Wednesday, 24 April 2019 10:06 Written by


 Former President Thabo Mbeki has weighed in on the ongoing Au Troika Summit in Egypt being attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

JOHANNESBURG – Former President Thabo Mbeki says while the African Union and the international community discuss the future of Sudan, the country’s sovereignty must be respected.

Mbeki visited the African National Congress (ANC) pavilion at the Rand Easter Show where he weighed in on the ongoing Au Troika Summit in Egypt being attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“The sovereignty of the Sudanese people about their own future has to be respected and that’s important, there’re clearly many other people around the world who are very interested in the future of Sudan, which is good. But I’m saying that interest must not undermine the possibility of the Sudanese to exercise sovereignty.”

At the summit, African leaders will focus on “the evolution of the situation in Sudan” where protests continue after the military toppled President Omar al-Bashir.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is also the current president of the African Union.

He will receive the Chadian president Idriss Deby, Rwanda’s head of state Paul Kagame, Congo’s Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Ramaphosa as well as Dijbouti’s leader Ismail Omar Guelleh.

For Sudan, the objective “is to discuss … the most appropriate ways to address the evolution of the situation and to contribute to stability and peace”, Egypt’s presidency said.

The AU on 15 April threatened to suspend Sudan if the military does not hand over power within 15 days of that date to a civilian authority.

President of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki is also expected to participate in the discussions, along with officials from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria.


April 24, 2019 News

24 April 2019

Eritrea Focus

UN Secretary General’s former Africa representative calls for democratic change in Eritrea

London, 24 April 2019Ambassador Haile Menkerios, who served as the United Nations Special Representative to the African Union, and Eritrea’s ambassador to Ethiopia from 1991 to 2000, is calling for a “national conference of representatives of the Eritrean people that would decide on a transitional arrangement to ensure an inclusive process of building participatory democracy in the country.”

Ambassador Menkerios will make his remarks to ‘Building Democracy in Eritrea’, a two-day conference held at Senate House, University of London, from 24-25 April.

The landmark conference will hear from Ambassador Menkerios that only the formation of a new national body of representatives “can prevent violence” following the end of the current dictatorship.

President Isaias Afwerki has ruled Eritrea since independence in 1993. He has suppressed all opposition parties, crushed the independent media and imprisoned his opponents indefinitely.

Eritrea has “the notoriety of being perhaps the only country in Africa that does not have a functioning constitution, a legitimate elected government, nor legitimate and functioning governance institutions that ensure accountability,” Ambassador Menkerios will say.

Conference objective

The two-day conference is being organised by Eritrea Focus, in partnership with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study. It brings together more than 70 delegates from the USA, Europe and Africa, including academics, campaigners, members of the Eritrean diaspora, and international experts.

“The objective of ‘Building Democracy in Eritrea’ is to bring together Eritreans and international supporters to begin thinking about tangible, realistic objectives for the establishment of democracy and the administration of justice in the country”, said Habte Hagos, Chairman of Eritrea Focus. “The time for this is now.”

The lessons from Sudan and Algeria

The London conference meets as the Sudanese and Algerian uprisings are unfolding, and which serve as examples of how regime change can come about.  The aim of the conference is to look beyond Eritrea’s current dictatorship and to explore how democratic renewal can be assisted and encouraged.

Among those participating are:

  • Dr Bereket Habte Selassie, the author of the Eritrean Constitution
  • Ambassador Andebrhan Weldegiorgis, former Eritrean Ambassador to the European Union
  • Abraham Zere, head of PEN Eritrea
  • Dan Connell, eminent author and scholar
  • Prof Kjetil Tronvoll, of Norway’s International Law and Policy Institute, expert on the Horn of Africa
  • Prominent humanitarians working with the US Congress, the European Union and the British Parliament.

While the rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia last year brought an end to the state of “no war, no peace” that persisted for 20 years, there are no signs that any reforms have been enacted to address the drastic situation of human rights within the country, which last month the UK Government said remained of “significant concern”.

“The almost absolute concentration of power in the hands of the President is both unstable and unsustainable”, says Habte Hagos. “The British Government acknowledges that we have seen no improvement in the situation of Eritreans following the peace deal with Ethiopia, and people continue to flee the brutal regime of indefinite conscription and the suppression of their most basic human rights. We must learn the lessons of dictatorships that fell but did not give way to democracy, and act quickly to set out the conditions that must be met for a future free from the tyranny of the past three decades.”


Notes to editors:

Eritrea Focus is an association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuses of human rights in Eritrea.

The objective of Eritrea Focus is to draw attention to the horrific abuses and suffering of Eritreans, both within the country and as refugees living abroad. We campaign for democratic accountability in Eritrea and the establishment of the rule of law, and actively engage with the international community in our efforts to achieve this.

