In a news article entitled “Eritrea to UN: Take This Aid And Shove It”, foxnews.com characterizes a letter from Berhane Abrehe, Eritrea’s Minister of Finance, to Dr. Mamadou Diallo, the UN Resident/Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Asmara, as a case of Eritrea offering a “stinging rebuff” to the United Nations. While this description may please those who hate the United Nations and its myriad of development programs, it misses crucial context about the Eritrean regime: its history of empty bravado and outright lies.
For starters, Fox News refers to Berhane Abrehe as “the country’s powerful Finance Minister.” This will come as a shock to most Eritreans and will probably terrify the “powerful finance minister” as his boss, Eritrea’s tyrannical president Isaias Afwerki, does not like anybody besides himself to be perceived as powerful or even relevant. The fact is that no decision, big or small, is ever made in Eritrea without the approval of Isaias Afwerki and the so-called “powerful finance minister” is a whimsical decision away from being rotated out of a job to be “frozen”, as countless of other ministers have been or, indeed, made to disappear, or arrested or killed.
Secondly, Fox News is, knowingly or unknowingly, promoting the myth that the Eritrean regime is “self-reliant”—an image that the regime cultivated since the days it was a guerrilla front even as it was benefiting greatly from huge sums of aid from European NGOs, churchs and socialist organizations. The fact of the matter is that in Eritrea, despite all the empty bragging of the Eritrean regime, aid accounts for 29% of the nation’s GDP. This places Eritrea 3rd in rank in aid dependency, right after Sao Tome and Principe and Guinea Bissau. (Source)
The Eritrean regime has a history of claiming full credit for “development programs” that were financed by European, Canadian, Arab, Chinese and American organizations. In 2007, for example, 22 government and non-governmental organizations were funding 125 projects in Eritrea, to the tune of approximately $75 million USD. (Source) Yet, in all its self-congratulatory news pieces announcing micro-dams built and potable water provided, Eritrea’s Ministry of Information—no independent media is allowed in Eritrea—never made mention of the funding source in its relentless campaign to present itself as self-sufficient.
The Eritrean regime’s “stinging rebuff” to the UN should be seen in context with its decision to kick out USAid in 2005; its decision to expel reputable NGOs like Mercy Corps, Concern and Acord in 2006 and its decision to expel UN’s Eritrea-Ethiopia border monitoring team UNMEE in 2004. The government’s decision is always preceded by intensive propaganda against neo-colonialism and paranoid rantings about US conspiracies; confiscation of assets; and limitation of the movement of the principals. The Fox News report makes no mention of this.
So why is the Eritrean regime threatening to discontinue its “development partnership” with the United Nations? Here, Fox News redeems its report by quoting its in-house expert, John Bolton, who may be wrong about other issues but has been clear-eyed and right on when it comes to the politics of the Horn of Africa. He says, “I suspect this is about reducing the international presence in Eritrea so they can do in greater secrecy whatever it is they have in mind.” He has it exactly right.
We hope and expect that news services like Fox News, who often lament the one-sided nature of other news outlets, would provide their viewers and readers “fair and balanced” information.