(EritreaAt24 Series: May 18th) Eritrea at 24: An Oasis of Peace in the Arc of Crisis
At a time when the nations in what is known as the Arc of Crisis, encompassing the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, are in constant turmoil, with many once strong nations fighting for their own survival, trying to prevent total national collapse, Eritrea is enjoying relative peace and stability. This young African nation, whose 1000km-plus Red Sea coastline has served as a firewall against all forms of extremism, is a bulwark for regional and international security.
At 24, Eritrea is still an oasis of religious harmony. Those who stood against Eritrea’s independence were unrelenting in their groundless predictions or wishful thinking that an independent Eritrea would be another Lebanon in this unstable region, in constant turmoil as a result of intractable internal religious conflicts. However, 24 years after gaining independence, Eritrea is a model of religious tolerance. In most Eritrean villages across the country, unlike in most parts of Africa and much less in the Arc of Crisis region, one can see a church and a mosque standing standing side by side, attesting to the harmonious coexistence of the two major religions in this former Italian and British colony.
However, the picture in the rest of the crisis-ravaged Arc is different. At the core of the region is the Middle East, with the Greater Horn of Africa covering its southern flank, stretching all the way to Burundi. In this part of the arc, with Somalia occupying the boiling point, tiny Djibouti is at war with itself; historically peaceful Kenya is now soaked in blood, infected by the Somalia virus; Ethiopia, where the parts don’t make the sum because it has completely failed in nation building, partially due to the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front’s ‘what is mine is mine, what is ours is mine’ governing principle, is in a slow-motion towards the precipice; to the southern and western parts of this sub-region, stretching from Burundi, to South Sudan, new and old crises are flaring up drawing in many of the neighboring nations.
At the center of this area of instability, even the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which are normally secondary, behind-the-scene actors in the Middle East, with no ambition to act in protagonist roles, are today playing front and center shooting wars in the part of region stretching from Syria to Yemen. In Yemen, the most visible ones of these is Saudi Arabia, with the help of the United States, of course. The other members of the six-nation council are Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The turmoil in the rest of the Middle East is deteriorating with every passing day.
When viewed against this background, Eritrea looks like an oasis of stability. However, this was not what its external and internal detractors hoped to see after 17 years of unrelenting and massive destabilization campaign of the nation, orchestrated by professional and highly-paid lobbyists and operatives in Addis Ababa and Washington. In 1998, it became the target of a foreign aggression and a well-funded propaganda war that started under the cover of a border war. In fact, there was nothing that was not tried to destabilize this small Red Sea nation. These include the imposition of sanctions in 2009 and 2011 based on charges fabricated and orchestrated by its well-connected, well-funded enemies. The action represented a new chapter in a long history of injustice against this Horn of African nation. U.S. foreign policy for the Horn of Africa has been generally devoid of fairness and justice—always skewed to favor Ethiopia, and always at the expense of the region in general, and especially Eritrea and the Eritrean people in particular.
This came soon after the end of a long protracted armed struggle to liberate itself from an expansionist neighbor to the south, Ethiopia, massively enabled by Western nations as well as the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR). That was in May 24, 1991, the end of 30 years of war and destruction, but also the beginning of a new and promising era. However, during the post-conflict period, the nation faced multi-faceted challenges. There was no economy to speak of. Infrastructures such as the port city of Massawa, roads and bridges, where deliberately bombed and destroyed by the Ethiopian occupation forces. This on top of a long chain of dismantling Eritrea’s viable industries and moving them into Ethiopia, the banks coffers were also emptied.
Furthermore, old and new foes of Eritrea’s independence tried a comeback in a vain attempt to undermine Eritrea’s sovereignty. As a result, Yemen was used a launching pad for their destabilization agenda. On December 1995, Yemeni troops occupied sovereign Eritrean territory in the Hanish Archipelago of the Red Sea.
Then, under the pretext of a border dispute, the Ethiopian minority regime launched three major military offensives between May of 1998 and May of 2000.
However, these and similar other conspiracies failed to derail Eritrea’s determined and principled reconstruction agenda. Today, at 24, this oasis of peace and stability has embraced its future and is preparing for a takeoff. The late Warren Christopher, who served as U.S. Secretary of State during the first term of Bill Clinton’s administration, called Eritrea “a beacon of hope astride the Horn of Africa.”