Eritrea Focus provides secretarial support to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eritrea.

For media enquiries, contact:
James Killin
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 020 7922 7719




President Omer al-Bashir speaks to police senior officers at the headquarters of the “police house” in Burri suburb on December 30, 2018. (AFP Photo)

April 20, 2019 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan’s public prosecutor’s office opened two complaints against the deposed President Omer al-Bashir on charges of money laundering and possession of large sums of hard currency without legal ground, a judicial source told Reuters on Saturday.

The source added that the senior prosecutor appointed by the military council to fight corruption ordered the arrest of the former president and questioned him soon in preparation for his trial.

The prosecution will question the former president who is already imprisoned in Khartoum central prison of Kober, and that there are legal proceedings will be taken against some other figures of the former regime who are accused of corruption.

Sudanese media said on Saturday that a team of the armed forces and military intelligence had raided the residence of the ousted president.

The Alray Alaam newspaper reported that the team found large amounts of foreign and local currencies which amounted to more than 6 million Euros, 351 thousand U.S. dollars, and 5 billion Sudanese pounds.

The newspaper quoted the prosecutor in charge of corruption cases, Mutasim Abdellah Mahmoud, as saying that the prosecution immediately began to implement the directives of the Transitional Military Council, and carries out its duties in the fight against corruption.

Mahmoud said further search operation will be at al-Bashir’s residence, and the seized money will be deposited in the Central Bank.

The military council said they refuse to hand over the former president to the International Criminal court and pledged to try him for Darfur war crimes in Sudan.



April 16, 2019 News, Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat

Source: Mixed Migration Quarterly

Summary: Ending the “state of war” between Ethiopia and Eritrea has changed very little. The exodus from Eritrea continues, but they are not reaching Europe. Just 492 people arrived in Italy via the Central Mediterranean route, which is the route most frequently used by refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa.

“As data shows that refugees and migrants from the region are still moving northwards towards Europe, this may suggest that increasing numbers are stranded along the way.”

MigrationIt was with much anticipation – following an announcement in June 2018 that Eritrea and Ethiopia had agreed to end the two-decade long “state of war” between the two countries and resume friendly relations, including the reopening of border points – that the humanitarian community expected to see a change in cross-border displacement dynamics.

Forced military conscription, often justified by the Eritrean government as a necessary defence measure during the hostilities, remains one of the primary drivers of migration for both Eritrean children and adults. To date, the Eritrean government has not made any changes to the duration of national conscription and it remains as service for an indefinite period.

Renewed concerns have emerged surrounding reports that the EU is backing a road-building project that will use National Service conscripts, who critics argue are “forced labour” and are recruited for an indefinite period. The EU has stated that it will increase the pay rates of the national service recruits while still upholding their human rights.

While UNHCR projects that the Eritrean refugee caseload in Ethiopia will go down to 123,841 by the end of 2019 (from 173,879 at the end of 2018), figures in the final quarter of 2018 suggest that the opening of borders between the two countries actually resulted in an influx of Eritreans crossing over into Ethiopia with UNHCR approximating that the average daily rates of arrivals was 180 individuals – up from 50.

By the end of 2018, there were over 1,700 refugees registered at Endabaguna Reception Center awaiting transfer to the camps with an average daily rate of 390 individuals across all camps in Ethiopia. Family reunification was cited highly as one of the reasons for the influx, and anecdotal reports suggest that the high levels of arrivals have continued into the first quarter of this year.

Furthermore, interviews conducted with Eritrean refugees in refugee camps in northern Ethiopia indicate that a sizeable number of Eritrean youth arriving into Ethiopia opt to pursue onward movements from the camps to urban centres within, as well as outside of Ethiopia. In fact research indicates that the number of Eritreans crossing into Sudan has not reduced.

This is likely due to various reasons: the driving factors for migration for many Eritreans (forced conscription, political oppression) still remain; many Eritreans remain sceptical of the political changes between Ethiopia and Eritrea which some feel have not been transparent especially with rumours of security crackdowns in border towns; and the deterioration of living standards for many refugees living in over-populated camps in Tigray State.

Additionally, Sudan’s smuggling networks still remain operational and flexible allowing them to adapt to broader regional shifts including closure of old routes thereby making it easier for migrants to cross through.

The Government of Ethiopia continues to advance its ‘Out of Camp’ policy under the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework which will seek to provide work permits to refugees, increase their enrolment in schools, provide access to irrigable land, facilitate local integration, earmark jobs in industrial parks for refugees and provide access to documentation to facilitate access to essential social services.

In addition to the continuation of factors that drive people out of Eritrea, this could be a pull factor for Eritreans to come to Ethiopia once rolled out. Meanwhile, government representatives from both countries held high level meetings in January 2019 to discuss the regularisation of trade and transport relations between the two States.

