Written by

Amanda Poole, Jennifer Riggan

The sudden outbreak of peace in the Horn of Africa means an open border and new vulnerability. Researchers Jennifer Riggan and Amanda Poole capture the concerns of Eritrean refugees.

Long-separated families meet at Asmara International Airport on July 21, 2018, during the first week after Ethiopian airlines resumed flights to Asmara, Eritrea MAHEDER HAILESELASSIE TADESE/AFP/Getty Images

In July this year, Ethiopia and Eritrea shocked the world, thrilled their people and upended politics as usual in the Horn of Africa by signing an agreement of peace and friendship that ended 20 years of conflict.

Change has happened remarkably fast since then. Phone lines and flights that hadn’t operated for two decades reconnected the two countries, which share a 567-mile (912km) border. Families separated by war reunited in ecstatic celebration. The Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa reopened and everyone expects land travel across the contentious border to resume soon.

But not everyone is excited about peace. On a recent research visit to Ethiopia, where we have been studying Eritrean refugee settlements for the past two years, we discovered that many refugees are afraid of what peace could mean for their safety and their future. Some refugees say that the end of conflict in the region may actually be more dangerous for them than war.

The Eritrean refugee camps in northern Ethiopia are unusual. Instead of being crowded with families who have fled conflict, like the camps along other borders housing refugees from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, the camps in the north are filled with young men.

We discovered that many refugees are afraid of what peace could mean for their safety and their future. Some refugees say that the end of conflict in the region may actually be more dangerous for them than war.

Eritrean refugees are concerned for their safety in Ethiopia because the end of the border conflict does not guarantee political change in Eritrea, or peace along the border where the camps are located.

“Our problem is not the border,” a refugee named Kidane told us, repeating a common sentiment. He returned to the Ethiopian camps near the Eritrean border over five years ago after failing to reach Europe. “We came here not because of a border problem, but because of problems with the government.” Of the new peace agreement, he says, “It exposes us. It will harm us. It will not benefit us.”

They have good reason to be concerned. In Sudan, Eritrean refugees are vulnerable to capture and return by the Eritrean military, who operate across the Sudanese-Eritrean border. Refugees in Ethiopia fear that an open border will enable Eritrean operatives to target asylum seekers in the camps. If Ethiopia fails to enhance protections, refugees may choose to migrate onward.

Other Eritrean refugees we spoke to would like to celebrate their country’s newfound peace but fear for their safety in the border region that is becoming increasingly volatile. “Before, I was very comfortable with the ability of Ethiopia to protect refugees,” said one man living in Mai Aini, one of the refugee camps along the northern border. “Now, I am frustrated.”

The acceptance of the peace agreement has angered many local communities, as Ethiopian border towns will be torn apart when land is ceded to Eritrea. Much of the disputed border lies in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where many of the camps are located. For the past year, contentious domestic politics have pitted the Tigrayans against other ethno-national groups in Ethiopia, and peace is being brokered by regimes in both countries that are antagonistic to the main political party from that region, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Refugees in the camps fear a border that is increasingly both open and volatile.

Eritrean asylum seekers are also concerned about what peace could mean for their asylum claims. Some question whether the prima facie basis for granting Eritreans refugee status in Ethiopia will continue for Eritreans opposed to the regime in Asmara.


In Europe, Eritreans have been at the center of debates about the legitimacy of asylum claims. In the wake of increased migration, European countries have asserted that Eritreans are fleeing poverty rather than human rights problems in their home country, and therefore can be denied asylum and safely returned.

Now, Israel is considering deporting Eritreans if Eritrea ends indefinite national service. But asylum seekers could be in danger unless Eritrea gives amnesty to those who have fled illegally.

Refugees need assurances in order to feel safe. They need assurances that the world understands that Eritrea has not yet changed. Eritrean law requires citizens to undergo 18 months of national military service, but the government used the war as a pretext to make national service permanent for most. The conditions for soldiers in Eritrea’s army are harsh, including physical punishments, forced labor, restrictions on freedom of movement and long periods of time spent away from family.

Some leave as children, before they are conscripted in grade 12 (the last year of secondary school). Others leave after their official service term ends when they realize that, even if officially demobilized, the government can still recall them.

Indefinite national service isn’t the only reason that the 160,000-plus Eritrean refugees currently hosted by Ethiopia have fled their country. President Isaias governs Eritrea with austere control. Movement within the country has required written permission for most of the past 20 years. It is illegal to leave without an exit visa, which is nearly impossible to obtain. The thousands who flee each month risk being shot or imprisoned. Any attempt at protest has been stanched. The constitution has never been implemented, and Eritreans may be arbitrarily arrested and detained in a prison system where torture is routine.

If the government of Eritrea would like Eritrean refugees to come home, they will need assurances that Eritrea is a different kind of place. They will also need stronger assurances that they can stay in Ethiopia and will be protected there, particularly if conflict occurs in Tigray. As one refugee stated, “The political situation is very tense and when it is tense, we feel worried. We don’t know what will happen.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.


