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Mirroring the Former Somalia with Current Eritrea

By Hagere Dawit
Tigrai Onlne - December 19, 2013

Since the days in which Eritrea became independence some 22 years ago, many analysts had predicted that the country had a huge chance of development. However, as a result of Ato Isaias Afwerki’s military-esque administration and havoc strategy, that small country who had good hopes of success, is now heading into turmoil. After Ato Isaias come out of the blue and said that ‘my country has nothing’, as if he administered the country for only 22 months (not 22 years), many analysts and organization who closely follow the country are sharing their concerns that the country is in danger of becoming a failed state. I think the fact that countries like the US are issuing warnings for their citizens not to go Eritrea, is an implication to the country’s delicate state.

According to International crisis group (ICG), Eritrea is on the verge of becoming a failed state, under the auspices of the authoritarian regime of Ato Isaias. Looking closely the country and at of all these recent developments the American State Department consular bureau, have issued a strong recommendation to its citizens to defer all travel to the country. Citing the ongoing security concerns in the country, this replaces the Travel Warning for Eritrea given some seven months ago. The state department have also stated a number of U.S.-Eritrean dual citizens have been arrested for no apparent reason. ‘Asmarino. Com’ have reported by mentioning the bureau that there has been a warning given to ‘American’ vessels not to dock or pass through Eritrean waters.

It’s obvious for anyone to see that the onetime hopeful state of Eritrea along with its 6 million inhabitants; where half are Sunni Muslim and the other half Christian, is now in dire state. Today the country has become the largest producer of refugees in Africa. And since most of these refugees are young men, this has worsened the country’s economic condition of the country, which was already in dire state. So looking at these recent developments in the country that are unveiling before our eyes, I have asked myself at this era of new Somalia where Al-shabaab is in decline ‘Is there any similarities between Eritrea and the former Somalia?’ Thus, I’m presenting this article to the readers by citing the UN Security Council’s Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, and by citing other material sources.

The UN Security Council’s Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea believes that these are no worse countries in (wrecking havoc) than Eritrea and the former Somalia. Somalia for more than two decades have been a failed state with no sense of governance or a hint of constitution, while Eritrea is known as the most centralized and military-esque country in the African continent. But, both countries have similarities when we take Ato Isaias Government’s havoc and destruction startegy into account. In both countries, personalities instead of a constitution are the ultimate source of power. And these personalities control their respective country’s political and economical activities in a vague and undemocratic manner. Their existence as a state is hugely dependent on few foreign governments along with their Diaspora communitys’ political and economical support. They have no or very little consent from their people. Despite some trivial differences, both countries have posed grave danger and threat in East Africa by hosting and creating a suitable environment for foreign anti-peace forces.

Of course after the fall of the Somalia war-lords, the country is slowly getting to enjoy some peace and stability as most of the country’s regions are getting leaders that are responsible and experienced with administration. The fact that Somaliland, punt land, Galmudug, ‘Himan and Heeb’ and the likes free regional administration have played their own role for the current relative peace stability we see in the area. Here it’s vital to look back and probe into Al-Shabaab’s failings and its implication in detail.

As its known the Galmudug region was under the control of which mostly is an uncoordinated and unorganized anti-Al-Shabaab factions under the umbrella of the paramilitary group Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a ("The Majority") or ASWJ. This union (agreement) is the only success story out of the campaign to make Somalia peaceful and stable by curbing threats like terrorism, piracy and the likes. The Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a (ASWJ), Shebelle Valley Fighters and other southern Somalia anti-Al-Shabaab militia’s commitment to bring peace and stability in Somalia was not that stanch. It can be said that they haven’t done anything of note other than meeting with neighboring countries as representative of their area of influence.

In fact, seeing as how they have been meeting with foreign governments representing Somalia, it was thought that there was a harbored ambition by them to return back to the days of war-lords of the 1990s and 2000. And the harm this kind of proclivities caused to the country and the region is well documented by history. The Somalia federal transitional government which finished its tenure on August of 2011, have lost the Kenyan bordering states, Southern Mudug region including part of Galgud to Al-Shabaab which at the time already controlled much of Somalia. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISON) by collaborating with the militias that back the transitional government, have taken back many of Al-Shabaab controlled areas in its anti-Al-Shabaab fight.