Arrivals in Europe & East African refugees and migrants in Libya

According to UNHCR, the total number of arrivals in Europe between January and March 2019 was 12,408 persons. Reports show that the number of irregular entries into the EU are at the lowest level in five years. Just 492 people arrived in Italy via the Central Mediterranean route, which is the route most frequently used by refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa.

While a subdued level of movement is typical during the first quarter due to adverse weather conditions, this represents a significant drop in number of arrivals into Italy from 5,945 over the same period in 2018. Refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa accounted for just 44 of the arrivals into Italy in the first quarter of 2019, representing less than 9 percent – a large difference from numbers at the peak of European sea arrivals in 2016, with more than 40,000 arrivals from the Horn of Africa.

As data shows that refugees and migrants from the region are still moving northwards towards Europe, this may suggest that increasing numbers are stranded along the way.

As at the end of March 2019, there were 8,728 Eritrean, 3,680 Somali, 1,252 Ethiopian and 156 South Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. Measures by EU-supported Libyan coastguards to intercept and return boats departing from the Libyan coast and efforts to repatriate irregular migrants continued, possibly also contributing to the reduction in arrival figures in Europe.

written by admin April 18, 2019

 PM appoints Gedu and Lemma to lead Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministries

Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed has appointed Gedu Andargachew and Lemma Megersa as Ministers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and The Ministry of Defense respectively.

The House of People’s Representatives (HPR), in its ordinary 34th session today, has ratified the appointment with majority vote.

Former Defense Minister, Aisha Muhammed, is also appointed as Minister of the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction.

Gedu Andargachew was President of the Amhara Regional State before his replacement lately by the Regional Council by Ambachew Mekonnnen. Lemma Megersa is President of Oromia Region and is expected to be replaced by another Central Committee member of the Oromo Democratic Party soon.






15 Apr 2019

Sudan's President Omar El-Bashir and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were ousted within two weeks of each other [File: AP Photo/Abd Raouf]

Sudan and Algeria can easily evoke memories of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions of 2010 and 2011. Like their neighbours, Sudanese and Algerian protesters managed to overthrow their autocratic leaders after decades of rule, in a matter of months, and without a single shot fired.

Marching, chanting, resisting and daring, the people of Sudan and Algeria pressed on with their calls for freedom and democracy until they were able to disarm the old guard - politicians and generals alike - and force them to acquiesce to their initial demands.

It may still be too early to judge, but so far it looks like these latecomers have learned important lessons from Arab as well as other revolutions. In fact, Sudan and Algeria may well be able to deter the counter-revolution and avert the dangers of civil war.

The signs are hopeful.

Non-violence and inclusion

So far, revolutionaries in Sudan and Algeria are still firmly on the path of non-violence, a la Tunisia and Egypt.

Peaceful protest has proven the least costly and the most constructive among all possible strategies and scenarios, not only to confront repression, but also to pave the way for democracy. Indeed, non-violent revolutions are most capable of splitting the regime's rank and file and straining its legitimacy.

If history is any guide, violent revolts tend to coalesce and galvanise a dictatorship's base, making it harder to bring down. They also produce alternative leadership that is no less violent than the repressive regimes they aim to overthrow.

Those who fight and kill their opponents with enthusiasm and determination are likely to turn against their allies and people with equal vengeance.

But for civil disobedience, boycott, demonstrations and other forms of non-violent strategies to work, they require popular mobilisation. In Algeria and Sudan, people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, young and old, women and men, secular and religious came together in their demand for freedom and better living.

Sudan's leading popular voice, the Sudanese Professionals Association, reflected this embrace of inclusiveness rather brilliantly in its recent call to put "Christ at the heart of the revolution", asking Christians and people of all other confessions to participate in a day of civil disobedience and worship for peace.

Such inclusion of different elements of society prevents the regime from taking advantage of any potential splits or feelings of alienation, as has happened in both Syria and Egypt, in order to discredit the revolution and justify repression against its supporters.

Inclusion also means readiness to incorporate segments of the old order into the movement for change. Not only does this broaden the popular base of the revolution, but it also diminishes the regime's authority and hastens its demise.

Autocrats depend on a system of political and financial patronage that involves the participation of certain segments of society mostly out of economic necessity, not political loyalty.

Condemning or alienating those middle- and low-ranking bureaucrats or government employees, including teachers and policemen, is counterproductive and harmful; attracting and incorporating them in the revolution can contribute to its potential success.

A greater popular mobilisation behind the revolution ensures greater participation in the ensuing democratic process, which guarantees its long-term consolidation.

That may take time, lots of time.

What, not who, comes next

A revolution is a thrilling, liberating rush of social and political adrenaline, but even with broad support, its long-term success depends on consistency and perseverance. The pressure can't ease just because the despot is gone. What must come next is a slow, tedious, and deliberate process of organisation, negotiation and reconciliation. 

