Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki has embarked on a three day visit to Uganda at the invitation of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in what observers termed a notable attempt at ‘mending fences’ with neighbours in the East and Horn of Africa region.
Accused by some in the region, particularly the Ethiopian government and the West of being a destabilising force and fuelling Somalia’s Islamist insurgency, the visit by the reclusive and increasingly diplomatically isolated Eritrean leader raises questions about the specifics of the visit.
A recent United Nations (UN) Monitoring Group report on Somalia and Eritrea maintained that Asmara was bankrolling the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group in Somalia. Eritrea has always vehemently denied these accusations and blames Ethiopia for its bad image.
Currently Asmara is sanctioned by the UN, which has placed an arms embargo on the country, as well as a travel ban and an asset freeze on its political and military leadership.
With Uganda contributing the greatest number of troops to the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), it is likely that discussions between the two leaders will focus on the security situation in Somalia and possibly Eritrea’s application to re-join the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Eritrea pulled out of IGAD in 2007 when the rest of the members backed Ethiopia’s military intervention into Somalia.
The visit may also be connected with Museveni’s designs on regional leadership and personal prestige. Museveni considers himself one of the key regional, if not continental, political figures and would want to shape events in the region and beyond.
This is where the Somali connection to Afeworki’s visit comes in. Should Museveni succeed in facilitating Eritrea’s re-integration in the region and the consolidation of peace in Somalia, it would go along way in boosting his role and position internationally.