A flawed Strategy Paper for the US President-elect: Comment on John Prendergast and John Norris Centre for American Progress


Jan. 17 2009

(MoFA, 01/16/09):-The new administration in the US is not going to be short of advice on Somalia, or on Ethiopia and Eritrea. It has indeed been deluged with it from all sorts of people ranging serious minded scholars, to cranks and to former officials looking for preferment once again. One such body, which has never been short of advice to give to President Bush, has already started to proffer it to the next administration, is Enough, a project of the NGO the Centre for American Progress whose aims are an end of genocide and crimes against humanity. It focuses on crises in Africa, originally in Sudan, and then on Chad, eastern Congo, northern Uganda, Somalia and Zimbabwe. We cannot comment here on all of the issues covered by the authors (John Prendergast and John Norris), but their misleading assumptions and biased conclusions over Somalia, and the role the authors claim for the Ethiopia-Eritrea dispute certainly need correction if the paper is to be of any use to the next president.

Any suggestion that “the standoff between [Eritrea and Ethiopia] has helped fuel conflict … further destabilizing Somalia” is seriously mistaken. It is Eritrea’s proven track record of being a regional ‘spoiler’ attempting to destabilize our whole region. It is an established fact that since its independence in 1993, Eritrea has managed to launch wars against virtually all of its neighbors including Yemen, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and also threatened to use force to bring about regime change in Sudan. In addition to waging open wars of aggression, Eritrea harbors, finances, trains and arms almost every insurgent and terrorist outfit from the region and from beyond with the aim of destabilizing its neighbors and the region as a whole. For example it is no secret it even trains and arms Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group. The Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict has nothing to do with any of this. Eritrea has simply used its dispute with Ethiopia as the excuse for its aggressive acts in the region including Somalia. It even, as noted above, has used this as a claimed excuse for its invasion of Djibouti. Surprisingly, the authors of this paper seem to have swallowed the Eritrean argument. John Prendergast, in particular, ought to know better. There is no plausible excuse for Eritrea’s destabilizing role in the region, and there no need to look for one. It is the nature of the Eritrean regime.

Arising out of their mistaken assumptions, the authors conclude that in order to address the conflict in Somalia, “a parallel diplomatic effort should be launched” to deal with the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. It prescribes a “conclusive border demarcation followed by internationally backed bilateral talks on issues of mutual concern”. The authors appear unaware that it is on record that Ethiopia firmly accepted the delimitation decision of the now-defunct Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission, and has consistently called for dialogue with Eritrea in order to proceed to a successful demarcation leading to sustainable peace. Eritrea has continually refused to accept. Ethiopia believes a successful demarcation leading to sustainable peace can only happen when the two conflicting parties build mutual trust in the context of normalized relations between them. For that to happen at this point, dialogue between the parties to normalize their relations is needed. It is impossible to carry out successful border demarcation between two parties who are not on speaking terms. Enough’s prescription is putting the cart before the horse.

This is not the first time that Enough has taken this line, a line enthusiastically endorsed by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information. On December 10, 2008 Enough issued a “Policy Statement on the Bush Administration’s “Transition Land Mines” in Somalia”. This claimed that Bush Administration’s alleged plans to place Eritrea on the U.S. State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism would “spoil U.S. peacemaking efforts” and “could deepen the crisis in the Horn of Africa”. The next day, the Eritrean regime issued its own press release claiming some US State Department Officials were making “a last-ditch attempt to tie the hands of the incoming administration in the strategic Horn of Africa region”. The Eritrean regime’s statement, not surprisingly, also argued that placing Eritrea on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list would be “counter-productive and detrimental to the cause of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa as well as U.S interests”. A case of coincidence or something more?

Enough’s strategy paper clearly has serious shortcomings and lacks objectivity. At the same time it should be noted that the basic idea of helping resolve the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict peacefully is welcome. Ethiopia remains committed to just this. It maintains its call for dialogue to normalize relations with Eritrea so that the two countries can achieve sustainable peace. Indeed, Prime Minister Meles repeated only yesterday that Ethiopia was always ready to discuss peace proposals with Eritrea but would not rush into such discussions unless the Eritrean government expressed its wish to discuss peace. It has not done so.