Without it, any revolution ends in the dustbins of history.

For, if people return home to business-as-usual after the fall of an autocrat, they allow the old regime to reconstitute itself in one form or another.

Unlike totalitarian revolutions, such as Russia's or Iran's, where change is swift, brutal and decisive, democratic revolutions require time, discipline and endurance.

Historically, democracy comes after big disruptions, and in long phases and stages; it almost never evolves in a linear fashion. The French Revolution, which took decades to realise its potential, is a good example.

Changing an autocrat might be hard; changing the system behind him is even harder. The important question for all revolutions is not who but what comes after.

The Algerian and Sudanese people seem well aware of that. They celebrated the bloodless ouster of Bouteflika and al-Bashir, but they did so knowing well that this was only the beginning of a very long and fraught process.

The swift introduction of substitute leaders from within the old system in both countries underlined the need for more comprehensive thinking about the way forward.

In both Algeria and Sudan, the protesters know they need to get the military on their side and on their terms, like in Tunisia, in order to avoid an Egypt-like scenario.

Tunisia's experience also teaches that protests must go on until a new transparent system of accountability is in place. This means knowing not only whom you oppose, but also what you want both in the short and long term. It's rather easy to be against corrupt repressive leaders, but much harder to articulate and implement a vision for a better future. 

Democracy and democrats

This brings us to the old chicken-and-egg riddle: What comes first, democracy or democrats? For how is it possible to nurture democracy without democrats, or democrats without democracy?

The simple answer is: They come in tandem. It takes experience and courage to foster them.

Democracy is no panacea. It is a lot of work and results can be mixed, sometimes undemocratic, even after decades and centuries of democratic rule. Just look at the rise of fascist anti-democratic right-wing parties in a number of leading democracies.

And in the Arab world, liberal democracy, the truest form of democracy, may indeed be seen as a controversial idea or a foreign import by traditional and conservative portions of society. 

All of this means that there is a need for open debate, for trial and error, which takes time - lots of time. And that is why priority needs to be given to a gradual transition over immediate elections - something the revolutionaries of both Sudan and Algeria seem to insist on.

They demand a transition into civilian, not military rule - one that prepares the political and legal frameworks to hold free and fair elections.

Rushing to the polls immediately is certain to privilege older, more organised parties and fracture the newly formed groups driving the revolution, as they compete for power. Egypt is a good example of how the ancien regime can exploit post-election tensions between liberal secularist and conservative Islamists to mount a coup d'etat against an elected president.

This does not mean open-ended transition that drags on endlessly.

As the new Sudanese Freedom and Change alliance, a public committee representing the demands of the protesters, proposes, a four-year period may be suitable to stabilise the country politically and economically and chart a new way forward.

Algeria seems to follow suit, as it has rejected the announcement of presidential elections in July under the same old rules. Now that Algerian judges have decided to boycott supervising such premature elections, the pressure is building up for their postponement until the country is ready.

Meanwhile, another crucial process that has to take place is managing expectations. Like their neighbours before them, Algerians and Sudanese who have risked a lot in the struggle for regime change, will come to expect a lot.

The Sudanese who revolted against al-Bashir for the lack of bread and fuel, will expect - indeed, demand - solutions not slogans from the transitional government.

No doubt, many confuse democracy with prosperity in the West. Democracy may facilitate creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, but it does not guarantee a higher standard of living, at least not in the short term. 

And in a heavily indebted, underdeveloped nation with few national sources of income, freedom and democracy may generate more anger than wealth.

The art of the impossible

So far developments in Sudan and Algeria have gone in the right direction, but there is also a lot that can still go wrong, considering the road to democracy is full of traps and pitfalls.

If recent "Arab Spring" experiences are anything to go by, the worst is yet to come, especially, as the generals continue to vie for control.

But the long silenced Sudanese and Algerians majorities and their invisible elites have defied all the scare campaigns that warned of a descent into chaos.

They have rejected all forms of domestic and foreign intervention, especially military intervention, to avoid the destruction seen in Libya, Syria and Yemen. 

In short, they prefer to be self-reliant, buoyantly industrious and innovative revolutionaries.

And it sure takes innovation to confront violence with non-violence, to protest loudly and negotiate calmly, to raise the stakes and reduce the risks, to elevate the aspirations and limit the expectations. It will also take more creativity to continue to use accessible means to realise inaccessible ends.

The art of revolution entails deep societal transformation to ensure the sustainability and durability of political transformation.



