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.





On 3 August 2018, the EPDP Commission for Party Renewal held a membership meeting on the renewal process while delegations of EPDP branches in Europe held their 4th Congress at the Eritrea Festival venue in Frankfurt Germany.

EPDP Renewal and Europe Zone Conventions 2018 1

Opened by welcoming remarks of Mr. Tesfamariam Kibreab, chairman of the preparatory committee of Eritrea Festival 2018, the meeting was conducted by Convention chairman, Mr. Fissehaye Hagos from California, USA, and Convention member, Dr. Habtemichael Teklebrhan from Sweden.

They briefed the meeting on the aims and achievements of the renewal process underway and what is expected from every party member at least from now till the next party congress in a year's time. Meeting participants expressed satisfaction with what has been so far done in reviewing both the shortcomings and strengths of the EPDP and made a number of recommendations for future action.

  4th Europe-Zone Congress

EPDP Renewal and Europe Zone Conventions 2018 2

Earlier on the same day, delegates of EPDP branches from several European countries held their 4th zonal congress moderated by the 4th Congress preparatory committee chairman, Mr. Zehaie Keleta and his team.

EPDP Renewal and Europe Zone Conventions 2018 3

Mr. Isaac Woldemariam, the Europe-Zone leadership chairman, presented a general two-year report on past achievements and shortcomings and expressed satisfaction with the active participation of EPDP branches in Europe in joint activities conducted with sister organizations and movements in the continent.

Mr. Tesfai Woldemichael (Degiga), head of the EPDP organizational office, also addressed congress stressing the committed work being done by EPDP Europe by resolutely facing all internal and external challenges. The congress, which was attended also by EPDP chairman and some EC members, with concluded after electing a seven-member leadership and two reserve members.

Contrary to Israeli Claims, Switzerland Says It Doesn’t Forcibly Return Asylum Seekers to Eritrea

Source: Haaretz

Israelis supporting deportations have held on to a recent Swiss ruling permitting the return of Eritreans in some cases, but the Swiss Embassy in Israel says forced expulsion is ‘not permitted and not reasonable’

Protest against the deportation of asylum seekers, April 2018.Protest against the deportation of asylum seekers, April 2018.Moti Milrod

Switzerland has clarified that it does not expel Eritrean asylum seekers from its territory, refuting Israel’s claim that it was halting the granting of refugee status to Eritreans and would deport thousands of them.

A letter sent by the Swiss Embassy in Israel to the Knesset, obtained by Haaretz, says that every asylum request by an Eritrean national is examined individually, and that forced expulsion is “not possible,” even if there is a legal option to return some of them to their native land.

According to Bern’s official figures, 75.2 percent of Eritrean asylum seekers have obtained some form of legal status in Switzerland, which protects them against deportation and offers them social benefits and the right to work legally. Some 58.3 percent of asylum seekers have been fully recognized as refugees. The figure in Israel is 0.1 percent; there are some 26,000 Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel, and only 10 have been recognized as refugees.

In Switzerland, Eritreans whose request for asylum is denied may still live in Switzerland without being arrested or deported, with basic welfare and health benefit. The Swiss document emphasized that “Switzerland does not return Eritrean nationals by force.”


Following the denial of the 21-year-old’s request earlier this month, the media in Israel and pro-deportation activists claimed that it was a dramatic precedent, showing that there was no legal impediment to sending Eritreans back to their country. Following the rejection of the 29-year-old’s request last year, former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar wrote on settler website Arutz Sheva that “The Israeli political echelon should use these precedents and force our legal system out of its comfort zone.”

Asylum seekers leaving Saharonim holding facility, April 2018. Asylum seekers leaving Saharonim holding facility, April 2018. Eliyahu Hershkowitz

The chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, Yoav Kish (Likud), said it was possible to conclude from the Swiss policy that there is no impediment to returning the Eritreans to their country.

