Source: African Arguments

Despite huge regional shifts, Eritreans continue to flee through Sudan, aided by resilient and flexible people-smuggling networks.

Smuggling networks in east Sudan are flexible and resilient. Credit: SOS Sahel

When the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea reopened in September 2018, it was a momentous occasion for the two neighbours. For the first time in twenty years, people on both sides were free to reunite with their loved ones.

The border opening was particularly significant, however, for those in Eritrea. Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans – around 12% of the entire population – have fled Africa’s “Hermit Kingdom”. They have braved an official “shoot to kill” policy at the closed borders to escape into either Sudan or Ethiopia and embarked on perilous trips – risking predatory militias, exploitation, sexual violence and unforgiving tundra – with the aim of reaching Israel, the Gulf or Europe.

The new ability to travel freely to Ethiopia – without a passport, permit or promise to return – suddenly offered an opportunity to leave Eritrea with far lower risks. Many have seized it. According to the UN Refugee Agency and local authorities in Ethiopia’s Tigray state, arrivals from Eritrea have soared. Between 12 September and 2 October alone, over 10,000 people entered reception camps in Ethiopia.

But while this much was anticipated, the numbers of people crossing into Sudan has, somewhat unexpectedly, not reduced. Concrete data is difficult to access regarding irregular migration, but in-country sources suggest that the streams of people entering Sudan remained relatively consistent since the border opening. The question is why.

How smuggling in Sudan works

Sudan has long been a permissive environment for smuggling. Corruption, insecurity and porous borders have enabled illicit networks to flourish, turning the country into a conduit for not just goods and firearms but people. A lucrative commercial ecosystem has emerged for people-smuggling with criminal networks supplying logistics, accommodation and transportation to satisfy demand.

Along Sudan’s eastern borderlands, smugglers tend to derive from the nomadic Rashaida, Bedouin and Hidarib communities. They ferry “clients” in pickup trucks for a stretch of the journey before offloading them to the next group. These segmented expeditions allow poorer migrants to adopt a “pay as you go” approach, travelling in stages and working ad hoc to pay off their debts and raise the next tranche of funding. This avoids the need for expensive lump sums.

For years, Sudanese smugglers have marketed these services upstream to Eritreans through front “companies” and local contacts. Exploiting shared kinship bonds and tribal affiliations, they placate suspicious migrants by framing voyages as “low risk” and insisting refugees will receive support from compatriots in the diaspora. Often recruiters entice customers by distorting their expectations with promises of informal welfare nets and assistance in finding employment along their journeys.

While this has proven to be an attractive package, such arrangements remain exceptionally precarious. In reality, Eritreans face sexual abuse and high fatality rates en route. The assured brokerage of local smugglers regularly falls through, leaving migrants vulnerable to extortion and trafficking once trapped in Sudan.

Why not go through Ethiopia?

Given the dangers of transiting through Sudan, why have numbers remained relatively consistent despite the presence of a seemingly easier route through Ethiopia?

One possibility is that many Eritreans remain highly sceptical of the political changes happening at the highest level. Since the peace deal with Ethiopia, there has been very little transparency around the pact or information regarding what it will mean for those in Eritrea.

To begin with, the usual factors compelling Eritreans to flee – including repression, indefinite conscription and economic hardship – are all still in place. There is little incentive for the regime to scale back the “garrison state” as national service and systems of indentured labour ensure a pliable society and secure its survival. At the same time, many Eritreans may be wary of taking the current changes at face value. Having lived under President Isaias Afwerki’s authoritarian and sometimes capricious rule for decades, many may wonder how long the border with Ethiopia will actually remain open, while rumours of security crackdowns abound.

The influx of migrants crossing into Ethiopia has also strained Tigray state’s reception camps, processing infrastructure and health services. Over-saturation and an under-resourced host population has led to a deterioration of living standards for refugees, revealing the bleak realities facing migrants who have already crossed the border.

Sudan’s resilient smugglers

A final factor behind Sudan’s continued appeal for Eritrean refugees is that its smuggling networks remain in operation and are likely to endure in the face of any broader regional shifts.

Sudan’s smuggling nexus is not composed of kingpins or cartels but flexible networks of small competitive cells subscribing to the “supermarket principle” of high volume with low costs. This decentralised quality makes local service chains extremely versatile, enabling them to adapt to the closure of old routes and rescale to manage fluctuations in demand. Bosses with political connections may (temporarily) control particular bottlenecks, but in relatively unregulated areas such as eastern Sudan, barriers to market entry are low. Here, the smuggling industry comprises a series of loose working relationships that dissolve and re-form in response to new opportunities.

This configuration has helped insulated the trade from dependency on individual strongmen. For instance, over the last two decades, senior members of the Eritrean Defence Forces such as Brigadier-General Tekle Manjus Kiflay have allegedly been embedded in a range of criminal ventures, including human smuggling. But while they expedited migratory flows, these figures are ultimately components of a far wider transnational network. Their reported recent marginalisation by Isaias therefore seems to have done little to seriously disrupt day-to-day operations either side of the border.

The durability of Sudan’s networks also stems from their depth. Participation in, and profit from, smuggling is fairly ubiquitous in Sudanese communities living along migrant routes, with young men reportedly joining trafficking gangs to make quick cash before public festivities like Ramadan. More broadly, these exploitative practices have also become relatively normalised in these communities, especially in the context of Sudan’s own economic crisis, helped by the fact that they generate revenue streams and a cheap labour supply to satiate domestic shortfalls. Due to this significant level of public buy-in, there is little institutional capacity or inclination in Sudan to crack down on human smuggling. As a result, the trade has been able to survive and thrive as it responds to new challenges.

This resilience of Sudan’s smugglers combined with Eritreans’ mistrust of their government and Ethiopia’s difficulties in handling large numbers of arrivals may account for why refugees are not automatically opting to cross the open border to Ethiopia rather than journey through Sudan. Despite seemingly momentous regional shifts, these factors have contributed to situation in which irregular migrant flows from Eritrea to Sudan appear to have held relatively steady.