By Felix Horne
Apr 08, 2019
Ethiopia’s transition to democracy has hit a rough patch. It needs support from abroad
Ethiopians rally in 2018 in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa. (Yonas Tadese / AFP / Getty Images)

The ascent of Dr. Abiy Ahmed to the post of prime minster in Ethiopia a year ago was a rare positive story in a year filled with grim news globally. Within months of taking office, his administration released tens of thousands of political prisoners, made peace with neighboring Eritrea, took positive first steps to ensure free and independent elections, and welcomed previously banned groups back into Ethiopia. It was an astonishing turnaround in a short period.

But the progress has created new challenges. Ethiopia’s rapid transition away from authoritarianism unleashed waves of dissatisfaction and frustration that had been crushed by the ruling party for decades. If Abiy (Ethiopians are generally referred to by their first names) can’t maintain law and order and come up with a plan to address the causes of that anger without repressive measures, his country’s considerable gains will be threatened.

There aren’t many success stories around the world as nations transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Ethiopia has a chance to become a model, but it will need significant help confronting its challenges.

There’s no evidence that Abiy’s administration has a clear strategy for addressing these growing tensions.

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As Ethiopians have become less afraid of voicing opinions, long-standing grievances have taken on new intensity. Disputes over access to land and complex questions of identity and administrative boundaries have led to open conflicts and score-settling, often along ethnic lines. Dissatisfaction has also been growing over long-standing questions about who gets to govern and manage the rapid growth of the capital, Addis Ababa. The rising tensions across Ethiopia have led to the displacement of more than2 million people since Abiy took office. And as tensions increase, this number is likely to rise.

Social media, meanwhile, has grown in popularity, and it is awash with hate speech. Firearms are flooding into many parts of the country. And local and federal authorities are losing control over security in many parts of the country. It’s a toxic mix with critical nationwide elections coming up in just over a year.

Progress is hampered by the lack of action from Abiy’s government, which has done little to calm inter-ethnic tensions and remedy the underlying issues. And institutions that could resolve such complex grievances are not yet seen as independent enough to address them in a nonpartisan way, following years of ruling party control. And perhaps most worryingly, there’s no evidence that Abiy’s administration has a clear strategy for addressing these growing tensions.

As Abiy’s popularity has waned, so has support for his reform agenda. There is mounting concern that Ethiopia risks becoming ungovernable if conflict and insecurity continue to rise. Some insist that if that happens a return to authoritarianism is the only way to keep the country together. It is not too late for Abiy to turn this situation around and build on the seeds of democracy he nurtured in his first few months in office. But a plan of corrective action, restoration of law and order, and some confidence-building measures are urgently needed from Abiy’s government.

Many Ethiopians living in the diaspora, including in the Los Angeles area, have backed Abiy’s effort at bringing democracy to Ethiopia. Ethiopians living abroad have raised more than $1 million to help some of those displaced by conflict.

Their efforts should be backed by the U.S. and other Western nations who have key long-standing partnerships with Ethiopia, including in the areas of migration, counter-terrorism and economic growth. They need to ensure that Abiy’s experiment with democracy succeeds. Should it fail, there would be dire humanitarian consequences for this country of over 100 million, many of whom protested against bullets and arrests from security forces for years in the hopes of a transition to a more rights-respecting government.

The United States and its allies can best support Ethiopians by continuing to offer praise for the reforms while also asking sometimes difficult questions about how Abiy’s government plans to restore law and order and address underlying grievances, and by determining what role the United States and other allies can play in making this happen. In Abiy, Ethiopia has a leader who, based on available evidence, genuinely wants that transition but may need a helping hand.

The next year is likely to determine how history remembers Abiy — and how democratic principles fare in Ethiopia.

Felix Horne is the senior Ethiopia researcher at Human Rights Watch.


The growing popular call of ‘’ ይኣክል! كفى! -- Enough is Enough ‘’ to the cruelties of the Asmara regime by waves of Eritreans at home and abroad is a real threat – probably the final blow – to  Isaias Afeworki’s several decades old dictatorship. And when the threat is real, Isaias Afeworki always uses religion and external enemies as his most trusted and so far effective weapons to fight back.

Dictator Isaias did this in a subtle manner throughout his political life extending to a half century. Recent examples are how he and his clique distorted and manipulated the 2013 incident of an Eritrean army unit led by Wedi Ali and that of a private Islamic school of the great patriot, nonagenarian Haji Mussa, in 2017. May their souls rest in peace.

To again try to use that weapon, the one-man dictatorship’s Ministry of misinformation released on 3 April 2019 yet another official lie. The released statement aimed to win back regime’s former gullible listeners by trying to tell them that Eritrean Muslims and their co-religionists in the region are their enemies. What a shame, and what a shameless regime!!

The Eritrean dictator is not a religious person. He has no religion. Yet, he until this year  knew how to play around religions in order to survive and stay in power.  

