Part II: The Myth of Sanctions against Eritrea

‘Haba’e Kuslu, Haba’e Fewsu’ Part II:  The Myth of Sanctions against Eritrea I chose this issue as a separate topic because it exemplifies the twisted nature of politics.  The irony of the UNSC sanction is that both

‘Haba’e Kuslu, Haba’e Fewsu’

Part II:  The Myth of Sanctions against Eritrea

I chose this issue as a separate topic because it exemplifies the twisted nature of politics.  The irony of the UNSC sanction is that both the regime and opposition see political benefits in maintaining the sanctions.  When examined closely, the purpose and effectiveness of the UNSC sanctions have been distorted to fit the target audience.  Contrary to his public lamentations, DIA is using sanctions to further justify his oppressive rule, while the opposition see that sanctions will weaken the regime.  DIA needs plausible justification to oppress the population, while opposition needs ever more oppression to ignite, hopefully, a popular uprising, while the world pretends to do something by imposing an empty sanction. Moreover, the regime needs a cause to rally its dwindling supporters.  The regime’s latest propaganda is, ‘the US and West hates us, and has never accepted us as an independent country, and wants to shove us back into Ethiopia by punishing us economically.  We shall overcome as we always have done.’

  1. History and Effectiveness of Sanctions (in general)

The use of international sanctions, i.e. diplomatic and trade, is a recent phenomenon, which arose from the creation of organized international institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU), along with tremendous growth in trade and economic integrations in post second world war era.

Before this period, countries engaged in a form of self-sanction, or isolationism, such as China in 1371 under Ming Dynasty which banned maritime shipping, and Japan in the 1650s under Tokugawa shogunate (Sakoku/kaikin policy).  In a form of reverse sanctions, Britain forced China to trade in the 1850s, which led to the Opium War and eventually acquiring Hong Kong to achieve its mercantile aims.  Similarly, Portugal established its base in Macau for the same purpose.  The United States forced Japan to open its trade in 1850s – and told in no uncertain terms that if it failed to open its markets that it faced military consequences.  Ironically, it was a century of military threats if countries didn’t open up from their self-imposed sanctions.  The less fortunate countries became ‘overseas colonies’. Forcing others to trade was at the heart of medieval mercantile adventures.

Today it is isolating countries, rather than forcing them to engage to trade that has become a modus operandi of international politics.  The shift from forcing a nation to trade to withholding trade has been necessitated by changes in international politics, i.e. war as last resort, and due to increased economic integrations of the world. But it is still understood that encouraging isolationist countries to engage is one approach to deal with entrenched and antagonist regimes.  China is one example, and current efforts with Iran and Cuba are the latest examples.

It is debatable whether sanctions do work.  Under what circumstances do sanctions work?  Do sanctions bring about change, i.e. is it about changing regimes or is it about changing the behavior of a regime? Does its effectiveness depend on whether the population is generally active versus pacifist, strong economic class exists, or other factors (or combinations thereof)?

Some examples where sanctions has had some impact

  • South Africa
  • Iran
  • Zimbabwe
  • Russia

No Impact

  • Cuba
  • North Korea
  • Saddam’s Iraq
  • Syria


One may argue that there are some factors that determine if sanctions may have some impact:

  • The sponsors must impose strict sanctions and pursue the sanctions aggressively and wholeheartedly, as the UK did with Zimbabwe, the US with Iran, and the US and EU with Russia and South Africa.
  • The targets of the sanctions are governed by ‘opportunist dictators’ than ‘ideologue dictators’, and face some degrees of public pressure to alleviate adverse economic conditions and are willing to address them to certain degrees.
  1. Background on Sanctions against Eritrea

DIA and its spin-masters would like us believe that the UNSC sanctions is a U.S. (our bogeyman / hoongoogoo) plot to strip away our sovereignty and give us away to those evil Woyanes like they did to us in the 1950s.  What a crap!

The hard fact is that the UNSC sanction against Eritrea is because of the regime’s PATTERN of belligerent behaviour over almost two decades that even Russia and China, members with veto powers, couldn’t condone and thus allowing the sanction to pass.  China and Russia insisted a watered down version more out of fear of precedence than concern for the Eritrean regime.

