Eritrea: The Case For Sanctions?

A Report that pictures Eritrea as 'The Super Power' of the Horn of Africa

By Filmon Tesfay,

In its latest report, the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) formally presented its very damning case against Eritrea. It went at great lengths to provide documentary evidence, complete with over 300 pages of annexes replete with pictures, “official Eritrean documentation”, etc.

Most readers simply glossed over the report and went lazily to its heart and substance. It sets the tune by strongly asserting that Eritrean involvement in Somalia continues to represent a small but troubling part of the overall equation. Asmara’s continuing relationship with Al-Shabaab, for example, appears designed to legitimize and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process. Moreover, Eritrean involvement in Somalia reflects a broader pattern of intelligence and special operations activity, including training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Sudan and possibly Uganda in violation of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009).[1]

It delves even deeper by attempting to thoroughly magnify what it sees as the Government of Eritrea’s financial, businesses, and military transactions in attempting to not only explain how the GOE could pay for such reported acts of destabilization, but to impress on the readers about the nefarious activities of the GOE.

But is the SEMG’s report really that credible or is it simply a case of the SEMG (and others) looking to scapegoat Eritrea and paint it as the troublemaker?

To begin with, the SEMG, contrary to their lofty assertions, provide no proof whatsoever  that the Eritrean government offered any type of support to any groups in Uganda in the entire report. You would think that if they were to suggest (albeit with a disclaimer such as “possibly”) that the GOE destabilization machinations over-reach all the way to Uganda, that they would provide at least one supposed instance or act of sabotage. They proffer none. Their inclusion of Uganda seems as if it were meant merely to sensationalize their claims of Eritrean destabilization efforts against all its neighbors.

Similarly, the case the SEMG presents against Eritrean involvement in (South) Sudanese affairs is equally as nonexistent. It cites allegations and “suspicions” that aren’t worth printing but provide little in the way of hard facts and evidence, which inevitably led it to infer

 “it is not possible to conclude, on the basis of this limited evidence, that Eritrea has provided direct military assistance to groups engaged in the destabilization of southern Sudan in violation of resolution 1907 (2009).” [2]

In reality, there is nothing to suggest or imply that Eritrea is doing anything to damage its relations with South Sudan, especially in light of the fact that Eritrea helped South Sudan/ Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) get to where they are now.

Likewise, the SEMG’s claim of Eritrean involvement in Djibouti’s internal affairs is completely out of touch with what the SEMG’s own report finds. According to the  SEMG,

“Although a formal ceasefire was announced on 9 June 2010, under the auspices of Qatar, Eritrea has continued to provide support for a splinter group of FRUD known as FRUD-Combatant (FRUD-C), 211 headed by Mohamed Kadd’ami(Kadamy), an Afar politician reportedly domiciled in France”. [3]

To that end, it provides a photograph  reportedly taken in October 2009 of Eritrean Naval Admiral Humed Karekare with FRUD-C leaders.  Leaving aside that the picture lacks any context and was from October 2009 by the SEMG‘s own admission, how is a picture proof positive of anything? More importantly, other than being prejudicial, what’s the relevance of such a picture from 2009 to the SEMG’s current 2010-11 mandate? After all there is a picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Issayas Afweroki, complete with a quote in which Rumsfeld lauds Eritrea’s commitment and experience in fighting terrorism, suggesting even, that the US “could learn from that [Eritrea’s] experience”. Should Eritrea likewise advertise that as proof positive of its claim that it has always been committed to fighting terrorism and thus absolving itself of all charges made against it?

To further its case, the SEMG refers to an interview with Mohamed Jabhaa, a former FRUD-C commander currently under arrest in Djibouti. According to the SEMG, Mr. Jabhaa stated that Eritrean “support” to his militia dated back to late 2008. However, Mr. Jabhaa, contradicting the Djibouti government’s claim (that Eritrea was providing FRUD-C with Military support), states that

Eritrea is “supporting us, providing food, medicines and treating our wounded fighters but denied receiving any weaponry or military equipment” [4].

He states unequivocally “that his group had to purchase uniforms, arms and ammunition from Yemen”. What’s more, even the Djibouti government seemingly contradicts its own claims that FRUD-C is receiving aid from Eritrea by asserting to the SEMG that FRUD-C “engages in banditry and extortion to sustain itself”[5] in this very same report. If Eritrea was funding, training, and financing FRUD-C, why would they need to resort to banditry and extortion to sustain itself, or have to buy their own weapons, uniforms, and ammunition from Yemen? The SEMG’s report provides no current dates, facts, etc. to back up any claims that Eritrea was or is in any way providing any help, be it financial, military, or otherwise, to FRUD-C or any other Djibouti group during the current mandate. It is worth mentioning here that Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Said Jabha was arrested by Djiboutian forces on May 1st, 2010 and that he was reportedly tortured during his incarceration,[6] making any claims he makes under duress very suspect.

Given the bad blood that still permeates Djibouti-Eritrean relations, it is not inconceivable that the authorities in Djibouti wouldn’t “impress” upon Mr. Jabha to make fantastic allegations against Eritrea even though no such credible evidence exists or is offered. Even Ethiopia had recently publicly stated that its intelligence services would be working with Djibouti’s to counter “the Eritrean threat”, and as such it seems very likely that Ethiopia and Djibouti could have coached Mr. Jabha into saying exactly what they wanted him to say[7]. Thus, at best what the SEMG documents here is a detained prisoner who claims, quite possibly under duress, that Eritrea had provided his group “only with medicine, food, and treatment of wounded fighters.” There is no mention of whether such “help” occurred during the SEMG’s current mandate or before the imposition of the sanctions against Eritrea. This is hardly a smoking gun or proof positive of current Eritrean “destabilization efforts in Djibouti” or even worth documenting.