On 5th September an exhibition will open in London to give a rare insight into Eritrea – its long war for independence from Ethiopia and the tragedy of its current repression.

The exhibition will be held at Resources for London. It has been organised  by Eritrea Focus, an association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the abuses of human rights in Eritrea.

Eritrea Exibtion 1

Eritrea exhibition 2


Ethiopian in refugee camp

Recent conflicts reported in Gedeo (SNNPR), West Guji (Oromia) and Jigjiga city (Somali region) quickly spreading to Deghabur, Warder, Kabridahar, Gode and Babile areas.

Source: Acaps

Ethiopia is host to the second largest refugee population in Africa.? There are over 910,000 refugees and approximately 2.6 million IDPs in Ethiopia.? In 2017, 621 sites opened to host people displaced by conflict, as well as climate-induced factors. ?There has been an overall trend of increase in conflict-related displacement since December 2016. ?Ethiopians have also returned from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia since November 2017.?
Latest update: 21/08/2018
There are over 2.6 million IDPs recorded in Ethiopia. 536,000 were displaced as a result of natural hazards, and 2.1 million are conflict-affected IDPs.?Displacement increased significantly in 2017: 293 sites were opened before 2017 and 621 were opened in 2017. ?
WEST Guji and gedeo conflict
Intercommunal violence around Gedeo (SNNPR) and West Guji (Oromia) zones displaced 987,000 people in June. As of mid-August, around 694,000 people remain displaced in Gedeo zone, the majority in host communities (Bule, Dilla Zuria, Kochere, Gedeb, Wanago, Yirgachefe woredas and Dilla and Yirgachefe towns). Around 189,000 IDPs remain displaced in West Guji zone at 18 host communities and 43 collective sites.? Heavy rains since June have worsened the already vulnerable conditions for IDPs in the region. IDPs are living in inadequate shelter and with limited access to sanitation. ?Priorities are emergency shelter and NFI, food, health, and WASH.?
Violence between the Guji and Gedeo communities started along the border of West Guji zone on 13 April. At least 75 people have died, in seven localities.? Influx of IDPs in some areas has nearly doubled the population and resources are stretched beyond capacity. Prior to the new displacement, this area was already one of the most densely populated parts of the country.? The causes sparking the recent conflict are unknown, but land disputes and conflict on border demarcations have long existed.?
intercommunal conflicts
Intercommunal conflict displaced 141,410 people in Somali region since 4 August. The conflict started in Jigjiga city (Somali region) and quickly spread to Deghabur, Warder, Kabridahar, Gode and Babile areas. In Somali region 35,450 IDPs are hosted in Jigjiga; in Oromia region there are 55,000 IDPs in Babile, 23,300 in Chinaksen, 24,000 in Gursum, and 280 in Harar; in Tigray region 2,000 IDPs are in Mekelle town – see map below. Urgent humanitarian needs are food, WASH, Health and NFI. In Jigjiga, prices inflation is reported on food, water, and other basic needs due to limited available shops and supplies. Fuel is also limited. Between 4-13 August, shops, markets, and banks were closed. On 10 August, Ethiopian Airlines resumed its operation for the Addis-Jigjiga route. Flights had been cancelled since 4 August. On 15 August, IDPs from Jigjiga are reported to have started returning to home.?
Clashes between Oromo and Somali ethnicities from September- December 2017 left up to one million people displaced in the two regions.? New displacements have been reported along the border separating the two regions since January. ?
drought, floods and cyclone
While three consecutive years of drought have led to displacement in many sites of the country, flash floods due to overperformance of Belgrains (Feb-Jun) as well as Cyclone Sagar that struck Ethiopia on 20 May have affected people mainly in Somali, Oromia, SNNPR and Afar regions. Somali region was most affected. Some 347,000 people have been affected countrywide, including around 200,000 displaced by flooding.  In northern Somali region, Cyclone Sagar has displaced around 54,000 people in five woredas of Siti zone (Ayshica, Dambal, Hadhagala, Gablalu and Shinile).? Humanitarian needs include WASH, health, food and NFI support.?Genale and Wabi Shabelle rivers overflowed and affected Afder, Fafan, Liben, Nogob, Siti, Shabelle, and Warder zones. Communities and farmlands are flooded and livestock affected.? 32 people have been killed by landslides due to heavy rains in SNNPR (23 people in Sidama zone and nine people in Gamo Gofa zone).?Landslides on 26 May also killed 22 people in Tullu Gola kebele, Oromia region. ?
Displacement following intercommunal conflict (4-7 Aug 2018) in Somali region


The Ethiopian government has officially spoken to reports about alleged withdrawal of its troops from the frontline with neighbouring Eritrea.

Some media reports late last week said Ethiopian troops were seen leaving the town of Shiraro, a key front in the Ethio-Eritrea war, the town is close to the town of Badme, a central contention of the war.

But Defense Minister, Motumma Mekassa in an interview on Saturday with the Reporter newspaper said the movement of troops was a “normal routine for the military and nothing else.”

He added that: “there are no formal agreements between the two countries as far as withdrawing of troops is concerned.”

