On October 17, 2011, the Eritrean authorities provided a reply to the UN. The Reply, which is 38 pages, not counting the 54-page annex, was drafted in response to the Report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea (“Report”), which issued its 416-page report on July 18, 2011. The Reply of the Eritrean authorities is divided into two parts: part 1 is a general defense/explanation of the governing philosophy of the regime and its monetary, fiscal, foreign policy, which reads a lot like a Campaign Position Paper. Part 2 is a rebuttal, an attempt at a point-by-point response, to the Monitoring Group’s conclusions that the Eritrean regime was in violation of UN Resolution 1907. This column will attempt to analyze the Reply, in two parts. In part 1, it dealt with the generalities. In this part, it will dig into the specifics.
Since Somalia became a synonym for lawlessness and chaos in 1991 (for a primer on how that happened, read “From Finest To Failed State”, a series authored by Mohamed Haji Ingiriis and published by Africa Review), the UN has had a task force or another to enforce one of its favorite weapons: an arms embargo. Over the years, this body has morphed, expanded and in 2009, after the UN imposed Resolution 1907 on the Eritrean government, it was re-named The Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and its mission was expanded to include the bad boys of Eritrea.
It is important to know this history, and the expanded nature of the mandate because a great deal of the rebuttal the Eritrean government gives is, paraphrased, “what you are saying is not true, but even if true, it doesn’t matter because it happened before December 2009.”
It is also important to remember that the Monitoring Group is made up of experts: experts in money laundering, in arms trafficking, and in international law. It is an investigative arm which uses classic investigative/interrogation methodology: use multiple sources, check for veracity and accuracy by asking the same question using different words about timeline and details, etc.
The Monitoring Group had reported that there are pieces of evidence (for the love of God, higdefites, if you love your country, please stop saying “evidences”) with varying degrees of strength that point to the following:
(A) The Eritrean intelligence masterminded a terrorist plot to inflict damage in Ethiopia; (B) The Eritrean intelligence is funding Al Shabab; (C) The Eritrea government is training and arming disparate Ethiopian opposition groups; (D) The Eritrean government is not acting in good faith regarding the Qatar-mediated agreement with with Djibouti;(E) The Eritrean government is financing all its adventures via human and arms smuggling and contraband trade.
A. The Terrorist Plot To Bomb Addis: What Evidence? What Witnesses?
The first thing that the Eritrean government is going after is the Monitoring Group. It is questioning its objectivity, professionalism (which is par for the course as anybody who has ever criticized the PFDJ, even mildly, will attest to) but also the methodology and sources it used to compile its data. In the world of the PFDJ, the sources are all suspect because they are (a) Ethiopia (TPLF); (b) torture victims of Ethiopia (OLF) and (c) people on the payroll of Ethiopia (everybody else.) Some of these people are also double-dipping: they are also paid by the CIA. And the Monitoring Group. So when the Monitoring Group says that it has spoken to its contacts in Eritrea, the Eritrean government replies that these contacts are “obviously under the illicit payroll of the Monitoring Group or other foreign entities.” Well, obviously.
But, ironically, the cause for the biggest screw up the Monitoring Group committed—identifying Gemachew Ayana, the co-ordinator of the alleged terror plot at Addis Abeba, as an “Eritrean colonel”–is precisely because the Monitoring Group was so sensitive about not appearing to be a conduit for Michael Corleone (Meles Zenawi) or any of those alleged to be under the “illicit payroll” of Michael Corleone that it failed to do minimum due diligence on his identity. If it had, it would have been told, “um, Google called and they said our search engine is free.”
So, yes, Gemachew Ayana is not an Eritrean colonel. He is actually an Ethiopian (of Oromo ancestry) whose switch of allegiance from the Ethiopian government to the Eritrea-based Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was well publicized. But that is not all the Monitoring Group said about that alleged plot, is it?
Did it not list names and places of where the alleged terrorists were trained in Eritrea? Did it not produce training manuals typically given at Eritrean military training camps? Did it not say it has audio recordings of General Te’ame and telephone intercepts and records? The Eritrean response is mute on this subject. If it was 100% certain that there is no audio record of General Te’ame, in a conversation with the alleged terrorist, it would have said what it said about secret Swiss accounts that it is confident they do not belong to it: “The Monitoring Group might have dug its own grave, rather unwittingly…because if there is no Swiss bank account, or if the account belongs to notorious criminals….then it would be evident indeed that the Monitoring Group has all along been pursuing a mirage.”