On the matter of Eritrean involvement in Somalia, which was one of key motivators for the sanctions against Eritrea, the SEMG mentions a Nairobi-based diplomat that claims

Eritrea flew in 25 foreign fighters into Kismaayo airport on the 30th of March 2011.” [8]

This is but just one source. The SEMG didn’t even bother to (or more likely couldn’t)  corroborate such claims from any other sources, specifically those in Kismaayo, where the supposed landing took place. Likewise, the SEMG cites a Somalian military source that claimed to have heard from an al-Shabaab official that

an aircraft with wounded fighters left Kismaayo for Eritrea on 4 April 2011.”[9]

Leaving aside the hearsay aspect, once again, not a single other source is cited to corroborate such claims. Never mind the absurdity (or for that matter the capability) of Eritrea flying in and out a dozen or two fighters, injured or battle ready, back and forth between Eritrea and Kismaayo; a journey of over 2000 kilometers each way. In spite of the SEMG’s need to document such prejudicial claims, the SEMG can only rightly conclude that

The Monitoring Group has not been able to independently verify those reports and therefore does not consider them to be “beyond reasonable doubt” [10].

Suggesting that it is “not beyond reasonable doubt” is overly generous.

Incidentally, one issue that many who frequently quote the SEMG report to condemn  Eritrea conveniently fail to mention is that, according to the report (Annex 5), a great deal of weapons being sold in Bakaara market were from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Transitional Federal Government (TFG) stockpiles. In other words, a great deal of ammunition and weapons being bought and sold in Somalia and being used by the various antagonists, including Al-Shabaab, were provided by AMISOM and the TFG, and indirectly, those providing them with such arms (i.e., Ethiopia, the U.S.).

On the issue on Eritrea’s purported financial support for “al Shabaab linked individuals” the SEMG provides documentary evidence it says it was provided from individuals from the Eritrean Embassy in Nairobi, from 2008, not the current 2010-2011 mandate. Similarly, the SEMG’s claim that Eritrea is funding al Shabaab-linked actors to the tune of $80,000 is based on the claims of one individual (“Eritrean businessman”), with no corroboration, evidence, documentation, etc. As far as the current mandate is concerned, it provides neither documentation nor even any specifics. It instead assumes that based on previous alleged financial support for Somali actors and claims by (only) two Nairobi-based individuals that Eritrea was still continuing to provide that same financial support.

Paradoxically, while many have been vociferously referencing the claim that “Eritrea was/is bankrolling Al Shabaab to the tune of $80,000/month”,  the SEMG acknowledges that by its “conservative estimates” Al-Shabaab generates

 “between $70 million and $100 million per year, from duties and fees levied at airports and seaports, taxes on goods and services, taxes in kind on domestic produce, ‘jihad contributions’, checkpoints and various forms of extortion justified in terms of religious obligation, or zakat” [11].

In other words, according to the SEMG, Al Shabaab is able to generate anywhere from $6,000,000 to $8,000,000 per month to finance its own campaigns. Under such circumstances, would the Al Shabaab really need someone to give a “paltry $80,000/month” (amounting to 1% of the revenues)? For the sake of argument, even if one were to believe such claims of Eritrea “bankrolling” the Al Shabaab to the tune of $80,000/month, in light of the SEMG’s claim that the Al Shabaab generates more than 100 times that amount, is Eritrea really what’s keeping Al Shabaab afloat or responsible for its dominance?

The facts do truly speak for themselves; although the SEMG started with a preconceived notion that Eritrea was in fact continuing to support various “destabilizing actors in the region” and thus, in violation of the Security Council resolution, the evidence it purports to uncover and document in its latest report provides little to no real evidence of such. Its claims of “possible Eritrean destabilization attempts in Uganda and (South) Sudan” are clearly without merit, and the SEMG begrudgingly admits as much. With regards to Djibouti, its case whittles down to the testimony of one individual who possibly under duress can only claim (without specifying when) that, at best, Eritrea “helped the rebels by providing food, and treatment … but that they had to buy their weapons themselves from Yemen”.

This speaks to not just the SEMG’s desire to document true facts, but to present a largely circumstantial and prejudicial case against Eritrea.

With regards to Eritrea’s role in Somalia, the SEMG equally provides scant evidence on any such role in its current mandate. Even the claims of Eritrean financial support, of which no real evidence is provided for the current mandate, should be looked at against the backdrop of the SEMG’s “conservative estimates” that Al Shabaab generates $6-8,000,0000 a month from its own sources. But yet the brunt of the focus is on Eritrea’s “purported bank rolling of Al Shabaab to the tune of $80,000/month”, a figure equal to 1/100th of Al Shabaab’s own revenue stream. In all, what the SEMG report uncovers is nothing but circumstantial, outdated, uncorroborated evidence replete with prejudicial accounts by dubious people. It is meant entirely not to provide real tangible facts, but to further the narrative of Eritrea being the “spoiler of the region” responsible for all the troubles and ills of the horn of Africa, and that it should be punished further.

Unfortunately for it (and those pushing that agenda), the “evidence” it documents falls far short of that.

Notes

[1] Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2011/433, p. 13

[2] Ibid., p. 90

[3] Ibid., p. 74

[4] Ibid., p. 75

[5] Ibid., p. 74

[6] http://www.omct.org/fr/urgent-campaigns/urgent-interventions/djibouti/2010/10/d20911/

[7] http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=25808&Itemid=90

[9] SEMG report, p. 48

[10] Ibid., p. 48

[11] Ibid., p. 27

Filmon Tesfay is an Eritrean-Canadian activist.

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