This is the second time the issue of troop withdrawal from the front lines have surfaced since leaders of the two countries signed a peace deal in Asmara in early July.

Reuters news agency citing local media in Eritrea reported that troops of the country had began withdrawing from the disputed area which have since the end of the war been highly militarized.

The Ethio-Eritrea peace deal followed a decision by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to accept and implement a border ruling in relation to disputed territories between the two countries.

Abiy traveled to Asmara in July for talks that led to the cessation of hostilities between the two nations. It also marked the restoration of all diplomatic and trade ties between them.

Telephone lines have been restored, both sides have named ambassadors even though Ethiopia is yet to reopen its embassy in Asmara. The respective national airlines have began operations after two decades and families have since been united.

The withdrawal of troops and the subsequent demilitarization of the disputed territories is one of the eagerly awaited legs of the normalization of ties.

Currently PM Abiy continues with fast-paced democratic reforms at home despite security challenges whiles Eritrea also continues to reset its regional diplomatic affairs. After Abiy’s visit, Somali and South Sudan leaders have also visited.

By Idil Osman

In the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian and Somali migrants have charted a new route to the Gulf.

Refugees and migrants line up on a Somalia beach to board the boats that will take them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. In a military style operation, the passengers board the small smugglers’ boats in groups of 10. The overcrowded boats can take days to cross. Credit: Alixandra Fazzina.

Refugees and migrants line up on a Somalia beach to board the boats that will take them across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. The overcrowded boats can take days to cross. Credit: UNHCR/Alixandra Fazzina.

This is the third part of The Thin Red Line, an African Arguments series focusing on dynamics around the Red Sea.

When Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2015, it was widely expected that migration to the country would nosedive. Typically when a nation goes to war, outsiders stay away for obvious reasons. But in Yemen’s case, the ongoing deadly instability was not enough to deter the 100,000 people that arrived last year or the 117,000 who arrived in 2016. Despite widespread insecurity that has led more than two million Yemenis to flee their homes, migrants continue to disembark on the Gulf nation’s war-torn shores.

Most are from the Horn of Africa. People from this region have been making this journey for decades for trade, religious pilgrimage, economic opportunities, or in times of emergency. The surge in the oil market in the 1970s precipitated a sudden demand for unskilled workers in the Arab Peninsula, and labour migrants have been coming to Yemen since its unification in the early-1990s.

Many of today’s migrants are driven by the same motivations as their predecessors, but there are also important dynamics at play that are unique to now and that are responsible for the continued flows in the face of great dangers. Although happening below the surface and rarely examined, these often perilous and fraught movements of people form a crucial human bond that links the Horn of Africa and the Gulf across the thin Red Sea.

Who is leaving and where?

The first question regarding migration from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and beyond is why people are leaving their homes in the first place. The answer depends on the country.

In Ethiopia, political instability and land scarcity have contributed to a growing number of people leaving the country in the past few years. In Eritrea, indefinite national service and political repression are consistent push factors for the thousands that flee every month. And in Somalia, ongoing insecurity and recurring drought are often cited as the main reasons for departing. But in almost all cases, the hope of greater economic opportunity – and knowing people who have made the journeys before – is also a key factor.

“I chose to migrate because in my youth I have often seen young people in my neighbourhood who succeeded in becoming rich through migration,” said one Ethiopian migrant. “My wife insisted that we leave and search for a better life, rather than staying and living in poor conditions,” explained another.

Of the millions of people in the region that migrate, the majority move internally or to neighbouring countries. Many others travel up the treacherous desert to the North African coast, with Europe the final destination. But hundreds of thousands decide to traverse the Red Sea.

One reason for this is that the Gulf is now part of a new path from the Horn of Africa to Europe. This route allows migrants starting in Somalia to bypass Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea by travelling instead from Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in north-east Somalia, across the sea to Yemen. From here, migrants cross back to Sudan and continue over land.

This route is particularly popular among young Somali men from relatively affluent backgrounds, but a number of Ethiopians also follow this course. First cited in 2015, this journey has grown in popularity. The networks and support structures that facilitate this movement have strengthened significantly, making the route easier – if still highly perilous – to navigate. Smugglers have also started offering tempting “leave now, pay later” schemes. Increased border controls in Sudan and Ethiopia in the wake of insecurity have also added reasons to try circumventing these countries.

Those who stay

Not all migrants who head to the Gulf, however, are on their way to Europe. Some intend to stay in Yemen, seeking jobs in the khat or farming industry or as domestic or low-skilled workers. Others hope to continue on to other more prosperous Gulf States, which are less expensive to reach than Europe.

The most popular destination is Saudi Arabia, where many Ethiopians take up low-skilled or manual jobs in often deplorable conditions. “Migrants’ living conditions are horrible, inhuman. Their rights are not respected,” said one informant. Nonetheless, there are an estimated 400,000 undocumented Ethiopian migrants currently working in Saudi Arabia.

Other migrants who reach Yemen seek asylum. Somalis, for example, enjoy prima facie refugee status in the country. In 2015, there were almost 250,000 Somali refugees in the country, living in camps or urban areas.

