Going over the Eritrea-Djibouti Peace Agreement with a fine-tooth comb

An English rendition of an incisive Amharic article written by Meles A
Translation By Dilwenberu Nega
July 02 2010

A number of political analysts of the Horn share the view that Ras Dumera must not be viewed as cause for Eritrea’s aggression against Djibouti, but rather the prevailing conditions in Somalia are the more plausible reason. Eritrea feels that she had been stabbed in the back by the fact that Djibouti, along with other nations, had managed to strike a deal between the Transitional Government of Somalia and the dominant wing of Al Shabab led by Sheik Sheriff. This is because the ripple effects of the end of a state of instability in Somalia would have a debilitating effect on terrorist networks from Asmara to Mogadishu.

In a related development, the Government of Eritrea had repeatedly expressed its desire to attack Djibouti in the belief that it would paralyse the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway which serves as Ethiopia’s economic artery. However, because the Ethiopian Government refused to give in to Eritrea’s provocative actions, but had instead kept ploughing ahead with its development program to ground-out abject poverty, Eritrea’s sinister designs failed to materialise. To compare Eritrea with Djibouti militarily, would be like comparing Goliath with David. In its 2004 Report, London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies puts the number of Eritrean soldiers at 200.000 and that of Djibouti at 11.000. Other sources, however, put the number for Eritrea at 300.000. In terms of armaments, aircrafts and naval warship, there is no way that Djibouti could match Eritrea’s might, let alone out flank Eritrea.

Following her unprovoked aggression against and seizure of Djiboutian territory, the Eritrean Government resorted to what it still is good at – turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to calls by IGAD, African Union, Arab League and the United Nations for the restoration of the status quo ante. It instead continued to cover the unadulterated truth by churning out statement after statement denying that its troops had crossed over the Eritrean-Djibouti border, and blaming Eritrea’s enemies for the dissemination of a fabricated story. An article entitled “Eritrea’s stand vis-à-vis its relations with Djibouti,” and posted on Ethio-Journal website carried a letter Eritrea addressed to the United Nation’s Security Council categorically denying that there exists no border issue between the two countries. And now, out of the blue it announced that following a peace deal brokered by Qatar it had withdrawn its troops from Djiboutian territory. By agreeing to pay compensation to Djibouti, Eritrea had in effect acknowledged that it had committed an unprovoked aggression against Djibouti. It even did not wait for the outcome of a Compensation Commission, like it did with Ethiopia. What you notice here, then, is that in the real world of the President of Eritrea, there exists no such value as principle. As far as the Government of Eritrea is concerned, therefore, mendacious behaviour is most welcome as long as removes the day’s obstacle.

There are those who view Eritrea’s decision to strike a deal with Djibouti as a response to UN Security Council Resolution No 1907 which placed travel ban on Eritrean civilian and military officials, and financial embargo on all Eritrean companies with links to the ruling party. The impact of the UN embargo has effectively reduced Eritrea into a pariah state. As the UN embargo on Eritrea was a punitive action against Eritrea’s continued occupation of sovereign Djiboutian territory, against Eritrea’s support to terrorist groups in Somalia and against Eritrea turning a source of instability in the Horn of Africa, the Government is closing the Djibouti dossier by creating an enabling environment for the speedy removal of the UN embargo.

The main features of the 7-point plan Agreement reached by Eritrea and Djibouti in Gordofa include: withdrawal of Eritrean troops, the stationing of a Qatari Peace-keeping Force until a final decision on the claim for the territory is made, the exchange of list of POWs and of those missing and for border delineation work to be carried out by a company, namely, Global Company. The content of the Agreement, however, raises justifiable questions. Nobody knows for sure whether the owner of this company is the Amir of Qatar. How can a border demarcation agreement brought about by a commercial company be regarded as valid and binding? Why is it that they decided to avoid going through the conventional route for such purposes: the International Court of Justice at The Hague? Why is it that the Eritrean Government refrained from making public the alleged signing of the Peace Agreement to its own people? Why is it that none of Eritrea’s media outlets has made any mention about the Agreement? This, in particular spurs us to raise further pertinent question. Why did Al Jezzera, deemed it proper to give full coverage on the far less important news item of talks with Darfur rebels and eschew all together the Eritrea-Djibouti Agreement?

Many commentators of the Horn of Africa agree that the essence of time has everything to do behind the Djibouti Government’s desire to opt for a short-cut approach. Going for the long haul was deemed time consuming, and would not appeal to Djibouti’s desire for quick fix solution. This explains why President Guelleh of Djibouti sought the good offices of the Government of the State of Qatar to broker peace with Eritrea. In addition, you have Eritrea indulging in its usual preoccupation of aiding and abetting Djibouti’s rebel group, “Ferud,” and mounting attacks against Djiboutian targets in northern Djibouti. A former business partner of Djibouti’s first lady, Kadra Mohamed, multi-millionaire, Abdurrahman Bore, has been hand picked by Isaias to cobble together a coalition of anti-President Gulleh rebel forces. Abdurrahman Bore has now made Asmara his favourite hang out. Furthermore, given the fact that President Gulleh is about to amend the constitution to enable him run for a third term of office, it is understandable that he wants to get this conflict with Eritrea over and done with as speedily as possible. Above all, however, it is Qatari’s proactive diplomacy which had played a pivotal role both in terms of bringing the two sides together, and in terms of resetting its foreign relations button with Eritrea so that other states’ policy of removing Eritrea’s ostracism is effectively implemented.

