January 9, 2019 News

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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

Wednesday, 09 January 2019 13:06 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 http://awate.com/?p=107078">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.

Source=https://eritreahub.org/turkey-woos-eritrean-muslims

 
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.”

Source=https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/opinion/ethiopia-abiy-ahmed-reforms-ethnic-conflict-ethnic-federalism.html

China v USA: an Egyptian view of the duel in the Red Sea

Thursday, 03 January 2019 13:42 Written by

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.

Source=https://eritreahub.org/china-v-usa-an-egyptian-view-of-the-duel-in-the-red-sea

Getting rid of the UN’s chief envoy when you are a country as dependent on international goodwill as Somalia is, is an extraordinary act. To kick out as distinguished a diplomat as Nicholas Haysom makes this decision even more remarkable.

The reason for his expulsion is apparently Haysom’s clash with the Somali government. VOA reports that the authorities released this statement to its own media. “The decision came after the highest U.N. diplomat in Somalia violated the agency’s standards and the international diplomatic norms by intervening the national sovereignty of Somalia.”

So what had Haysom done which so infuriated the Somalis?

This is how VOA explained the decision:

On Monday, the U.N. ambassador urged the Somali government to safeguard human rights. In a letter, Haysom urged Somali authorities to “exercise its authority in conformance with the law and provide explanation about the atrocities committed in Baidoa last month and the detention of Mukhtar Robow.”

Robow, a former al-Shabab leader, was arrest by the Somali government security forces last month. He also was excluded from elections in the South West Region of Somalia.

During his arrest, and the protests that followed, allegations came up that U.N.-supported regional police forces were involved in violence that left 15 civilians dead.

RobowRobow, once a senior member of Al-Shabaab, and its spokesman, left the rebel group in 2013. But when he decided to stand for election in Baidowa in the South-West of the country, the authorities discovered he was widely popular.

The government “has just woken up to the fact ex-militant Robow has a commanding lead and is likely to be the next president of [South West State] in a free context,” said Rashid Abdi, an expert on Somalia at the International Crisis Group.

Ethiopia troops, acting as part of the African Union led peacekeepting force, moved in and arrested Robow. In ensuing clashes, local people were killed.

Nicholas Haysom’s difficult questions

By raising these issues Haysom trod on Somali government corns. The government relies on the African Union force for its survival. It cannot afford to upset its Ethiopian allies. Hence its decision to declare the UN envoy ‘persona non-grata.’

It is worth recognising Haysom’s background. ‘Fink’ Haysom (as he was known to his friends) was Nelson Mandela’s chief legal adviser. He is probably the most illustrious South African international lawyer, with an astonishing track record as a diplomat.

He was Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan (2012–2016); Director for Political, Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (2007–2012); Head of the Office of Constitutional Support in the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) (2005–2007).

Haysom is also an accomplished playright: recipient of the South Africa Playwright of the Year award (1987). The story is based on an actual event that took place in Cape Town in 1937.

January 1, 2019 Ethiopia, News

Tigrayans halt army redeployment of weapons

Popular protests on Monday prevented the Ethiopian army from transferring its heavy weapons from north-eastern Tigray.

The events took place in Gulo Mekeda, close to the town of Zalambessa, which borders on Eritrea.

After a daylong standoff, the military held discussions with local people and agreed to remain there until replacements arrived.

The people of Tigray are sceptical about the policies of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whom they accuse of working with Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki. They believe this has made Tigray vulnerable to potential attacks from Eritrea.

Since reconciliation between Eritrea and Ethiopia and Prime Minister Abiy’s trip to Asmara in July, Tigrayans have been warily watching developments on both sides of the border. They have insisted that the army’s artillery stays in their area to protect them.

Why the military wants to move its artillery

Tigrayans halt army redeployment of weapons

Ethiopia’s federal army believes it requires its armaments to prepare for a possible conflict in Oromia.