Finally, some who end up in Yemen simply find themselves trapped there, their journeys cut short by conflict or lack of funds.

Some migrants eventually return to the Horn of Africa, creating a flow of people back to the continent that also includes tens of thousands of Yemenis. These Gulf migrants rarely have strong diasporic connections to the region and so typically try to settle in Djibouti or Somalia, which are closer and therefore cheaper to reach. Smaller numbers who can afford it try to get to Ethiopia or Sudan, but many more affluent Yemenis opt to travel to the likes of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or India.

Why the route remains popular

Governments in the region have tried to reduce these irregular flows through regulations, border controls and public awareness campaigns. In 2013, Ethiopia went a step further by banning domestic workers from going to the Middle East in order to protect its citizens from abuse. This decision came shortly after Saudi Arabia deported over a hundred thousand Ethiopians in a violent crackdown on undocumented workers.

The ban, however, did little to stop migration to the Gulf. Its main effect was to force Ethiopian migrants to take more irregular routes in which they are more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and death. The prohibition was lifted in February 2018.

The popularity of travelling to Yemen has also been largely unaffected by greater restrictions, clampdowns on smugglers, and tighter border controls. In 2016, these measures significantly reduced the numbers of Ethiopians travelling overland to North Africa, but did little to dissuade migrants crossing the sea to the Gulf. The flow of Red Sea arrivals from Djibouti and Somalia held steady, while the number of Ethiopians arriving in Yemen actually increased. The illegal networks facilitating these movements remain resilient and far-reaching.

Even the 2015 outbreak of war in Yemen has not significantly deterred migrants. In fact, many have been encouraged by the breakdown of state institutions in Yemen and subsequent lack of policy and control. They believe (or are led to believe by smugglers) that this vacuum provides an opportunity to enter, travel through, and exit the country unnoticed. The deteriorating situation and lack of legal routes has also helped smugglers and traffickers establish profitable, exploitative and abusive networks that can operate with relative impunity.

“Previously, migration was simple and normal,” said an ex-smuggler in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. “A smuggler was just like a guide who assists you and receives a wage in return. Nowadays, it is different. Smuggling is an organised network of selling humans. This change is due to the greed of smugglers and those who buy and sell human beings.”

Despite the dangers of the routes taken, the often deplorable and traumatic conditions on arrival, and campaigns aimed at deterring migrants, the flow of people from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf remains strong. Moreover, most people who take these journeys do not seem to regret their decisions. As a key informant in Sana’a put it: “If the benefit of migration is measured by the simple amounts that migrants make as income, transfer, and save, then they have benefited”.

These startling and worrying realities call for a different understanding of, and approach to, migration between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. As thousands continue to migrate in the face of countless threats and hazards that are often made even graver by blunt government measures, policymakers must examine the real effects of their actions on the individuals involved. Rather than repeating the same failed and dangerous policies, they should consider a coordinated approach that protects and assists migrants and expands opportunities for safe regular movement.


1 July 2017

The Horn of Africa was, and still is, the subject of global competition between Christianity and Islam, extensions of Western colonialism and Ottoman-Egyptian expansion, a US-EU led Western World and Chinese rivalry, the Arab-Israeli conflict, in addition to Iranian and Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) enmity. The Middle Eastern countries have used the Horn of Africa as a battleground for proxy wars and the expansion of various versions of Islam. In recent decades, countries of the GCC and the Horn of Africa have become victims of terrorism and violent extremism, writes Mehari Taddele Maru.

David Hearst, a British expert on Middle East affairs, recently surprised the host of an Al Jazeera TV program when he quipped that the same program might be the last one for the Doha-based TV network. Emphasizing the centrality of Al Jazeera TV in the rift in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), he characterized the crisis as a precursor for a grand regime change conspiracy carried out by the Saudi-led camp supported by the Trump administration. Indeed, looking at the Saudi-led camp’s 13 impossible-to-meet-demands, one is forced to question if this not indeed a demand for regime change.

The Saudi camp constitutes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain with the strong support of Egypt and Israel, and impulsive support from the US. The Qatar camp has strong support from Turkey and tacit support from Iran. Oman and Kuwait remain neutral, with the latter trying to mediate. Other significant players include Israel, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, the latter two being major actors. Iran and Turkey are both key participants in any Middle Eastern geopolitical and geo-economic calculations.

The Saudi-led camp took a strong stand supporting the coup by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi against the erstwhile President of Egypt, Hosni Morsi. The UAE and Egypt took counter-measures against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as core diplomatic objectives. Since 2014, President el-Sisi’s government has received USD 25 billion worth of aid from the UAE. With 600 companies, the UAE’s investment in Egypt amounts to USD five billion. Being the most powerful military and political force in the Middle East, with its cultural and historical legacy, as well as hosting the League of Arab States, Egypt has been at the center of Saudi-Iran proxy wars, as well as the rift between the GCC and Turkey’s Erdogan Model for Democracy. Naturally, with strong ties to the GCC and the Western World, these powers have repeatedly made attempts to bring Egypt under their influence by providing various kinds of incentives, including finance. Such financial and other kinds of support to Egypt has come from all the GCC countries apart from Qatar. The Egyptian diaspora in the GCC, and particularly in the UAE exhibits significant influence in numbers and in influence in bureaucratic and business circles. With close to 400,000, Egypt has the third largest diaspora residing in the UAE, following India and Pakistan. Compounded by the UAE’s support of Egypt and Egypt’s rivalry with the Nile riparian countries, the position of some of the countries in East Africa was bound to be cautious.