In fact, in all the indignant and self-righteous defense about how poor, maligned Eritrean citizens and government officials should sue the Monitoring Group for libel (always jarring when the lawless use the law as a convenient crutch), how Hagos Gebrehiwot (Kisha’s) last name was written wrong, and how the allegation against General Tekle is “offensive and unpardonable”, there is no defense of poor General Te’Ame. In fact, this is the smoking gun: it is not the identity of Gemachew Ayana, but the fact that the Eritrean regime spent more energy disputing the claim that it had Swiss accounts than the claim that there is an audio recording of General Te’Ame conspiring with Gemachew Ayana’s deputies. The Monitoring Group is not saying what the contents of the audio recordings are, and the PFDJ, terrified, is not daring the Monitoring Group to disclose the contents.
B. Al-Shabab: You Mean That Ugas Abdi Dahir?
With regard to Al-Shabab, the Monitoring Group said that the Eritrean regime is using its embassy in Kenya as a conduit to facilitate transfer of funds. Now here, most objective readers are going to say “what kind of diplomat, an ambassador, allows his office to be used as a money laundering center?” And, here, the Monitoring Group pulled its punches because if it had spoken to the Eritrean opposition, it would have gotten the oppo research on the Eritrean “ambassador” to Kenya: a former intelligence official who is as slimy as they get. This is a guy who got his ex-wife, Senait Debessay, and his ex-brother-in-law “Papayo” Debessay arrested over marital issues (surprise, surprise: they have been in detention, without charges, for over 8 years now) In any event, the Monitoring Group mentions individuals and says that money was transferred. The PFDJ says “oh, that Ugas Abdi Dahir!! We only know him as a clan leader, you mean he has affiliations with Al Shabab?! Well, waddayaknow?”
The thing is, the PFDJ has yet to refer to Al Shabab as a “terrorist group.” They are euphemistically referred to as stakeholders, Somali citizens, etc, but never as “terrorist group” despite the fact that they pledged allegiance to Usama bin Laden, fly his ugly flag, and took credit for blowing up innocent civilians (including Eritreans and Ethiopians) in Uganda in July 2010 at public places where the World Cup was being televised. In fact, the minute you mention this to the PFDJ, they will tell you of all the innocent people killed in Baghdad at the hands of Americans, or Somalis that died at the hands of Ethiopians, the TFG, warlords, etc, but they will never say, without mincing words, this is a terrorist outfit that considers civilians legitimate targets for whatever cause it is espousing. When it is not tip-toeing around calling Al Shabab terrorists, then it points to the expiration date on the milk carton and says, “yeah, but whatever we did to support them was well BEFORE December 2009. Outside your mandate!”
The record shows that, since the mid 1990s, the Eritrean regime, far from its claims that it takes “no sides” on the Somali issue, has been supporting one group after another in Somalia. The Eritrean regime supported Hussein Farah Aideed (Aideed Jr) in his fight against the Ethiopia-supported Rahanweyn Resistance Army. When the RRA routed Aideed, he gave up the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) which was then based in Somalia and turned coat and showed up in Asmara. The Eritrean regime supported the Islamic Court Union before, during and after they were routed by Ethiopia. The ICU regrouped in Asmara and they renamed themselves Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) and pledged to resist Ethiopian occupation of Somalia by any means necessary. The ARS included Somalia’s current president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, whom everybody considers a moderate; and Hasan Aweys, whom everybody considers a nutcase. The Eritrean regime supported the ARS– materially, militarily and through non-stop state-media coverage. Following the Djibouti Agreement constituting the current Somali government, the ARS split into ARS-Djibouti and ARS-Asmara. The ARS-Djibouti had Sheik Sharif, and the ARS-Asmara had Aweys who is, again, let’s not mince words, on the Terrorist Wanted List of not just the United States but of the United Nations. ARS-Djibouti went on to become part of the dysfunctional Somali government; ARS-Asmara was reduced to Hizbul Islam which has, for all practical purposes, dissolved into Al Shabab.*
So all the Somali groups have a tendency to regroup, and undergo metamorphosis and the one consistent thing has been that the Eritrean regime has supported one loser after another. The strongest “smoking gun” about the Eritrean regime’s support for Al Shabab is that it has, over the years, supported any Somali group that complained the loudest about Ethiopian hegemony in the Horn of Africa. The Eritrean regime would have supported Al-Shabab if they had been aligned to the Christian Democrats, the Green Peace, the Communist International, the Ku Klux Klan or Usma bin Laden. The Monitoring Group knows this and would have given the Eritrean regime a break if it saw any evidence that it was trying to moderate Al-Shabab but, as it said in its report, “Asmara’s continuing relationship with Al-Shabaab, for example, appears designed to legitimize and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process.”
