U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa
James Swan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
4th International Conference on Ethiopian Development Studies
Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan
August 4, 2007
A STEP BACKWARD: ERITREA
Now, let me turn to Eritrea. While the rest of the Horn of Africa is making political, economic, and social advances and seizing opportunities -- albeit with periodic important setbacks -- the opposite is true for Eritrea.
Eritrea has experienced economic decline and a lack of freedoms, for the press and political expression. There is widespread and arbitrary conscription. The government has worked to destabilize its neighbors, including Ethiopia and Somalia.
Given the American penchant for supporting the underdog, it is disheartening to see what has become of Eritrea in the 14 years since it gained independence and produced a praiseworthy constitution. President Isaias Afwerki has become increasingly tyrannical and megalomaniacal. He has actively sought to destabilize the Horn, fueling regional insurgencies and supporting groups affiliated with terrorists.
Eritrean Government policies have also choked the Eritrean economy and consolidated political power among a small cadre of cronies, who are distinguished only by their unwavering loyalty to the President. The government has actively blocked humanitarian assistance from international donors. It initiated the border war with Ethiopia that cost tens of thousands of lives.
The Eritrean Government has fabricated a national mythology by demonizing neighboring Ethiopia, for the central purpose of garnering complete compliance with his autocratic domestic policies. By channeling Eritreans' patriotism into hostility toward Ethiopia, the government ensures that [it] can rule as it likes, without public opposition. Democracy and economic opportunity remain purely theoretical concepts for the people of Eritrea.
As you know, the reality is atrocious. Youth are sent to camps for indoctrination. Citizens in the prime of their lives are forced into national service; anyone who refuses is beaten. If you flee, your family is imprisoned. Those who fail to espouse officially sanctioned opinions languish in metal shipping containers.
As in the former Soviet Union, the Eritrean government controls both the message and the medium. There are no opposition political parties, no non-governmental organizations, no private media. Any senior government official who dares to speak out puts himself at risk. The brave individuals known as the G-15, who challenged Eritrea's path back in the spring of 2001, are missing.
Elsewhere in the region, Eritrea has chosen to support extremist elements, including the al-Qaida affiliated al Shabaab militia in Somalia, in an effort to undermine the political process. While the rest of the region and the international community have united behind a common strategy for achieving lasting peace and stability in Somalia, Eritrea has opted to support terrorists and spoilers while encouraging continued violence. There is no justification for such actions. The ruling cabal is – to our great regret -- leading Eritrea along the path toward increased domestic repression and hardship, and regional and international isolation....
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Only a few proper nouns distinguish this account, of Eritrean myth-jacking, from our American myth-jacking.