The leaders of Eritrea, in a reflection of the Eritrean people, strive for regional and international cooperation. This goal is outlined as the sixth goal of the Eritrean National Charter. Specifically, to coexist in harmony and contribute, within its means to global peace, security and development.
For many years, in particular the last 12 years, Eritrea has been accused of being isolationist. This is clearly contrary to the goal of contributing to global peace and development. Indeed, this is likely a misunderstanding of the fifth principle from the Eritrean National Charter, which is self-reliance. In fact, the Charter specifically notes, “Self-reliance does not mean to isolate oneself from the international community.” Clearly, the Third Congress of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice anticipated this sort of criticism and made a clear and unambiguous statement to the contrary. A similar sentiment is included in both Articles 8 & 13 of the Constitution of Eritrea (1997).1
Self-reliance does not mean self-sufficiency, instead it means that one must develop its capabilities internally and consider critically all ideas for implementations. This occasionally means that recommendations from abroad are considered and rejected because they are found unsatisfactory. The intent of such a policy is not denigration of the others but rather promoting the national and thus social objectives of Eritrea.
These misunderstandings lead to a great deal of frustration by Eritreans around the world because this misunderstanding can easily be confused. Although many Eritreans who follow the politics of their homeland are used to such considerations, for the parachute reporter or newly interested, it can be confounding. Emblematic of this type of misunderstanding is Eritrea’s request for USAID to wrap up its mission in Eritrea.2 To the uninitiated this would seem counter-intuitive, after all the express mission of USAID is “improving lives in the developing world.”3 The picture however shifts when one understand that Eritrea would rather have a relationship based on trade and not aid.4 Similar comments by the Minister of National Development express the same commitment with United States can be frustrated by its involvement in the region:
“We want a much stronger and more focused relationship in development with the government of the USA … There are other avenues apart from USAid where cooperation can flourish. The non-resolution of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border issue is negatively affecting the necessary cooperation and work coordination between Eritrea and the United States.”5
Such a misunderstanding within the framework of the above comments is impossible, however – it does require a more than cursory understanding of the political landscape. Such misunderstandings however occur in the opposite direction.
As described earlier, the Eritrean National Charter clearly calls on Eritrea and the community of nations to abide by all international laws and agreements in the spirit of cooperation. In 2000 when Eritrea signed both a truce and the Algiers Agreement. Since the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission in 2002 Eritreans have been waiting for its enforcement. Although in technical effect, the Government of Ethiopia has persisted in its rejection.6 The leaders of Eritrea and the people of Eritrea had a misunderstanding of international law, perceiving it to be fair and the implementation would be compelled by the international community. To date, it has been ignored and demonized by the international community.
Eritreans continue, however to regard international cooperation as a key objective. One might say that Eritreans are eternally romantically spellbound by interaction in community of nations in spite of history.