Pecuniary diplomacy

Emir and Prime Minister of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, played an indispensable role in brokering agreement between Eritrea and Djibouti. Glance at the history of Qatari foreign policy and you will quickly find why this is so. Qatar is renowned for its efforts at bringing warring factions to round-table talks. In 2007 it managed to strike a deal among embattled Lebanese politicians. It had brokered peace: between the Yemeni Government and Houthi rebels, between the Government of the Sudan and Darfur rebels and between Chad and the Sudan. It had also succeeded in securing the release of Bulgarian doctors sentenced to prison terms in Libya for alleged conspiracy of infecting Libyan children with the HIV/AIDS virus. According to Political Science Researcher, Paul Rockwar, in the confrontational world of Middle-East politics, the State of Qatar has succeeded in putting in place an invisible thin line of diplomacy that strecthes from America to Israel to Syria to Iran and even to Hizbullah. Today Qatar’s capital has become the “Camp David of the Middle East.”

Though the main aim and goal of Qatar’s Foreign policy stipulates the implementation of the goal of the Gulf States Cooperation Council as well as to work toward conflict resolution throughout the world, the reality is that all depends on the gracious whim of its Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Emir. In Qatar the Emir himself is the fulcrum of the nation’s foreign affairs, as well as its bilateral/multi-lateral relations.

Though Qatar’s population is said to be 1.6 million, the number of indigenous Qataris is no more than half a million. As all the needs – as well as worldly dream - of Quataris have been properly met, Qatar is awash with petro-gas dollar that it can afford to spend impulsively. Such a robust financial profile has today allowed Qatar to out flank Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the area of international diplomacy. Political commentator, Allen Hendrickson, says that Qatar promotes a public diplomacy strategy whose core values includes the enhancing of the profiles of small and medium counties with undependable military capacity. Moreover, it offers pecuniary reward to woo warring factions to enter into a negotiated settlement. It is widely believed that Qatar’s “Check-book Diplomacy” rewarded 44million USD to Lebanon’s politicians, and 60 million USD to 30 rebels from Darfur. What about Eritrea and Djibouti? While this is an issue that would unravel itself in the fullness of time, the fact that the two leaders have, so far, accepted the Qatari’s peaceful overtures does not, and cannot, reflect a done and dusted state of affairs.

Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Doha, Mark Farha, says that Qatar is eager to be viewed by the international community as a role model in public education, in media and in sport. Al Jezzera, then, is an arm of its public diplomacy campaign. Qatar did not even find it difficult to have her influence felt in the western world. It has added London’s most prestigious department store, Harrods, to its bulging international portfolios by buying it off from Egyptian billionaire, Mohammed Al Fayed. It has a sizeable share in London’s Tower due to be inaugurated in 2011. It has earmarked 70 billion USD for the realization of its robust public diplomacy. Mind you Qatar has already let its interest to host FIFA 2020 be known to the world. That’s money talks Qatari-style for you!

Can you choose your neighbour?

In its short history as an independent state, Eritrea has found itself wallowing in a vicious cycle of political turmoil, shrinkage of the economy and diplomatic ostracism. Over the last 15 years, Eritrea has always been the aggressor, and not the victim of aggression. Djibouti is the victim of Eritrea’s last aggression. Although UN Security Council Resolution No 1862 – prior to the passing of Security Council resolution No1907 – called Eritrea to withdraw her troops from Djiboutian territory, Eritrea refused to comply. And when UN imposed an embargo, Eritrea was witnessed leaving no stone unturned to hoodwink its citizens at home and abroad with the preposterous notion that the embargo was an attack on its sovereignty.

The whole world is now aware that through the Qatari-brokered peace process Eritrea has implicitly accepted that it had mounted an aggression against Djibouti, and the whole world supports the Agreement between the two states. African Union Commissioner, Jean Ping, expressed his wish that the Doha Agreement will have a favourable impact on efforts to solve bilateral conflicts. Many say that Ping was referring to the ongoing rift, not to say state of belligerency, which exists between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea. I believe no sane person or responsible government would be unhappy, if Ethiopia and Eritrea jointly arrive at a peaceful solution. I also believe that the peaceful resolution of the Eritrea-Djibouti conflict constitutes a plus and not a minus to the national interest of Ethiopia. However, as I tried to indicate on above paragraphs, we must not lose sight of the fact that there remain a number of relevant questions of transparency which the Agreement has intentionally or unintentionally avoided to include. Furthermore, because the State of Eritrea has demonstrated utter contempt to the United Nations and to the Algiers Agreement by expelling troops belonging to the United Nations Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and occupying the buffer zone, it is imperative that the international community get squarely behind the continuation of the UN embargo. In order for peace and stability to prevail in the Horn of Africa, including in Djibouti, it is imperative for Eritrea to reset its foreign policy button. Pennsylvania University’s researcher, Kidane Megisteab, argues that Eritrea’s foreign policy has never been properly researched, and is, therefore, on the wrong track. That is why we need to be chary over the recently signed Agreement between Eritrea and Djibouti. Signing an Agreement is one thing, implementing it quite another. On the other hand, according to Sally Hilly, researcher at London’s influential Chatham House, the epicentre of Eritrea’s foreign policy is Ethiopia. As a direct result of this misconceived policy of Eritrea, neighbouring states have been unable to remove the fear of instability from their respective countries. While it is possible to choose friends, then, it is impossible for nations to choose their neighbours. That is why it behoves us right to continue to plough ahead on the path of peace and development.

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