By Abraham T. Zere  December 19, 2018

The lack of information about President Isaias' plans as Eritrea undergoes a period a change is making many nervous. Credit: Sailing Nomad.

The lack of information about President Isaias’ plans as Eritrea undergoes a period a change is making many nervous. Credit: Sailing Nomad.

Eritrea’s life-president Isaias Afwerki could hardly have had a busier 2018. This year, he has signed an historic peace deal with Ethiopia. He has built close relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. He has re-emerged as a man of paramount importance in regional politics, and he has had UN sanctions lifted on Eritrea.


Who knows what 2019 will bring?


That is not a rhetorical question. Isaias has long overseen a closed political system, but this year, its secrecy has reached new heights. While the president used to maintain close relations with his subordinates as a way of control, he is now making momentous decisions almost single-handedly. He is governing without informing, let alone consulting, his colleagues.


When Isaias made the dramatic announcement on 20 June that Eritrea would send a delegation to Ethiopia to discuss peace after 20 years of hostilities, for example, most ministers were hearing the news for the first time, according to inside sources. The first time the cabinet met to discuss relations with Ethiopia was on 28 September, almost three months after the 9 July peace deal had already been signed.


The president has been similarly tight-lipped with the Eritrean people. It was only on 3 November that Isaias sat down for his first interview on the topic. But in the 80-minute monologue-cum-lecture with state media, he talked only about regional dynamics. It was advertised that he would address domestic issues in a second part, but Eritreans are still waiting for that instalment. In the meantime, Isaias has returned to Ethiopia to meet with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for a seventh time and signed another mysterious deal, this time joined by Somalia’s president.


“A state of uncertainty”


Inside sources in the Eritrean government, who have asked to remain anonymous for their security, describe a situation in which officials and ministers have very little idea of the president’s plans and actions.


“We are all in a state of uncertainty,” said one senior official. “Obviously, a love affair [between Isaias and Abiy], now turning into a romantic series, is being played way above us. Everyone complains. No one knows what to do.”


Another well-placed individual told African Arguments: “Most ministers are avoiding contact even with their staff in fear of being asked to share their opinions that would eventually reveal their ignorance.”


This opacity could explain why ministers have seemed unable to answer questions posed by international journalists. When Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel was asked by Reuters about rumours that indefinite national service was to be abolished, for example, he could neither confirm nor deny it. Minister for Labour and Human Welfare Luul Gebreab was similarly vague and unforthcoming when cornered on the same subject by a Bloomberg journalist.


According to figures in government, Isaias has also marginalised his top military commanders. For the last two decades, the president forged close links with these army leaders, allowing them to engage in reckless corruption to buy their loyalty. But sources suggest that he has side-lined these commanders and now passes orders straight to middle-ranking officers.


Insiders familiar with the situation say that, at the moment, Isaias spends most days in his office in Adi-Halo, on the outskirts of the capital Asmara. There, they say, only four people are permitted to visit him: Yemane Ghebreab, the political affairs head of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ); Osman Saleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Yemane G. Meskel, Minister of Information; and Hagos “Kisha” Ghebrehiwet, the PFDJ’s economic affairs head and the president’s confidante.


They are reportedly summoned not for discussions, but to relay messages and oversee the government’s daily operations.


[Eritrea: History aside, what will peace mean for my loved ones?]


Speculation fills the gap


In this vacuum of information, speculation and fear has filled the gap in this tumultuous time of change for Eritrea.


One particular area of concern surrounds the country’s future relations with Ethiopia. Since the start of the speedy rapprochement, certain comments by Isaias, Foreign Minister Osman and others have made some Eritreans nervous. In particular, rhetoric of Ethiopians and Eritreans being “one people”, the rapid warming of relations, and the fact that the border demarcation has been all but been forgotten have led some to fear that some kind of confederation between the two countries is in the offing.


This theory was given further weight in November when the ruling PFDJ distributed a list of “Essential Readings” (ኣገደስቲ ጽሑፋት). Among the compiled articles was one by Dawit W. Giorgis, a former governor under the Derg, the regime that ruled brutally over both Ethiopia and Eritrea before the latter gained independence.