The 3 April statement by the Eritrean authorities said that enemies of Eritrea are re-organizing ‘’the obscure ‘Eritrean Muslim League’ under the mantle of ‘Eritrean Ulama’s League/Eritrean Rabita-i-Ulama.’’

But why now mention a non-existing Eritrean Muslim League in connection with the formation of a civic organization of Arabic speaking Eritrean intellectuals who have all the right to form such an association?

In simpler terms, the evil regime in Asmara wanted to invoke the word ‘’Rabita’’ – an innocent Arabic word that means ‘league’ or association – in a desperate attempt  to create new a bogyman, a new  enemy at a time when Ethiopia and its ‘Woyane’’ are no more enemies.

Only to stress, it is quite clear to the majority of Eritreans today that the PFDJ statement wanted to appeal to the erroneous and distorted perception built long ago around the Arabic phrase ‘Rabita Islamia’  for the Eritrean Muslim League of the 1940s which, to many elements opposed to Eritrean nationhood at that time, was an organization of ‘traitors’ allied with enemies of ‘‘Christian Eritrea and Ethiopia.’’ But will that Isaias -- that old master of deception -- succeed to use religion also this time round? Measuring by the political climate building around the call for ‘’Enough is Enough’’, one can assume that the vast majority of Eritreans today are of the belief that he will not succeed.

For the sake of the new Eritrean generation, one should repeat affirming the truth that ‘Rabita Islamia’ or the Eritrean Muslim League of the 1940s was not a negative force, as the dictator in Asmara and his fast dwindling clique repeated and in different forms wanted to mislead people. The Eritrean Muslim League was a great patriotic organization that can claim a lion’s share in the history of the slow and costly growth of Eritrean national awareness. It was around the love for a national Eritrean flag, a National Assembly, an Eritrean constitution with democratic rights, among others,  that Eritrean nationhood was built. The great patriots of the day, on top of them Woldeab Woldemariam and Ras Tessema Asberom, were the closest friends of the Eritrean Muslim League and its energetic nationalist leader, Ibrahim Sultan Ali.

Only to cut a long story short, I will quote below excerpts from my own article posted in Eritrean websites on 19 November 2000, sub-titled: From the Satanic Utterances of Isayas:

‘’… by his own admission, Ibrahim Sultan had to name his party after Islam ("al RabiTa al Islamia"), not because of his religious belief but because he and his group of militants found it the only easy and feasible way of rallying the majority of the Eritrean Moslems for independence [at a time when Ethiopia was winning their compatriots through religious appeal]. Al RabiTa al Islamia was not a party of religious fanatics as detractors insinuated. To my knowledge, Eritrean Moslems have never been fanatics, and in general, never deserved that epithet [to be called fanatics]…… In recent years, when political Islam mobilized masses for fundamentalist wars elsewhere, Eritrean Moslems continued to give deaf ears to any call for Jihad, a stillborn movement in our country, whose nominal existence was aided and abetted by the actions and omissions of the regime in Asmara.

‘’To stress, we never came near to religious strife save the infinitesimal incidents of 1949-50, which were the making of foreign powers, Ethiopia included.  Yet, there have been satanic writings and teachings by Eritreans repeatedly used to make believe that we had ugly mass murders, genocides and ethnic cleansing of worst degrees in contemporary history. [Read this shocking quotation by you-know-who]:

’If I were not aware of our own situation, I would have described the grisly mass murders in Somalia, Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and Liberia as barbaric crimes perpetrated by backward peoples. I would have said 'we are different, we are not like them'. But what we had gone through in Eritrea was not different from what is going on in other countries. We in Eritrea suffered mass murders, one ethnic and geographic group cleansing the other in a cowardly and inordinate manner. We have now come a long way from that past, and the present and future generations [in Eritrea] who had not seen what we did would be surprised of what is going on in Somalia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Liberia. The surprise comes because they did not know what had happened in our country. Seen from this angle, it would appear that the present and future generations would benefit from knowing about it. But unless done in a constructive way, making the new generation aware of a black spot in its history is a bit difficult’.

‘’If you [reader] had forgotten or if you are not aware of who said this and when, you better be reminded. The words were uttered by the Eritrean president, Isayas Afeworki, 'proudly' speaking to issue volume 1, number 1 of Reporter, an Amharic language magazine of Addis Ababa published in September 1997. The message was very clear - as clear as a similar poisonous messages he conveyed [in the long past]. …’’

To conclude, this quick writing and the excerpts from a lengthy old article cannot fully depict how much the current dictator in Eritrea has been working hard to divide Eritreans on religious and other bases. However, the time has come that he will not make it. At least I believe so.

April 06, 2019 8:17 PM
Chief of Mission Natalie E. Brown, far left, and Deputy Chief of Mission Stephen Bank, far right, pose with Rep. Joe Neguse, Rep. Karen Bass, Eritrean Minister of Foreign Affairs Osman Saleh and Rep. Ilhan Omar. The members of Congress were on an official visit to Eritrea.