The 2009 Eritrea-Somalia sanctions, UNSC Resolutions # 1907 and #2023, were imposed ostensibly due to active meddling in the internal Somali, Djibouti, and possibly Ethiopian political affairs. Of course, all nations have rights to pursue their national interests, but only in smart way lest it becomes self-destructive.  As a nation way down the international political food chain, political prudence goes a long way to achieve both short- and long-term national interests.

Even the most politically naive can surmise that the regime has been actively accosting diplomatic, political, and supposedly economic sanctions against itself.  It sought, and continues to seek, needless confrontations with regional and international interest groups, nations and organizations over Issac Dawit, Djibouti, and Somalia – while trying to cozy up with rogue regimes.

At the risk of being repetitive, it is worth reminding like a tired television commercial, that DIA’s belligerent politics has resulted in,

  • Loss of Hanish Islands to Yemen: islands that were in possession of Eritrea historically (and Ethiopia while it occupied Eritrea). Worse is Eritrea losing the fishing and other rights associated with water territory!
  • Conflict with Ethiopia resulting in loss of over 20,000 precious Eritreans, two-to-three times that many injured in this needless war. One of the Eritrea’s heroes, Min. Beraki Ghebresilase, had voiced prudent approach to handling the situation but fell on deaf ears of the regime.  Although DIA wants to tell us that we gained Badme, in reality, Eritrea lost most of the lands that belonged to it under colonial treaties and enshrined in the AU founding documents.
  • Conflict with Djibouti, which eventually nudged the UNSC, which includes China, to impose sanctions.
  • Meddling, which is different than constructively engaging, in Somali politics, resulting in UN sanctions.
  • Belligerent tones towards the West, esp. the US, regional and international organizations – and everything in-between.

The latest news that Al Jazeera staff were released in Egypt after “Presidential Pardon” is just one example how astute politicians with a well formed agenda play their hands in international politics.  For example, releasing Issac Dawit would have the regime’s cause with Sweden, albeit Sweden hasn’t done much, and the EU in general.  They would all have removed that one small stone out of their shoes, but PIA insists on imprisoning Issac Dawit although he poses absolutely no risk to the regime.  One can only surmise that DIA is pursuing self-isolationism by antagonizing the rest of the world with whatever little way he can – and in the process destroy everything Eritrea and Eritrean. It is sadism at its zenith.

Examining the sanctions themselves, despite the regime’s ever louder complaints of the UN sanctions, in reality, UNSC sanctions have been symbolic rather than having any noticeable impact on the regime.

With undying hope of becoming a regional super-power, ‘goblel’, at least, in the Horn of Africa, and eternally hoping to become the next darling of the US, DIA is pursuing Pyrrhic Victory to annihilate Ethiopia and take the mantle.  DIA was forced to retract into its shells after its Somalia agenda was utterly defeated and discredited.  However, now that DIA has found some hope that his involvement with the ‘coalition’ against the Houthis in Yemen would give him some leverage that he has boldly and publicly welcomed Dr. Berhanu Nega of GINBOT 7.  DIA is gambling that he has now some leeway to interfere in Ethiopia’s domestic politics because he is more valuable politically to the Middle Eastern crisis, and also to take advantage of the recent Ethiopian election. Unfortunately for DIA, and probably fortunately for everybody else, TPDM’s defections has thrown a monkey wrench into DIA’s plans to torch the entire Horn of Africa.  Still, DIA’s undying belief in gunboat diplomacy, where he is receiving cash and oil from Sudan, Egypt, Iran ,Gulf States, and who knows who else, in exchange for offering a mercenary army and access to our territory is the root cause of Eritrean suffering.  His policies are predicated on one belief, that “Might is Right” in dealing with the Eritrean population as well as the world.