In the piece, Dawit, who turned on the Derg, describes meeting Isaias during the armed struggle. He says he told the then rebel leader to take over all of Ethiopia to which, he claims, Isaias responded: “You can be certain Mr. Dawit, that if and when we get our independence, our priority will be to unite the people under some sort of federal arrangement.”


Another issue that has prompted interpretation is Isaias’ relationship with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a constituent party in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition. The president has a historical personal animosity with the TPLF, , which was the most powerful party in Ethiopia before Abiy became Prime Minister in April 2018, and has framed the party as a threat to the region’s stability. Other Eritrean officials have followed his lead in calling for the old guards from the TPLF to be cleared out.


Isaias even reportedly banned Eritrea’s most famous singer, Helen Meles, from touring and playing shows after she performed in Mekele, the capital of Tigray Region, this November. The president is understood to have been so displeased by her gesture that he thought it right to punish a singer who has long helped praised on him in her songs. Sham Keleab, the head of Asser Band and Meles’ partner, was also reportedly stripped of his leadership role.


Isaias’ vocal targeting of the TPLF has even got to the point that one of the party’s founders, Abay Tsehaye, recently pleaded openly with him to forgive and forget.


“More afraid now”


For many outside Eritrea, President Isaias’ decision to pursue peace with Ethiopia this year has sparked widespread hope. But for those in the country, little has changed. In fact, for some, the fast-paced high-level changes, the even greater centralisation of decision-making in the presidency, and the near-total lack of information have made people more concerned than ever.


According to one man who recently crossed into Ethiopia, people in Eritrea are “more afraid now than they used to be before the peace”.




On 25th November the blog below was posted, outlining suggestions that Eritrean and Ethiopian troops might be sent to Somalia, following the deal between the leaders of the three countries in Bahir Dar.

There were few details, but now the Reuters newsagency has seen a motion for impeachment of the Somali President, Mohamed Abdullahi.

Why is he being impeached? For allegedly having “secretly signed agreements with other countries including Ethiopia and Eritrea. The agreements touched on the use of Somali ports and economic and security cooperation, it said.”

Reports are beginning to circulate that as part of the deal President Isaias struck with Somalia in Ethiopia, he is preparing to deploy troops to support the government in Mogadishu.

There is no confirmation at the moment that this is about to take place. But, as Kjetil Tronvoll remarks, if it did take place it would mean an end to plans to reduce the length of National Service, which currently continues indefinitely.

Sending Eritrean troops to Somalia would – of course – solve one of President Isaias’s dilemmas: what to do with thousands of demobilised young men and women, for whom he has no work. Having them hang around towns, including Asmara, could prove very difficult. With nothing to do and all day to do it they might become restless and law and order could evaporate.

Eritrea’s forgotten wars

Far better to send them on another foreign adventure.

This would not be Eritrea’s first international intervention: it has had a number of forgotten wars since independence.

These include conflicts in:

  • Sudan
  • Somalia
  • Congo
  • Djibouti
  • Yemen

Back into Somalia

President Isaias invervened in Somalia in the past.

The previous occassion followed the re-location of Somalia’s Islamic Courts to Eritrea in 2007, after the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia.

Eritrea subsequently sent advisers and military equipment to the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, which arose out of the Islamic Courts.

As the UN Monitors put it in their 2011 report to the Security Council: “Asmara’s continuing relationship with Al-Shabaab, for example, appears designed to legitimize and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process. Moreover, Eritrean involvement in Somalia reflects a broader pattern of intelligence and special operations activity, including training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Sudan and possibly Uganda in violation of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009).”

In President Isaias’s own words

Although the president later denied supporting Al-Shabaab, this was not always his position. As he declared in 2009: “We support all resistance from anyone in Somalia.”

This came in an interview with Channel 4 – the independent British news channel.

This is what he said:

In an interview with Channel 4 News Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki defended Somalia’s militants saying that as his country supported all Somalis it would be a “mistake” to limit this support to “one or two groups.”

“We support all resistance from anyone in Somalia,” he said.

“Somalis have worked with outside forces for money for fame for what have you. They have collaborated with outsiders, we are against collaborators – we are with Somalis.”