This victory is gained by spilling many civilian and fighters’ blood. At the time, as the transitional government security was made up of close-friend militia of the AMISOM, it can’t be said that it was properly organized. This is because the militia’s loyalty was to their personal bosses. They tend to prioritize AU, rather than their respective adminstrators. As it can remembered, as the result of years of bitter civil war, a terrible famine in addition to Al-Shabaab hindrance that hamperrred human aid organization activities in the country, there occurred the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And this have resulted a new wave of refugees to neighboring countries.

The main reasons cited for Southern Somalia instability includes lack of harmonious procedures and lack of leadership skill exhibited by the transitional government at the time, deep rooted corruption and the interruption (discontinuity) of the political process. And the worse thing was the fact that the transitional government moved in an exclusive direction instead of moving towards working cooperatively with other political militia forces that operate in other areas of the country. The decision of the transitional government to hold all the resource and power have ignited conflicts, interrupted the transitional process and disrupted the anti-Al-Shabaab fight- even if it was only for a little while.

And it can be said that it has been a reason for the change of gear of the positive change that were seen in the country and other areas prior to this episode. However, as a result of Al-Shabaab’s dwindling military capacity, the terror group focused on the Southern Somalia’s economy leaving behind its controlled area of Mogadishu and Middle juba valley. And today this economic strength of Al-Shabaab is fast crumbling, along with its political and military strength and not to mention its inability to garnerr public support.

The group has today lost its cash-cow in guise of its taxation from its controlled areas which used to enable it to collect up to 70 to 100 million dollar. As a consequence to its deteriorating military, the group’s other money-spinner which it used to get from the contraband trade around the Kenyan border, is almost nonexistent. In addition to this, due to the group’s leaders plan to root mujahdeens around the area by establishing close relationship with foreign Mujahedeens has not worked as they had hoped for- as they have become more divided within themselves.

The first of Al-Shabaab’s brutal terror act carried out side of Somalia’s borders was the July, 2010 Kampala bombings. It was a new and profound indicationthat East African extremists groups including Kenyan Muslim Youth center, are starting to be supported by Al-Shabbab, as well as the fact that they are a threat to East African and to the rest of the world.

Eritrean intervention in Somalia has not gotten anything worth of note to Al-Shabaab. Of course the Asmara government has and it’s still playing its own role in exacerbating the general problem. For example, the Asmara regime by establishing a working relationship with Al-Shabaab it has worked to save the group to stay in the political process (game) by helping the group with planning and logistics. This has shown that Asmara is lining up in opposite of the campaign to round-up the extremists. Eritrea’s intervention in Somalia also includes providing intelligence and other activities. For instance, by violating security council’s Resolution number 1907 (2009), Eritrea has been providing financial and logistical support to Ethiopian, Djiboutian, Sudanese and may be even Ugandan anti-place rebel forces.

The reason why Eritrea is supporting these anti-peace rebel forces can be associated with its political, intelligence and military leaders’ vague and undemocratic leadership, and distorted strategy. And also the fact that these people need a cover for their illegal arm deals and rent-seeking activities play into this behaviour. The fact that the Eritrean ruling party decision to spend its money; that it gets by taxing its supporters, the people and diasporas along with the its very few foreign government backers, on other countries’ rebels and anti-peace forces, while governing a small and poor country like Eritrea is questionable at best. Its major source of income since 2011 has been gold, but the government is wasting it on funding rebel and anti-peace forces. As a result Eritrea has been committing repetetive offences by violating the Security Council’s Resolution numbers 1844 (2008) and 1970 (2009). It has also planned and moved to carry-out an attack on civilians and governmental institutions in order to disrupt the African Union summit that was hosted by Addis Ababa on January, 2011. Although the plot was foiled (before it happened), these are one of the number of its conspiracies.

In Somalia, since December 2010 at the time when ‘Hisbul-Islam’ started to crumble, Al-Shabaab has come up as the main threat to the country’s peace and security. ‘Harakaat al-Shabaab al-Mujaahidiin’, usually known as ‘Al-Shabaab’ is the only rebel stationed at southern Somalia, and the sole reason for the areas’ lack of peace, security and stability. In order to disrupt the ongoing political process in the region, it has been and still is carrying-out attacks. It has fought both the federal transitional government and AMISOM.