Anti-government protesters rally in Khartoum, Sudan, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019

Hundreds of protesters marched in and around Sudan's capital Khartoum on Sunday, the fourth week of unrest that began over skyrocketing prices and a failing economy but which now calls for the ouster of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir.

Images circulated by activists online showed marches taking place in Khartoum and its northern twin cities of Omdurman and Bahary, despite security forces firing tear gas at the crowds. One group, hundreds strong, appeared to have reached Bahary's main train station.

Security forces encircled the area and fired in the air to disperse crowds around the station, the main rally point for a gathering called by protest groups, professional associations and political opposition. Shops in the area have been almost entirely shuttered, eyewitnesses said, and crowds continued to gather.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir greets supporters at a rally in Khartoum on Wednesday January 9
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir greets supporters at a rally in Khartoum on Wednesday January 9 Credit: Mahmoud Hjaj/AP


Protesters burnt tires to obscure the view of policemen chasing them down, in a cat-and-mouse game that lasted until after dark. Witnesses said security forces were breaking into local homes and businesses in pursuit of demonstrators taking refuge there.

"The people want the fall of the regime," chanted a crowd in the area, as seen in one video, echoing a popular slogan of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that briefly defied despotism in the region, but never made it to Sudan.




Demonstrations also took place in other cities across the country, particularly in Gadarif, Faw and Amri, as well in the western region of Darfur, activists said, with eyewitnesses adding that police had broken up a 1,000-person strong demonstration in the northern Darfur town of el-Fasher.

The eyewitnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


Anti-government protesters in Khartoum on January 13

Anti-government protesters in Khartoum on January 13 Credit: Stringer/ AFP

They said that security forces had surrounded the Haj al-Safi hospital in Khartoum, while a doctors' union warned them against attacking or firing tear gas near or inside hospitals as had been reported last week by Amnesty International.

Sudan's economy has stagnated for most of al-Bashir's rule, but its recent lows have been dramatic, prompting the protests. He has also failed to unite or keep the peace in the religiously and ethnically diverse nation, losing three quarters of Sudan's oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.

Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur.

Authorities have fired tear gas and live rounds repeatedly since protests broke out last month
Authorities have fired tear gas and live rounds repeatedly since protests broke out last month Credit: Anadolu

An Islamist who has been in power since he led a military coup in 1989, he has said those seeking to oust him can only do so through elections, and he is running for another term in office next year. He has insisted that the protests are part of a foreign plot to undermine Sudan's "Islamic experiment" and blamed the country's worsening economic crisis on international sanctions.


Already among the longest serving leaders in the region, al-Bashir hopes to win another term in office. In a bid to placate popular anger over his economic policies, he has promised higher wages, continuing state subsidies on basic goods and more benefits for pensioners.

His promises have been dismissed by critics as untenable.

Also Sunday, the government raised its official death toll from the weeks of protest by five to 24, still undercutting numbers released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who say at least 40 have been killed.

Sudan's General Prosecutor said nine of those killed were in Gadaref, a province southeast of Khartoum close to the Ethiopian and Eritrean borders. The rest were killed in Omdurman and regions north and northeast of the capital. 




Chief of the General Staff, Emad al-Din Adawi addresses Sudanese Navy soldiers participating in a military exercice on the Red Sea on 11 Oct 2017 (SUNA photo)

January 12, 2019 (KHARTOUM) The Sudanese parliament said a draft military agreement signed between Sudan and Russia would pave the road for the latter to build a military base on the Red Sea coast in the future.

In an interview with Sputnik News Service, head of the parliamentary subcommittee on Defence, Security and Public Order, Al-Hadi Adam Musa, described the draft agreement between the two sides to facilitate entry of Russian and Sudanese warships to the ports of the two nations as a step forward towards establishing strategic relations.

He stressed that Sudan, like other countries in the region, has the right to allow the establishment of Russian military bases in its territory.

Musa pointed out that several countries in the region have allowed foreign countries to build military bases in their territories, saying however the Sudanese-Russian agreement has yet to reach that level.

Last Wednesday, Russia’s legal information portal website reported that the Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev has approved a draft agreement with Sudan on facilitating the entry of warships to the ports of the two countries.

The draft agreement pertains to facilitating the entry procedures for warships to Russian and Sudanese ports but doesn’t provide for the building of a military base in Sudan.

According to the draft agreement, “the entry of warships shall be made after notification has been given not later than seven working days prior to the scheduled date of entry”.

The draft document stressed that “within the framework of the Agreement, no more than seven warships can be present simultaneously, in the territorial sea, inland waters and ports of the receiving State”.

During a visit to Moscow last year to attend the 2018 World Cup Final, the Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both leaders pledged to promote military cooperation in the near future.

The two leaders last met in November 2017 in the Russian city of Sochi, with both expressing a desire to enhance military ties.

While in Russia in November 2017, al-Bashir offered to construct an airbase for Russia on the Red Sea coast and to re-equip the Sudanese army with the Russian weapons including SU-30 fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles.

Russia is seen as a major ally of the government of al-Bashir that faces isolation from the West. However, economic cooperation between the two countries has remained very low, with a trade balance that does not exceed $400 million.




Eritrean government attempts to intimidate BBC

%PM, %13 %507 %2019 %12:%Jan Written by

Not for the first time, the BBC is under attack from a dictatorship. Many authoritarian regimes have found the BBC’s committment to accurate reporting uncomfortable.

This time the attack is from Eritrea.

BBC Eritrea 5It’s information minister has banned contact with the BBC Tigrinya service.

There are many instances of governments in the Horn of Africa attacking the BBC’s coverage.