Since the return of rebels of the Oromo Liberation Front from exile in Eritrea there have been clashes between OLF forces and government soldiers throughout the state of Oromia.

The Tigrayans mounting the roadblocks in Gulo Mekeda were not convinced, arguing that the OLF doesn’t have heavy weapons, while the Eritreans do.

The recent closure of the Eritrea – Ethiopian border has only fuelled Tigrayan distrust of President Isaias and Prime Miniser Abiy.

Tigrayans halt army redeployment of weapons

Ethiopia has experienced ethnic conflicts in many parts of the country after Prime Minister Abiy ended the dominance of the centre over regional parties.

Currently there are close to 3 million people displaced within Ethiopia.

December 29, 2018 News

Source: Globe and Mail

Saturday, December 29, 2018

GEOFFREY YORK
 

ASMARA — The road from Eritrea’s mountain capital to the Red Sea is narrow and dangerous. It descends steeply in switchbacks and hairpin turns, dotted with stone crosses that mark the deaths of drivers who failed to navigate the hazards: rock falls, steep cliffs, wandering goats, herds of camels, troops of baboons.

Now, the mountain road has a new menace: Hundreds of massive, Chinese-made trucks are thundering in a steady procession to the sea, carrying thousands of tonnes of zinc and copper concentrate from a Canadian-owned mine and roaring perilously close to shepherds and village children along the route.

The mine’s majority owner, Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources Ltd., has been warned by its own human-rights auditor – and by the United Nations children’s agency – about the potentially lethal risks of the truck traffic on the mountain road, especially to local children.

Four people have been killed and almost a dozen injured in at least 19 accidents involving the mining trucks in the past five years, according to the auditor. But the trucks are not accountable to Nevsun – they are operated by state-owned Transhorn Trucking, a branch of an authoritarian government with one of the world’s worst human-rights records.

It’s an example of the state partnerships Nevsun has been obliged to accept in Eritrea as part of its profitable mining operation. Those partnerships – especially one with a state-owned construction company that often uses conscript labour – are now coming under increasing scrutiny in Canadian courts.

On Jan. 23, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments from lawyers for Eritrean refugees and from Nevsun itself in a historic test case to determine whether a Canadian company can be sued in Canada over the alleged use of slave labour and other human-rights abuses at an overseas operation. Nevsun and its critics agree on one point: The case will have huge ramifications for Canadian businesses, establishing the extent of their accountability for their overseas investments.

The Bisha mine in Eritrea, originally a gold mine and now producing zinc and copper, is 60-per-cent owned by Nevsun and 40-per-cent owned by the Eritrean government, a brutal dictatorship that has locked up thousands of political prisoners without trial in its 25 years of oneparty rule. Bisha has become the single biggest source of revenue for the government, providing more than $1-billion in taxes and other payments since it started production in 2011. When Bisha was under development from 2008 to 2011, Nevsun’s main partner was a state-controlled company, Segen Construction.

Like many Eritrean state companies, Segen routinely uses conscript labour: workers who are drafted into indefinite service at 18 and forced to toil for the military or the government for as many as 25 years for menial wages. An inquiry by the United Nations has described the system as “enslavement.”

Nevsun acknowledged in 2013 that conscript workers may have been used during the construction of the mine. It said it has since established a screening system to prevent the use of such workers at the mine. And it said the mine is now operating “according to international standards of governance, workplace conditions, health, safety and human rights.”

But outside the mine site, those standards are more difficult to enforce. The trucking contract shows how Nevsun uses a state company for its export operations. In response to questions from The Globe and Mail this month, Nevsun declined to say whether it conducts any detailed monitoring of the trucking company’s daily operations, the fatalities and injuries on its route to the sea port or the compensation paid to its victims.

In interviews with The Globe, several drivers said the trucking company does not use conscripts. But they confirmed that they routinely drive on the hazardous mountain road at night, in shifts as long as 10 hours. They said they are paid about $130 a month, plus a travel allowance.