In addition, it was reported in Israel that Switzerland was going to deport 3,200 asylum seekers to Eritrea. Their status is indeed being examined, but even if it is determined that they are not in danger if they return to their country they will not be forcibly deported.

The embassy staffers wrote that there are two distinct types of temporary status in Switzerland: one for refugees with retroactive grounds for asylum – personal risk created through or after their flight – and the other for people not recognized as refugees but whose deportation is considered “not permitted, not reasonable or not possible.” A general, global policy cannot impact individuals without an individual review, the Swiss said.


According to the letter, the latest rulings do not affect the ability of Eritrean citizens to live in Switzerland, and will not lead to their deportation, and certainly do not affect anyone already recognized as a refugee.

Still, the letter stated that the deportation of people whose asylum requests were denied is permissible and reasonable, even if they are conscripted into the military upon their return. While “conditions of life in the national service are painful… there are reports of ill-treatments and sexual abuses during the national service” and “Eritrean national service can be qualified as forced labor” it might not be ” not to the point that they would render an expulsion illegal” for a person denied refugee status. However, the person cannot be returned by force.

As for the 29-year-old who was refused, she had already finished her military service. According to the document, “the return of Eritrean nationals cannot be generally considered as unreasonable. Illegal exit is not a sufficient ground for asylum on its own, in the absence of an additional risk factor. Persons who have already accomplished their national service and ‘diaspora members; who settled their situation with the Eritrean government are not necessarily at risk of being convicted, recruited for national service or persecuted.” Nevertheless, the woman was neither arrested nor deported.


Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrant Workers, said: “Switzerland’s asylum policy has indeed become very strict, but the only country that expels Eritreans is Sudan, whose leader is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide. No democratic country forcibly deports Eritrean nationals. The Justice and Foreign Ministries have made it clear that the deportation is not even on the agenda currently, and it seems that the very discussion of it in the Knesset was meant only to create headlines that might frighten a few more asylum seekers.”

Update: Djibouti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf has denied the report below.

Djibouti tweet

Source: Hiiraan Online
Tuesday July 31, 2018
Djibouti (HOL) – The Djibouti President, Ismail Omar Guelleh is expected to visit the Eritrean capital Asmara later this week to engage in direct bilateral talks with his Eritrean counterpart President Isaias Afwerki, Hiiraan Online has learned.

Relations between Eritrea and Djibouti have been in tatters since the latter’s decision to support Ethiopia during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War of 1998–2000. Djibouti did not participate directly in the fighting but provided intelligence and logistical support to Ethiopia. As a result of the 1998 border war, Ethiopia – a landlocked country – lost access to the Eritrean port of Massawa and began to form an economic and political partnership with Djibouti that was born of out mutual necessity. Djiboutian ports delivered up to 95% of Ethiopian imports and in return import fresh water and electricity from Ethiopia

Tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti reached a crescendo in June 2008 when armed clashes broke out between the two neighbours after Djibouti accused Asmara of moving troops across the disputed Ras Doumeira area.

A fragile Qatari-brokered peace deal was reached in 2010 that was responsible for monitoring the disputed area and working towards fostering a lasting peace between the two sides. The presence of the nearly 500-strong troops created a seven-year no-peace-no-war stalemate that was threatned last June when Qatar abruptly pulled out of the border region in protest of both countries’ decision to support the Saudi Arabia led coalition in their blockade on Qatar.

Djibouti said that Eritrean troops began moving into the disputed areas of Doumeira Mountain and Doumeira island immediately after the Qatari peacekeepers completed their unannounced withdrawal.

According to sources privy to the development, Guelleh is expected to travel to Asmara this week. If the reports are accurate, it would renew optimism for a breakthrough in one of Africa’s most complicated border disputes and may possibly lead to the removal of U.N. sanctions on Eritrea.

The news comes on the heels of an unexpected state visit to Asmara by Somalia’s President, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo and follows the extraordinary diplomatic thawing of relations in recent weeks between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Eritrea, which has been described as Africa’s most isolated dictatorship, cut off ties with Ethiopia in 1998 after a brutal border over the town of Badme. Somalia has not had diplomatic relations with Eritrea for over 15 years.