“You may not agree with the ideology of al-Shabaab, Somalis may not agree with the ideology of al-Shabab but it’s up to them to have their own ideology. You need to respect their choice.

“Categorising anyone political group as terrorist isn’t qualified as a common understanding of that qualification. Now, anyone in any government will call an opposition a terrorist organisation.”

Mr Afwerki claimed that the United States and its allies had “created a situation of chaos in Somalia by providing weapons” to warlords but that he didn’t think a culture of blame was the solution.

“I wish we had the resource and we had the ability to support Somali resistance in any way. Physically, it hasn’t been possible. Theoretically, we may want to see that happen.

“We don’t want to get into this cycle of accusations and counter-accusations on who’s being supplying this or that faction in Somalia for the last 20 years.

“We would like resistance to succeed in Somalia and Somalis to be left alone to find a solution for their own problems without an external intervention.

“If you agree to that, pull out from Somalia. Don’t supply weapons to warlords. Don’t divide and weaken Somalia. You leave Somalia to Somalis and Somalis will find a solution for themselves. As long as this conflict continues, we remain supportive of the resistance in Somalia in any form.”

Intervention in 2019

If the report quoted at the start of this article is correct, and the Eritreans go into Somalia again, it will be on the other side.

They will be backing President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” – not Al-Shabaab.

However this would not alter one fact: young Eritreans would be dying in a foreign land.

That has been the pattern of foreign policy followed by President Isaias since 1991: he is unlikely to change.


The top official of Somali's parliament administration said on Sunday he had filed a motion with the speaker of parliament to impeach the country's president, Mohamed Abdullahi (pictured). (AP)
Updated 09 December 2018

MOGADISHU: The top official of Somali's parliament administration said on Sunday he had filed a motion with the speaker of parliament to impeach the country's president, Mohamed Abdullahi.
"We have filed an impeachment against the president of the federal republic of Somalia," Abdikarim H. Abdi Buh said in a statement.
Constitutionally, 92 lawmakers have to sign such a motion for it to be submitted to the speaker. Parliament may debate the motion a week later.
Somalia's parliament has 275 lawmakers in total. A successful impeachment vote requires the backing of two thirds of all MPs.
A copy of the motion, seen by Reuters, lists as grounds for the impeachment an allegation that the president secretly signed agreements with other countries including Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The agreements touched on the use of Somali ports and economic and security cooperation, it said.
He was also accused of illegally extraditing alleged criminals to other countries and violating Somalia's federalism law and the rules and regulations of parliament.
Officials at the president's office could not be reached for comment.


December 08, 2018 - 21:55
Posted in:
Written By: Abdulkader Assad

The Libyan coastguards have rescued 10 illegal migrants, recovered two bodies and are still looking for 10 others, who have been missing from the boat that capsized off Misrata shores.

The media office of the Libyan Navy Force said on Facebook that Libyan Red Crescent helped rescue the 10 migrants - one Algerian and one Egyptian nationals, one woman and seven African nationals, and then it recovered the two bodies.

"22 immigrants were onboard a wooden boat. It had been in water for 12 days since they took off from Sabratha. They ended up off Misrata shores." The media office added.

It added that the engine caused the stoppage of the boat, saying the fate of the 10 missing migrants is unknown.

The illegal migrants were taken to the Red Crescent center in Misrata for medical care and other assistance.

The media office also indicated that the boat was handed over to the coastguards' central branch in Misrata for further investigations into the incident.


 National flags are seen along the road to Eritrea in Zalambessa, northern Ethiopia, in September before a border reopening ceremony. Two land border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea were reopened for the first time in nearly 20 years. AFP/Getty Images

About a mile from the Eritrean border in Zalambessa, Ethiopia, there’s a small building made of corrugated metal.

There’s not much inside, except for some sleeping mats and clay pots for coffee. But dozens of Eritreans have made it into a home, while they wait for the Red Cross to take them to refugee camps.

Over the past year, Ethiopia has stunned the world with its democratic reforms and warming relationship with neighboring Eritrea. The two countries have formally ended their 20-year conflict and reopened land crossings to allow people and goods to move freely between them. Now, a big question fills the air in the region: Will the dramatic transformation in Ethiopia spread to Eritrea, which is often referred to as the North Korea of Africa?