When the Boundary Commission ruled on where the Eritrea-Ethiopia border was in 2002 the Ethiopian government first claimed that it had been awarded the village of Badme.

I was contacted by UN staff who informed me that this was not the case. Badme had been awarded to Eritrea.

This I reported. You can read the report here, or at the end of this article.

Ethiopia was furious. A minister was sent to London to have me sacked. Luckily for me the BBC stood by me and I was proved correct. Badme is indeed inside Eritrea.

Vague insinuations

All of this makes the attack by the Eritrean government on the BBC Tigrinya service so sad.

BBC Eritrea 6

As usual, the attacks are vague generalities: there are no specific allegation that could be refuted.

Although I have long since retired from the BBC I am sure the Tigrinya service would never suggest that Eritrea is a “savage. backward country.”

If there are concrete, specific examples of this, let the Eritrean government make them public.

The BBC is always open to criticism, and would be only too willing to correct an incorrect report. But these kind of insinuations against professional journalists are nothing but reprehensible attempts to silence and intimidate.

I have every confidence that the BBC will resist attempts to censor its reporters – as it has always done in the past.

Of course, the Eritrean government would not take the trouble to attack the BBC Tigrinya service if it had not won a sizeable audience inside the country. Perhaps it is a kind of backhanded compliment!

Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK

Controversy over Horn border ruling
UN mission
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought for two years over the border
A propaganda war has broken out between Ethiopia and Eritrea over the outcome of an international tribunal decision over their disputed border.
The commission unequivocally confirmed Badme to be the sovereign territory of Ethiopia

Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopian foreign minister

The decision on the border was delivered in The Hague on Saturday, but the outcome was obscure enough to leave both countries in a position to claim victory.At the heart of the controversy is the small town of Badme – the ownership of which sparked off one of the bloodiest wars of recent times.

Each side says it has won control of the key western border town, adding to the confusion about the ruling.

‘False hope’

Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, said the boundary commission had “unequivocally confirmed Badme to be the sovereign territory of Ethiopia”.

Badme was and remains the sovereign territory of Eritrea

Saleh Omar, Eritrean diplomat

Mr Seyoum said the Eritrean Government was spreading “conflicting lies” over Badme in order to “appease the Eritreans with false hope.”But Eritrea insists it has been given control of the town.

“Badme was and remains the sovereign territory of Eritrea, this has now been determined by the Ethiopia Eritrea Boundary Commission,” said Saleh Omar, the Eritrean ambassador to the Organisation of African Unity in Addis Ababa.

Fine print

The BBC’s Martin Plaut, who has studied the 125-page document defining the border, says that, tucked away in the text, the legal experts make clear that they reject the Ethiopian claim and draw the border in such a way that Eritrea wins title to the town – if not the area that also bears its name.

The independent commission, based in The Hague, drew up the new border between the two former foes, details of which were published at the weekend.

None of the maps used in the ruling show the village of Badme – the same name is used to refer to the village, the plains and a district.

Eritrean refugees
Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes during the war

Martin Pratt, head of the UK-based International Boundaries Research Unit says that he cannot see decisive proof over who gets control over Badme in the ruling, but the settlement appears to lie to the west of the boundary if plotted on the Soviet topographic maps that the Boundary Commission used.”Although we may not know officially until demarcation of the boundary has been completed, I think the Soviet maps – which both parties used in their pleadings – are sufficiently accurate to say with some confidence that Badme is in Eritrea,” Mr Pratt told the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks news service.

The BBC’s Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa says detailed satellite imagery is needed to determine the actual demarcation on the ground.

Experts say this is a lengthy process, and Badme residents are likely to be in a state of confusion until physical demarcation is completed next year.

Elsewhere along the border the Ethiopians have made substantial gains.


The BBC’s Alex Last in Asmara says that people clapped and cheered, while drivers blared their horns in jubilation when state television and radio announced that Badme had been given to Eritrea.

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki said that he was “completely satisfied” with the ruling.

Ethiopian returnee building a home
There has been little reconstruction on the border

A statement by the governing party said Eritrea would, as agreed, abide by the verdict, which it described as a victory for both peoples.For his part, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said his government is satisfied with the ruling by the International Boundary Commission on its border with Eritrea.

Mr Zenawi described the ruling as a victory for Ethiopia that would put an end to the bitter and violent dispute over the boundary.

“The ruling vindicates Ethiopia’s land claims,” Meles told the state-run Ethiopia radio and television.

“The decision of the boundary commission has awarded Ethiopia all the contested areas it had claimed.”

The boundary was decided by a five-member panel of judges, treaty experts and international jurists.

Strained relations

On 6 May 1998, a group of Eritrean soldiers attempted to enter Badme.

It consists of little more than an administration building, complete with flagpole, surrounded by a handful of houses.

The Ethiopian troops holding the town challenged the Eritreans to lay down their arms. The Eritreans refused, and the ensuing firefight grew into a war that left over 70,000 dead.Eritrea, which has a population of 3.5 million compared to Ethiopia’s 65 million, agreed to end hostilities in June 2000.

A peace deal was signed six months later and set the terms for the border commission.

But relations have remained strained and the United Nations has 4,200 peacekeepers patrolling a buffer zone around the disputed areas.

Diplomats say tension is likely to remain between the two countries for some time.

Protests mar opening of Ethiopia-Eritrea border

%PM, %09 %886 %2019 %21:%Jan Written by

January 9, 2019 Ethiopia, News

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Eritrea’s President Isaias and Gedu Andargachew, President of the Amhara region, were in the Ethiopian town of Omhager to open the Ethiopia-Eritrea border checkpoint at Omhager-Humera on Monday.

But reports from the area suggest that the ceremony didn’t go to plan.

The event was apparently forced to move into Eritrea after local people protested at the presence of Gedu, since the Amhara region doesn’t have a border with Eritrea.

video player
Tigrayans are angry that thousands of people have been displaced from the Amhara region and are now camping in Humera.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Ethiopian army in the nearby city Shire started to move 50 heavy trucks of armaments from a military depot. The people blocked the roads with cars and forced them into the Shire stadium.