* Al-Shabab renamed itself Imara Islamiya after this article was written.
C. Funding, Training, Arming Ethiopian Opposition
When it comes to addressing its sponsorship of Ethiopian opposition groups, such as the ONLF, the PFDJ says, hey, how come the “goal post keeps shifting? Are you monitoring our activities with respect to Somalia, Djibouti, and now Ethiopia? And Sudan?”
That is not a great rebuttal and it won’t help them make much headway because they are basically saying they did not read carefully Resolution 1907, and specifically section 15 (a) and (b), which prohibit it from supporting “armed opposition groups which aim to destabilize the region” as well as “harbouring, financing, facilitating, supporting, organizing, training, or inciting individuals or groups to perpetrate acts of violence or terrorist acts against other States or their citizens in the region.”
Now, at this point, if you are overwhelmed with a feeling that little Eritrea is being picked upon by big bad UN, that different standards are being applied, you need to remember that Fredo Carleone (Isaias Afwerki) was given a long, long, long time to rectify his behavior but as is his custom, he gets the message only when a barrel of a gun is pointed to his face. He was begged to acknowledge that he has a conflict with Djibouti and could he please acknowledge it and take steps to resolve it. For a whole year, he was saying one word over and over and over – “fabrication”—and denying that he had a problem. A whole frigging year. Then he had his friend at Qatar mediate a problem he still doesn’t acknowledge exists—a problem with imaginary prisoners of war, and imaginary dead people. It was the entire African Union, convening in Sirte in the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya no less, that recommended that Fredo be disciplined. It was IGAD, a regional grouping which includes Sudan, that unanimously recommended that Isaias Afwerki be sanctioned.
So, while stale newspapers submitted as “annex” to show that Michael Carleone is calling for a regime change in Eritrea are interesting, they are immaterial to the issue at hand because there is no UN Resolution against Ethiopia supporting Eritrean opposition groups.
Now, here, in the Reply, there is no rebuttal to the UN Monitoring Group’s report that showed that ONLF was caught infiltrating into Ethiopia and they were captured. Even if you believe that the captured ONLF fighters were just making up stories because they were tortured into making them up, that the evidence incriminating Fredo was doctored by Michael…how did the Monitoring Group invent the GPS data? Did they tell them to go straight from Ethiopia to Somaliland and then play the data backwards? And what about the timeline: was that fabricated as well?
(D) Mediation With Djibouti? What Mediation? What Djibouti?
As for Djibouti, forget about FRUD and the picture of Karikare with the usual suspects. The PFDJ should really count its lucky stars because the Monitoring Group really screwed up when it said that “the Monitoring Group believes that it would be premature to conclude that “Eritrea’s silence constitutes obstruction of Security Council resolution 1862 (2009), and recommends that the Qatari peace initiative be permitted additional time and scope to address all aspects of the dispute.”
As stated above, Fredo’s decision to fight Djibouti and then to refuse to acknowledge he was fighting it was 50% of the reason why Resolution 1907 was passed. The UN, then, would want to know how that little dispute is going. Well, let’s see:
(1) Qatar mediates an agreement between Djibouti and Eritrea;
(3) Isaias Afwerki, in all his subsequent interviews, denies that there is a problem. He tells Egyptian paper Alahram on June 23-29 issue (that is, days before the Monitoring Group issued its report) that there is no mediation at all. He says, “There is no Qatari mediation. The emir of Qatar had offered to mediate, but it wasn’t necessary because the situation between Djibouti and Eritrea returned to normal.”