One of the most brutal attacks carried-out by the group since May 2009 was the one that was performed at August 22, 2010. The objective of this campaign was to control the president’s palace founded at villa Somalia, and destroy it. Also, part of this objective and plan was to control and key areas like Hodan, Hawl Wadag, Budihis and Abdiaziz – although it failed. At this campaign it was thought that from the region of 2500 up to 5000 Al-Shabaab fighters were involved.

The terror’s group attack did not stop with this. In August 24, 2010, Al-Shabaab has also planned and carried out an attack at the Mogadishu’s Muna Hotel. This attack has claimed the lives of 33 people including 4 parliament members. And two weeks later, the group also attacked a nearby Mogadishu Airport through vehicle bombing.

This attack was planned to coincide with the arrival of high-level delegates which included U.N. special representative for Somalia and officials from the African Union and the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development. This bomb attack which included subsequent gun fighting has claimed the lives of 2 AMISOM peacekeeping soldiers and at least five civilians.

Although Al-Shabaab was able to hold on to its controlled areas by resisting the AMISON forces, after the Quick addition of 200 Ugandan peacekeeping forces in to the AMISOM mission and the subsequent counter-attack operation opened by the transitional government and Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ), it had no choice but to flee the area.

According to reports, at the time Al-Shabaab was dependent on child-soldiers. Thus they couldn’t even defend against the AMISOM, the transitional governments and ‘Ahlu Sunna Waljam’a (ASNJ) joint forces. Unable to resist the heavy attack that was bombarded on it at the capital city, Al-Shabaab tried to revive itself by recruiting new members from Hawiye (Abagal) clan and work by moving around as civilians in districts that have high density of population; like Abdiaziz, Bundiher and Shangara. But this new strategy; which put civilians life’s at risk, backfired and the group was casted out and marginalized by the majority of the public. In February 22, 2011 the AMISOM mission together with the Federal transitional government forces along with new Burundian AMISOM recruits took a new offensive and took away Al-Shabaab key controlled areas like the former Ministry of Defense buildings (Gashindiga) and the old diary milk factory (Warshaddi hore ee caanaha). The campaign has enabled AMISOM to increase its areas of influence from 5 to 7 Woredas. This campaign had also pressurized Al-Shabaab forces to flee from its stronghold like Mogadishu’s Bakaara market district and Dani’ile.

Today they have been left to their limited areas and their sinister acts of suicide bombings. But, this doesn’t mean that Al-Shabaab ceases to be regional and international threat. For instance, Ethiopia has accused Al-Shabaab of plooting to carry out an attack on ten targeted areas in Addis Ababa during 2009 – although it was foiled by Ethiopian government and peoples’ effort. (But, it has made its first planned sinister act). As I have mentioned it earlier, the group has attacked two Kampala night clubs, claiming the lives of 79 civilian people, while injuring many. What we should understand here is the fact that this operation was orchestrated mainly carried-out by Ugandan and Kenyan citizens. Al-Shebaab only trained few in Somalia. According to later information gathered, there are indigenous networks that were recruiting, training and providing logistics on behalf of Al-Shabbab, in Kenya.

The Kampala attack has illustrated not only Al-Shabaab has the capacity and intention to carry out attacks like this, but also the fact that a jihadist force is brewing in the region that is dangerous to the whole East Africa and the international community. It’s known that there are forces in Kenya that recruits, assists, trains and working closely with Al-Shabaab. Despite its little numbers, it’s likely that Al-Shabaab has spanned similar networks throughout the region.

In addition the terror group has set up relationship with other northern, western and southern Africa, jihadist groups.

Formerly, Al-Shabaab activities in Kenya focused on the Somali population. However, it’s believed that since 2009 the group has started recruiting and influencing Kenyan citizens to join, by which it has now organized the largest non-Somali group. For this end, the group has focused on the Muslim Youth Center. This center which used to be known as ‘Pumwani Muslim Youth’ was one of the biggest Muslim youth center out of Kenyan-born Al-Shabaab supporter groups. It recruits and lures Kenyans in to going to Somalia to train and wage jihad. In addition to this, some informations has surfaced that the most prominent and famous members of the group were involved, on the July, 2010 Kampala Bombings. Thus, this kind of activity of the Muslim youth center implicates that East African extremist groups are becoming attracted and supported by Al-Shabaab, and also the fact that there is a chance that it might create an opportunity for new terror groups that can be dangerous to the region and the world.