Sirak, 17, came to Ethiopia from Eritrea more than a month after the border opened in September. He wants only his first name used because he is afraid Eritrean authorities could seek retribution for his actions or criticism. Now, he spends his time walking around Zalambessa, marveling at the lack of troops on the streets and the frankness of conversations.

He says his family’s home in Eritrea was demolished by the government, and police wanted to know why they had built the house without permission.

“The police were coming every day, so everyone was hiding in the bush,” he said.Forced evictions and home demolitions have been a well-documented form of political retribution in Eritrea, whose government has never held an election and has been accused of brutal human rights abuses almost since its independence in 1993.

Asked if he believes things can change in Eritrea, Sirak demurs.

“It’s impossible,” he says. “It won’t change.”

Agents of change

Sirak appears meek and fearful compared with today’s Ethiopians, who are celebrating their newfound freedoms with swagger. Long under authoritarian rule, now Ethiopians can gather in groups to talk freely. They can criticize their government without fear they’ll be arrested.

Many Ethiopians along the border say Eritrea has to change also. They say when Eritreans come to Ethiopia, they will experience a freer society and they will demand the same at home.

“It’s not fair to make that comparison,” says Salem Solomon, an Eritrean-American journalist who covers the two countries for Voice of America. Ethiopia and Eritrea have completely different political systems, she says.

Salem lived in Eritrea until 2007; she went through military training and worked for the Information Ministry before she came to the United States. In Eritrea, says Salem, the government is omnipresent — the command economy and mandatory military service are just some of the ways it controls people’s lives. Salem says the government stays in power by doling out unpredictable punishments. That creates an atmosphere of intense fear.

“Even those who feel like they are so loyal and [are] vocal [about their] support for the government,” even they, she says, are not safe.

Awet Weldemichael, who studies Eritrea at Queen’s University in Canada, says another reason to be skeptical about any potential uprising is that Eritrea has been “hemorrhaging” youth.

Eritreans have been leaving the country by the thousands since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Scholars estimate that a third of Eritreans live outside the country. And since the borders with Ethiopia reopened in September, about 10,000 Eritreans have sought asylum in Ethiopia.

“And so in light of that … the agents of change are not there,” says Awet.

If change is to come, he says, it is unlikely to happen the way it did in Ethiopia, forced by years of protests. Instead, if change comes, it will most likely have to be pushed from the top.

Awet does warn, however, that Eritrea is such a closed country, it’s hard to make predictions.

“What I can tell you confidently,” he says, “is that the current course is unsustainable for Eritrea.”

In November, the United Nations lifted sanctions against Eritrea. But that’s unlikely to help, because it was mostly a weapons ban. Eritrea remains one of the poorest countries on the continent. Most of its people live below the poverty line, and 80 percent are subsistence farmers in a land susceptible to droughts. Over the years, Awet says, the population has been decimated by migration and by mass incarceration, and many helpful institutions have been destroyed or have ceased to exist.

A better life

In Badme, a border town about 200 miles west of Zalambessa, the border crossing is not yet officially open. Eritrean officials have warned that the road into Ethiopia still contains land mines.

But one Eritrean mother made her way across anyway. She was trying to hitch a ride back to Eritrea, so she sat right on the border, caressing the cheek of her 9-year-old boy.

She’s too afraid of the Eritrean government to share her name. Seven months ago, while she was cooking, her son ran away to Ethiopia with a friend.

As soon as it became possible, she packed up her things and came to look for him. She found him at a refugee camp outside Badme.

She says her boy was not the only kid fleeing Eritrea. She has seen many small children leave their homes and families behind.

“They’re too young to know anything about the government or democracy,” she says. “But what they know is that there is a better life outside of Eritrea.”

Tibor Nagy and President Isaias Afwerki

After the visit to Eritrea by the USA’s top Africa diplomat, Tibor Nagy, question have continued about what was discussed – in particular what he did about the US citizens imprisoned by the Eritrean government and the US Embassy employees held in detention by President Isaias.