(4) Djibouti wants to know there whereabouts of its MIA soldiers (MG Report p 111)
(5)Qatar says (despite the clear language of its mediation agreement) “what soldiers? Legal and cartographic dimensions of the dispute is all we do!” (MG Report p 111)
(6) Meanwhile, the Eritrean regime says, “oh, we can’t talk about any of this; it is all in the middle of mediation.” (MG Report p 111)
Now, does this sound that it is “premature” to make a judgment that Isaias Afwerki is playing the same games he plays: bend when pressured, be stubborn as hell when the pressure is relaxed?
E. Financing Mischief
Eritrea is a poor country, and how does a poor country afford to do all of this training, funding, financing? A good question that the Monitoring Group asked itself. And it answered it: it is doing it because it has basically become the middle man for people and countries with means and/or it has unusual sources of income: remittances from Diaspora, contraband trade, and human and arms smuggling. Finally, it is because a handful of people, all reporting to Isaias Afwerki, treat the country’s treasury like petty cash. This means that whatever short list the UN makes of Eritrean regime officials whose movement should be restricted, it MUST include the person they all report to, the head of the crime syndicate: Isaias Afwerki.
Now here all the Monitoring Group has is circumstantial evidence, which is just as strong as hard evidence given the fact that even if you come with hard evidence (testimonies from victims of human smuggling, confessions from human smugglers) the PFDJ will dismiss it as doctored or fake.
Here are the pieces to the puzzle:
(a) Eritrea is a tightly controlled police state with no youth given an exit visa to get out. Yet, Eritreans by the tens of thousands have been leaving the country.
(b) Eritrea is structured in a way that military zone commanders have absolute authority (trumping that of the civilian zone administrator) when it comes to buy, sell, move, dispose of assets (including human assets.) The authority of the military zone commanders is not limited to the military or national security, but to the lucrative business of import and export.
(c) Even the loudest “Nehna – Nsu” loyalists with their t-shirts carrying images of a 20-year-old Isaias Afwerki have managed to sneak out all of their family members out of the country. They sure as hell were not granted “visas” to get out.
(d) Even spouses and children of those that the Eritrean regime considers enemies of the state and is keeping in underground or desert detention centers have managed to get out of the country.
(e) At least since 1998, the PFDJ has claimed that the country is at war (no war no peace, relative peace, etc) and when the logic of war is used, everything is justified because the “survival of the nation is at stake.” Even the United States with its 200 years of uninterrupted democracy found room for the “anti-sedition act” and “Patriot Act”. So why is it hard to believe that a regime whose economic policy is “do anything to raise cash” (including marijuana and qat plantations) and whose foreign policy is “do anything that gives the TPLF if not a migraine at least a headache” going to show any restraint?
(f) The Eritrean regime considers any means used to raise funds as legitimate. There was a video of Isaias Afwerki in Washington, DC, meeting with the faithful of the PFDJ congregation from the 1990s (I think) that asmarino.com used to have a lot of fun playing. He tells the congregation, bluntly, (smiling ear to ear): all I care about is your money.
When you consider all these pieces to the puzzle; when you consider the fact that, to this date, the PFDJ has not once given any accounting of its revenues and expenditures; when you consider the fact that the PFDJ generals treat Eritrean youth and Eritrean citizens in general as brutally as any colonial power, is it really that far fetched to believe that it would be involved in human smuggling and contraband trade?
The UN is always very slow to take action, and Resolution 1907 was imposed after the Eritrean regime repeatedly and scornfully rejected calls to alter its behavior in Somalia and Djibouti. The Monitoring Group is made up of professional investigators and when they found information that was exculpatory to the regime, or when they didn’t think the evidence was strong enough against it, they have stated so. The Monitoring Group, in its effort to bend backwards not to rely on data provided by the Ethiopian government—or by Eritrean opposition groups—made a huge mistake in identifying an Ethiopian colonel as an Eritrean.