The theories about the rift within the GCC are all too familiar. Qatar is reportedly a state sponsor of terrorism, and thus needs to be reprimanded and if necessary its leadership toppled. Saudi Arabia is not subject to similar accusations of having abetted some terrorist organizations. On the contrary, countries in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) region, as with other parts of the world, believes that terrorist groups have links to the Saudi-camp too. But more precise reasons for the GCC rift reside somewhere else. The first reason is the independent minded Qatari leadership. Not only the so-called Islamic State Caliphate, but any democratic elements in Qatar such as Al Jazeera, political Islam or elections, also threaten the other sheikdoms of the GCC. The second reason that lies deep within this crisis is the very survival of the Kingdoms and Emirates of the GCC. Since the Arab Spring uprisings and the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) (which seems now on the verge of collapse, at least in the Middle East, as former President of the US, Barack Obama predicted four years ago), the threat to the stability of the ruling monarchies in the GCC has increasingly become critical. In addition to the common front fighting against Iranian dominance, GCC countries are ruled by absolute monarchs who reject any form of republican democratic rule. As a result, they are resistant to any kind of democratic dispensation in the region as well as in the Horn of Africa.

The third reason relates to the rivalry for regional dominance between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and to an extent Egypt. President Obama’s doctrine of ‘leading from behind’ left the Middle East countries to fend for their peace and security challenges. This strategy suddenly created a leadership vacuum. In order to fill this vacuum, a power struggle emerged between regional powers, mainly Saudi Arabia (leading the GCC), Iran and to some extent Turkey. The fourth reason relates to the current extremely volatile and unpredictable foreign policy decisions of the US, which is dependent on the personality of President Donald Trump. The US President’s decisions have genuinely puzzled many experts and politicians alike. There is also apparent discrepancies between President Trump and his secretaries of State and Defense on the issue of Qatar-GCC relations. If not for Trump’s baffling position, a more nuanced American policy could have easily averted the rift in the GCC.

To be sure, the Saudi-camp is far from a bloc unified in terms of its foreign policy. Except for the GCC’s obvious security dilemma, the Saudi-camp remains amorphous in its foreign policy. The Saudi camp’s attack on Qatar was quickly woven together and it may disintegrate just as quickly.

Three issues serve as the glue between the GCC countries: fear of Iranian politics and religious sectarianism, their status as absolute monarchies unconditionally opposed to any democratic dispensation, and the need for their individual and collective security bolstered by the support of the US. President Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy pronouncement (better call it Trump Twitter diktat) has helped to fortify this glue. Qatar is an outsider in all these unifying factors.  Qatar’s relationship with Iran is not as fragile as with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Qatar’s public space is also relatively more open than Saudi Arabia, and its government is much more progressive than the Saudi-led camp. Qatar allows media outlets such as Al Jazeera to operate and the USA makes use of Qatar as a military base. Qatar serves as a middle ground for various transactions, even with extremist groups such as the Taliban.   

Four pillars underpinning the foreign and even domestic policy of the UAE are trade, tourism, counterterrorism (and the rise of Muslim Brotherhood movements), and countering Iranian domination. Islam is not treated as a state doctrine that dictates the policies of the UAE. In contrast, the other Gulf States follow a sharia-led foreign policy that is similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Saudi’s foreign and domestic policy revolves around Sunni Wahhabism, the protection of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, and the best interests of the ruling Kingdom. Similarly, the core of the foreign policy of Qatar and Kuwait resides in religion and the influence of their respective monarchies.

Now, the rift in the GCC has added another layer of distrust and animosity between some of the IGAD and GCC countries, but has also added fuel to simmering uncertainty, insecurity and animosity among some of the countries in the IGAD region. But, what will be the consequences of the fallout of the GCC rift in the IGAD region?

The GCC rift and its fallout provide quintessential examples of how the IGAD region is intertwined to the Middle East. The two regions belong to the same religious, historical, trade and migration sphere of influence. Geographic proximity to the Red Sea, historical, cultural and religious ties, trade, the diaspora and migration, as well as security closely link the Horn of Africa with the countries of the Middle East. Three Abrahamic religions; Islam, Christianity, and Judaism bind the two regions. The holiest sites of Mecca and Medina, and Jerusalem, are traditional pilgrimage destinations for the various religious adherents in the region. GCC countries host large businesses and diaspora communities as well as migrant laborers from the Horn of Africa, particularly Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The link with the Horn of Africa extends to trade in livestock, charcoal and other exports to the UAE and other GCC countries. Similarly, the UAE exports large quantities of merchandise to the Horn of Africa. Recently, the UAE sought to invest in Port management, manufacturing and agriculture in the Horn of Africa.

