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Tracing Bias in Yet Another anti-Eritrea Hit Piece

Metkel Sewra

In his August 1 article titled, Tracing the emergence of Eritrea as the Horn’s biggest strategic power, published as an Opinion piece in Kenya’s Nation website, Professor Peter Kagwanja pulls no punches in his overly presumptuous anti-Eritrea diatribe.

He begins his hit piece with an awkward two-point “What you need to know” sub-headline in which he highlights, out of context and as the end-all score card, the issue of delayed elections. In the first place, actual context and rationale are critical parameters here as the impediments stemmed from extenuating circumstances rather than ideological positions. In any case, this point has been increasingly dismissed by several African scholars as being a non-starter when evaluating a leadership’s track record on matters concerning nation-building and development. Instead, they argue, one must look at socioeconomic results registered over time that tangibly affect the lives of the population with the aim of positioning the country on solid foundations towards political, economic and social transformation.

As far as Eritrea is concerned, one only needs to look at the endless list of successful development projects, health and education statistics, efforts aimed at land and water conservation, food security, the contextualizing of national laws, the guaranteeing of social and economic rights previously denied to women, and many other robust and fact-based examples, to realize that the country’s leadership has, in very practical terms, registered very impressive socioeconomic results that have positively affected the lives of its population, starting with the sections of society that were most affected by decades of imposed wars. This is all documented and corroborated in various objective reports.

Unfortunately, Professor Kagwanja’s blinkered bias does not allow him to discuss any of this. Fortunately for the reader, however, the regurgitation of the most overplayed chords in the first few lines of the article give away the Professor’s intentions, which is why one would be forgiven to dismiss this as yet another sloppy “analysis” by someone who is more concerned with publishing something, anything, rather than presenting nuanced scholarship that takes into consideration the sequence of events of the past three decades.

He rehashes several debunked falsehoods such as Eritrea “supporting al-Shabaab militants” and arrogantly paints President Isaias Afwerki as a “ruthless strategist” who has “weaved” a Tripartite Alliance with Ethiopia and Somalia for motives other than securing the peace and stability that the people of this rich and very strategic region have been denied for far too long, at no fault of their own.

It would be a mute exercise to rebut every point made because in a way such “analyses” will keep mushrooming as long as there is appetite for scholarship that roots itself in bias and selective history. It is necessary, however, to flag a few glaring issues to show just how unconstructive this sort of thinking really is.

First, a direct rebuttal to the good Professor’s “What you need to know” opening statement with a fact-based what you really need to know about Eritrea:

Its leadership’s consistent and documented pronouncements advocating and actively working for peace, stability, and cooperation based on respect and common interests in the Horn of Africa and beyond, have been deliberately buried under a mammoth rubble of disinformation aimed at casting it as a “pariah”, a “spoiler”, a “North Korea of Africa”, a “hermit kingdom”.

In reality, the country’s only sin has been standing in the way of sinister interests and schemes for this immensely rich and strategic Horn of Africa region, and the continent at large. Its foreign policy is anchored on sustainable and pragmatic regional, continental and global collaborations that go beyond lip-service and are based on mutual respect, self-reliance, often misconstrued as isolation, and social justice.

Two further points are worth challenging. First, Professor Kagwanja’s discussion of the conflicts with Yemen and Ethiopia. The cherry-picking of events and deliberate omission of key facts that give the full context for each event mentioned betray the Professor’s unfortunate aim of misleading his readers.

In the first case, he affectedly mentions a ruling against Eritrea without mentioning the fact that the country’s leadership fully accepted the court’s judgement and took no time to abide by its decision even though it had vast historical proof to challenge the outcome.  Indeed, President Isaias sent a letter of congratulations to the people of Yemen and Eritrea withdrew its troops from the Hanish Islands in a record three week time, although the Court Ruling advised Eritrea to do so within three months of the verdict. 

In the “dispute with Ethiopia”, however, the good Professor very conveniently omits the fact that a ruling in favor of Eritrea – a ruling that set Badme squarely within its sovereign territories – was defiantly ignored for 18 years by the TPLF setting the stage for a very long and bitter “no war, no peace” situation in which Eritrea’s very existence as a nation was constantly threatened, forcing it to put on hold many of its own priorities, including elections. This flaunting of international law went unchecked by the guarantors of the ruling and the TPLF was emboldened, as it is now, to hold the entire region hostage for almost two decades.

How is that for bias? There is more.

In his discussion about the current Law and Order Operation in Ethiopia, Professor Kagwanja assumes very lowly of his readers as he states that Eritrea is supporting an “agenda of dismantling federalism”. This would be laughable if it were not so dangerous and deliberate in its aim to whitewash one of the biggest crimes TPLF committed against its own population, the whole of Ethiopia. Had Professor Kagwanja been serious about offering a useful analysis, he would have mentioned that the very twisted version of “federalism” deliberately installed by the TPLF created such destructive subterranean ethnic divisions leading to the loss of countless innocent lives. It is this division and hate based politics that Ethiopians, under the current leadership, are now fully committed to uprooting and restoring in its place a sense of oneness and belonging that Ethiopians are known for on the African continent.  Adherence to fundamental principles of unity with diversity; appropriate state configurations that guarantee equity of all the diverse constituents in a given country are broad notions that Eritrea subscribes too. The formulation and evolution of the actual modalities are matters within the purview of the concerned State.

Lastly, in an astonishing stretch to the finish line of a piece that has no historical or factual coherence – and one might add nothing of constructive significance to present its readers – Professor Kagwanja makes an outlandish demand from two sovereign states. He exclaims: “For the sake of democracy and stability in the Horn, Eritrea should withdrawal its troops from Ethiopia.”

First, and as has been repeated ad nauseum by Ethiopians all across the national spectrum, Ethiopia is a sovereign country whose affairs – including military cooperation – can only be dictated by its own leadership and people. Secondly, security pacts between countries that share borders and choose to work together to safeguard peace are a matter of preserving stability and protecting their citizenry from unprovoked attacks. Professor Kagwanja’s bizarre demand would have been better directed at countries that cross oceans and continents to install “democracy” and “stability” rather than neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa.

Fortunately for Eritreans, and by extension the people of the Horn of Africa, except of course the few who profit from chaos and instability, the events since the signing of the Peace Agreement with Ethiopia in 2018 and the subsequent lifting of the unsubstantiated sanctions imposed on its leadership and people, as well as the events since November 2020, where the real spoiler, the TPLF, has come to light, have fully vindicated the country – both its resilient people and forward-looking leadership.

The country’s track record of fighting off decades of unprovoked attacks and hostility, all while using every drop of its own resources to build a nation fit for every last one of its citizens, is slowly emerging and challenging narratives such as the one presented by Professor Peter Kagwanja of the Africa Policy Institute. Furthermore, countless African scholars are beginning realize that their skewed opinions regarding Eritrea and Eritreans were the result of a very deliberate disinformation campaign unleashed in powerful waves since 1998.

They are slowly beginning to appreciate, as evident in very practical terms, Eritreans’ desire to live in peace with all neighboring countries.

In this vein, one would hope that Professor Kagwanja would eventually come around to distancing himself from such thinking that caused him to pen this unfortunate hit piece and instead offer the Horn of Africa constructive and practical arguments that would contribute to the consolidation of peace and stability and root out the real pariahs in our region.

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