In an interview this week with Reuters, the Eritrean President commented on the situation in Somalia. For the past month or so interest in this conflict has waned, however, Western interest in the Eritrean connection has risen. The Government of Eritrea for some time has refuted and dismissed accusations suggesting they have been sending arms to Somalia by the US State Department, and United Nations Security Council. As of late, the UK has added its voice to this discordant chorus, and today a new bit of information has come forth. Apparently (according to the UN Security Council) Eritrea is providing $200,000 – $500,000 dollars a month to Somalia.1
Granted Eritrea is a small country with limited resources, but to counter the armed might of the African Union peace keepers and tens of tons of munitions provided by the United States, I would be hard pressed to conclude that a few hundred thousand dollars a month could provide an armed force with enough might to bring the Government of Somalia (and yes I do use this term generously) as well as the AU peace keepers to their knees. But this simple logic is not all President Isayas surprised the interviewer (Jeremy Clarke) with, instead, he suggested that those really to blame for the continued violence in Somalia were none other than: Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia.2
Now before we go into the awfully prompt response provided via Voice of America, we must consider this important accusation. How or why would Djibouti and Kenya involve themselves in this conflict? (I discuss Ethiopia’s involvement here ) For Djibouti, a truly miniscule city-state, sharply divided by two tribes, the Issa and Afar of which the President is of the former. The Issa are Somali, however, due to historical circumstance, Djibouti is a separate state. The conflicts in Somalia proper have affected Djibouti by forcing shippers to consider alternate routes, missing the Port of Djibouti as a transhipment hub. As a member of IGAD originally opposed to the sending of military forces into Somalia, Djibouti reversed its position and decided that the sending of troops would be vital to stabilizing the country so that the sea lanes would be safe once more. Similarly with Kenya, the main concern was the flow of refugees into what has been a growing refugee problem. In particular the impoverished nature of the refugees makes them susceptible to the calls of extremists.
Kenya, and its neighbor Tanzania have had experience with extremists in the past, however, now the concern is not as much from terrorism but territorial perspective. The only idea that has united the various Somali factions has been nationality, however, oddly, especially for Africa, this has been based on a trans-border ethnic identity. Somalis are found throughout northeastern Kenya, eastern Ethiopia and Djibouti (Somalia goes without question), and the Somali identity that is being appealed to by the Somali rebels is thus particularly concerning for those governments. Particularly in Kenya where ethnic violence is so fresh in their minds.
Thus we can be sure that President Isayas was not simply making an off-hand remark, but a carefully studied argument. Is argument however was dismissed without so much as a justification by the Djiboutian Ambassador to the United Nations.3 We will now attempt to parse the admittedly daft Ambassador by deducing what he meant to say. The following three quotes are taken from the previously mentioned piece on VOA:
- “They’ve been behind the insurgency and fueling chaos and fomenting troubles and training and arming, funneling, funding, so there are all kinds of accusations against them.”
- The first thing to recognize with this particular quote is the disingenuity. Consider that the same person who is now in Premier of Somalia’s TFG was in Djibouti as a rebel leader. Of course Eritrea supports (politically and logistically but not militarily as it has said) the rebels, but in the same vein they have also supported members of the Government. Eritrea’s stance is to support the Somali people in building a durable peace.
- In the same way didn’t the US do the same thing? Arming, training, and funding the Government? It is simply that one does not recognize the other, similarly Eritrea does not support the TFG’s authority as it is not a Government representing the will of the Somalis (nor was its predecessor).
- “Who is listening to Asmara? Who is giving credibility to Asmara and who is going to justify that statement? They are saying the obvious (because) what is accused against them is what they try always to deflect and say on others.”
- The logic of the Ambassador here: “I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!” Unacceptable, as an Ambassador it is your duty to represent your people with dignity, in this regard it seems the Ambassador failed.
- “There is nothing to justify that Djibouti is doing anything, and we don’t have to defend ourselves on that because this is the very first statement by somebody who is indicted and who has been totally accused and condemned of his activities in Somalia.”
- Interestingly it is Djibouti that should likely answer for stirring the pot in Somalia as it was responsible for the split in the only broad-based, unifying movement in Somalia since the collapse of their central Government in 1991.
- Of most serious concern with this comment however, is the obvious lie. It could be disguised as nothing else, as the President of Eritrea nor his Government have been indicted in regards to Somalia for any reason.
Obviously the comments by the Djiboutian Ambassador were rushed out and not entirely thought through as they don’t hold up to even basic scrutiny. It is unfortunate that the President of Eritrea’s analysis of the situation in Somalia did not have the Djiboutian Ambassador pause and consider his words closely. What is more disturbing however, is that this very well may have been a result of his consideration.