Ciham Ali Abdu was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Eritrea. In December 2012, Eritrean officials apprehended Ciham when she attempted to leave the country without a mandatory exit visa. Her family hasn’t seen or heard from her since, despite attempts to learn about her whereabouts and well-being.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, called for Ciham’s release in social media posts Friday.

“I was in Eritrea just last month,” Bass wrote on Twitter and Facebook. “The country’s leaders should release Ciham, who had a birthday this past week, and all of Eritrea’s political prisoners to send a message that the country is embarking on a new path that includes respect for human rights.”

Bass visited Eritrea and Ethiopia with Reps. Joe Neguse and Ilhan Omar, both of whom joined Congress in January. Neguse represents Colorado’s second district. His parents emigrated from Eritrea to the U.S. in 1980. Omar, a Somali-American, came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1992 and represents Minnesota’s fifth district.

It was the first congressional delegation to visit Eritrea in 14 years, according to the U.S. Embassy in Asmara.

Ciham Ali Abdu pictured just before her arrest on December 8, 2012, when she was 15. (Photo courtesy of the family.)
Ciham Ali Abdu pictured just before her arrest on December 8, 2012, when she was 15. (Photo courtesy of the family.)

Official denials

The Eritrean government refuses to acknowledge Ciham’s citizenship, or even her existence.

Bass, who represents California’s 37th District, near where Ciham was born, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to put a spotlight on her case. The U.S. State Department hasn’t officially confirmed Ciham’s imprisonment, saying only that the U.S. government is aware of reports about Ciham’s detainment.

Bass told reporters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month that she had just recently learned about Ciham’s case, according to the Associated Press. Human rights groups have for years called for the 22-year-old’s release.

At a town hall meeting Saturday in Los Angeles, Bass said she was committed to working with both the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments, along with the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, to secure Ciham’s freedom.

Seyoum Tsehaye, 66, was a war photographer during Eritrea’s 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions, including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.
Seyoum Tsehaye, 66, was a war photographer during Eritrea’s 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions, including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Vanessa Tsehaye founded One Day Seyoum, an organization focused on securing the release of her uncle, Seyoum Tsehaye, an Eritrean journalist who has been imprisoned since 2001. Tsehaye spoke to VOA Wednesday, on Ciham’s birthday.

“She has been in prison without a trial, and it can’t, it simply cannot stand,” Tsehaye said. “Even the excuses they try to use for people, like journalists or politicians, or [raising] issues about national security. And those kinds of excuses don’t stand when you are talking about a girl who was 15 when she was imprisoned for simply attempting to leave the country.”

The United Nations, Amnesty International and other rights groups have accused the Eritrean government of human rights violations designed to suppress dissent, including arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances and torture.

The government has denied those claims and criticized the U.S. and U.N. for seeking to undermine its sovereignty. VOA’s attempts to reach the Eritrean embassies in London and Washington went unanswered.

After fighting a 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia, Eritrea gained international recognition in 1993. The country has not held a national election nor ratified its constitution since then, but recent peace overtures with Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia have raised hopes for reform and justice for detainees like Ciham.

“We think that there’s a chance that Ciham might hear and see our messages,” Tsehaye said. “So we want her to know that there are people fighting for her and that she is being remembered and that we will stand in solidarity with her until the day she is released.”

Recent diplomatic initiatives in the Horn are a positive step, but the region needs much more to achieve lasting peace.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, attend a meeting in Juba, South Sudan on March 4, 2019 [Jok Solomun/Reuters]
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, attend a meeting in Juba, South Sudan on March 4, 2019 [Jok Solomun/Reuters]

Following his recent efforts to achieve normalisation with Eritrea, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed embarked on a shuttle diplomacy mission across the Horn of Africa. Since the signing of the landmark June 2018 peace agreement between the two long-warring nations, Abiy held several bilateral and tripartite summits both in Addis Ababa and in other Horn of Africa capitals to help resolve some of the region's deep-rooted problems and kick-start a process of political integration.

In September 2018, a tripartite cooperation agreement was signed between Abiy, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo following a meeting in Ethiopia

On February 20, 2019, Ahmed met Muse Bihi Abdi, leader of the breakaway northern Somalia territory of Somaliland, in Addis Ababa to strengthen bilateral ties, discuss regional security issues and try to meditate in its dispute with the central government in Mogadishu. Somali President Farmajo, who was reportedly invited to the meeting, refused to participate, but later voiced his administration's appreciation of Abiy's mediation efforts and Bihi's willingness to work with the Somali government in a tweet

On March 4, Abiy met Afwerki and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in Juba to further the Intergovernmental Authority of Development-led peace process in the country.