Although not all conflicts were started by DIA, his opponents understood his reckless disregard for rule-of-law and international politicking and thus giving them carte-blanche to advance their political agenda before an accountable regime is established in Eritrea. In his many interviews, which have become rare lately, DIA wants to project an image of a well-meaning guy who is misunderstood by everybody.  Even if one assumed so, the job of a well-meaning leader isn’t to run a nation as his personal fiefdom and run a socio-economic and politics experiments to the detriment of everybody else who subjected to unnecessary and indefinite cruelty.  In other words, no amount of well-meaning intentions can excuse human right abuses.

As a result of DIA’s PATTERN of disruptive and destructive behavior, the UNSC – which includes CHINA and RUSSIA passed the following resolutions,

  • S/RES/1907 (2009) passed on December 23, 2009 and imposes the following sanctions
    • Arms embargo
    • Travel ban
    • Asset Freeze
  • S/RES/2023 (2009) passed on December 05, 2011 expands on the Resolution 1907
    • Cessation from collecting “Diaspora Tax” under CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES (section 11 of the resolution)
    • Due diligence in dealing with the Eritrean mining sector (sections 13 and 14). Due diligence is open to wide interpretations.

There are corresponding legislations by EU, Australia and other countries.

III Effects of Sanctions on Eritrea           

After attempting to downplay the effects of sanctions at the beginning, DIA has now embraced the so-called sanctions against Eritrea as yet another tool in his endless and tiring political propaganda.  But in reality, the sanctions may have affected DIA diplomatically but nothing else.  The impact of diplomatic isolation might be to shift from the regime’s ostensible campaign to finalize the physical demarcation of the border to DIA’s destabilizing role in the region, but this diplomatic isolation is, wittingly or unwittingly, DIA’s choosing.

  1. Military hardware sanctions (arms embargo) against the regime has NO impact on the regime. It doesn’t have the budget and hard currencies to buy military hardware anyway. In fact, it may be selling its armaments to raise hard currency.  If ever it needs to buy armaments, it can do so clandestinely in the black markets.

Impact of military hardware sanctions: nil

  1. Diplomatic sanctions (travel ban) have been embarrassingly non-existent. After voting to impose sanctions on high-level regime officials, no country has imposed on any regime official six years later. To the contrary, regime officials have been allowed to freely travel to many countries without any form of restrictions, except possibly to and within the US.  This is in contrast, for instance, to Zimbabwe where the UK imposed strict limitations and forced other EU members to follow.  The US did put Mr. Yemane Gebreab on the list but is still allowed to travel to United Nations in New York because of an agreement with the UN when establishing its headquarters in New York.

Impact of diplomatic sanction: NIL (US travel restrictions within the US for Eritrean diplomats is an eye-for-an-eye for the Eritrean regime’s actions.)

  1. Economic sanctions against the regime consists of a couple of countries curtailing the 2% Diaspora Tax and putting unspecified limitations on the mining sector. Despite being mentioned in the sanctions, not all nations enforce it, and is done in duplicitous manner. For instance, Canada expelled the Eritrean representative over illegal collection of 2% to fund illegal activities, and yet a Canadian mining company, Nevsun, still operates in Eritrea pouring billions of dollars into DIA coffers while violating international laws against slavery.  The Eritrean dictatorship has been allowed to earn hundreds of millions (nearly $1 billion in US) in 4 years. The same with other countries such as the UK and Australia.  One may even surmise that banning the 2% is designed to force the regime to allow foreign companies to extract minerals; thus for their own interests.

Pertaining to the ‘Diaspora Tax’, the wordings in the resolution states that the regime can’t coerce or force Eritreans to pay it.  Strictly speaking, it doesn’t even prevent voluntary payments.  Does requiring Eritreans to pay for services considered ‘coercing’?  The vague nature of the resolution, or no subsequent clarifications, has rendered the sanctions toothless.  The fact remains that those Eritreans who have personal affairs to attend to back in Eritrea must somehow pay it.  As such, this specific sanction can only be referred to as an ‘inconvenience’ sanction.  Inconvenience has its functions, but in this particular case, it is not effective enough.