During his meeting, President Farmajo joined Ethiopia in asking the U.N. to remove the sanctions placed on Eritrea.

“We urge all economic sanctions and embargo imposed on the people of Eritrea must be lifted so that the economic integration of the Horn of Africa region can be realized,” Farmajo told a banquet hosted by Eritrea’s president Sunday night.

One of the main justifications for the sanctions on Eritrea has been its alleged support for the Somalia-based militant insurgency group Al-Shabaab. Eritrea has vehemently denied the charges and has accused the U.N. of being manipulated by Eritrea’s political adversaries in the region.

However, Djibouti has gone on the record to say that the sanctions should remain in place until the contentious border dispute between the two countries is amicably resolved.

Last month, the Djiboutian Ambassador to the UN, Siad Doualeh, wrote an open letter to the UN Security Council calling on the world body to mediate in their border dispute with Eritrea. In the letter, Doualeh asked for the U.N. to bring the two sides together “with the aim of facilitating an agreement between them upon a mutually acceptable means of peaceful dispute settlement,” emphasizing that they wanted a “judicial settlement or arbitration” that would be legally binding.

Doualeh reminded the Security Council that one of the reasons sanctions were placed on Eritrea in 2009 was “because of its aggression against Djibouti and its refusal to withdraw its troops from the disputed area, and its rejection of all efforts aimed at mediating between the two parties.”

“Eritrean forces continue to occupy Djiboutian territory, prisoners of war remain unaccounted for, threats of force continue to emanate from the Eritrean side and the risk of violent confrontation is once again high,” Doualeh said.

On Monday, Doualeh made a statement before the Security Council where he doubled down on Djibouti’s position. He accused Eritrea of continuing to recruit, train and equip Djibouti rebels – including children – at the Anda’ali training camp in the Southern Red Sea region of Eritrea who attacks Djibouti villages and security forces. Doualeh says that Eritrea’s actions “defiantly ignore Security Council resolutions”.

He urged the Council to keep sanction on Eritrea intact so as long as they refuse to comply with the resolutions.

“If Council’s resolutions are to be regarded as more than empty and meaningless gestures, the sanctions for non-compliance must remain in place as long as Eritrea refuses to comply with them.

He added that “at the same time, Djibouti would support action by the Council to facilitate Eritrea’s compliance by laying out a clear path and a reasonable timetable towards this end.”

The Ambassador also included three recommendations to the Security Council.

  1. In respect of ending Eritrea’s support for armed groups, the Council should resolve to send a Monitoring Mission to Eritrea within one month, with the condition that Eritrea commit to full cooperation with the mission, including full access to all information and records the mission deems necessary to review and all personnel it finds necessary to interview. The Mission would then report to the council within 30 days of its return from Eritrea.
  2. In regard to prisoners of war, the Council could require that Eritrea account for them to the same Monitoring Mission and permit access to the Mission as well the ICRC.
  3. Finally, in respect of the good offices of the Secretary-General in close collaboration with the Security Council, the Secretary-General could convene an urgent meeting of the Principal Parties to facilitate an agreement between them upon a mutually acceptable means of peaceful dispute settlement from among those identified in Article 33 of the Charter.

Doualeh called on the Secretary-General to issue the U.N.’s solution within 120 days and require that Djibouti and Eritrea accept the solution. If either country refuses to accept the recommended solution laid out by the U.N., then the case should be referred to the International Court of Justice for a binding resolution.

Sweden’s U.N. ambassador, Olof Skoog, the current council president, said the future of sanctions is being discussed by council members.

“There is a promising diplomatic initiative” involving Eritrea and Djibouti, he said, adding that “there is a willingness to support the region in these efforts.”

