As a discrete initiative, the purpose of this contribution is not to argue a case in favour or against Resolution 2023. Commentary on this score from either side of the Eritrean political divide abounds. Instead, the piece is dedicated solely to analysing Resolution 2023 with the view to appreciating the politics surrounding the institution of sanctions and (its relation to) the conduct of national political opposition. In the event the reader is curious as to the author’s position on the subject of sanctions and external military intervention, this has been noted elsewhere and there is no point in duplicating existing information.
Resolution 2023, passed early December 2011 by the United Nations Security Council, ostensibly metes out additional sanctions on the Government of Eritrea. In the judgement of its sponsors, Resolution 2023 was warranted to bolster the Security Council’s preceding resolutions of which Eritrea is accused of having disregarded. Besides the type of misconduct and the corresponding measures that derive particularly from Resolution 1907, the Security Council’s latest mandate widens the scope of sanctions against Eritrea to cover diaspora tax and government revenue from the country’s burgeoning mining sector. From the point of view of the present commentary, as we shall perhaps soon learn why, the Resolution’s stipulations concerning diaspora tax and mining revenue is noteworthy. For the reader’s benefit, cited below is that specific section of Resolution 2023, whilst the full text itself (comprising a total of 20 paragraphs and the background context) can be accessed here.
Security Council Resolution 2023:
10. Condemns the use of the ‘Diaspora tax’ on Eritrean diaspora by the Eritrean Government to destabilize the Horn of Africa region or violate relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009) and 1907 (2009), including for purposes such as procuring arms and related materiel for transfer to armed opposition groups or providing any services or financial transfers provided directly or indirectly to such groups, as outlined in the findings of the Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group in its 18 July 2011 report (S/2011/433), and decides that Eritrea shall cease these practices;
12. Expresses concern at the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize the Horn of Africa region, as outlined in the Final Report of the Monitoring Group (S/2011/433), and calls on Eritrea to show transparency in its public finances, including through cooperation with the Monitoring Group, in order to demonstrate that the proceeds of these mining activities are not being used to violate relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
By most accounts, Resolution 2023 is identified as a rather lame initiative predicted to only minimally impact the Eritrean regime. As it stands, sanctions broadly and Resolution 2023 specifically pose a challenge so far as the Eritrean political opposition is implied. The best means of highlighting the engendered problems furthermore is to frame the inquiry as part of what I tend to dub the politics of sanctions. More to the point, the issues to be canvassed here include: the diminished nature of Resolution 2023 and its implications in terms of how that might ultimately bear on the Eritrean opposition’s bid for political change.
Re-reading the text of Resolution 2023
It is possible to see through the inadequacies associated with Resolution 2023 without being a political scientist or specialist in international relations. In this sense, the express aim is to gauge both the letter and spirit of paragraphs 10 and 12 as these apply to diapora and mining taxes.
The weakness with the letter of Resolution 2023 is in part attributable to the choice of the individual words and phrases that the Security Council employs. For in simply “condemn[ing] the use of the ‘Diaspora tax’….” and in moreover just “express[ing] concerns at the potential use….” the Security Council does not appear to be stating what it is committing itself to do. Condemnation of a given practice, or expression of unease at a certain prospect, is not about practically carrying through a censure. In other words, the Security Council’s phraseology is bereft of any executive properties or edge; it amounts to theoretical posturing not to mention bureaucratic inanity. Clearly, a disjunct of sorts is discernable here – between what, on the one hand, the Security Council considers to be the Eritrean Government’s grave breaches of international protocols and, on the other, the actual disciplinary course the former is prepared to pursue. Contrasting the irresolute language of Resolution 2023 to how sanctions in other contexts have been explicitly formulated and assiduously applied (the unmitigated economic blockade of Cuba, or the strangulation of pre-invasion Iraq) is in itself revealing enough. Overall, and despite the elaborations in Paragraphs 11 and 13 on some of the steps that might be necessary to constrain the regime’s activities, it is reasonable to affirm the slight overtones of the language chosen to craft Resolution 2023.
Normally, the spirit of a legal document relating to two or more otherwise adversarial interest groups is subject to debate and contestation. Establishing its gist is predicated on the extrapolation of “meaning” through fairly subjective interpretation – despite the pretence to the objectivity of language. Ambiguity is nowhere more apparent than in attempting to tease out certain aspects of the Resolution’s language. Depending on one’s perspective, for example, Paragraph 12’s reference to a future probability (potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source) can be taken to mean enforcement but “only in the last instance that may anyway not even come around”. Conditionality renders the application of clear-cut countermeasures a hypothetical eventuality; it limits the Security Council’s agency to “if and when Eritrea prospectively assigns” finances from its mining sector to promote causes outside its national borders. In the meantime, we understand, the regime can go on with the business of consolidating its powers whilst expecting minimal or no interposition. With diaspora tax, similarly, the levy is objectionable were the Eritrean State to divert the money for transnational activity, leading to the supposition that the regime can deploy diaspora finances for whatever domestic ends. To an Eritrean weighed down by the regime’s internal excesses in the here and now, the provisions of Resolution 2023 and its predecessors may count for nothing. Why? Not only is Resolution 2023 outwardly orientated, but furthermore its drafters appear quite content with discharging their responsibility in the shape of verbal caution. To analogise, the gulf between receiving a reprimand and having to serve a term sentence (effective immediately) for breaking the laws that be, cannot be overemphasised.
Chimera of securing favouritism, virtue of introspection and ingenuity
It is in keeping with common sense to state two vital but otherwise self-evident observations about the Eritrean political opposition: first, this political body is not a monolith but represents a myriad of political and civic groupings fielding a range of programs and strategies, and; second, it is inappropriate to think of the “opposition” as exclusively banking on sanctions to precipitate change. Even so, a sizable segment of the Eritrean opposition appears to pin its hopes on a breakthrough to be instigated from without.