The Horn of Africa was, and still is, the subject of global competition between Christianity and Islam, extensions of Western colonialism and Ottoman-Egyptian expansion, a US-EU led Western World and Chinese rivalry, the Arab-Israeli conflict, in addition to Iranian and Saudi-led GCC enmity. The Middle Eastern countries have used the Horn of Africa as a battleground for proxy wars and the expansion of various versions of Islam. In recent decades, countries of the GCC and the Horn of Africa have become victims of terrorism and violent extremism. Islamic violent extremist ideological and financial support has its roots and source in the GCC. The Red Sea and the Nile river play critical roles in the relations between the Arab world and the Horn of Africa. For a long time, the diplomatic relations between the GCC and the Horn of Africa were, and currently are, characterized by mutual assured distrust and animosity mainly in religion and security issues. The establishment of GCC military naval and air force bases has exacerbated the distrust even more. While generally following Saudi Arabia, the UAE also competes against Qatar’s increasing global influence, particularly in Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt, etc. Qatar is a small country with a big diplomatic role in the Horn of Africa. Qatar has played an even more prominent role of mediation in Darfur, Djibouti-Eritrea, and has given direct support to state and non-state political actors in Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Enterprisingly, the UAE also aspires to serve as a manufacturing hub by purchasing agricultural products from Africa and the rest of the world, then processing, packing and selling such products internationally. While Qatar will host the football World Cup, Dubai will be similarly hosting the World Trade Exposition. Furthermore, Dubai aims to become a global tourism hub by doubling the current 10 million visitors per annum. The UAE’s trade in Africa has increased, but mainly in the East African Community such as Kenya, Tanzania etc.

The GCC rift is suffocating the Horn of Africa. The Saudi-camp is demanding loyalty from the Horn of Africa. In the IGAD region, while Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia (Somaliland) supported the Saudi-camp, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia took a neutral stand. Consistent with its previous position in the Yemen conflict, Ethiopia also adopted a neutral stance in the rift within the GCC. Unlike in the Yemeni conflict, Sudan and Somalia (Somaliland unequivocally supports the Saud-camp) also announced their neutral stance. Obedience to the Saudi camp has characterized Somalia’s position for many years. Attempting to take a neutral stance, the newly formed Federal Government of Somalia has found itself between a rock and a hard place. Somalia’s leadership is acutely aware of its sovereign right to make a foreign policy decision and its dependence for aid on Middle Eastern countries. Close to a million members of the Somalian diaspora live in GCC countries, the biggest concentrations being in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. They send remittances to their families, engage in exports (mainly livestock, meat, charcoal and fruits), and import consumer items as well as services such as aviation services and shipping operations between Somalia and the UAE.

Djibouti swiftly announced its unequivocal support for the Saudi-camp against Qatar (with the support of Iran and Turkey). Before the GCC rift, the cordial relations between Eritrea and Qatar faced a serious setback after the Libyan uprising in 2011, when GCC countries actively supported NATO’s intervention in Libya. Between 2011-2015, Qatar significantly reduced its engagement with Eritrea, as it boosted its diplomatic and economic engagement with Ethiopia. The GCC rift led to Qatar’s withdrawal from Djibouti-Eritrea, and Eritrea’s takeover of disputed areas. This could trigger a strong Ethio-Djibouti and IGAD reaction against the Eritrean government’s opportunistic belligerent action. For a long time, Sudan had rough relations with the Saudi-led camp (for that matter with all GCC countries except Qatar).  Since 1992, when diplomatic relations froze for almost a decade until 1999, Sudan was considered the strongest ally of Iran, the arch foes of the Saudi-led GCC countries. The rapprochement began with the termination of Iranian non-diplomatic activities in Sudan in 2014. Sudan also actively supported the 2011 Libyan uprising and even sent troops to fight against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was supporting rebel groups in Sudan aiming to topple President Omar al-Bashir. This was an additional reason for swift rapprochement with the GCC countries. The position of the US in support of the Saudi-camp may also have contributed to the decision of some of the IGAD countries to sever ties with Qatar.

In addition to the rift in the GCC, two other major international crises—mainly the Yemen crisis and the migration crisis in Europe, brought significant changes to diplomatic alliances in the IGAD region. The political conflict in Yemen, which is an extension of the problems of the Middle East, and the migration debacle in the European Union have significant bearings on the diplomatic and power relations of countries of the Horn of Africa. In a bid to gain diplomatic and military support from the Horn of Africa, the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen (fighting the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels) has solicited and gained varied levels of support from states such as Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt and more recently, Djibouti. With regard to the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni conflict, only Ethiopia maintained its stance of neutrality and did not freeze its diplomatic relations with Iran so as to support Saudi Arabia.

In a bid to stem the flow of refugees from the IGAD region including from Eritrea, the EU, in its crisis mode response, embarked upon a policy of rapprochement with Eritrea and Sudan. Convergence of European financial aid and support may resuscitate the cash-strapped national armies and economies in the region. More critically, Ethiopia’s decade-long policy of military containment and diplomatic isolation of Eritrea is being undermined by powerful actors with interests in the rift within the GCC, the Yemen conflict and the European Migration crisis.