Impact of economic sanction: almost NIL (more inconvenience than being effective)

It is worth reiterating that economic hardships in Eritrea is totally and absolutely self-inflicted.  For instance remittances have been falling because DIA

  • Has banned private construction of housings
  • Has practically banned all private enterprise
  • Purposely abandoning public projects (Chinese finance in Ethiopia for instance) including infrastructure, Free Port/Zone, and others. The regime’s behavior is judged within its pattern of behavior soon after independence rather than post UNSC sanctions.

In addition, DIA is creating high inflation by printing money and thus devaluing the currency.  As Eritreans find that their wages and salaries are being eroded while rent and food prices going up, this feeds into rampant corruption.  All this feeds into chaotic system that is destroying the country.

  1. Asset Freeze – No impact as no official has been designated yet, as is for the travel ban.

Trade Sanctions – there is no trade sanctions, except some due diligence in dealing with mining sector as discussed above, on Eritrea.  However, even if there was trade sanctions, it would have had little impact on Eritrea because DIA has deliberately stifled the private sector in Eritrea, which would have been the source of export for Eritrea.  Similarly, Eritrea’s imports, which is not under sanctions, is minimal limited to food and energy, and the rest being so negligible on the world scale, that it would be useless to sanction.  Moreover, there is no need to impose formal trade sanctions as the regimes reckless economic governance is leading to total collapse of its currency, making imports too expensive for ordinary Eritreans.

World Bank, IMF, China and Eritrea

DIA propaganda machinery tells us implicitly that Eritrea’s economic woes is due to international sanctions preventing it from obtaining funds from World Bank, IMF and other international organizations and states.

But DIA’s policy of self-reliance and self-sufficiency (more like self-destruction), remnant of old communist and Maoist beliefs, has been the main culprit in isolating itself from engaging with international organizations. The main reason for shunning these organizations isn’t because DIA is averse to borrowing, but doesn’t want the West to use ‘indebtedness’ as political leverage against him.  Otherwise, PIA is probably astute enough to know his deeply held belief in Maoism hasn’t even worked in its home county, but the hoopla of ‘self-sufficiency’ is being used to sustain its repressive policies.

If DIA had really wanted to engage in economic development, he would have dealt with China, NOT the US, EU, World Bank.  China is fuelling most of African and Asian, and now South American, economic growth.  China is not averse with dealing with the most repressive regimes, internationally sanctioned countries, or any regime operating outside international norms. It is DIA that is shunning China. Whenever DIA needed China, from stashing away millions, if not billions, of dollars of unaccounted and stolen Eritrean money, to repairing the Hirgigo Power Plant, to building the Gedem Cement Factory, China has been there whenever DIA needed China.

Of course, the US, France and other Western countries have sector specific grants available for third world countries such as for energy (electricity) developments, which Eritrea could have tapped into if it wasn’t for DIA’s ideological rigidity entangled with his ego.  There are now rumours that the EU is set to grant over $200 million for economic developments in Eritrea – probably out of misguided belief that the regime can be bribed into stemming down the Eritrean refugee crisis.  Throwing money at ideologue dictators is like throwing into the wind.

Graver Political Developments than Sanctions & the Outdated Westphalian Treaty

Tired of continuous wars in Europe, its monarchs and leaders met in the Town of Westphalia in the year 1648 to formulate a new principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.  Before 1648, European nations invaded others on whimsical excuses that put the continent on perpetual war footing.  Nearly 300 years later, the UN and later the AU (OAU) adopted the same principles of non-interference as the cornerstone of international diplomatic relations and conduct of nations and international brotherhood.

However, the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries has been modified in the last few years, especially after the 1994 Rwandan genocide when the world powers realized adverse events in a sovereign country impacts other countries directly through refugee crises and indirectly through the collective consciousness of people as unified human beings. Should be ignore the immense sufferings of other people just because they live across artificial borders?  Of course, there are dangers of using human rights violations to interfere in the internal politics of sovereign countries.

Post-1994 Rwanda, the general consensus is that the world, as represented by the United Nations, UN Security Council – and even regional groupings such as ECOWAS have the moral and political obligations to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries if violations consisted of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes – and even coups against democratically elected governments.  These international groups may use sanctions or force to pre-emptively prevent mass human sufferings or to restore political stability.  ECOWAS, for instance, has played effective roles in restoring and stabilizing political situations in Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and elsewhere.  Moreover, the recent coup in Burkina Faso met swift reactions from the Peace & Security Council of the AU and West African nations.