I persist in the belief that it is unwise to accord disproportionate importance to sanctions as a form of political leverage. The tangled dynamics pertaining to the pronouncement of sanctions often eclipse and outstrip the priorities of those to whom change matters the most, that is, the people suffering the brunt of the targeted regime’s iniquities. Jostling multi-lateral interests ensure that these occasions provide a forum where politicking of every strand and stripe, including intimidation, enticement, mutual accommodation and the like, takes place. Following is an outline of the problematic reality obtaining when a national question is overshadowed by supranational considerations.
One defining feature of Resolution 2023 is a concerted focus on what the Eritrean regime is engaged in extraterritorially. At no point in its entirety does the Resolution refer to the turn of events in the home front. Lest we confuse the point, putting the regime in the spotlight for its forays in foreign lands is not precisely what will deliver the Eritrean population from the clutches of Afwerki’s despotism. And if I correctly perceive the opposition’s raison d’ etre as crystallising in a mission whose principal objective is to influence change within the domestic arena, then the discrepancy in motives can not be more striking. The opposition’s historic responsibility (embodied in the struggle to supersede dictatorship with a democratic order) is to take over where Resolution 2023’s reticence and insouciance towards the plight of the Eritrean people comes unstuck. For once, the Security Council’s trivialisation of the aspirations of the Eritrean citizen illustrates the incidentality of human rights to the politics of sanctions. Any suggestion as to the existence of an indirect link that, motivating reasons aside, will eventually advance the cause of the opposition and simultaneously advantage the Eritrean people ought to be tempered by the realisation that one rarely hears of sanctions as succeeding in toppling governments.
And a not-so-salient dimension to the latest round of sanctions may well be related to possible grounds behind the attenuated quality of Resolution 2023. Conjecture on the likely course of actions by both the Eritrean Government and (especially) the mining companies in the lead up to the proclamation of Resolution 2023 could open the door to see proceedings from a different angle. What, if any, was the scope and scale of Eritrean diplomacy? Has the Eritrean regime prostrated itself before the Sanctions Committee to be let off the hook whilst promising to make amends for its follies and indiscretions, or has the regime in fact firmly stood its ground in turn obliging concessions? Alternatively, awareness ought to be drawn to any probable conduct on the part of the mining companies which could have contributed to the final version of Resolution 2023. Talk of this nature helps focus our attention on ways of uncovering the kind of external economic agenda that might be at play in this and related cases. A sound dose of scepticism therefore necessitates this question; what level of pressure were the mining companies (through their respective national governments) able to bring to bear on the outlook of the Sanctions Committee? To opine otherwise is in reverse to the professed goals of capitalist enterprise – represented in profit-making often at the expense of human, social and environmental concerns. Incidentally, the whole question of the behaviour of large corporations brings to memory the ill-fate of activists from around the world. Be it Colombian or Indonesian trade union leaders, Brazilian or New Guinean environmental campaigners, many have been mistreated and killed by governments beholden to foreign investors. Who in this vein can forget the murder, in 1995, at the hands of the infamous Sani Abacha regime and with the complacency of the oil giant Shell, of the Nigerian/Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa? Invariably, it is what big companies and corporations say and want that the bulk of politicians duly comply with, and that, I believe, needs to be taken into account when dealing with Resolution 2023.
It is apt to round off the topic by adumbrating lessons to be learned. Outsider action/inaction follows from a calculus of self-interest beyond the control of local actors, government and opposition alike. Given this characteristic fickleness, it would be misguided to vouch for sanctions to achieve on behalf of others what they are meant to accomplish themselves. In consequence, it ought to be publicly known that the impact of externally conceived initiative on the process of internal political change is at best tangential and at worst irrelevant.
If anything, the opposition may well be served were it to take a leaf from the winning ways of its antagonist; an unyielding mindset fully cognisant of, as well as accustomed to, the austerity, self-discipline and resourcefulness intrinsic to serious struggle. Conceding that the imposition of sanctions on the Eritrean regime cannot be deemed as the all-important criterion to the consummation of the desired change, what the opposition needs to guarantee is the indigenisation of its resistance. In other words, any self-respecting national opposition movement must disproportionately rely on the Eritrean masses to eventuate positive change. The Eritrean opposition may choose to heed or ignore the propositions made in conjunction with Resolution 2023, but it should also remember that history absolves only those who are true to themselves and to the cause they have consciously embraced.
By way of a parting shot
Admittedly, the entire discourse is built around a type of analysis that is abstract and deductive. Because the argument proceeds from a purely interpretative plane that should not in anyway devalue the ensuing insight, for there is such thing as a speculative way of learning and knowing. Meanwhile, the answer to many of the issues and questions raised may not be as straightforward. This is not unexpected; lay persons are not necessarily privy to what goes on within the occult and secretive world of business and political elites. Surmisal is the sceptic’s best friend and it is for this reason that the present effort to a certain measure shies from offering responses in a direct and concrete form. On what proves a tricky open-ended kind of subject, the reader’s guess is as good as this author’s.
 According to Resolution 1907 (2009)Eritrea’s offending behaviour includes “destabilisation” ofSomalia by supporting Al-Shabab as well as committing cross-border aggression againstDjibouti and failing to cooperate with the conflict resolution effort.
 The punitive measures againstEritrea range from travel ban and asset freeze applicable to certain officials to trade embargo in arms.
 In accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council makes certain loose recommendations to redress the problem. It calls for “… issuance of due diligence guidelines … for the optional use of member states” which typically raises more questions than it answers.