A 2015 human-rights audit, commissioned by Nevsun and conducted by LKL International Consulting Inc., reported that the Bisha trucks had already been involved in a number of accidents along the road to the Red Sea, including a fatal one. Road safety was an emerging human-rights issue at the mine because of the “significant increase” in the volume of trucks to the sea port and the “ramp-up to round-the-clock hauling of copper concentrate,” the audit said.

“The road safety issue is the area where the Bisha Mine’s operations have the most likely and potentially severe impacts on children,” the audit found. UNICEF had confirmed the risks for children on the truck route, the audit said.

“Heavy truck traffic will likely increase when the mine transitions into the zinc phase,” it said.

“The risk of road accidents will likely increase if roads and bridges along the main route … continue to deteriorate without an increase in maintenance efforts.”

While the mine has safety rules for its vehicles, “it is more difficult to enforce these policies outside the mine site, and there are many variables beyond the company’s control,” the audit said.

It noted that the state company, Transhorn, has installed GPS transmitters on some of its trucks to monitor its drivers. But the Eritrean Police Force “does not appear to do much” to control the speed of the trucks, it said.

Lloyd Lipsett, president of LKL International Consulting, said the number of accidents involving Bisha trucks has increased since the 2015 audit. In an interview with The Globe, he said he will be recommending to Nevsun that the company pay serious attention to the trucking issue. Installing GPS transmitters has failed to solve the problem, he said.

Nevsun also needs to review the issues of fatigue among drivers and their nighttime shifts on the mountain road, Mr. Lipsett said.

He said he has been assured that the victims of accidents or their families are paid compensation. But he acknowledged that he doesn’t know the amount of the payments and recommended a review of compensation practices. “It’s a legitimate question,” he said.

Todd Romaine, vice-president of corporate social responsibility at Nevsun, declined to answer most of The Globe’s questions about his company’s relationship with Transhorn Trucking.

“When off-site, service providers for road haulage have to comply with relevant Eritrean laws and regulations, with any incidents being reported to and investigated by the Eritrean Police Force and dealt with in accordance to Eritrean laws,” Mr.

Romaine said.

In September, Nevsun agreed to a $1.9-billion friendly takeover by a Chinese company, Zijin Mining Group Co. Ltd. The Chinese offer of $6 a share was due to expire on Friday afternoon, paving the way for the takeover to be completed soon. But even with Chinese ownership, the case at the Supreme Court of Canada will continue.

The case was launched by three Eritrean refugees who accuse Nevsun of violating international law against forced labour, slavery and torture. In rulings in 2016 and 2017, the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected Nevsun’s argument that the case could only be heard in Eritrea, not in Canada. The company has appealed to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for a crucial ruling on the responsibilities of Canadian mining companies that operate abroad.

In its appeal, Nevsun argues that the legal case by the Eritrean refugees would “magnify the risk” of further claims against Canadian companies. “Canadian courts are seeing growing numbers of claims against local defendants alleging that they are responsible, directly or indirectly, for misconduct alleged to have taken place in other countries, such as human rights abuses,” Nevsun says. “Mining companies, in particular, are increasingly facing such claims.”

The Mining Association of Canada, in an intervention in the case, warned that the case could create so much uncertainty for Canadian mining companies that they would not be able to assess their potential liabilities, forcing some to leave developing countries. The reduced investment would harm the people of those countries, it said.

More than half of the world’s publicly listed mining and exploration companies have their headquarters in Canada, the association noted.

But the B.C. Supreme Court, in its 2016 ruling, found there was a “real risk” of an “unfair trial” if the refugees were told to file their claims in Eritrea. They would face punishment if they tried to return to the country, and any Eritrean judge who ruled in their favour “would place his or her career and personal safety in jeopardy,” the court ruled.

Joe Fiorante, a Vancouverbased lawyer for the Eritrean refugees, said this is the first time a human-rights claim against a Canadian company for its overseas activities has made it this far.