The soldiers, who seemed to share the views of the people and were sympathetic to their concerns that heavy equipment was being transported away from Tigray, ended up eating lunch there and holding discussing with local elders.

January 9, 2019 News


The BBC Tigrinya service reports on an interview they had with Debretsion Gebremichael, during which he explained how he held a meeting with President Isaias during the opening of the Omhager-Humera border crossing point.

Dr Debrezion says that he had a talk with president Isaias Afwerki regarding opening the whole Tigrai/Eritrea border.
Debretsion Gebremichael is the current Chairman of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the acting President of Tigray Region.
The two previous opened checkpoints – Rama and Zalambesa – that were officially opened in October were closed by Eritrean officials two weeks ago, without official explanaition.
Instead a third one, Omhajer/Humera checkpoint, located at the furthest Western tip of Eritrean/Tigrai border, very close to the Sudan, was opened without notice.
Dr Debretsion said he prefered to see the whole border opened so that the people of Tigrai and Eritrea could trade freely.
The experience of the last three months have been positive, he said, with regards to people-to-people relations that suddenly flourished between the two peoples.
He hinted at the rationale behind the sudden closure of the two check points by saying:  ‘… as long as the reason behind the closure is to bring order on the way things were developing …’
Dr Debretsion said they would be re-opened as soon as ‘certain measures’ have been put into place’ to bring order to the crossings.
Dr Debretsion  added that he and President Isaias Afwerki will continue to meet in the future to further deal with issues of mutual interest.

 Source: Martin Plaut,  The Conversation

The regime’s survival cannot simply be seen as a domestic issue. He has strong international allies. The West once reviled Omar al-Bashir as an indicted war criminal. However, more recently they have begun to view him as a source of stability and intelligence in a troubled region. The president also has the backing – both political and financial – of key Arab allies.

How foreign backing is keeping Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in power

January 8, 2019

Day after day Sudanese are taking to the streets to protest against the rule of Omar al-Bashir. The president, who himself seized power in 1989 when he led a coup, is facing the most serious challenge in his three decades in power. Fury at sharp rises in the cost of bread and fuel, and allegations of corruption, have fuelled the protests.

Thus far the president has managed to resist the anger of his people. But Sudanese have a long history of overthrowing unpopular regimes. Twice before – in 1964 and then again in 1985 – revolts led to changes of government. On each occasion the armed forces abandoned the regime and sided with the people. This has not occurred during the current protests for good reasons, as university lecturer and author of Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan Willow Berridge points out:

Al-Bashir’s regime clearly learnt from the mistakes of its predecessors. It has created a much stronger National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) as well as a host of other parallel security organisations and armed militias that it uses to police Khartoum instead of the regular army. This set up, combined with various commanders’ mutual fears of being held to account for war crimes if the regime falls, means an army intervention will not occur easily as in 1964 or 1985. This is one reason the current uprising has already lasted longer than its precedents.

But the regime’s survival cannot simply be seen as a domestic issue. He has strong international allies. The West once reviled Omar al-Bashir as an indicted war criminal. However, more recently they have begun to view him as a source of stability and intelligence in a troubled region. The president also has the backing – both political and financial – of key Arab allies.

Arab support

Sudanese have traditionally been said to look North to Cairo for support. This crisis is no exception. In December Egypt’s foreign minister and intelligence chief visited Khartoum, pledging their support for Al-Bashir.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who flew to Sudan with intelligence chief General Abbas Kamel, confidently stated:

Egypt is confident that Sudan will overcome the present situation.

This was followed earlier this month during a reciprocal trip to Cairo by the Sudanese president at which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi commented:

Egypt fully supports the security and stability of Sudan, which is integral to Egypt’s national security.

But political support alone wouldn’t be enough to keep the Sudanese regime in power. There is also financial backing from across the Red Sea. In return for Sudan entering the Yemeni war Khartoum is reported to have received investments worth $2.2 billion. More than 10,000 Sudanese troops are fighting on the Yemeni frontline. Some are said to be child soldiers who were recruited by the Saudis, with offers of $10,000 for each recruit.

Other allies

The rehabilitation of al-Bashir in the US goes back to President Barack Obama’s era. As one of the last acts of his office, he lifted a range of US sanctions against the Sudanese regime. The CIA’s large office in Khartoum was cited as one of the key reasons for his policy shift.

Nor is Washington alone in this view. As Europe battles to restrict the number of Africans crossing the Mediterranean it has seen the Sudanese government as an ally. The ‘Khartoum Process’, signed in the Sudanese capital, is critical to this relationship. In November 2015 European leaders met their African counterparts in the Maltese capital, Valletta, to try to put flesh on the bones of this agreement. The aim was made clear in the accompanying EU press release which concluded that;

The number of migrants arriving to the European Union is unprecedented, and this increased flow is likely to continue. The EU, together with the member states, is taking a wide range of measures to address the challenges, and to establish an effective, humanitarian and safe European migration policy.

The summit led to the drafting of an Action Plan which has guided the EU’s policy objectives on migration and mobility ever since.

The plan detailed how European institutions would co-operate with their African partners to fight irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.

Europe promised to offer training to “law enforcement and judicial authorities” in new methods of investigation and assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units.

These commitments were an explicit pledge to support and strengthen elements of the Sudanese state. A Regional Operational Centre (ROCK) has been established in Khartoum whose chief aim it to halt people smuggling and refugee flows by allowing European officials to work directly with their Sudanese opposite numbers. The counter-trafficking coordination centre in Khartoum — staffed jointly by police officers from Sudan and several European countries, including Britain, France and Italy — will partly rely on information sourced by the Sudanese national intelligence service.