……… we have seen the Eritrean government backed Al-Shabaab decline, while still remaining a threat to the region. Then, let us move to see the similarities between the Eritrean government and the former Somalia (before 2011). I will start first with the former government less Somalia and will continue with today’s Eritrea’s which is projected to be a ‘failed state’. Its yesterday’s history the fact that Somalia was under the control of war lords, after Siad Barre’s plan for ‘Greater Somalia’ was shattered in to pieces.

These war-lords or would-be ‘kings’; killed, punished (limb amputated) and arrested their subjects under their control. The war-lords relationship with each other was not healthy, as they used to fight each other for total control (domination). Following the vacuum they created, various Jihadists, extremists and terrorist have considered Somalia as their safe haven and made the country a threat to the region and the world. As a result of all this, the people were hungered, thirsted and unclothed. Saying ‘its better to live for a while as refyugees, than dying here’ most people of Somalia choose to fled the country to anywhere their foot led them.

After the end of the days of the war–lords, various Jihadists, and extremists from different part of the world have organized under the name of ‘Islamic union courts’. As this union became a threat to the region to and to the globe, it wasn’t long before it started to garners (attract) international focus. Particularly, the union had posed a clear and present danger in Ethiopia by waging jihad against the country, on top of infiltrating anti-peace forces and terrorists into the country, including itsmilitant brain-child ‘Al-Shabaab’.

So, when we compare the country with Ato Isaias Afwerki’s Eritrea, we will find that they’re the same. Here how that is ……. after Eritrea was born out of the ashes of the ‘Derg’, it has been under the control of Sha’biya who hasn’t been able to shrug-off its militaristic and bravado behavior of its Sahel days. As I have tried to mention in the introduction part, despite the hope that surrounded the Asmara’s regime at the start of its administration that it would lift the country out of poverty and backwardness, it has chosen the path of bravado and adventerous as it couldn’t shrugg-off its militaristic nature.

As the Somali war-lords fought each other, Ato Isaias Afwerki’s military have also moved to make East Africa a battle-ground. The difference; while the Somali conflict was internal, the Eritrean government attacks are directed at its neighboring countries.

As the Somali war-lords torture their subjects, the Asmara’s gang squad not only kills and amputates its citizens, but it also detain them with no apparent reason at every detention centre built on every turn of the country. The Eritrean generals intervene in every (kebele) administration and decide upon on matters by themselves. There is nothing done without their knowledge (consent). While the Somali war-lords recruits youth based on clan and religion, Ato Isaias government recruits youth to ‘Sawa’ on an indefinete forced militaryconscription. And many Erirean youth have fled their country in droves fearing this militaryconscription - as do their Somalian counterparts.

As Somalia has become a hub for various countrys’ Jihadists, extremists and terrorists, Eritrea is also a destination for Ato Isaias led anti-peace terror forces. Among these forses are OLF, ONLF ‘Ginbot 7’, Djibouti’s rebel by the name of ‘FRUD’ and East Sudan’s Beja movement. The fact that the Eritrean government is harboring these anti-peace forces on top of its dire state of economy has led it into a desperate situatuion. And the people is starting to question the regime, after the answer to their question of ‘What has the PDFJ done for the country and for us?’, is absolutely nothing.

And the military which is supposed to be the right hand of the regime has carried-out a sort of Coup-de-tat. And this implicates that the country could fall under the control of the military at any time. As the saying ‘Someone or something that is walking the green mile is heading towards the inevitable’ denotes, and considering this article’s presentation of the country’s projection in the mirror of former Somalia’s (before the decline of Al-Shabaab) condition, we will see that Eritrea’s destiny is heading towards a ‘failed state’. Looking into the country’s political, economical and social crisis, it looks more likely that the prediction will come true- if it isn’t only a case of ‘when’.

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