“Every attempt prior to this case to bring a human-rights claim against a Canadian company for conduct at an overseas operation has failed to get past the first stage of the test,” he told The Globe in an interview. “It’s been dismissed either for lack of jurisdiction, or the courts of Canada have said this is better dealt with in the foreign court. This is the real first test case. It’s gotten over both of those hurdles.”

In their B.C. court testimony, the Eritrean refugees said they were conscripted under Eritrea’s national service program to work for Segen and another state-controlled company that built the Bisha mine under a contract from Nevsun or its local subsidiary.

They said they were forced to work 10 hours a day, six days a week. They were housed in huts without beds or electricity, and their only food was bread, soup and tea, they said in their affidavits. Their employers controlled them by using deprivation, physical assault, threats and torture, they said.

One of the refugees, Mihretab Yemane Tekle, said he was always very hungry and weak and often sick. With temperatures reaching 47 degrees Celsius and workers fully exposed to the sun, he once saw a co-worker collapse from the heat, he said.

Another man, Gize Yebeyo Araya, said he suffered burns and scars on his face as a result of the intense heat and sun. He said he witnessed co-workers being punished with beatings or left in the hot sun for hours with their hands and feet tied together behind their backs.

The refugees argue that Nevsun was fully aware that Eritrea was a “high-risk zone for humanrights abuses” when it accepted a commercial partnership with the Eritrean government at the Bisha mine. “Eritrea is one of the most repressive states in the world,” they said in their statement to the Supreme Court. “It has no constitution, legislature, elections, political opposition or independent media.”

In the years since the case was first launched, a total of 85 plaintiffs have joined the claim, making similar allegations of humanrights abuses.

Nevsun has denied all of the allegations. In its response to the B.C. legal claim, the mining company said the plaintiffs were never involved in Bisha construction at all. Even if they were, Nevsun said, they were never abused or mistreated, never coerced into labour and never subjected to harsh or dangerous working conditions.

Under the policies of its subsidiary at the mine, Nevsun said, its contractors were required to promise that they weren’t employing any conscripts. It said it took “reasonable steps” to enforce this policy. If any forced labour was occurring, the company said, it was unaware of it and did not condone it.

In 2013, in response to a Human Rights Watch report on evidence of slave labour at the Bisha mine, Nevsun released a statement with a somewhat different version. It said it had first become aware of the forced-labour allegations in early 2009, a few months after the start of construction at the mine, and only then did it obtain a guarantee from Segen that conscripts would not be used at the mine.

“The company expresses regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts four years ago, in the early part of the Bisha Mine’s construction phase,” Nevsun said in its 2013 statement.

The mine is “required to use Segen for certain construction work at Bisha” and is prohibited from using other subcontractors for such work, it said.

Cliff Davis, president of Nevsun at the time, was asked about the human-rights issues in an interview with The Globe in 2011.

“There are always trade-offs in where you’re working,” he replied. “As a mining company, we shouldn’t be imposing some form of political environment that we’re familiar with.”

In 2014 and 2015, a United Nations inquiry into human rights in Eritrea heard testimony similar to the allegations by the Eritrean refugees in the Nevsun case. Eritrea’s government refused to allow the inquiry to visit the country, but UN investigators talked to 550 witnesses outside the country and found disturbing evidence of forced labour at the Bisha mine.

“Even though Segen tried to conceal their status, the majority of Segen’s ‘workers’ were in fact conscripts performing their national service,” the UN inquiry said in its 2015 report. “The majority of labourers were conscripts whose military units were put at the disposal of Segen by the army.”

Segen even deployed conscripts to build a network of tunnels for future mining operations at the site, the report said, citing testimony by witnesses.

“Compulsory work in underground mines is totally prohibited under international law,” it said.