“The Swedish point of view is that we need to be cautious not to set targets and benchmarks that hinder the current positive momentum, and instead really ensure that we allow Eritrea now to partake in the international arena and let peoples in the region enjoy the peace dividends. We believe that the council should seize this moment to firmly recognize peace and normalize the relations between the international community and Eritrea by deciding to review the sanctions regime as soon as possible.”

The UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Karen Pierce, who will become President of the Security Council on Wednesday said “It’s something the Council needs to discuss. I think the developments are very positive. They’re very welcome, and at some point, that will need to be reflected in the coming months on sanctions. But the Council hasn’t had a full discussion of that yet, so it’s something we need to talk about.”

That sentiment was not shared by all members on the council.

Dutch deputy permanent representative to the United Nations Lise Gregoire-van Haaren said Monday that “all the criteria” should be examined when the international community conducts a review the sanctions against Eritrea.

“We have to look very closely at all the criteria in place for the sanctions regime on the basis of which we can decide whether to change them or not.”

Coincidentally, Ethiopia announced to the U.N. Security Council on Monday that to would work towards normalizing relations between Djibouti and Eritrea, both of which share a border with Ethiopia.

Takeda Alemu, Ethiopia’s envoy to the United Nations told the Security Council on Monday that his country would like to bring the leaders of two countries to the negotiating table.

“The Djibouti Foreign Minister was in Addis Ababa last week to deliver the message of President Guelleh to my Prime Minister and he was able to conduct very productive and useful discussions, both with our Prime Minister and his counterpart, our Foreign Minister,” Alemu said.

He added that “Ethiopia has expressed its readiness to do whatever is necessary to contribute to the normalization of relations between Eritrea and Djibouti and it is our firm commitment this is critical for peace and security in our region”.

Alemu credited Eritrea and Ethiopia’s dramatic rapprochement in recent weeks as the catalyst for the change in political dynamics in the region.

“It is downright impossible to deny that the politics of the Horn of Africa is in the process rapid change and with salutary implications. All this is the result of the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea which would have been thought to be inconceivable only a few months ago.”

In addition to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, there are reports that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is also planning travel to Asmara as IGAD members seek to normalize relations with Africa’s hermit kingdom. Eritrea walked out of the eight-country trade bloc in 2007 in protest of Ethiopia’s invasion into Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab and an IGAD report accusing Eritrea of supporting the militant extremists.

The tiny nation of Djibouti has emerged as the de-facto winner in the two-decade-long standoff between Ethiopia and Ethiopia, benefitting economically and through forming strategic security partnerships. However, as the winds of change blow in the Horn of Africa, many will be watching closely to see if this political tectonic shift will resolve the decades-long conflict between these East African neighbours.


By Fisseha Tekle

30 July 2018, 15:05 UTC

The recent peace agreement with Ethiopia presents the Eritrean authorities with the opportunity to end the indefinite national service, a widely-criticised practice that has robbed the country’s youth of their dreams creating a generation of Eritrean refugees.

The Eritrean government introduced compulsory national service in 1995. By law, every high school finalist undertakes 18 months of national service, which include six months of military training. When relations deteriorated with neighbouring Ethiopia following the bitter 1998-2000 border war, the national service was extended indefinitely.

The indefinite national service has torn apart many families and ripped apart the fabric of society. Many children are growing up without both parents and girls are married off early to avoid conscription.
Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International's Researcher for Ethiopia and Eritrea

The indefinite national service has torn apart many families and ripped apart the fabric of society. It is common for several members of the same family to be conscripted at the same time and posted to different parts of the country. Many children are growing up without both parents and girls are married off early to avoid conscription.

Binyam, 18, told Amnesty International that his father was conscripted before he was even born. The family are lucky to see him once every six months. Some conscripts go years without seeing their families because they are not granted annual leave.

I don’t want to have children who see me once every six months; I want to see my children every day.
Binyam, Eritrean youth

“I don’t want to have children who see me once every six months; I want to see my children every day,” Binyam told us in a previous report published in 2015. Nothing has since changed in Eritrea’s indefinite national service.