In telephonic interviews Mr Nagy, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, refused to go futher than saying that: “the full range of interests between the two countries were discussed” including the human rights situation in Eritrea. He said he wanted relations to develop until they were as “warm and cordial” as they were with Ethiopia, but that US – Eritrean relations would be develop “step by step” and “take time.”

Eritreans working for the US Embassy in Asmara were arrested in 2001. Other imprisoned include Ciham Ali Abdu, who has been held since 2012.

6 Years After Her Imprisonment in Eritrea, US Citizen’s Family Demands Answers

December 07, 2018 11:19 AM
Source: VOA News

An undated photograph of Ciham Ali Abdu. Ciham is believed to be imprisoned in Eritrea. She was last seen in 2012.
An undated photograph of Ciham Ali Abdu. Ciham is believed to be imprisoned in Eritrea. She was last seen in 2012.

Ciham Ali Abdu has brown eyes and a broad smile. As a teenager, she found inspiration in art, fashion and language. Growing up in Asmara, Eritrea, she enjoyed time with friends, music and swimming.

In family photos, Ciham appears carefree. She poses casually for the camera, her hair pulled into a braided ponytail.

But other realities were just out of frame.

Ciham Ali Abdu was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Eritrea. As a child, she enjoyed swimming, fashion and music.
Ciham Ali Abdu was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in Eritrea. As a child, she enjoyed swimming, fashion and music.

After a border conflict with Ethiopia ended in an uneasy truce, Eritrea was on a war footing, and the authoritarian government was prone to punish anyone who challenged the president’s grip on power.

That desire for retribution would thrust Ciham into the crosshairs, her family says.

‘Relentless grief’

Ciham was born in Los Angeles, California, but moved to Asmara, the capital, as a young child. Eritrea isn’t a rich country, but Ciham lived a comfortable life.

Her father, Ali Abdu Ahmed, was a high-ranking government official and trusted confidant to President Isaias Afwerki. In 2012, when Ciham was 15, her father was Eritrea’s information minister. He shared updates about the country with the world and articulated key policy points.

Suddenly, and for unknown reasons, Ali had a falling out with Isaias, setting off a chain reaction that would leave the top minister’s family broken.

In November 2012, Ali fled to Australia to seek asylum.

Weeks after his defection, Ciham attempted to cross the border into Sudan. She was apprehended, and her family has neither seen nor heard from her since.

Human rights groups, along with Ciham’s family, believe she has been languishing in prison.

Day after day, they wait anxiously for news: information about her whereabouts; clues about her health; a sign that she is still alive.

After her father, the information minister, fled Eritrea, 15-year-old Ciham attempted to cross the border into Sudan. Authorities apprehended her, and she hasn’t been seen since.
After her father, the information minister, fled Eritrea, 15-year-old Ciham attempted to cross the border into Sudan. Authorities apprehended her, and she hasn’t been seen since.

Six years later, they have heard nothing. The Eritrean government refuses to acknowledge Ciham’s American citizenship — or her mere existence. The U.S. government has been similarly non-committal, acknowledging only that they have seen “reports” about Ciham’s case.

For Ciham’s family, the total information blackout has added to the ongoing anguish.

“It is excruciating, and relentless grief and agony,” Saleh Younis, Ciham’s uncle, told VOA in an email response.

Pressure points

Ciham’s family believes the Eritrean government won’t release her without outside pressure. But the U.S. forfeited a major bargaining chip when U.N. sanctions were lifted without preconditions, Saleh said.

“I don’t understand how the U.S. gave up its sole leverage — sanctions — unilaterally, without demanding to know the whereabouts not just of Ciham Ali but its embassy employees.” Those employees have been missing even longer, Saleh added.

But the United States could still push for answers, he said, through its relationships with countries that influence Eritrea — Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates.

“[The U.S.] should consistently raise this issue just as it would if, say, an American religious leader was to disappear,” Saleh said.


Neither arbitrary arrest nor indefinite detention is uncommon in Eritrea, where the government treats dissent and perceived threats to its authority with swift, harsh justice. In a 2016 report, a United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that dissidents face systemic torture, enslavement and reprisals against family members.