Working conditions for the conscripts were often “bad and abusive,” the report found. Many were forced to work without safety equipment, and some were subjected to arduous double shifts – long daytime hours of hard manual labour followed by night shifts guarding the camp.

The lack of safety equipment led to fatal accidents, the report said. “Some died, they were not able to breathe,” a former Segen worker told the inquiry. “Others had no uniforms and suffered from chemical burns on the face, hands and body; they did not receive any medical care. A friend was working while oxygen was limited and he died because of it.”

While most of the allegations date back to Bisha’s construction phase, an association of human rights and refugee groups says it found evidence of conscript labour at Bisha as recently as 2016.

A report this year by Eritrea Focus, quoting dozens of former conscripts who escaped to other countries, said the conscripts were often forced to work as many as 12 hours a day at Bisha, 6½ days a week, in hazardous conditions that often caused illness.

“There is rigid enforcement of compulsory labour, and any attempt to escape is punished severely by military-type supervisors,” the report said.

December 29, 2018 News

Source: Globe and Mail

Saturday, December 29, 2018

GEOFFREY YORK
 

ASMARA — The road from Eritrea’s mountain capital to the Red Sea is narrow and dangerous. It descends steeply in switchbacks and hairpin turns, dotted with stone crosses that mark the deaths of drivers who failed to navigate the hazards: rock falls, steep cliffs, wandering goats, herds of camels, troops of baboons.

Now, the mountain road has a new menace: Hundreds of massive, Chinese-made trucks are thundering in a steady procession to the sea, carrying thousands of tonnes of zinc and copper concentrate from a Canadian-owned mine and roaring perilously close to shepherds and village children along the route.

The mine’s majority owner, Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources Ltd., has been warned by its own human-rights auditor – and by the United Nations children’s agency – about the potentially lethal risks of the truck traffic on the mountain road, especially to local children.

Four people have been killed and almost a dozen injured in at least 19 accidents involving the mining trucks in the past five years, according to the auditor. But the trucks are not accountable to Nevsun – they are operated by state-owned Transhorn Trucking, a branch of an authoritarian government with one of the world’s worst human-rights records.

It’s an example of the state partnerships Nevsun has been obliged to accept in Eritrea as part of its profitable mining operation. Those partnerships – especially one with a state-owned construction company that often uses conscript labour – are now coming under increasing scrutiny in Canadian courts.

On Jan. 23, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear arguments from lawyers for Eritrean refugees and from Nevsun itself in a historic test case to determine whether a Canadian company can be sued in Canada over the alleged use of slave labour and other human-rights abuses at an overseas operation. Nevsun and its critics agree on one point: The case will have huge ramifications for Canadian businesses, establishing the extent of their accountability for their overseas investments.

The Bisha mine in Eritrea, originally a gold mine and now producing zinc and copper, is 60-per-cent owned by Nevsun and 40-per-cent owned by the Eritrean government, a brutal dictatorship that has locked up thousands of political prisoners without trial in its 25 years of oneparty rule. Bisha has become the single biggest source of revenue for the government, providing more than $1-billion in taxes and other payments since it started production in 2011. When Bisha was under development from 2008 to 2011, Nevsun’s main partner was a state-controlled company, Segen Construction.

Like many Eritrean state companies, Segen routinely uses conscript labour: workers who are drafted into indefinite service at 18 and forced to toil for the military or the government for as many as 25 years for menial wages. An inquiry by the United Nations has described the system as “enslavement.”

Nevsun acknowledged in 2013 that conscript workers may have been used during the construction of the mine. It said it has since established a screening system to prevent the use of such workers at the mine. And it said the mine is now operating “according to international standards of governance, workplace conditions, health, safety and human rights.”

But outside the mine site, those standards are more difficult to enforce. The trucking contract shows how Nevsun uses a state company for its export operations. In response to questions from The Globe and Mail this month, Nevsun declined to say whether it conducts any detailed monitoring of the trucking company’s daily operations, the fatalities and injuries on its route to the sea port or the compensation paid to its victims.