Mariam, another 18-year-old, told us about the heavy toll national service had taken on her family. Both her father and her eldest brother had been conscripted, and when it was her turn, she fled because she couldn’t tolerate the idea.

In their final year of high school, students attend the infamous Sawa Military Camp, where food and water are abysmal, and temperatures are extreme. Harsh punishment is meted out for minor infractions.

Students have come to view the education system as a trap that delivers them right into the jaws of national service. Some drop out of school to escape conscription.

Students have come to view the education system as a trap that delivers them right into the jaws of national service. Some drop out of school to escape conscription, but this is a dead-end choice because without a clearance certificate from national service, they cannot access food rations, or register a business, acquire a mobile phone line, a driving license, or open a bank account. Furthermore, the military conducts impromptu house to house searches to round up anyone suspected of trying to evade national service.

Not only is national service never-ending, it pays a pittance – certainly not enough for people to live with dignity and enjoy their rights to food, shelter and healthcare.

Filmon, 29, fled Eritrea a month after deserting military service. He had done seven years before deserting in September 2017. Like many Eritrean youth we interviewed, Filmon lamented the lack of freedom and absence of bankable prospects in his country.

“My salary was a mere 1,500 Nafka (US$100), which was higher than that of people assigned to the military service, because I held a civilian job. I lived with my mother who had no income. It was impossible to support her and live on my income,” he said.

Eritrean youth have only two life options: undertake the compulsory, indefinite national service in conditions that amount to forced labour, or flee the country, risking their lives in search of a better life overseas.

As such, Eritrean youth have only two life options: undertake the compulsory, indefinite national service in conditions that amount to forced labour, or flee the country, risking their lives in search of a better life overseas.

Former conscripts compared national service to modern day slavery, saying they suffered torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest, and lacked basic sanitation and hygiene.

A UN Commission of Inquiry concluded in June 2016, that "crimes against humanity have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner in Eritrean military training camps and other locations".

In addition to military service, the recruits also worked in farms, mines or construction sites for less than US$60 a month. This system of indefinite, involuntary conscription amounts to forced labour, and is a human rights violation under international law.

It is therefore not surprising that thousands of Eritreans flee the country every year taking treacherous journeys to Europe at the risk of being kidnapped by human traffickers, imprisoned by hostile governments, or drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

It is therefore not surprising that thousands of Eritreans flee the country every year taking treacherous journeys to Europe at the risk of being kidnapped by human traffickers, imprisoned by hostile governments, or drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict has been a convenient excuse for compulsory conscription and wide- ranging human rights violations in Eritrea. With the stalemate now resolved, the government of Eritrea must end compulsory and indefinite national service and allow the people to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, movement and fair trial.

The authorities must now urgently come up with a clear, time-bound plan to demobilize those trapped in endless national service, while ensuring new conscripts are not forced into national service. The government must also make provision for conscientious objection to military service.

The time to end compulsory conscription is now.

Fisseha Tekle is the Amnesty International Researcher for Ethiopia and Eritrea.

This article was first published in the EastAfrican on 28 July 2018.


Since this was written I have learnt that talks to end the conflict had been under way for more than a year.

Originally published July 10, 2018 in The Conversation.


This week Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed visited neighbouring Eritrea, to be greeted by President Isaias Afwerki. The vast crowds that thronged the normally quiet streets of Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, were simply overjoyed. They sang and they danced as Abiy’s car drove past. Few believed they would ever see such an extraordinarily rapid end to two decades of vituperation and hostility between their countries.

After talks the president and prime minister signed a declaration, ending 20 years of hostility and restoring diplomatic relations and normal ties between the countries.

The first indication that these historic events might be possible came on June 4. Abiy declared that he would accept the outcome of an international commission’s finding over a disputed border between the two countries. It was the border conflict of 1998-2000, and Ethiopia’s refusal to accept the commission’s ruling, that was behind two decades of armed confrontation. With this out of the way, everything began to fall into place.