Finally there is some evidence of Russian involvement in the Sudanese crisis. Russian troops, working for a private contractor, are reported to have been seen on the streets of Khartoum, suppressing the uprising.

Given the range of support for President Omar al-Bashir it isn’t surprising that he’s managed to resist popular pressure to step down. Much depends on how long demonstrations can be maintained, and how much force the regime is prepared to deploy to crush its opponents.

Turkey woos Eritrean Muslims

%PM, %09 %546 %2019 %13:%Jan Written by

January 9, 2019 News

Eritrean Muslims courted by Erdogan as they set up office in Istanbul

The Eritrean Ulama’a League (Rabita-i Ulama Eritriye), a Muslim organization that is seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, opened an office in Istanbul on Jan. 5, 2019.

The inauguration was attended by Yasin Aktay, chief advisor to ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as keynote speaker.

The Eritrean Ulama’a League is supported by the Erdogan government, which has been pursuing a global campaign to woo various Muslim groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami.

Among the guests were Abdul-Hamid al-Ani, director of information at the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI).

In February 2017 Sheikh Burhan Said, president of the Eritrean Ulama’a League, came to Istanbul and visited the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a charity group that has been identified as an arms smuggler to jihadist groups in Libya and Syria and was previously reported by Russia to the United Nations Security Council for links to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Sheikh Burhan Said, the president of Eritrean Ulama’a League visited headquarters of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) in Istanbul, Turkey.

The IHH, backed by the Turkish government, works closely with Turkish intelligence agency the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

In a televised interview last year, Erdogan aide Aktay advocated a caliphate vision for Turkey, calling the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami Turkey’s soft power proxies.

Aktay was deputy chairman of the ruling AKP responsible for managing the AKP’s foreign relations and served as party spokesperson. He is known to be an influential figure in shaping Erdogan government policies in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Abdul-Hamid al-Ani, director of information at the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq (AMSI), attended the event.

Background from Awate 2015

An Initiative To Form An Eritrean Muslim Council

May 14, 2015 All">15

Gedab News learned that a  group of Eritrean sheikhs and scholars are in a three-day conference in Turkey; they are expected to form an Eritrean Muslim Council. Many Eritrean Muslims do not recognize the Dar Al Iftaa that was assembled by the Eritrean ruling party and which is headed by Sheikh Alamin who was appointed by the PFDJ regime.

Traditionally, the Eritrean Muslim Mufti was elected by the congregations of the mosque based on a Muslim consensus. The last formal Eritrean Grand Mufti was the late Mufti Ibrahim AlMukhtar who died in 1969.

The Eritrean government curtails the freedom of religious institution which are under the control of the Eritrean government which administers them through the government’s Religious Affairs Department. The interference in religious affairs is so pervasive that in 2007 the government forcefully dethroned Abuna Antonios the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and appointed Abuna Deskorios in his place. The dethroned Abun had protested the interference of the government in church affairs and demanded the release of Christian prisoners.Abune Antonios, who was born in 1927, is still held under house arrest since 2006. The Abun was enthroned on March 2004 as the Patriarch of Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Eritrea in a ceremony presided by Pope Shenouda III,  the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. The appointment of Abuna Dekerios is rejected by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III who “refused to recognize [it] as a canonical act.” Several Oriental Orthodox Churches and an overwhelming number of Eritreans Orthodox Christians also reject the appointment of Abune Deskerios.

The other Eritrean churches also  do not fare any better; the Catholic Church had its publication stopped and some religious sects are denied any government service rights due to their conscientious objection to carry arms or get involved in political affairs. Many are languishing in unknown prison locations.Eritrea is mainly composed of Christians and Muslims. Christianity entered the region in the third century AD while Islam entered it while the Prophet of Islam was still being chased out of his birthplace, Mecca.

At present, while their Christian brethren have synods in the Diaspora, Eritrean Muslims do not have a council that airs their voice or attends to their religious affairs. In the past, several efforts to create a council that represents Eritrean Muslims failed and its absence left the matter in the hands of individuals and political groups.

There are great expectations among Muslims to see the creation of the Council succeed hoping that it will attend to their religious matters and provide them with spiritual guidance. An Eritrean elder told Gedab News, “The absence of such guidance has resulted in the fragmentations of Muslims and weakened their resolve; the vacuum is exposing our youth to the risks of religious fanaticism.”

A handful of Eritrean-European Muslims have fallen prey to fanatic forces like ISIS.  Several people contacted by Gedab News had cautious views about the Turkey meeting. Most of them expressed fear that it might dwell and reflect inter-Muslim sectarian issue of jurisprudence while at the same time hoped the council adopts a moderate, uniting outlook similar to the one that Eritrean Muslims had under the leadership of the late Mufti Ibrahim Mukhtar.In recent years, Turkey has taken the lead in reviving and promoting the forward looking traditional Islam. The meeting in Turkey is expected to issue a press release.


The reforms by the country’s new prime minister are clashing with its flawed Constitution and could push the country toward an interethnic conflict.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.CreditCreditAlex Welsh for The New York Times 

By Mahmood Mamdani

Mr. Mamdani is the director of the Institute of Social Research at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and a professor at Columbia University.

Jan. 3, 2019

Mr. Abiy has been celebrated as a reformer, but his transformative politics has come up against ethnic federalism enshrined in Ethiopia’s Constitution. The resulting clash threatens to exacerbate competitive ethnic politics further and push the country toward an interethnic conflict.

The 1994 Constitution, introduced by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front governing coalition, recast the country from a centrally unified republic to a federation of nine regional ethnic states and two federally administered city-states. It bases key rights — to land, government jobs, representation in local and federal bodies — not on Ethiopian citizenship but on being considered ethnically indigenous in constituent ethnic states.

The system of ethnic federalism was troubled with internal inconsistencies because ethnic groups do not live only in a discrete “homeland” territory but are also dispersed across the country. Nonnative ethnic minorities live within every ethnic homeland.

