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A future together: Eritrea and the USA

The dream that is America started hundreds of years ago. To bring that dream to fruition, the efforts of an untold many were expended. Today we are one more step closer to bringing that dream to reality. Everyday though that dream threatened by those who are supposed to protect it, to ensure it.

Callous though it may seem the political freedoms that we enjoy in America come with a heavy caveat, you only have one home. Granted, for most Americans this is not an issue, most have both feet firmly planted on American soil, but in an increasingly globalized world, many more of us try to keep our ties to ancestral homes. At the dawn of this new period of engagement with other countries, this is in fact an asset to our country.

Consider each American with ties abroad as an ambassador for our country. For nearly a decade America’s face to the rest of the world has been by the barrel of a gun, threatening and generally ineffective in turning our foes into friends. In fact, it turned many of our friends into irritated observers. A telling example of this policy has been that of Eritrea.

Charged by Dr. Jendayi Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, as supporting terrorist elements, Eritrea has been left with fewer options. Before this charge was leveled by the Bush Administration, Eritrea had had cool relations with the United States due to a simmering dispute with Ethiopia. For more than half a century the United States, through successive administrations has been a strong advocate for what was the Ethiopian Empire, today the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. To that end, in the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which was judicially concluded more than half a decade ago, has become an obstacle to Eritrean-American relations. the United States has not admonished Ethiopia for ignoring an international commission’s ruling. Although seemingly trivial globally, for Eritrea this border decision is of supreme importance.

Eritrea is a country in which 80% of the population is engaged in agriculture, and the occupied land is amongst the best farmland in this semi-arid country. Further, the land that Ethiopia is occupying is fully 20% of Eritrea. Understanding why this is so important to Eritrea will be important for the next administration because this insight will be necessary to repair relations between Eritrea and its larger friend, the United States. On the side of the United States, one of the reasons the State Department has been focused on pressuring Eritrea is for its alleged support for terrorists.

The numerous denials by Eritrean officials, calling the argument a red herring, seems credible given Eritrea’s experience with terrorism. At independence Eritrea was the victim of a number of terrorists attacks out of Sudan which were eventually thwarted to some extent by the deployment of Eritrean soldiers to the frontier. Since then however, particularly after the conflict with Ethiopia, Eritrea has fallen prey to at least half a dozen confirmed terrorist attacks. (( Of particular interest however, is the location of the most recent terrorist attacks.

Both have occurred in the western Gash-Barka region which borders with Ethiopia. In fact, recently it has been reported that Ethiopia has moved an entire division of troops into this occupied Eritrean region. (( How such an attack could occur so near this frontier without Ethiopian knowledge would either indict Ethiopia as negligent or incompetent. Either way, the implication is that Bush’s ally is permitting cross-border terrorism.

This of course runs counter to the War on Terrorism. This is of course an affront to both my own sensibilities as both an American and an Eritrean, but further, it is an affront to all Americans. It is of little consolation that this administration is on its way out; I do of course have great hopes for the next. We can only hope that the Eritrean President and American President will see eye to eye and open a new chapter in Eritrean-American relations.

How else should two countries who were victims of colonial oppression approach one another? It is the destiny of Eritrea and the United States to have cordial relations, however this fact cannot be taken for granted, and must be nurtured. It is the hope of all Eritreans, especially Eritrean-Americans that the hand of friendship the President of Eritrea extended towards President-Elect Obama will be accepted, and we will move forward into the future.

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