Opportunities for Tigari in Post-Esayass Eritrea
By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, March 16, 2018
The moment has arrived to do away with the old and self-serving adversaries of the dying regime and focus instead on the active youth movement.
It has been nearly 18 years since the Ethio-Eritrea border came to a conclusion resulting in a humiliating defeat to the President of the Red Sea nation who initiated the unnecessary conflict that claimed the lives of thousands of people on both sides. The so called ‘no war, no peace’ status quo has been in place since the conclusion of the conflict in 2000 and both sides do not seem to be in a rush to bring it to an end. And the Eritrean supremo seized this opportunity to safeguard and maintain his grip on power by denying his people basic human rights, democracy and the rule of law by citing an illusionary state of war with Ethiopia.
Not only is the Eritrean leader repressing his own citizens, but he is also actively involved, on behest of his controller, Egypt, in the destabilisation of Ethiopia using organisations such as G-7, OLF, ONLF and Al-Shebab of lawless Somalia. This situation is no longer tenable and Ethiopia must take measures deemed necessary to settle the longstanding border issue as a matter of utmost urgency. Breaking the link between the Eritrean dictator and his foreign backers who would not rest until the home of the Blue Nile slips into a civil war is paramount.
At the present time, there are only two options available for Ethiopia to resolve the border impasse and curtail Eritrea’s destructive activities. The first is to accept The Hague ruling and hand-over Badme, and the second is to remove the Eritrean tyrant without resorting to war and negotiate with his predecessors for an amicable solution. But opting for option one would not solve the problem as the despotic leader of Eritrea is likely to come up with new brute force backed pretexts to extend his tenure and continue with his subversive agenda. Egypt and other Arab countries intent on scuppering Ethiopia’s desire to harness the Blue Nile to generate energy will do anything possible to ensure their man remains at the helm.
It is patently disingenuous of the self-appointed President to assert that democracy and ratification of the Eritrean constitution have been on hold because of the ‘no war, no peace’ situation with Ethiopia. But a cross-section of Eritreans and others firmly believe that the main reason for not opening up the political space is to avoid accountability for all the crimes he committed over the last 18 years or possibly longer dating back to era of the armed struggle.
Going for the second alternative is the best scenario for Ethiopia as it is likely to initiate a cordial and friendly relationship with its historically-tied next door neighbour once the current Eritrean leader is out of the way. This, in tandem with fair political participations of all legally registered political parties in Ethiopia, will certainly deny external foes the chance to incite a bloody civil war and precipitate a fracture along ethnic lines. But in the first instance, Ethiopia ought to seriously consider ditching the current ineffective Eritrean opposition groups operating from Ethiopia if it wants to exert a meaningful influence on post-Esayass politics. In any case, most of them happen to be ex-EPLF and ELF fighters put together to settle old scores with their ex-comrade-in arms.
With all the political, social and political problems in Eritrea, the opposition parties have failed to win the confidence of their people in addition to their dereliction to threaten or weaken the oppressive regime that has been in power since 1991. Consequently, the unremitting oppression is enduring and shows no sign of abating. Clearly, the President’s position is not gravely threatened and this has left him with ample time in his hands to engineer critical quandaries in the immediate neighbourhood. The moment has arrived to do away with the old and self-serving adversaries of the dying regime and focus instead on the active youth movement and earnestly participate in helping them to launch political parties that could assume power in the aftermath of the present incumbent.
Equally important are establishing strong links with friendly exiled civic organisations, artists, journalists, political activists and media personalities that could possibly sway politicians immediately after Shabiya’s reign ends. Similarly, the Ethiopian government should seriously consider allowing the 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers kept in various camps in Tigrai to freely move and be treated in the same way as the indigenous citizens. No doubt they will be grateful to the Ethiopian people for being there at the time of their greatest need. It is perfectly understandable to raise security issues, but why would these disfranchised people who risked their lives to make it to the Ethiopian border pose a threat to a country that made them feel at home?
Also it is imperative to work and create a strong bond with Eritrean Muslims in order to make them receptive to Ethiopia’s presence in their country when Esayass is finished. Eritrean regions bordering Tigrai such as Akele Guzay and Serai have strong affinity with their kin south of the boundary and would welcome back Ethiopia with open arms. At present, Shabiya’s core support emanates from a minority that hail from Hamsien largely scattered in the diaspora. Because of their strong connection with the organisation and incredible dislike for Woyane, they may not be as accommodating as the other two highlanders but it would not be too difficult to side-line them with a bit of subtle diplomacy.
Resolving the longstanding Eritrean issue not only brings qualitative changes to Ethiopia’s security, but it would also afford an economic foot-hold in a country where there has not been any meaningful economic activity since independence. Eritrea’s economic woes were compounded further as a result of the forcible placement of the productive youth in SAWA concentration camp and closures of institutes of higher education including Asmara University( 1958-2003) depriving the small nation skilled man power that would have participated in the socio-economic development of their country.
In Eritrea, more that 80% of the population rely on farming, and yet in a good rainy season, the country can only produce a third of its annual food needs and the other two-thirds are being met by international food aid programmes (The Brogen Project, 2014). This is an excellent opportunity for Ethiopia in general and next door Tigrai in particular to move-in and cover the short-falls in agricultural products.
Soon after Esayass’ elimination, Eritrea is likely to commence new infrastructure development projects to kick start its economy; and this another opening for Tigrai based SUR construction with an annual turn-over of birr 2,900 million( 2013-2014) and a wealth of experience in projects such as hydro- electric power, road construction, buildings and airfields under its belt. Its work can be complemented by Messbo Cement which has 2000 employees and produces 2 million tons of cement annually. To reduce its transportation costs, Messbo acquired 200 German made trucks last year (global cement, 26 April 2017). Eritrea’s Gedem Cement Factory can only produce 20,000 bags daily which is insignificant compared to Messbo; and because of its proximity to Tigrai, it will benefit greatly from reduced delivery time and low transport costs.
Other companies that can take advantage of the Eritrean market include Raya Brewery with a production capacity of 750,000 hectolitres annually and yearly turnover of 1.607 billion birr which is incomparable with Eritrea’s Melotti Brewery which can only produce 50,000 bottles monthly( Wikipedia). In a nutshell, a reformed EFFORT led by business managers of proven track record would be in pole position to compete using the multi-sector companies it has under its wings. Of course, it is not a one way business transaction as Eritrean Establishments will also have the opportunities to compete in Tigrai and other parts of Ethiopia. But it is pretty evident that owing to Shabiya’s contraband economy, and decades of complete misrule, it will take many years for the Red Sea nation to simply revert to what it was before independence. As result, Eritrean businesses are certain to face difficulties competing with large multi-billion companies with awesome track records behind them. When an opportunity knocks at your door, grab it with both hands.
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