Ethiopia’s census lists more than 90 ethnic groups, but there are only nine ethnically defined regional assemblies with rights for the officially designated majority ethnic group. The nonnative minorities are given special districts and rights of self-administration. But no matter the number of minority regions, the fiction of an ethnic homeland creates endless minorities.

Ethnic mobilization comes from multiple groups, including Ethiopians without an ethnic homeland, and those disenfranchised as minorities in the region of their residence, even if their ethnic group has a homeland in another state.

Ethnic federalism also unleashed a struggle for supremacy among the Big Three: the Tigray, the Amhara and the Oromo. Although the ruling E.P.R.D.F. is a coalition of four parties, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front representing the Tigray minority has been in the driving seat since the 1991 revolution. The Amhara, dominant before 1991, and the Oromo, the largest ethnic group in the country, complained they were being treated as subordinate minorities.

When the government announced plans to expand Addis Ababa, the federally run city-state, into bordering Oromo lands, protests erupted in 2015. The Amhara joined and both groups continued to demand land reform, equal political representation and an end to rights abuses.

Ethiopian army soldiers controlled protestors from the capital and those displaced by ethnic-based violence over the weekend in Burayu, as they demonstrated demanding justice from the government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last September.CreditMulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn, who took office in 2012 after the death of the long-term premier and Tigray leader Mr. Zenawi, responded brutally to the protests. Security forces killed between 500 and 1,000 protesters in a year. Faced with a spiraling crisis, the ruling E.P.R.D.F. coalition appointed Mr. Abiy, a former military official and a leader of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization — a constituent of the ruling coalition — as prime minister.

Mr. Abiy’s reforms have been applauded but have also led to greater ethnic mobilization for justice and equality. The E.P.R.D.F.’s achievement since 1991 was equal education for girls and boys, rural and urban, leading to greater prominence of women, Muslims and Pentecostal groups.

The recent reforms of Mr. Abiy, who was born to a Muslim Oromo father and an Orthodox Amhara mother and is a devout Pentecostal Christian, have further broadened political participation to underprivileged groups.

Mobilization of ethnic militias is on the rise. Paramilitaries or ethnic militias known as special police, initially established as counterinsurgency units, are increasingly involved in ethnic conflicts, mainly between neighboring ethnic states. A good example is the role of the Somali Special Force in the border conflict with the Oromia state, according to Yonas Ashine, a historian at Addis Ababa University. These forces are also drawn into conflicts between native and nonnative groups.

Nearly a million Ethiopians have been displaced from their homes by escalating ethnic violence since Mr. Abiy’s appointment, according to Addisu Gebregziabher, who heads the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Fears of Ethiopia suffering Africa’s next interethnic conflict are growing. Prime Minister Abiy himself is constantly invoking religious symbols, especially those linked to American Protestant evangelical megachurches, and has brought a greater number of Pentecostals into the higher ranks of government.

Ethiopians used to think of themselves as Africans of a special kind, who were not colonized, but the country today resembles a quintessential African system, marked by ethnic mobilization for ethnic gains.

In most of Africa, ethnicity was politicized when the British turned the ethnic group into a unit of local administration, which they termed “indirect rule.” Every bit of the colony came to be defined as an ethnic homeland, where an ethnic authority enforced an ethnically defined customary law that conferred privileges on those deemed indigenous at the expense of non-indigenous minorities.

The move was a response to a perennial colonial problem: Racial privilege for whites mobilized those excluded as a racialized nonwhite majority. By creating an additional layer of privilege, this time ethnic, indirect rule fragmented the racially conscious majority into so many ethnic minorities, in every part of the country setting ethnic majorities against ethnic minorities. Wherever this system continued after independence, national belonging gave way to tribal identity as the real meaning of citizenship.

Many thought the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, representing a minority in the dominant coalition, turned to ethnic federalism to dissolve and fragment Ethiopian society into numerous ethnic groups — each a minority — so it could come up with a “national” vision. In a way it replicated the British system.

But led by Mr. Zenawi, the T.P.L.F. was also most likely influenced by Soviet ethno-territorial federalism and the creation of ethnic republics, especially in Central Asia. Ethiopia’s 1994 Constitution evoked the classically Stalinist definition of “nation, nationality and people” and the Soviet solution to “the national question.”

As in the Soviet Union, every piece of land in Ethiopia was inscribed as the ethnic homeland of a particular group, constitutionally dividing the population into a permanent majority alongside permanent minorities with little stake in the system. Mr. Zenawi and his party had both Sovietized and Africanized Ethiopia.

Like much of Africa, Ethiopia is at a crossroads. Neither the centralized republic instituted by the Derg military junta in 1974 nor the ethnic federalism of Mr. Zenawi’s 1994 Constitution points to a way forward.

Mr. Abiy can achieve real progress if Ethiopia embraces a different kind of federation — territorial and not ethnic — where rights in a federal unit are dispensed not on the basis of ethnicity but on residence. Such a federal arrangement will give Ethiopians an even chance of keeping an authoritarian dictatorship at bay.

Mahmood Mamdani is the director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda, a professor of government at Columbia University and the author of “Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism.”


January 3, 2019 Horn of Africa, News, Other, Research & information, Uncategorized

Source: al Ahram

Sino-American duel in the Red Sea

The race for power and influence between the US and China in the East Africa and Red Sea region can only speed up in the coming years, writes Hicham Mourad

The US military base in Djibouti is located just a few miles from the Chinese base

Like several regional powers that have rushed in recent years to the southern Red Sea, various global powers have also established naval bases near the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait that controls the passage between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean.

Military Bases DjiboutiSome of these powers, often established in Djibouti on the western shore of the Red Sea, have a relatively old presence in this region of the Horn of Africa. France has had a military base there since 1977, the date of independence of this former French colony. The United States established a base there in 2002 after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Other powers such as Italy, Japan and most recently China have also gained a foothold in Djibouti because of its strategic position to the southern entrance to the Red Sea and its relative political stability compared to its neighbours.