In interviews with The Globe, several drivers said the trucking company does not use conscripts. But they confirmed that they routinely drive on the hazardous mountain road at night, in shifts as long as 10 hours. They said they are paid about $130 a month, plus a travel allowance.

A 2015 human-rights audit, commissioned by Nevsun and conducted by LKL International Consulting Inc., reported that the Bisha trucks had already been involved in a number of accidents along the road to the Red Sea, including a fatal one. Road safety was an emerging human-rights issue at the mine because of the “significant increase” in the volume of trucks to the sea port and the “ramp-up to round-the-clock hauling of copper concentrate,” the audit said.

“The road safety issue is the area where the Bisha Mine’s operations have the most likely and potentially severe impacts on children,” the audit found. UNICEF had confirmed the risks for children on the truck route, the audit said.

“Heavy truck traffic will likely increase when the mine transitions into the zinc phase,” it said.

“The risk of road accidents will likely increase if roads and bridges along the main route … continue to deteriorate without an increase in maintenance efforts.”

While the mine has safety rules for its vehicles, “it is more difficult to enforce these policies outside the mine site, and there are many variables beyond the company’s control,” the audit said.

It noted that the state company, Transhorn, has installed GPS transmitters on some of its trucks to monitor its drivers. But the Eritrean Police Force “does not appear to do much” to control the speed of the trucks, it said.

Lloyd Lipsett, president of LKL International Consulting, said the number of accidents involving Bisha trucks has increased since the 2015 audit. In an interview with The Globe, he said he will be recommending to Nevsun that the company pay serious attention to the trucking issue. Installing GPS transmitters has failed to solve the problem, he said.

Nevsun also needs to review the issues of fatigue among drivers and their nighttime shifts on the mountain road, Mr. Lipsett said.

He said he has been assured that the victims of accidents or their families are paid compensation. But he acknowledged that he doesn’t know the amount of the payments and recommended a review of compensation practices. “It’s a legitimate question,” he said.

Todd Romaine, vice-president of corporate social responsibility at Nevsun, declined to answer most of The Globe’s questions about his company’s relationship with Transhorn Trucking.

“When off-site, service providers for road haulage have to comply with relevant Eritrean laws and regulations, with any incidents being reported to and investigated by the Eritrean Police Force and dealt with in accordance to Eritrean laws,” Mr.

Romaine said.

In September, Nevsun agreed to a $1.9-billion friendly takeover by a Chinese company, Zijin Mining Group Co. Ltd. The Chinese offer of $6 a share was due to expire on Friday afternoon, paving the way for the takeover to be completed soon. But even with Chinese ownership, the case at the Supreme Court of Canada will continue.

The case was launched by three Eritrean refugees who accuse Nevsun of violating international law against forced labour, slavery and torture. In rulings in 2016 and 2017, the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected Nevsun’s argument that the case could only be heard in Eritrea, not in Canada. The company has appealed to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for a crucial ruling on the responsibilities of Canadian mining companies that operate abroad.

In its appeal, Nevsun argues that the legal case by the Eritrean refugees would “magnify the risk” of further claims against Canadian companies. “Canadian courts are seeing growing numbers of claims against local defendants alleging that they are responsible, directly or indirectly, for misconduct alleged to have taken place in other countries, such as human rights abuses,” Nevsun says. “Mining companies, in particular, are increasingly facing such claims.”

The Mining Association of Canada, in an intervention in the case, warned that the case could create so much uncertainty for Canadian mining companies that they would not be able to assess their potential liabilities, forcing some to leave developing countries. The reduced investment would harm the people of those countries, it said.

More than half of the world’s publicly listed mining and exploration companies have their headquarters in Canada, the association noted.

But the B.C. Supreme Court, in its 2016 ruling, found there was a “real risk” of an “unfair trial” if the refugees were told to file their claims in Eritrea. They would face punishment if they tried to return to the country, and any Eritrean judge who ruled in their favour “would place his or her career and personal safety in jeopardy,” the court ruled.