The two countries are now formally at peace. Airlines will connect their capitals once more, Ethiopia will use Eritrea’s ports again – its natural outlet to the sea – and diplomatic relations will be resumed.

Perhaps most important of all, the border will be demarcated. This won’t be an easy task. Populations who thought themselves citizens of one country could find themselves in another. This could provoke strong reactions, unless both sides show flexibility and compassion.

For Eritrea there are real benefits – not only the revenues from Ethiopian trade through its ports, but also the potential of very substantial potash developmentson the Ethiopia-Eritrea border that could be very lucrative.

For Ethiopia, there would be the end to Eritrean subversion, with rebel movements deprived of a rear base from which to attack the government in Addis Ababa. In return, there is every chance that Ethiopia will now push for an end to the UN arms embargoagainst the Eritrean government.

This breakthrough didn’t just happen. It has been months in the making.

The deal

Some of the first moves came quietly from religious groups. In September last year the World Council of Churches sent a team to see what common ground there was on both sides. Donald Yamamoto, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, and one of America’s most experienced Africa hands, played a major role.

Diplomatic sources suggest he held talks in Washington at which both sides were represented. The Eritrean minister of foreign affairs, Osman Saleh, is said to have been present, accompanied by Yemane Gebreab, President Isaias’s long-standing adviser. They are said to have met the former Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, laying the groundwork for the deal. Yamamoto visited both Eritrea and Ethiopiain April.

Although next to nothing was announced following the visits, they are said to have been important in firming up the dialogue.

But achieving reconciliation after so many years took more than American diplomatic muscle.

Eritrea’s Arab allies also played a key role. Shortly after the Yamamoto visit, President Isaias paid a visit to Saudi Arabia. Ethiopia – aware of the trip – encouraged the Saudi crown prince to get the Eritrean president to pick up the phone and talk to him. President Isaias declined, but – as Abiy Ahmed later explained – he was “hopeful with Saudi and US help the issue will be resolved soon.”

So it was, but one other actor played a part: the UAE. Earlier this month President Isaias visited the Emirates. There are suggestions that large sums of money were offered to help Eritrea develop its economy and infrastructure.

Finally, behind the scenes, the UN and the African Union have been encouraging both sides to resolve their differences. This culminated in the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, flying to Addis Ababa for a meeting on Monday– just hours after the joint declaration. Guterres told reporters that in his view the sanctions against Eritrea could soon be lifted since they would soon likely become “obsolete.”

It has been an impressive combined effort by the international community, who have for once acted in unison to try to resolve a regional issue that has festered for years.

Risks and dividends

For Isaias these developments also bring some element of risk. Peace would mean no longer having the excuse of a national security threat to postpone the implementation of basic freedoms. If the tens of thousands of conscripts, trapped in indefinite national service are allowed to go home, what jobs await them? When will the country have a working constitution, free elections, an independent media and judiciary? Many political prisoners have been jailed for years without trail. Will they now be released?

For Ethiopia, the dividends of peace would be a relaxation of tension along its northern border and an alternative route to the sea. Families on both sides of the border would be reunited and social life and religious ceremonies, many of which go back for centuries, could resume.

But the Tigrayan movement – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – that was dominant force in Ethiopian politics until the election of Prime Minister Aiby in February, has been side-lined. It was their quarrel with the Eritrean government that led to the 1998–2000 border war.

The Eritrean authorities have rejoiced in their demise. “From this day forward, TPLF as a political entity is dead,” declared a semi-official website, describing the movement as a ‘zombie’ whose “soul has been bound in hell”. Such crowing is hardly appropriate if differences are to be resolved. The front is still a significant force in Ethiopia and could attempt to frustrate the peace deal.

These are just some of the problems that lie ahead. There is no guarantee that the whole edifice won’t collapse, as the complex details of the relationship are worked out. There are many issues that have to be resolved before relations between the two countries can be returned to normal. But with goodwill these can be overcome, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity from which the entire region would benefit.