The last great power to set its sights on the Horn of Africa was Russia, which announced in August last year that it was going to build a “logistics” base on the Red Sea in Eritrea. Without indicating exactly where or when the project was to be carried out, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his Eritrean counterpart that it aimed to boost bilateral trade and infrastructure investment.

The projected base will be Russia’s first in Africa since the end of the Cold War, and it will provide it with the opportunity to project its power across the Middle East and the shipping routes between Asia and Europe. The project is undoubtedly the result of the determination of Russian President Vladimir Putin to assert the global role of his country and to ensure its place in the race for influence with the US and China.

In August 2017, China inaugurated its naval base in Djibouti at a cost of $600 million and hosting up to 10,000 soldiers. According to the Chinese government, the base is intended to help Beijing in its humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in Africa (2,400 Chinese soldiers are now deployed on the continent) and Western Asia and to lead emergency relief, protection, and evacuation work of Chinese citizens living overseas and engage in military cooperation, including joint manoeuvres, and combat piracy.

The base will also be responsible for ensuring the security of international and strategic seaways near the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait, in order to protect China’s massive economic interests in Africa and the Middle East. It will serve as a transport route for raw materials from the Horn of Africa countries to China and electronic products from China to the Horn of Africa.

China has invested more than $30 billion in Sudan and South Sudan, for example, both of which are oil-rich countries. In addition, it has built a 750km railway line linking Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to the Red Sea via Djibouti. The Chinese base will see the extension of this rail network to the countries of the Horn of Africa region to assist in transporting goods between these countries and China through the port of Djibouti.

The establishment of the Chinese base in Djibouti also marks a break with Beijing’s traditional foreign policy focusing on the East Asian region. It is a projection of Chinese power that expresses the country’s growing interest in Africa and the Middle East, especially in the framework of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” initiative, also known as “One Belt, One Road”, which aims to establish land and sea routes linking China to Europe via Eurasia and the Middle East.

The base is a result of China’s desire to build a new “Maritime Silk Road” joining up “a string of pearls” in the shape of a series of Chinese “footholds” linking the Indian Ocean, the Gulf region and the Red Sea and serving the “One Belt, One Road” initiative announced in 2015. As part of this initiative, China plans to invest $8 trillion in infrastructure in 68 countries, including Djibouti, which is essential for the African and European routes to China.

CHINESE PLANS: The establishment of the first Chinese base in the region came after several years of increasing economic and commercial involvement in Africa and the Middle East.

Now the second-largest economy in the world after the United States, China plans to become the largest by the 2030s. In order to help achieve this, Beijing is seeking through its naval base in Djibouti to protect its growing economic interests in this part of the world. It is seeking to secure natural resources to support its economic growth, as can is clear when one considers that half the oil imported by China passes through the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait and most Chinese exports to Europe are channelled through the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal.

To serve its trade and economic interests in Africa, China is also investing heavily in the construction of infrastructure in the east of the continent. The most obvious example has been the construction of a railway line in Kenya between Nairobi, the capital, and the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean at a total cost of $3.6 billion. Inaugurated in May 2017, the railway is the most expensive infrastructure project undertaken in the country since Kenya’s independence in 1964.

In addition to China’s economic aid, investment and business activities in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, the region is also home to thousands of Chinese workers. In 2015, Beijing evacuated 600 Chinese workers from Yemen because of the conflict in the country. In 2011, it sent a warship and a military transport plane to Libya to evacuate some 35,000 Chinese nationals following the overthrow of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan crisis was a major factor in the decision to establish a base in Djibouti.

The Chinese base was also built in the context of growing economic relations between Beijing and Djibouti, which allowed China to override the objections of the United States. Nearly 40 per cent of the financing of major infrastructure and investment projects in Djibouti now comes from China, and these have included the Ethiopia-Djibouti oil pipeline and the Ethiopia-Djibouti fresh water pipeline.

China’s Export Import Bank has granted $957 million to finance other infrastructure projects, including the railway line linking the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to Djibouti City on the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait. It is hoped that this rail link with one of the African economies experiencing strong economic growth will turn Djibouti into a hub for East African trade.

This is particularly the case since Djibouti has few opportunities for economic growth outside the exploitation of its geostrategic location near the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait. In addition to direct financial gains from land leasing and foreign bases like that of China, employment opportunities for Djibouti citizens are provided by the US and French bases in the country, with these also contributing significantly to foreign trade. Port activity now accounts for 70 per cent of Djibouti’s GDP.

China’s military engagement in the Horn of Africa began in 2008 with mainly counter-piracy missions. Today, its commitment has broadened in line with the deepening of its economic and commercial relations with the region and as part of a nascent but growing global military engagement policy stretching from the South China Sea to East Africa. This has meant the establishment of a strong navy allowing China to project its power around the world, and naval bases like that in Djibouti will be essential to achieve this ambition.

A US Pentagon report released last year said that the Djibouti base, along with the regular visits of Chinese warships to foreign ports, reflected China’s growing global influence. Similarly, the Chinese have recently stepped up their naval patrols near the Gulfs of Oman and Aden.

Another indicator of China’s global ambition came in the parallel it drew between the inauguration of its base in Djibouti and the celebration of the legacy of Zheng He (1371-1433 CE), an early 15th-century Chinese admiral whose travels in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean have become the symbol of past Chinese power and of China’s desire to see a new world order led by China.

Accompanied by 27,000 men on 62 large and 255 small ships, Zheng He led seven naval expeditions to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa over 28 years during the Chinese Ming Dynasty. It is not a coincidence that the day Chinese ships embarked for the port of Djibouti on 11 July 2017 was the same day on which Zheng He undertook his famous voyages more than 600 years ago.

