Eritrea – A Victim Of Its Own Delusion

Eritrea - A Victim Of Its Own Delusion
Eritrean soldiers parade in Asmara

AFRICANGLOBE – It is true that the foreign policy of any country is an extension of its domestic policy. Eritrea is no exception to this reality.

The formulation and praxis of Eritrea’s foreign policy emanates from its domestic political and economic policies.

That is, according to Richard Reid, reader in the History of African Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, the current government in Asmara has perpetuated an “extension of the militarised polity [and the continuation of] the old east and north east African practice of interference in others’ internal affairs.”

This militarised polity has given birth to the destabilisation of neighboring polities aiming at catching its imagined hegemony and domination over the Horn. Dan Connel, distinguished Lecturer in Journalism and African Politics at Simmons College in Boston, United States, substantiated this by saying that the making of Eritrea’s regional foreign policy vision centered on keeping “its larger neighbors either in its thrall or internally divided in order to compromise their ability to govern and therefore to project power in the Horn.”

To this end, rebels and extremists are chosen to divert the attention of its larger neighbors from poverty reduction into defense and security.

Eritrea’s regional strategy over the Nile River, with particular emphasis on the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), is apparently clear that can only value zero-sum game or water-war mentality or the securitisation and militarisation of African resources like the Nile so as to firstly destabilise Ethiopia and secondly the region as well as project power over the region.

It has now become clear to grasp Eritrea’s real move and strategy to turn the Nile River a new geo-political battleground between up-streamer Ethiopia and down-streamer Egypt.

The construction of the GERD stands high in Eritrea’s Nile strategy to sow the seeds of mistrust, fear and anxiety between the people-to-people and government-to-government relations of Egypt and Ethiopia.

This strategy was outlined following the remarks made in November, 2014, by Eritrea’s Ambassador to Cairo, Fasil Gebre-Sellassie, in a meeting with Egyptian journalists, researchers and academics, suggesting them “not to trust in the Ethiopian promises regarding the GERD.”

The securitisation and the militarisation strategy of Eritrea is not only confined to the Nile River. This strategy extends to Red Sea security.

Asmara’s fixation on the dogged imagination of the projection of hegemony over the Horn made Fasil to describe the anti-piracy aim of foreign marines off the shores of Somalia and Djibouti as a prelude to the insecurity of the Red Sea.

To curb this and other challenges, Fasil said that President Isaias Afeworki proposed an Arab-only summit “with Egypt’s strength and Saudi Arabia’s location.”

This strategy of securitising an international sea lane has far-reaching implications and consists of potential threats to regional and international peace and security. Asmara’s aim is to use Egypt as an instrument or as proxy-crusader to advance its militarised foreign policy objectives and goals.

These remarks are sufficient to signal Eritrea’s avowed devotion to the continuation of bellicose geo-political rhetoric, competition, confrontation, fear and mistrust between Ethiopia and Egypt.

It is also suggestive of Eritrea’s avarice to the ongoing tripartite talks among the three Eastern Nile Basin countries – Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, aiming at translating the recommendations of the International Panel of Experts (IPoE) report.

The remarks are a call for the basin countries to return to the past, recycle the negative legacies of the past, and open the hostile chapters of the by-gone era.

It is also a manifest of Asmara’s aim to diversify its politics of regional destabilisation security architecture to consolidate its gains at the expense of the peoples of the basin, including itsown people.

The task to destabilise Ethiopia looms large to Asmara through the prism of the differences between Addis Abeba and Cairo over the GERD as well as the employment of Egypt as a proxy crusader.

This strategy aims at the perpetuation of the securitisation and militarisation of the issue of the Nile River, which has been upheld by up-streamer Egypt.

Asmara’s advice to Egyptian government and people is to exploit the fallacious “Egypt is the Nile and the Nile is Egypt” line, while leaving the real narrative, to borrow the words of Anna Cascao, “The Nile is not just Egypt: the Nile is an international basin shared by 10 riparian countries,” for its exclusive gains and complete success of its imagined Horn hegemony.

This underlines that how Asmara is far behind the contemporary institutionalisation of cooperative and integrative security architecture in the face of traditional and non-traditional security challenges.

But its recent declaration seems to pay the political, diplomatic, military and moral debt it gained from Nasserite and Saadite regimes of Egypt in its struggle against Ethiopian forces over the second half of the 20th century.

This also reminds any avid observer of business as usual zero-sum political games perpetrated by Egypt for the dismemberment of Ethiopia aiming at the extension of Cairo’s exclusive interests over the Nile.

In this regard, Haggai Elrich (Prof.) noted that the liberation movement of Eritrea took its root in Cairo in 1955 with the Nasserite intent to advance the dream of Ismail – establishing the Unity of the Nile Valley.

Gamal Abdel Nassir’s dismemberment project of Ethiopia was not confined to Eritrean exiles in Cairo but also Somalis to clutch the arms of Greater Somalia. That project has led to the mutual destruction and simmering crisis of the Horn over the second half of the 20th century.

It is a fatal mistake to ignore that Egypt, swaying between cooperation and confrontation, will not subscribe to Eritrea’s tit-for-tat regional maneuver to weaken Ethiopia’s march towards the achievement of its goals of national renewal and modernisation. After all, such an approach leads to mutual destruction. Sinking together is the way forward.

The Ethiopia of the by-gone era was seen as the supreme symbol of African liberty when the Laurences portrayed the continent as the Heart of Darkness. Contrary to the sinking together narrative, today’s Ethiopia has emerged in the 21st century with a new vision and committed leadership.

The vision, leadership and the security architecture transcend the nation’s aspirations and embody the survival and flourishing of the North Eastern African region and Africa as well with the spirit and practical application of the swimming-together narrative.

This has come as a result of the deep humiliation and aversion to the 20th century portrayal of Ethiopia’s indignity, crisis, famine and other ills.

Ethiopia’s new cooperative security calculus emanates from the need for the departure of the past negative legacies which placed its people and the peoples of the region in a transitory and cyclical food insecurity and crisis. The departure point is framed with scientific and evidence-based regional security and developmental architecture.

The leadership in Addis Ababa has brought to the fore the definition of the secure, stable and prosperous Nile Basin countries and Africa in general.

It is heraldic of new equitable, sustainable and shared solutions to the usage of the Nile River and other water resources to match the water-food-energy nexus and harmonise the rising population growth, economic transformation and ecological protection.

Given the political stability, fast economic growth, the need to feed the increasing population growth, climate change and other opportunities and challenges, the multilateral and cooperative hydro-diplomacy is on a winning course living up to its promises by exporting hydropower to neighboring countries and undertaking massive internal infrastructure projects that connect to the region.

Decarbonising the region’s energy system is one of the reverberations of the leadership’s commitment to the return of Ethiopia’s and Africa’s Renaissance that places human security and sustainable human development at its heart.

Egypt’s unsustainable hydro-political strategy has become, like swimming alone over the Nile, regardless of the security of the peoples of the basin.

The way forward is clear with Ethiopia’s farsighted solutions in defining the relationship of Africa, nature and peoples as well as the rest of the world.

Asmara’s call to swimming alone narrative is demonstrative of the regime’s myopic understanding and vision of regional peace, security and development architecture.

But it is vitally important for the international community, and most importantly to Egypt, to carefully scrutinize Eritrea’s militarisation and securitisation of an international river, the Nile and an international sea lane, the Red Sea.


By: Nurye Yassin