Thousands of Eritreans refugees demonstrate outside the Israeli Knesset
on January 8, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Impacts of Ethiopia’s multifaceted policy on Eritrea
By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, April 9, 2017
Eritrea committed a costly error when it ignited the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia which ended in its defeat. Ethiopia penetrated deep into Eritrean territory dislocating nearly 650,000 people and destroyed thousands of elite soldiers. Now let us examine the effects of the war on Eritrea and Ethiopia’s policy on the Horn nation since the conflict came to an end in 2000.
The psychological shock of the comprehensive and humiliating defeat is still being felt by the Eritrean government and the people at large. For fear of further attacks, thousands of Eritreans from the age 18 to 55 have been coerced to enlist for national military service for an indefinite period. It is now becoming clearer to the Eritrean authorities that the situation is no longer tenable and needs urgent modification with regard to the duration of stay in the remote and inhospitable military camps. But the Eritrean leader is vehemently opposed to reducing the terms of the service because by releasing thousands of conscripts into the labour market with no employment opportunities would place his precarious position in great peril.
With regard to job prospects, the situation in Eritrea is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future due to the fact that the country does not have a functioning economy capable of generating state revenues needed to increase the pool of vacancies required to absorb draftees discharged from military service. In fact the country appears to be broke as confirmed by the recent introduction of new notes. When Finance Minister Berhane Habtemariam was asked about the sudden change, he retorted ‘’ we had no choice. The coffers of our banks were literally empty.’’
If this is the case, what happened to the £500 million that was obtained from Bisha mining where national service labour is being used to produce gold and other minerals? Has it made its way to HSBC branch in Switzerland where Esayass and his army generals have already deposited $695.2 million? No one knows for sure if the Red Sea nation ever had a budget before but to deceive the Eritrean people as well as and the international community, the Finance Minister further said ’’ We have not given out any information about our budget for seven years because our enemies will use it against us.’’
Eritrea is in dire financial situation, and to just get by, it has been forcibly levying 2% tax on the earnings of its citizens residing abroad which was banned by Resolution 2023 of the UN’s Security Council and is also in breach of the Vienna Convention. And these funds that were collected by intimidation have been invariably used to finance terrorist organisations including Al-Shebab and G-7 and not to increase bread rations for millions of destitute Eritreans. But lately Eritrean embassies have come under intense pressure from their host countries to stop collecting diaspora taxes from their compatriots. In 2013, the Eritrean consul in Toronto, Semere Gebermedhin, was expelled by John Baird, Foreign Affairs Minister, for continuing to blackmail Eritreans residing in Canada. More ever, the Netherlands government has also taken measures to prohibit the collection of the illegal tax by political activists loyal to the Eritrean regime.
In 2009, the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea for supporting extremists and for being actively involved in destabilising Ethiopia and neighbouring Djibouti. And the effect of this has made Eritrea a high political risk resulting in almost no foreign direct investment coming to the tiny Red Sea state. According to Africa Development Bank, the flow of overseas investment to Eritrea is among the lowest in Africa, with only Burundi, the Central Africa Republic and Malawi trailing behind. UN sanctions have substantially weakened Eritrea’s economy affecting the quality of life of its citizens. And this would immeasurably be exacerbated by the fresh punishments imposed on Eritrea by the United States for procuring military equipment from North Korea in breach of the UN’s Resolution 2023.
Economic problems coupled with political repressions have driven hundreds and thousands of Eritreans to seek sanctuary in Ethiopia and various European countries. This has deprived the country the human capital it requires to build the country’s economy and improve the living conditions of millions of Eritreans. Closing the University of Asmara which opened its doors in 1958 has also robbed the nation skilled graduates that would have played an important part in rectifying the deep rooted and extensive economic malaise.
It is obvious that this treasons act was sanctioned by the president himself to prevent the institute of higher education from becoming the centre of opposition to his repressive regime; and no doubt that the grave ramifications of this criminal act would be felt for many generations to come. In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) carried-out a global Human Development Index study and placed Eritrea 186 out of 188 countries just above Central African Republic and Niger.
Tacitly permitting Eritreans to leave their country is intended to make them sources of remittances once they have established themselves in Europe and this has been the case for many years now. But according to Mary Harper, BBC reporter, the diaspora is now using its money to help their families leave Eritrea instead of supporting them at home resulting in a massive plunge in the amount of money coming into Shabiya’s coffers. And the exodus of potential opponents to flee their country has also been adapted as a political safety valve in addition to becoming a fund generating project from the European Union which forked-out millions of Euros to help create employment in Eritrea and prevent potential refugees arriving on its shores.
It is clear that Ethiopia’s policy on Eritrea has had a ravaging effect on its former province and the tiny Horn nation is no longer a military threat to its larger, powerful and prosperous neighbor. At this moment in time, there is no force that can halt the Ethiopian National Defense Forces from occupying Eritrea. But this would offer Egypt an opportunity to play its part in prolonging the crisis by arming its stooge and ward-off Ethiopia from augmenting the socio-economic successes of the last two and half decades.
Of course from time to time, Eritrea causes problems ; but this has not prevented Ethiopia from becoming the fourth largest economy in sub-Sahara Africa; and from simultaneously undertaking billions of dollars worth of projects such as GERD, rail transport, construction of multiple sugar factories just to name a few. In any case, there were ample moments in the past where it was possible to effortlessly dispose of the Eritrean tyrant using his own people but these were not utilized by the Ethiopian government for inexplicable reasons.
Up until May 1998, not many Eritreans dared to publically speak against Esayass, but after the conclusion of the border war, the people began to speak-up against his repressive regime and the universal reverence and adulation he used to enjoy simply dissipated. Separating Shabiya from the people has been achieved; and Woyane is no more viewed as their enemy despite Shabiya’s relentless efforts to blame its nemesis for all the social, political and economic problems that they have been experiencing since the border conflict was initiated. The evidence for this is hundreds and thousands Eritreans who have had enough of the oppressive regime have been crossing into Ethiopia, the ‘enemy’ land for security and better lives.
Ethiopia’s diplomatic clout has not only succeeded in ensuring the imposition of punitive sanctions on Eritrea, but it also secured the support of America and the international community at large, when in 2004 it proposed the five point peace plan to resolve the border stand-off despite the Haig Commission’s ruling in favour of Eritrea. Eritrea’s rejection of the peace overture has led to the current state of no war, no peace. Ethiopia is still in favour of peace and not war as it wants to direct its resources, time and efforts on the tussle against its number one enemy-- poverty. However, in light of Saudi Arabia’s presence in the Horn vicinity, it was correct of the Ethiopia Premier to review the current policy on Eritrea and come-up with alternatives that would expedite the demise of Esayass’ dictatorial regime together with his dogs in the diaspora who are paid to destabilise their own country.
It is worth mentioning here that Saudi’s involvement in Syria has caused the deaths of 470,000 people (as of 2016) and 11 million displacements to simply ensure dominance of its extreme version of Sunni Islam in its Arab neighbor. Having destroyed Syria, the Kingdom has now turned its attention to Yemen where since the conflict begun two years ago 10,000 people have perished.