If I Were President Obama’s Advisor: Message To Isaias Afwerki

By: Anonymous Author

The question on how best to bring about democratic changes in Eritrea has been a perplexing question that the author of this piece has been trying to address for a long time.  The author was prompted to write this document after recently reading the July 30, 2011 letter President Isaias wrote to President Obama. The author believes the letter from Isaias could provide President Obama an opportunity to give President Isaias some constructive ideas on how to bring about democratic changes in Eritrea and save the Isaias government from serious sanctions and other measures that are being contemplated at the UN and other quarters. It is the hope of the author that this piece will prompt thoughtful Eritreans and sympathizers of the Eritrean people who might have better alternate pragmatic approaches to share their views on the matter.  This is an attempt to focus on finding a pragmatic approach to democratize Eritrea.

The author chose to remain anonymous with the intention of helping the reader to focus on the message rather than on the messenger.  Constructive comments and alternate proposals on how to democratize Eritrea are not only welcome but encouraged. 

Below is the letter from President Obama to President Isaias drafted by the anonymous author.  It will be followed by a letter to the Eritrean opposition.

Dear President Isaias,

We have received your recent letter and we appreciate your interest to open direct dialogue with my Administration. My Department of State has been keenly following the diplomatic outreachyou have made recently. We believe these diplomatic moves coming from you are meant to pave the way for your government’s desire to reestablish its relations with the international community which we welcome.  We see your recent visit with President Yoweri Museveni, in Uganda, your meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the celebration of the independence of South Sudan in Juba, your visit with Mr. Teodoro Obiang Mbasog, the President of Equatorial Guinea and current chairman of the African Union, your government’s application to rejoin IGAD, and your decision to renew your membership at the African Union as well as  your plan to address the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2011, all as positive signs which we welcome and support.

My administration is committed to bring peace, stability, and democratic changes throughout the world and particularly in your region. And we hope the diplomatic overtures you have recently embarked on are signs of your willingness to be a partner in bringing peace and stability in your region and to introduce democratic changes in your own country.  We will certainly do our best to address the issues you have raised in your letter if indeed you are serious about bringing positive changes that lead to better governance in your country and good relationship with the regional and international communities.

I recall the role you and your comrades-in-arms played in liberating your country after 30 years of war.  There was a great deal of jubilation, hope, enthusiasm and expectations among your people, when Eritrea secured its independence.  The world was encouraged by your leadership, when despite the military victory, a referendum was held where Eritreans were allowed to freely express their future, which they did by voting overwhelmingly for an independent and sovereign nation.  It was also reassuring to see your government making strides towards democracy, when a constitution was drafted and ratified.  Your government and your leadership were hailed as one of the promising new upcoming leaders in Africa, and Eritrea was indeed viewed by many as a future beacon of hope in Africa.

Unfortunately, you have disappointed the international community when you reversed course and engaged instead of focusing in improving the standard of living of your people in picking up unnecessary conflicts with your neighbors, the Sudan, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Djibouti and your active involvement in destabilizing Somalia.  We were particularly dismayed to see you at war with your natural ally, the current government of Ethiopia, with whom you had collaborated in the overthrow of the Derge regime.

We are equally disappointed to notice how you have failed to meet the expectations of your people for a better life, and how quickly you have lost the respect you had earned.  Eritrea, a country that had so much promise is now among the poorest countries in the world, and your regime has been characterized as one of the most repressive governments.  Many of your country men and women particularly the youth are fleeing Eritrea in search of a better life abroad, by crossing vast deserts and seas, some perishing on the way. We also noticed with dismay your decision to lock up your comrades-in-arms; individuals who made a life time sacrifice for the liberation of their country to languish in secret prisons without giving them the benefit of defending themselves.  From all that we know they were subjected to this harsh punishment simply because they asked for democratic reforms. We are also aware of the many journalists you have put in jail without any due process of the law, and the many people who are languishing in prison camps for their religious stand.  These are serious matters that are of grave concern to my Administration and all the peace loving members of the international community.

Despite our disappointment with your leadership, I am pleased to tell you that my Administration is willing to review our policy towards your government if indeed there is a genuine change of heart on your part and a serious commitment to undo the undesirable decisions made in the past. For a favorable review of your government’s position the following are some of the measures we would like to see coming from your side as evidence of your serious commitment to civilized diplomacy.

1.   Release all political prisoners, journalists, and prisoners of conscience immediately.

2.   Restore freedom of speech, press and religion.

3.   Implement the ratified constitution. We would like to see you create a political environment conducive for free and fair elections.  To this end, we expect you to allow all opposition political parties and all those who oppose your administration to safely return to their country.  In short, create an environment that gives power to the people.  If the Eritrean people decide to elect you under internationally supervised free and fair elections, I will assure you that my Administration will respect the will of the people and provide your government with our political and material support.

4.   Our commitment to ensure your safety. I understand this might be a bitter pill to swallow for those who have lost loved ones and those who have suffered under your administration. And we can understand their feelings.  However, we will try to persuade the opposition groups and the Eritrean people to forget and forgive your past wrong doings for a better future of Eritrea and the Eritrean people. I understand this is going to be a tough sell and serious challenge, but my Administration in collaboration with our allies and the international community will do our best to convince the Eritrean people that it is to the best interest of Eritrea to focus on the future and not to dwell on the mistakes of the past.  I hope the Eritrean people will listen to our advice and I hope you will seriously consider accepting my proposals and genuinely put them into practice.  If you do, you can count on my Administration to facilitate the restoration of democracy in your country and to give you the protection you need for your safety and for those who are your closest allies.  You can also count on my Administration to invite you and Prime Minister Meles to the White House to end the occupation of part of your territory by Ethiopia and establish a lasting peace between the two sisterly countries. We will expect to see elections to take place within a period not more than two years under the conditions stated above.

5.   The price for rejecting my proposal. It should be clear to you that the wave of democratic change is sweeping our globe, and I am confident that the Eritrean people and youth both inside and outside the country will join hands and claim their country and their liberty.  My government and our allies will fully and actively support and encourage such democratic movement.

Sincerely yours
Barack Obama
United States of America


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