Three days later, Abiy, Farmajo and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta got together in Nairobi to try to resolve the maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia. However, this meeting failed to produce a tangible solution, with Mogadishu making it clear that they will wait for the decision by the International Court of Justice.

While Abiy's shuttle diplomacy received praise, admiration and positive media coverage both in the region and across the world, it clearly failed to produce any practical results on the ground and even led to some new concerns and tensions. 

The tripartite cooperation agreement between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, for instance, has spawned new concerns among neighbouring countries about Ethiopia's plans for the region. Somaliland took Ethiopia's undertaking to respect the territorial integrity of Somalia fully as indicative of a change in Ethiopia's policy that might not be in Somaliland's interests. Furthermore, Ethiopia's renewed diplomatic ties with Eritrea and Somalia caused its traditional allies, Sudan and Djibouti, to feel sidelined.

Abiy's mediation efforts and other Horn of Africa leaders' willingness to take part in them are undoubtedly a positive step towards political integration, sustainable peace and meaningful cooperation in the region. Diplomatic shuttles and media coverage of rapprochement efforts play an important role in generating the political will for, and public acceptance of, such a process.

However, shuttle diplomacy alone cannot resolve major international problems. For such efforts to have practical consequences, they need to be backed by well-deliberated and radical actions - actions that have the potential to bring down the multiple barriers that currently make political integration an impossibility in the region.

The first barrier to integration in the Horn of Africa is pervasive and entrenched distrust between states.

Real political integration requires a regime of free movement of people, goods, services and money; and this can only be achieved if there is a high degree of trust between all involved actors. Unfortunately, in the Horn region, such confidence is in short supply.

Historical animosities, security threats within and beyond borders as well as deep-rooted suspicions among state officials about the motives of neighbouring states increase the trust deficit. 

Ongoing conflicts, and serious transboundary resource disputes, which together have displaced more than 10 million people and resulted in the presence of four peace missions (in Darfur, Sudan; the Sudan-South Sudan border; South Sudan proper and Somalia) and the continuing presence of more than 50,000 UN and AU peacekeeping troops in the region pose another barrier to political integration and feed into the trust deficit. 

Border disputes between South Sudan and Sudan over the future of Abyei, and between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the control of towns such as Badme still persist. Kenya and Somalia are locked in a dispute over their maritime border in the Indian Ocean, and Kenya and Uganda are still competing over the tiny Migingo Island in Lake Victoria.

Foreign interference in the region is yet another obstacle to deepening cooperation and integration. Strategically positioned at the major geopolitical and geo-economic nexus of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Horn is also a battleground for global forces fighting for the control of large national markets and maritime domains. The region currently hosts tens of thousands of foreign troops, with new military bases in Djibouti and other countries in the region.

Several secessionist movements are alive and kicking in the region, with South Sudan and Eritrea providing living examples as to how de jure independent states can be established by any one of these movements under the right circumstances.

Somaliland and its push for independence from Mogadishu also provides a cautionary tale for all the nation states in the region. The suspicion that secessionist threats are being fuelled by neighbouring states and foreign forces is making many countries in the region reluctant to push for further regional integration.

There are still ongoing tensions between states with devolved and federated systems across the region. Forces pushing for decentralisation, as well as internal border disputes between subnational units, are also causing insecurities in many federated countries, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. 

There is a persistent danger that small isolated wars may erupt any time between autonomous subnational entities, threatening the security of both the host states and their neighbours. Intent on manipulating these volatile political fault lines, governments in the Middle East - and from more distant regions - have lent their support to various conflicting parties. 

Fuelled by new changes and old tensions, traffic in small arms and light weapons has proliferated, while the Horn has become highly militarised. 

These peace and security challenges make political integration an agenda hard to sell in the Horn of Africa, especially when pushed to include too many countries too quickly.

Mediation and integration can only succeed if they come on the back of serious consultations and institutionalised efforts to build inter-state trust and end historic animosities. One such attempt can be the transformation of artificial borders drawn by colonial forces into drivers of integration that reflects the socio-economic realities on the ground, including traditional movements of people, infrastructure and commercial ties.

This type of progress cannot be achieved in a day or over a short summit between a couple of leaders. First, institutional and financial arrangements would need to be made to sustain a long peace process. Second, geographic proximity, commonly shared interest and vision should be used to lay a foundation of economic integration and eventually political one. Third, plans need to be drawn and efforts made to establish a strong political union under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

In this context, it is clear that Abiy's well-intentioned diplomatic efforts are doomed to failure, as they lack the depth and capacity to heal the region's trust deficit and to propose resolutions to the multidimensional conflicts and threats it is currently facing.

What is needed to bring political integration to the Horn of Africa is not diplomatic shuttles and official meetings, but well-thought-out initiatives and long-term plans with institutional support from IGAD.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.