said, there is no doubt there is unresolved conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which makes the two sides weary of each other’s actions and movements in the region. Moreover, Ethiopia with its 85 million people is now aspiring to assert its regional hegemony. As such, it is an open secret that the Ethiopian ruling elite see Somalia as part of their “sphere of influence”, and may keep trying to extend that influence to include other Horn of Africa countries and beyond. This will always raise legitimate concerns for Eritreans and non-Eritreans, and may not help regional peace and stability. Instead, there are reasonable options to integrate the Horn of Africa region through some form of Confederation and economic integration, which can potentially minimize conflicts and open the doors for political integration in the long run.
On the question of Assab, one has to be fair that PM Meles Zenawi is on the record with regard to his total respect for Eritrea’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I believe the question of “Baduma” should not confuse this principled stand that the TPLF under the leadership of PMMZ have upheld since the liberation struggle through to this day. In addition, the Tigrayan elite may be more interested in having a corridor to the Red Sea through somewhere between our two ports – Massawa and Assab – instead of Assab. Assab is more of a dream to the Amhara elite within Ethiopia. Nonetheless, as indicated above, the hegemonic aspirations within the Ethiopian ruling elite may lead them to think along the lines of having satellite states that enjoy artificial sovereignty and independence, but remain strongly influenced by Ethiopia. This is not unusual in international relations. You can compare this to Russia’s sphere of influence in Central Asia, Syria’s relations with Lebanon, America’s influence in Latin America, especially during the Cold War era etc. But one has to ascertain here that this hegemonic aspiration is not an easy ride and will face continuous resistance from Eritrean, Somali and Sudanese nationalists. The best alternative way to spare the region ongoing mistrust and instability is to pursue the line of promoting common economic interests through regional economic integration. We already have common social and cultural interests that can be used to achieve mutual economic benefits and eventually lead to regional political integration.
Q: The sanctions are not directed at foreign investors such as Western gold mining companies operating in the country. The regime will probably soon end up making hundreds of millions of US dollars from its mining fields and the money is likely to be used for the purchase of weapons. What should be done?
Regardless of what and who the Sanctions target, I think it is important that Eritrean pro-democracy forces should lobby the Gold Mining companies’ share-holders, Board of Directors and their governments to bring to their attention the suffering of the Eritrean people under the repressive illegitimate governance of the PFDJ regime. I do hope and wish to see our civil society activists to come together and work on this front in a coordinated effort. The sooner this is done, the better. Otherwise, it is likely that the revenue from our country’s natural resources will end up in the coffers of the PFDJ leadership thereby prolonging the suffering of our people.
Q: The main objective of the anti-sanction campaign is said to be collect money from Diaspora Eritreans. Isn’t such activity banned under the sanctions? If so where should the money go?
Money collection may be one thing, but there is also the need for PFDJ to find some excuses to attract public sympathy. Eritreans should start to say to the PFDJ: “No Taxation without Representation”. There are growing reasonable voices within the PFDJ who are challenging their leadership by posing legitimate questions such as Democracy, banning indefinite incarceration of our youth in the so-called “national service”, release of political prisoners etc. These voices of reason should be encouraged and echoed to put effective pressure on the PFDJ leadership to bring their illegitimate rule in Eritrea to an immediate end, and to help in the transformation of the country from their paranoid grip on power towards carefully crafted Constitutional Democratic Governance.
The Sanctions certainly involve the freezing of assets, which means, money belonging to the PFDJ and their identified financial arms will fall under the scrutiny of Resolution 1907.
At present Eritrea is in dire need for food assistance. All and any money collected should therefore go to help the Eritrean people inside Eritrea as well as those in need in refugee camps in Eastern Sudan and Northern Ethiopia.
Q: Why are anti-sanction protests not allowed inside Eritrea?
May be the PFDJ forgot to instruct their “Qebele” officials and security organs to force Eritreans out to rally in “September Square” to protest against the UNSC Resolution 1907. They might have felt the seminars conducted by PFDJ officials inside and outside the country are sufficient for now. Otherwise, it is not difficult for police states like ours to stage public rallies to show popular legitimacy for their otherwise illegitimate rules.
The main point here is that independent gathering is not allowed in Eritrea for fear that they may turn out into expression of public confidence and rejection of the regime.