The Chinese vision of a new “Maritime Silk Road” is thus closely linked to the official celebration of Zheng He who brought fame and power to China centuries ago. In Chinese publications of recent years, Zheng He’s fleets are described as tools for economic growth, scientific research, peaceful cultural exchange and universal friendship. His travels are often seen as symbols of a global order based on trade rather than conflict.

However, it should be noted that the main objective of Zheng He’s travels was to assert the power and dominance of the Chinese Ming Dynasty and to collect tribute from local rulers.

photo: Reuters

US COUNTER-PLANS: Located just a few miles from the Chinese base, the US military base in Djibouti, called Camp Lemonnier, hosts some 4,000 soldiers.

It has several aims, the first of which is to assist in the fight against terrorism. The foremost target is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, which controls about a quarter of the central and eastern parts of the country. The US military regularly conducts secret operations and drone raids against this terrorist organisation from its base in Djibouti, as well as against the Islamist group Al-Shabab in Somalia that has carried out suicide bombings in the capital Mogadishu. This insurgency, which has spread to neighbouring Kenya, has become a key target of US President Donald Trump’s war on terrorism.

In addition to logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting against the Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015, the US military in the Horn of Africa has been helping to ensure free navigation through the Bab Al-Mandab Strait. A large proportion of the oil exports going from the Gulf region to the West goes through this strait, as do almost all the US warships, including aircraft carriers and submarines, that cross the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. US warships, as well as those of the European Union, Russia and China, have also been conducting patrols in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.

However, the US, which has long dominated the region through its military presence and political influence, was caught off its guard by the decision of Djibouti to approve the installation on its soil of a Chinese naval base in 2016. Two years before this, Susan Rice, the then national security advisor to US president Barack Obama, came to Djibouti in order to head off a similar deal with Russia. However, Washington could do nothing to prevent China from setting up a base in Djibouti, given the solid and growing economic relations between the two countries.

The establishment of a Chinese military base in the Horn of Africa, the first outside China, is a negative strategic development for the US, and it has serious implications for the long-standing US dominance in the region. Shortly after the 2016 decision, the White House announced the renewal of the lease of the US base in the country for another 20 years and the doubling of its annual payments to Djibouti to $63 million, as well as plans to modernise the base at a cost of over $1 billion.

Among other things, the Pentagon fears that the installation of a Chinese base in Djibouti just a few miles from Camp Lemonnier will allow Beijing to monitor US military operations in the region and the means used in their implementation.

Moreover, in March last year Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the US Africa Command AFRICOM, warned the US Congress that China could threaten US interests in Africa, especially in the Red Sea, should it be allowed to take over the key port of Doraleh in Djibouti. This port had been operated by Dubai Ports World (DP World), a United Arab Emirates-owned company, since 2006, but the Djibouti government broke its agreement with the Emirati company and nationalised the port in February last year.

The race for power and influence in the East Africa and Red Sea region

According to Waldhauser, Djibouti had assured the United States that it would not lease the port to the Chinese, but he still warned that the US could not afford to run the risk of seeing the port fall under China’s control, since this could affect the resupplying of the US military base in the country and the ability of US Navy ships to refuel there. There was a need for the “rewriting of US military strategy in the region with China in mind”, he said.

Given China’s strong economic involvement in Djibouti, unmatched by the US, Washington seems to have sought an alternative in its neighbour Eritrea, which also enjoys a strategic position on the southern Red Sea. Some scholars believe that Eritrea could in future host a new American military base and allow US access to its ports, though for this to happen Eritrea would first have to break out of its diplomatic isolation and normalise relations with Ethiopia.

In order to bring this about, last year the US launched a quiet campaign by Christian Church leaders and US diplomats to lobby both sides to meet and resolve their differences. In April 2018 after the accession of new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto visited Eritrea, the first such visit in over a decade, before travelling on to Ethiopia in a sign of the US interest in rekindling ties with Asmara.

Yamamoto had previously hosted meetings between senior officials of the two countries in Washington and set up diplomatic back-channels. Diplomatic sources said he had brought together Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Yemane Gebreab, a long-standing advisor of the Eritrean president, and former Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn, with a view to laying the foundations for a peace agreement to be announced a few months later.

Washington also encouraged its allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have important interests in the Horn of Africa particularly because of the war in Yemen, to mediate between Addis Ababa and Asmara to put an end to the state of war between the two countries. These efforts were successful thanks in part to Saudi and Emirati financial support, and in July 2018 Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace agreement in Saudi Arabia ending two decades of enmity sparked by a two-year border conflict that broke out in 1998.

Faced with the growing influence of China in the Red Sea, the Horn of Africa, and on the African continent in general, the United States has been determined to counter the ambitions of Beijing. In its National Security Strategy for 2017, the Trump administration described China as a “revisionist power” and a “strategic competitor” of the US that was seeking to undermine US power, influence, security and prosperity. Like Russia, China is now seen as challenging US power, influence and interests.

The US recognises that it cannot match the scale of China’s investment in Africa, even as it has vowed to reduce its economic influence in the region. Washington is particularly concerned about the security implications of China’s taking control of strategic assets in the wider world as a result of unsustainable borrowing by developing countries, especially in Africa. Its strategy, therefore, partly relies on encouraging American companies to invest more in the continent, explaining why US loans have recently increased to Africa. This development has been widely seen as one way of countering Chinese largesse in Africa and in other emerging markets.

A recent study by the international law firm Baker McKenzie has indicated that the battle for influence between China and the United States is expected to intensify over the next decade. It notes that China spent $8.7 billion on infrastructure projects in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017 alone and that the decision by Trump last October to change the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) into the International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) and double its loans to $60 billion in the developing world, notably in Africa, was intended to counter the rapidly growing influence of China.

This decision will considerably speed up the race for influence in Africa, especially in the Horn of Africa region, between the two superpowers.