Unrealistic demands by the Saudi-camp have become overly familiar. Now Qatar can reasonably be expected to reject the legitimacy of the sanctions conditions. This makes the rift much harder to fix in the short term. Qatar is trying hard to swim against the tide. Qatar has done well so far in taking the hard decision to withstand the weight of the Saud-led camp plus the policies of President Trump. But that is a tall order to sustain for a long time.

The long-standing cultural, religious and historical ties, economic opportunities, and geographical proximity between the IGAD region and the Middle East make robust cooperation between the two regions natural and desirable. Nevertheless, such ties have done little to foster constructive partnerships. For the IGAD region, a new and urgent reading of the imperatives of foreign relations and diplomacy is in order.

It is reported that in the 1960s a joke went around Budapest about a man buying tea. When asked: which tea do you want- Russian or Chinese? he replied: I will have coffee instead. In the same way, the IGAD region should seek to not be part of any allegiance to any of the warring blocs in a war that is not its own. Africa should only take a stand towards mediated solutions to the GCC rift and other conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa. In such events and crises, no matter how much one plans, circumstances often dictate the results. The outcome of such a rift does not yield benefits to individual country actions. Hence, the IGAD region and for that matter, African cooperation with the Middle East, needs to shift its focus towards the economic front in matters of trade, investment and tourism. The IGAD region presents an excellent opportunity for the Middle Eastern countries for trade and investment due to the size of its population and natural resources. At the same time the IGAD region could benefit immensely from development, investment in Middle Eastern countries and trade with them, particularly in agriculture, skilled labor mobility, livestock and related products and resources, as well as other areas of cooperation.

Ed.’s Note: Mehari Taddele Maru is a specialist in international human rights and humanitarian law, an international consultant on African Union affairs, and an expert in Public Administration and Management. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Contributed by Mehari Taddele MaruContributed by Mehari Taddele Maru

In a statement issued at the end of its 9th regular session on 12 August, the Central Council of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) expressed profound anxiety and concern with what is going on between the Ethiopian Government of Dr. Abiy Ahmed and the illegitimate regime in Eritrea.

The EPDP CC statement strongly cautioned that sustainable peace will not be achieved via incomprehensible and counterfeit relations made with an abusive and criminal regime in total isolation of the Eritrean people and in   exclusion of Eritrean pro-democracy forces.

The Council called on sister political and civil society organizations to unify their ranks at this critical hour in the prolonged struggle of the Eritrean people and face the challenges to their national sovereignty with renewed commitment and resolve. Likewise, the EPDP leadership discussed the progress so far made to promote the Party’s proposal for joint work and expressed special satisfaction with the high degree of understanding reached with the Eritrean National Salvation-Hidri and the close work cooperation being forged with the newly formed Unity of Eritreans for Justice (UEJ).  

Started in late July with a wide-ranging review of global and regional issues presented by the EPDP Chairman, Menghesteab Asmerom, the chain of meetings of the 9th CC Session scrutinized and adopted annual reports of the Executive Committee. Also discussed and enhanced with new inputs was the paper of the Commission for Party Renewal. The leadership instructed the Commission to come with more constructive ideas until the next party congress, and encouraged party rank-and-file to participate in the renewal process.

The 9th CC Session, inter alia, mandated the Executive Committee to continue taking necessary action to promote joint work with sister organizations, adopted clearer guidelines for the audit section, and accessed preparations for the Third EPDP Congress next year. In this regard, the CC elected a 9-person Preparatory Committee and 5-person Nominating Committee. The EPDP CC gave vote of confidence to the chairman and his team to continue till the next congress and elected an auditor to serve the party per the clarified guidelines. At concluding its regular session, the leadership paid deep gratitude to the commitment of party members to keep the noble cause going till victory.

By Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders 

The world’s top human rights body needs members with a genuine commitment to protecting human rights. Electing States should ensure that candidates with a record of systematically violating rights and failing to cooperate with the Council receive no support in the ballot.

Last month, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) published a report scrutinising Burundi’s behaviour as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. Throughout its tenure, the Burundian government set new lows for a Council member. Its human rights record, refusal to cooperate with Council mechanisms, and attacks against the UN system confirmed that Burundi should never have been elected to the UN’s top human rights body. 

Regrettably, some States are elected despite grave violations of Council membership standards.[1]Together with civil society partners, we have identified ‘clean slates’ (uncontested elections) as one of the main issues with regard to the quality of Council’s members. We have also repeatedly called on States not to cast their vote for candidates that are unfit. 

Eritrea’s candidacy

As the next Council election is looming, Eritrea has declared its candidacy for a three-year term (2019-2021). The African Group, like many other regional groups, is likely to present a ‘clean slate’ again. 

In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity – including enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder – had been committed in the country since 1991. In her last report to the Council, the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, concluded that ‘Eritrea has shown that victims of crimes against humanity and human rights violations are not about to get adequate remedies.’ Her overall assessment of the human rights situation on the ground remained ‘grim, with no meaningful progress to address specific […] violations to report.’ 