Joe Fiorante, a Vancouverbased lawyer for the Eritrean refugees, said this is the first time a human-rights claim against a Canadian company for its overseas activities has made it this far.

“Every attempt prior to this case to bring a human-rights claim against a Canadian company for conduct at an overseas operation has failed to get past the first stage of the test,” he told The Globe in an interview. “It’s been dismissed either for lack of jurisdiction, or the courts of Canada have said this is better dealt with in the foreign court. This is the real first test case. It’s gotten over both of those hurdles.”

In their B.C. court testimony, the Eritrean refugees said they were conscripted under Eritrea’s national service program to work for Segen and another state-controlled company that built the Bisha mine under a contract from Nevsun or its local subsidiary.

They said they were forced to work 10 hours a day, six days a week. They were housed in huts without beds or electricity, and their only food was bread, soup and tea, they said in their affidavits. Their employers controlled them by using deprivation, physical assault, threats and torture, they said.

One of the refugees, Mihretab Yemane Tekle, said he was always very hungry and weak and often sick. With temperatures reaching 47 degrees Celsius and workers fully exposed to the sun, he once saw a co-worker collapse from the heat, he said.

Another man, Gize Yebeyo Araya, said he suffered burns and scars on his face as a result of the intense heat and sun. He said he witnessed co-workers being punished with beatings or left in the hot sun for hours with their hands and feet tied together behind their backs.

The refugees argue that Nevsun was fully aware that Eritrea was a “high-risk zone for humanrights abuses” when it accepted a commercial partnership with the Eritrean government at the Bisha mine. “Eritrea is one of the most repressive states in the world,” they said in their statement to the Supreme Court. “It has no constitution, legislature, elections, political opposition or independent media.”

In the years since the case was first launched, a total of 85 plaintiffs have joined the claim, making similar allegations of humanrights abuses.

Nevsun has denied all of the allegations. In its response to the B.C. legal claim, the mining company said the plaintiffs were never involved in Bisha construction at all. Even if they were, Nevsun said, they were never abused or mistreated, never coerced into labour and never subjected to harsh or dangerous working conditions.

Under the policies of its subsidiary at the mine, Nevsun said, its contractors were required to promise that they weren’t employing any conscripts. It said it took “reasonable steps” to enforce this policy. If any forced labour was occurring, the company said, it was unaware of it and did not condone it.

In 2013, in response to a Human Rights Watch report on evidence of slave labour at the Bisha mine, Nevsun released a statement with a somewhat different version. It said it had first become aware of the forced-labour allegations in early 2009, a few months after the start of construction at the mine, and only then did it obtain a guarantee from Segen that conscripts would not be used at the mine.

“The company expresses regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts four years ago, in the early part of the Bisha Mine’s construction phase,” Nevsun said in its 2013 statement.

The mine is “required to use Segen for certain construction work at Bisha” and is prohibited from using other subcontractors for such work, it said.

Cliff Davis, president of Nevsun at the time, was asked about the human-rights issues in an interview with The Globe in 2011.

“There are always trade-offs in where you’re working,” he replied. “As a mining company, we shouldn’t be imposing some form of political environment that we’re familiar with.”

In 2014 and 2015, a United Nations inquiry into human rights in Eritrea heard testimony similar to the allegations by the Eritrean refugees in the Nevsun case. Eritrea’s government refused to allow the inquiry to visit the country, but UN investigators talked to 550 witnesses outside the country and found disturbing evidence of forced labour at the Bisha mine.

“Even though Segen tried to conceal their status, the majority of Segen’s ‘workers’ were in fact conscripts performing their national service,” the UN inquiry said in its 2015 report. “The majority of labourers were conscripts whose military units were put at the disposal of Segen by the army.”