Ciham is one of many prisoners in Eritrea, along with journalists and political figures, who have been jailed without charges or a trial. What makes Ciham’s case unique is the complete lack of information about her whereabouts or well-being.
Ciham is one of many prisoners in Eritrea, along with journalists and political figures, who have been jailed without charges or a trial. What makes Ciham’s case unique is the complete lack of information about her whereabouts or well-being.

But Ciham’s case is unique, Saleh said, because no reliable information about her whereabouts or well-being has emerged.

“My dad was frequently arrested, and my younger brother is arrested. In each case, we got information from people who used to be in prison with them, or saw them when they were being hospitalized. But with Ciham, she is just marking her sixth year in prison, and there is nothing.”

The rare communications the family receives from regime loyalists and unknown messengers involve upsetting details about what has happened to Ciham, but Saleh said it’s impossible to separate what might be legitimate from what he called “sadistic” messages designed to further punish Ciham’s loved ones.

Immediate and unconditional release

Ahead of a high-level U.S. delegation to Asmara led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy earlier this week, the international rights group Amnesty International called on the United States to request the release of Ciham and other prisoners detained without trial or legal representation.

“We are demanding that the U.S. envoy shall prioritize human rights, and shall not leave human rights concerns as expendable when dealing with political interests with the Eritrean government,” Fisseha Tekle, a human rights researcher with Amnesty International, told VOA.

Recent diplomatic advancements in the Horn of Africa might create new opportunities to push for Ciham’s release. So far, though, neither the U.S. nor Eritrean government has commented on her case.
Recent diplomatic advancements in the Horn of Africa might create new opportunities to push for Ciham’s release. So far, though, neither the U.S. nor Eritrean government has commented on her case.

“Assistant Secretary Nagy must make robust representations to push for the immediate and unconditional release of both Ciham and all those detained across the country solely for peacefully exercising their human rights,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

Fisseha underscored that Amnesty’s concerns extend beyond Ciham.

“Including Ciham, there are so many people who have been arrested without trial, without charge, for so many years, and the condition of their arrest — it’s not even known,” he said.

On a conference call for media Thursday, Nagy didn’t address Ciham’s case, and neither the U.S. nor the Eritrean government responded to interview requests for this story.

With no leads to follow or diplomatic breakthroughs to draw hope from, Ciham’s family can, for now, only find comfort in their memories, and a collection of photographs that depict an innocent girl unaware of the upheaval that would soon engulf her.


This content was published on December 7, 2018 6:33 PM Dec 7, 2018 - 18:33


The normalising of relations between Switzerland and Eritrea is having an impact on asylum seekers. 


Following a recent United Nations Security Council resolution, the Swiss government has decided to lift targeted sanctions against Eritrea. 

The sanctions - that include an arms embargo, travel bans and asset freezes - will be repealed as of Friday evening, said a government statementexternal link. The UN Security Council had imposed the sanctions in December 2009 after Eritrea was suspected of supporting armed groups like Al-Shabaab with a view to destabilising the region. A border dispute with Djibouti also helped contribute to the decision. 

The sanctions were lifted by the UN on November 14 after no conclusive evidence of Eritrea’s support of Al-Shabaab had been reported by the specially appointed Eritrea Monitoring Group. A meeting between the presidents of Eritrea and Djibouti in September also helped convince the Security Council to drop the sanctions. 

About 20,000 Eritreans live in Switzerland, the largest Eritrean diaspora in the world. In addition, Eritreans make up the largest national group of asylum seekers in Switzerland. 

Switzerland is moving towards a normalizing of relations with the Eritrean government. Recent announcements on resumption of development cooperation and reinforcement of diplomatic presence point to progress in this direction. The slow return of Eritrea to the international community fold has also had an impact on Switzerland’s asylum policy towards Eritreans fleeing compulsory military service.


Since the start of its search and rescue mission in February 2016, the MSF’s boat, the Aquarius, has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

MSF Rescue

London: As men, women and children continue to die in the Mediterranean Sea, international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and its partner SOS Méditerranée have been forced to terminate the lifesaving operations of their search and rescue vessel, Aquarius.

Over the last two months as people have continued to flee by sea on the world’s deadliest migration route, the Aquarius has remained in port, unable to carry out its vital humanitarian work. This is due to a sustained smear campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European countries to delegitimise, slander and obstruct aid organisations trying to save the lives of vulnerable people in the Mediterranean.