Eritrea has consistently refused to cooperate with the UN human rights system. It has denied access to independent experts and investigators, boycotted debates on its human rights situation, and launched attacks – some of which descended to a personal level and verged on incitement to violence – against human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur, and COI members. The then-President of the Human Rights Council denounced ‘various threats and acts of intimidation [carried out] in [the COI members’] hotel.’[2]

Few States are more unfit for Council membership than Eritrea. The government flouts the first two criteria set out by paragraph 9 of UNGA resolution 60/251 (namely, that States ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’ and ‘fully cooperate with the Council’). Eritrea might fulfil the last criterion, which is purely technical: being reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) during its term. Eritrea’s next UPR will take place on 28 January 2019, but recommendations made during Eritrea’s first two reviews remain largely unimplemented. At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued numerous decisions that have been ignored by the Eritrean Government. 

Casting responsible votes

At this point, we should not point fingers at the African Group more than at other regional groups, which tend to present ‘clean slates’ for Council elections.[3]Two months ahead of the next Council election, which will take place in October at the UN General Assembly, we urge electing States – i.e., all UN member States – to act responsibly. 

If they allow the Eritrean government to sit on the Council, they will adversely impact not just the Council’s credibility, which is already stained by the presence of some of the worst human rights abusers (including Burundi, Saudi Arabia, China, Venezuela, and Egypt), but also its integrity and its ability to conduct its own work in a consistent way. Eritrea, for example, will be able to vote against scrutiny of its own human rights record. 

At an institutional level, electing Eritrea to the world’s top human rights body will amount to giving legitimacy to attacks against the Council’s integrity, as the Eritrean government has routinely engaged in reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society, who play a key role in the Council’s work by providing it with some of the information it needs to fulfil its mandate. 

With Eritrea as a member State, the Council will still be able to act on thematic issues and country situations. However, its reputation will suffer at a time when it badly needs to prove its value to the public. And the anti-human rights bloc – States that systematically vote against country-specific initiatives, attack human rights standards, and attempt to undermine the Council’s thematic work – will be strengthened. 

Progressive States of all regional groups should now show policy consistency. In October, keeping in mind that the vote is individual and secret, that Council members are elected by simple majority, and that there is no obligation to tick all candidates’ boxes when a regional group presents a clean slate, progressive States should leave the ballot blank for Eritrea. 

Going forward, regional groups and their members should ensure that for each election, the number of candidates is larger than the number of vacant seats, so that the process foreseen when the Council was established actually takes place. They should also encourage other regional groups to avoid ‘clean slates’. Lastly, States should vote only for candidates that have a satisfactory record of cooperation with the UN human rights system and genuinely strive to uphold the ‘highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’. 


Sudan, Russia discuss military cooperation

%AM, %14 %444 %2018 %11:%Aug Written by

Sudan's Defence Minister Awad Ibn Ouf receives Russian Ambassador to Sudan Vladimir Zheltov on 13 August 2018 (Photo SUNA)

August 13, 2018 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan’s Defence Minister Awad Ibn Ouf said relations with Russia are developing steadily, particularly military cooperation, describing ties between the two countries as historic.

Ibn Ouf, who received the Russian Ambassador to Sudan Vladimir Zheltov on Monday at his office, pointed to Moscow’s supportive stances towards Khartoum.

For his part, Zheltov described relations between the two countries as close and friendly, saying they are based on mutual interests in all economic and military fields to serve the joint interests.

It is noteworthy that the meeting was held in the presence of Sudan’s head of the Military Intelligence, Lieu. Gen. Gamal Omar Mohamed Ibrahim, and deputy military attaché at the Russian embassy Anthony Kaplan.

During a visit to Moscow last month to attend the 2018 World Cup Final, the Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir was 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.

At the time, 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.

Politically, 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.

In December 2015, Sudan and Russia signed 14 cooperation agreements in different domains, including oil, minerals and banks.

The agreements also include a concession contract between Sudan and the Russian Rus Geology to prospect for oil in Sudan’s Bloc E57 and another accord for the geological mapping of the Jebel Moya area, North Kordofan State.



The UAE plans building an oil pipeline linking Eritrea’s port city of Assab with Addis Ababa

UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, Ms. Reem Al Hashimy, today unveils her country’s plan to build a pipeline linking Eritrea’s port city of Assab with Addis Ababa.


Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have agreed to build an oil pipeline linking Eritrea’s port city of Assab with Addis Ababa.

This was revealed today during a meeting between Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Reem Al Hashimy, UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation.

During the meeting, the two sides also discussed ways to implement previously concluded investment agreements, which among others, include the development of real estate and resorts.

The two countries also agreed to conduct a study to build an oil pipeline linking the port of Assab with Ethiopia.

After the discussion, Reem Al Hashimy told Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) that the UAE is keen to exploit the investment opportunities available in Ethiopia.

The peace deal reached between Ethiopia and Eritrea is a good opportunity for the UAE to invest in Ethiopia, she added.