The Eritrean regime is too focused on activities that follow December 2009 without due consideration to the fact that the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group is a continuation of the Somalia Monitoring Group. It has either not read Resolution 1907 carefully or it rejects parts of it—the parts that place blanket limitation on “destabilizing the region.” The Eritrean regime did not adequately address the Monitoring Group’s findings that it had a hand (colluding with, providing training, for example) to the organizers of the Addis bombing. It did not address at all why there is an audio recording of General TeAme. The Eritrean regime attempts to use ignorance (“we didn’t know he was with Al-Shabab!”) to explain why it was transferring funds to some Somalis. The Eritrean regime is at odds with the rest of the region who, unanimously (as measured by unanimous IGAD votes), consider Al-Shabab a terrorist outfit. The Eritrean regime should THANK the Monitoring Group for not more forcefully stating that it was hindering the implementation of the Qatar Mediation Group—which accounts for 50% of the reason that the regime got the sanctions to begin with. The accusation that the Eritrean regime engages in contraband trade and human smuggling is NOT beyond the pale because the regime has shown that it will do anything to raise money and it doesn’t consider any act of brutality against its own citizens as too savage or uncivilized.
This month, the Sanctions Committee is expected to make its recommendations. Since the PFDJ is fond of spinning utter disasters into “victories”, it is important to know that what is being debated at the UN right now is: should we leave the sanctions as they are (asset freezes, arms embargo, restriction of movement) or should we stiffen them (economic sanctions.) There is no debate about removing the sanctions: that train has already left the station when the mandate of the Monitoring Group was extended for another year. The Monitoring Group which started out focused on Somalia, then Somalia and Eritrea, has now been instructed to provide a separate report just on Eritrea. If the Security Council pulls its punch and decides not to stiffen the sanctions (by extending them to economic sanctions), it is because even during apartheid South Africa there were nations who believed that sanctions hurt the people more than the government. But that won’t stop the PFDJ from doing the victory dance—a sight as ridiculous as watching a football game where one team is way behind and the clock is running out, but manages to have a 5 minute celebration after a touch down or a goal.
The problem is that the PFDJ has no reset or self-correction button. If the world (or Eritreans) believe that this regime will, on its own, make an assessment and change course, it won’t happen. When Isaias Afwerki was in New York last summer meeting in secret with the PFDJ congregation, one of the congregants asked him about his sleeping patterns and Isaias said, and I am paraphrasing, I normally sleep 9 hours and on those days when I don’t I make up for it because it is owed to me.” There is a man with a deep sense of entitlement. I know what you are thinking: and here’s the answer from my February 2001 interview with Dr. Bereket Habteselasse, the principal drafter of the 1997 Constitution:
“I would like to inject here a personal note. Quite frankly, I did not expect the PFDJ leadership to accept the idea of term limits; and I was gearing up to do battle when I and two of my colleagues of the Executive Committee of the Commission were summoned to the meeting of the National Assembly at the time it was debating the final draft of the constitution. Someone in the Assembly raised the question why we should have term limits. As I recall, it was one of the members of the inner circle of PFDJ. And to my utter surprise, the President who was chairing the meeting admonished him and gave a cogent reason why there should be term limits. From that point onwards, I relaxed and began to enjoy the rest of the meeting and left with understandable satisfaction. I was so impressed and gratified that, immediately after the event, I went home and wrote a poem of praise (Qine Mewedis) in our classical language—romantic creature that I am!
“This raises the question whether the President believed in what he was saying? I thought so at the time and only began to entertain some doubts with the postponement of the implementation of the constitution. We must now leave this and other related questions to the judgment of history.”
Yeah, but history is too long into the future: I say we have plenty of evidence now that, no, he didn’t believe what he was saying and we were conned. This same good-cop bad-cop routine was applied in a PFDJ “Central Committee” assembly in 2000 when the G-15 wanted to expedite stalled domestic progress. Again one of a “inner circle of the PFDJ” declared now is not a time, we are during no-war-no-peace; but Isaias Afwerki admonished him and pronounced we should not be held hostage by Ethiopia, we must push forward, this is something we concluded on during our second congress, a cause that our martyrs sacrificed their lives for and other find sounding platitudes. What he really meant was: “this, my dear junior PFDJ cadre, is what we must say while we lay the groundwork to make them disappear and to eliminate the possibility of this question ever being asked again.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. And unless this regime is gone–uprooted, discarded–we will be talking about the same thing in 2021.
PS: This article was originally published on November 10, 2011, before the UNSC vote on December 5 to sanction the Eritrean regime. When awate.com was hacked on December 2nd, it was one of two articles which was lost. It was re-published on December 8, 2011.