Segen even deployed conscripts to build a network of tunnels for future mining operations at the site, the report said, citing testimony by witnesses.

“Compulsory work in underground mines is totally prohibited under international law,” it said.

Working conditions for the conscripts were often “bad and abusive,” the report found. Many were forced to work without safety equipment, and some were subjected to arduous double shifts – long daytime hours of hard manual labour followed by night shifts guarding the camp.

The lack of safety equipment led to fatal accidents, the report said. “Some died, they were not able to breathe,” a former Segen worker told the inquiry. “Others had no uniforms and suffered from chemical burns on the face, hands and body; they did not receive any medical care. A friend was working while oxygen was limited and he died because of it.”

While most of the allegations date back to Bisha’s construction phase, an association of human rights and refugee groups says it found evidence of conscript labour at Bisha as recently as 2016.

A report this year by Eritrea Focus, quoting dozens of former conscripts who escaped to other countries, said the conscripts were often forced to work as many as 12 hours a day at Bisha, 6½ days a week, in hazardous conditions that often caused illness.

“There is rigid enforcement of compulsory labour, and any attempt to escape is punished severely by military-type supervisors,” the report said.

Lord of Misrule: the presidency of Isaias Afwerki

Saturday, 29 December 2018 21:02 Written by

 

Lord of misrule

There is an ancient European tradition of appointing a ‘master of misrule’ to conduct the celebrations around Christmas and New Year. He was probably a rather jolly figure: sadly the same cannot be said for the Eritrean president. But one thing seems certain – he is someone who thrives on misrule.

Consider this. When Prime Minister Abiy made his pathbreaking visit to Asmara in June this year he received a raptuous reception. Then President Isaias made a similar visit to Addis Ababa. Since then there have been a series of meetings involving Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. It seemed for a moment that a new era of peace might be dawning.

Peace brings its challenges

But peace might be more difficult for President Isaias than crisis and confrontation.

Without an external threat, why continue indefinite national service in Eritrea? Tens of thousands of young men and women might return to their communities. What work would be found for them and what would happen if they discovered that their future was still bleak?

If there was no threat from Ethiopia pressure would increase for constitutional rule in Eritrea. The National Assembly could be recalled and there would be pressure for the country to hold its first ever elections.

There would also have to be the transfer of border communities all along the Eritrea-Ethiopia border, to conform to the new boundary established between the two countries.

These prospects would have been deeply troubling for President Isaias, who is a past-master at manipulating situations when they are complex, difficult and in crises. Peace and stability would be an entirely new situation for him.

Crises return

Luckily for the president, events have come to his aid.

Ethiopia is in turmoil, with vast numbers of people forced to flee as ethnic groups jostle and fight for their rights as the authoritarian rule from the centre weakens.

The Tigrayans – once such solid allies of Eritreans – are facing threats as their lands are challanged. The TPLF, with whom the EPLF fought side by side to overthrow the Derge, are in real trouble with their neighbours. There is a return to the old hostilities that once set the TPLF and EPLF apart, with the Eritrean authorities now gloating about the problems that beset their southern neighbours.

Meanwhile, Sudan, which closed its border with Eritrea earlier this year, is also in the throes of a crisis.

So President Isaias can end the year quietly satisfied. He has neighbours in crises. He can argue that Eritrea is still facing threats from abroad and cannot afford to relax. Vigilance and patriotism must – once more – trump human rights and democracy.

All this is likely to be reflected in his anticipated New Year’s message.

But who knows? Perhaps this is quite wrong and President Isaias will anounce a programme of radical reform and renewal. The Constitution will be enacted, opposition parties will be allowed to return to the country, political prisoners and journalists liberated from the dungeons in which they languish and free and fair elections will be held.

I am not holding my breath.

We might conclude by recalling a poem of the great Alexandrian, C.P. Cavafy.

Waiting for the Barbarians

 
 
 
 
Translated by Edmund Keeley
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
       The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

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