Coupled with ill-conceived policies aimed at trapping people outside Europe’s borders, this campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles. With no immediate solution to these attacks, MSF and SOS Méditerranée have no option but to end the operations of the Aquarius.

“This is a dark day,” says Vickie Hawkins, MSF UK’s Executive Director. “Not only has Europe failed to provide dedicated search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more lives lost at sea; more avoidable deaths that will go unwitnessed and unrecorded. It really is a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’ for UK and European leaders as men, women and children perish.

During the past 18 months, European attacks on humanitarian search and rescue operations seem to have come from the playbook of some of the world’s most repressive states. Despite working in full compliance with authorities, the Aquarius was twice stripped of its registration earlier this year and now faces allegations of criminal activity – allegations we categorically refute.

Amidst these smear campaigns and manoeuvres to undermine international law, people rescued at sea have been denied access to safe ports, refused assistance from other ships and left stranded at sea for weeks at a time.

The unavoidable end to Aquarius’ life-saving operations is happening at a critical time. An estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for the overwhelming majority of lives lost.

In addition, the UK and European governments have further fuelled the unnecessary suffering of thousands by enabling the Libyan coastguard to intercept more than 14,000 people at sea this year alone and forcibly return them to Libya.  This is in clear violation of international law. In 2015, Europe made a commitment to the UN Security Council that nobody rescued at sea would be forced to return to Libya.

Karline Kleijer, MSF’s Head of Emergencies, “Today, the UK and its European counterparts are directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration. Let’s be clear about what that “success” means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; men, women and children pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape; and the creation of a climate that discourages all ships at sea from carrying out their obligations to rescue those in distress.”

“Just as we said when we launched our search and rescue operations in 2015 – we refuse to remain idle on shore as people continue to die at sea,”says Kleijer. “As long as people are suffering at sea and in Libya, MSF will look for ways to provide them with the vital medical and humanitarian care they desperately need.”

Since the start of its search and rescue mission in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta.

What Is Saudi Arabia Up to in the Horn of Africa?

Thursday, 06 December 2018 22:23 Written by

As America shifts away from the war on terror, Ethiopia is looking to the Gulf to fill our void.

Source: The American Conservative

The relationship between the United States and its longtime staunch ally in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, is on shifting ground. Why? Largely because U.S. foreign policy is focused less on the global war on terrorism and more on political and economic threats from the likes of China and Russia.

Since 2001, and as the fight against terror developed, the United States and Ethiopia have forged a strong bilateral relationship based largely on the latter’s large professional and capable army and ability to project both hard and soft power regionally.

In recent years, however, especially during the Trump administration, the U.S. has gradually come to perceive its biggest threats in Africa to be the presence of China and Russia rather than terrorism.

“Great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a January speech that outlined the 2018 National Defense Strategy. “We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia are from each other.”


This power struggle—driven by that age-old combination of rivalry and a desire to control the Suez Canal—isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. It could benefit the region’s benighted economies and has already achieved notable gains in terms of peace and stability, primarily with the opening of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border after 20 years of animosity and conflict. But the spider’s web of geopolitics could also unleash dangerous forces.

“U.S. policy is shifting and new powers are emerging,” says Hallelujah Lulie at Amani Africa, an Africa-based policy research, advisory, and consulting think tank. “There are all these rivalries, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia versus Qatar, Egypt versus Turkey, Turkey versus Saudi Arabia; interests over the Red Sea and Yemen; economic influence as a proxy; while Saudi Arabia is an ally of the U.S.: it’s a complex battleground.”

The tempo cranked up in 2017 when Saudi Arabia initiated an Arab nation blockade of Qatar. Both countries and their respective allies then descended on the Horn, where they rushed to build military bases, sign defense pacts, and take over commercial ports.

Ethiopia, which now has Africa’s second largest population and increasing diplomatic and commercial clout, has been dealing with meddling foreigners for the past two centuries. It has has proven adept at playing nations off against each other and switching allegiances to suit itself, a process that’s usually involved the U.S. in some manner.