It is also worth noting that during the latest UN Human Rights Council meeting over Eritrea, the Representative of Ghana echoed this very same sentiment.  The Ghanaian representative stated that although the AU founding principles are based on non-interference in the internal affairs of other member states, i.e. Westphalia model, African leaders have also come to understand that to promote African democracy, and hence to realize socio-economic growth, that African leaders must now believe in the principle of non-indifference.

Ironically, despite DIA’s complaints of foreign interference in the internal affairs of Eritrea, DIA, as die hard Maoist follower and ardent disciple of communist thoughts, is the biggest subscriber of the principle of non-indifference.  DIA’s fingerprints are all over Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen, DR Congo, (Great Lakes) and other countries.  Political hypocrisy is to complain when others interfere in your internal affairs, but justify interference in affairs of other countries as necessities of security, to help our brotherly neighbors, or for some other high sounding but ultimately for self-serving reasons.

Opposing Sanctions

Although the opposition camp supports sanctions as way of, ostensibly, diminishing the legitimacy of the regime, but at the same time, it is predicated on increasing hardship on the general public that could spark public uprising.  Unfortunately, as stated above, the UNSC sanctions is toothless.  Unless the world body imposes severe, and ever increasing, sanctions against an oppressive regime, as was done with Zimbabwe, Iran, Russia, and others, these sanctions have no effect.  As shown above, the sanctions against Eritrea is in name only. As the regime is not democratically elected and cares less for domestic or world opinion, it doesn’t even suffer from the stigma.

DIA is someone who believes that he can get away with anything and that one day – either of his own choosing or fate – things will change and that all the pain and sufferings of the past will be forgotten like the morning mist.

In my view, the opposition should NOT indefinitely support empty sanctions as a victory against the regime.  There is no hypocrisy in welcoming sanctions at first and then call for it to be rescinded if it no longer serves a purpose, or runs against one’s political strategy – if there is one.  In other words, if the world body isn’t serious enough to impose tough sanctions that will bring about change, then it should lift sanctions, and thus depriving the regime of the propaganda that the world, and esp. the US, is trying to strip Eritrea of its nationhood.

Having observed the nature of dictatorial regimes, which are replete with historical observations, one may even argue that forcing the regime to open up economically, as is being done with the mining sector, is the better route to address Eritrea’s woes than pursuing the strangulation route.  More than anyone, it is PIA who is politically allergic to any form of socio-economic development because growing wealth will necessarily lead to calls for socio-economic reforms.  Moreover, openness in today’s world means greater integrations with the world, which, again, lead to calls for socio-economic reforms.  Thus, one may argue, either the West should impose serious and severe sanctions against the regime, or force the regime to open up economically – not unlike middle and late medieval China and Japan, which were forced to trade and thus ending their isolationist policies.  Similar questions are raised over Cuba which has remained isolated for over half-a-century.

In fact, as will be discussed later, many roads lead to Rome, [as in all], and it is not necessarily the politics of destruction, isolationism, division, and other negative acts that will only get us to our destination.  We do NOT need to be the mirror reflection of the regime, or react in tit-for-tat manner.  If so, the regime has control over us.  Our every political approach should evaluated dispassionately and purely on the merits of its outcome and based on the very principles we want to project.  Nothing more, nothing less!

The opposition camp should be flexible and strategically oriented enough to adjust its political position to advance its cause.  Equally, the opposition camp would require strong communication to avoid appearing to be dithering or equivocating. Our position to the world body (UN) should be, either get serious enough with the sanctions or rescind it.

Ultimately, the current toothless sanctions regime may have value to the Ethiopian government only, which allows it to pre-empt any pressures to resolve the border issue.  Others concerns, such as interference in Somali affairs, have now subsided as the wings – not just the feathers – have been clipped off of the Eritrean Pol Pot regime.

Lifting sanctions doesn’t necessarily end opposition camp’s efforts to isolate the regime.  There are still other avenues, including through UN & AU Human Right Councils, to address many of the regime’s abuses as manifested by the refugee crisis, slavery campaigns, and other national local legal avenues available to pursue.  We are only limited by our imagination, pooled resources, and determination in pursuing other effective legal avenues. One may surmise that the fact there is a UN sanction on the regime would embolden other jurisdictions to take tougher stance on the regime, but this is not supported by facts.  Conversely, one may fret that lifting the sanctions regime would weaken other efforts to weaken the regime.  For example, the recent heavy COIE criticism of the regime would still not have changed even if sanctions were not imposed.  The COIE was established because of the epic level Eritrean refugee crisis.  It is the West’s shot across the bow to warn the regime to stem the tides of Eritrean refugees.  If this tide continues, the regime WILL be officially accused of crimes-against-humanity – regardless of any other efforts because it directly threatens the West’s interests.

Having understood that the West, and similarly with the Ethiopian government, will not do one iota more than what is for their ultimate interests, it is time we engage in a constructive debate and then formulate policies and action plans that reflect political reality.

Of course, we should be glad to have quote us on this one!

Berhan Hagos

September 25, 2015

Review overview
  • AHMED SALEH September 25, 2015

    The toothless United Nations sanction hurts Eritrean people the most in their lives .
    HGDF officials and their beneficiaries enjoy to find the necessities of daily life while
    the entire population suffer . UN actions has been influenced primarily from powers
    of world politics regardless it’s impact on civilians .
    Nowadays for life and death cases of sick person to get proper medical attention
    even if you afford to pay become frustrating scenario and that is why we hear many
    of them forced to take their sick loved one to SUDAN .
    Anytime they put more sanction , Issayas hands over to those poor people to taste it .
    The solution exists not that far but behind our back yard hidden somewhere , just we
    became lazy to search fo it .

  • baboor September 26, 2015

    The UN doesn’t care to anybody it’s a pretend. For the western establishment isayas is a proof that black men are incompetent managers. Just look at this guy called isayas , he destroyed every aspect of Eritrean society.
    Any person who believes is a competent leader is sick. He treats Eritrean people as his toys. Going back to the idea of this article, no UN sanction will work on an incompetent leader. Time for Eritrean people to act.

  • zigerim September 26, 2015

    it is time we realize we have two enemies working towards the same goal. DIA and Weyane leaders. They will not resolve the boarder conflict because it can be used as an excuse to clamp down dissent and deny the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea a true democracy.

  • Kidane Canada September 26, 2015

    According to a UN source, there is no end in sight for the UN sanction to be lifted in the near future. The sanction has been an albatross on Eritrea’s neck for the last five year resulting in political and diplomatic isolation of the DIA regime.
    PFDJ has had two decades to show it works for the interest and well-being of the Eritrean people. Instead the regime has used these decades to destroy the Eritrean society. Now, who has been behind the sanctions?
    The PFDJ’s destructive regional policies of disturbing the peace and security of neighboring countries is one main reason. This has been confirmed by the regional organization-IGAD.
    At last, if there is any outside power that believes in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Eritrea, and which is willing to extend a helping hand to the Eritrean people to get rid of the PFDJ desposts; then it is more than welcome.

  • Cabral September 26, 2015

    The regime has been systematically working on isolating the country to prevent likely influences particularly from the West. During the last decade the regime’s relations deteriorated in particular with the US, UN and EU. It began with the ousting of USAID, the closure of WFP and the gradual crippling of UNMEE’s operations in Eritrea to the point of its permanent suspension in 2008. The regime knows very well that closer ties with the West have other strings attached – democratization. Domestically this was matched with economically crippling policies – deliberate self-isolation moves.

  • Cabral September 26, 2015

    As a result, the Eritrean people are being helplessly oppressed, while the regime deliberately pursues destructive policies intended to shield itself from international sanctions. I thank the author for his insightful analysis.

  • wedi nakfa September 26, 2015

    Ayte berhane wata woy-ane.