During the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia forged strong ties with the United States. But after a military coup overthrew the emperor in 1974, it pivoted to Russia. After the next revolution in 1991, it was back with the U.S. After 9/11, the partnership only deepened.

But over the past few years, the Ethiopian government, belayed since 2015 by ongoing protests and internal squabbles within its ruling party, took its eye off of the bigger picture outside Ethiopia. The result was that it failed to prepare itself for America’s shift away from the war on terror and towards China. For one thing, Ethiopia continued to accept enormous Chinese investments in infrastructure and to forge economic and diplomatic ties with Beijing.

The result was that the Ethiopian government suddenly found that the United States wasn’t offering as steadfast diplomatic support as it had been. That meant it wasn’t as willing to look the other way when protests were suppressed and human rights controversies made news. It became increasingly susceptible to its inner frictions and thereby less stable and sure of itself.

At the beginning of 2018, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned—the first Ethiopian leader to voluntarily cede power—in an effort to placate criticisms of his party and calm the turmoil gripping his country. A week after Desalegn’s replacement, Abiy Ahmed, took office, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously adopted resolution HR-128, a resolution unusually outspoken in its condemning of various human rights abuses under the Ethiopian government.

Some say the shift in America’s relationship partly explains why Ethiopia has been increasingly drawn into the orbit of the Saudi-UAE bloc. Abiy Ahmed’s first official visit outside Africa in May was to Saudi Arabia, followed by meetings with UAE’s rulers.

“States on the Horn such as Ethiopia are trying to leverage these rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics to enhance their own influence,” says Awol Allo, a UK-based law professor and frequent commentator on Ethiopia and the Horn, writing for the website African Arguments. “Amidst the growing competition for influence among the Middle Eastern axes, Addis Ababa has managed to avoid taking sides—at least publicly—and leverage its geostrategic significance as the region’s hegemon to attract much-needed investment from several different partners.”

Despite this, according to staff at the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, America remains committed to Ethiopia “more than ever” for a multitude of reasons. Ethiopia is the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions globally, hosts one of the world’s largest refugee populations, plays a critical role in maintaining regional stability, and has enormous economic potential.

“The reform process launched by Prime Minister Abiy opens the door for further progress and collaboration in all of these areas, not least because democracy and good governance are powerful factors in building political stability and economic prosperity,” says a diplomat at the embassy. “Far from drifting away from Ethiopia, the U.S. is moving closer as we see a clear alignment in our priorities.”

The Ethiopia-Eritrea rapprochement is a good example of such an alignment between local and international players: both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia played a significant role behind the scenes in getting the formerly hostile sides to talk to each other. The peace and security dividend has some saying the Horn could finally come out of its decades-old shadow of conflict and suffering. Eritrea has also signed declarations of peace and cooperation with Djibouti and Somalia. After years of hostility over the building of the Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, Ethiopia and Egypt have seen a significant improvement in relations. Sudan, too, has mended relations with Egypt and has managed to get American sanctions lifted.

But such geopolitical developments are not lost on the citizens of the affected countries. Both Ethiopians and Eritreans are fearful of the potential consequences of being caught up in the ensuing struggle for influence in the region. They’re also worried that their respective governments could neglect their duties in their haste to comply with powerful external sources that opt for brinksmanship without considering the consequences for the still vulnerable states in the region. The Horn, after all, has a history of minor frictions mushrooming into far bigger problems.

“[Ethiopia] is engaged in a dangerous game,” Awol says. “The combination of the Gulf’s transactional politics and Africa’s often kleptocratic leadership could prove treacherous as historic rivalries take on new twists and matters develop beyond the Horn’s control.”

James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist who splits his time between the Horn of Africa, the U.S., and the UK, and writes for various international media. Follow him on Twitter @jrfjeffrey.


An important report by investigators from the Conflict Armament Research group shows just how the outside world has armed both sides in the civil war.

Major arms exporters – China, Israel, USA and the EU stand accused – while neighbouring states, including Uganda are implicated. The operation relies on the activities of what the researchers call “a wider international circle of European, Israeli, and US individuals and companies.”

Read the full report here: Weapons supplies S Sudan

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