During a recent trip to a popular local café in the heart of Asmara, Eritrea I met a tourist from a large Western country. As we sipped on rich, strong coffee, we discussed a variety of topics, ranging from history and the weather to culture, art, and sport. Our wide-ranging discussion also touched upon politics and the generally poor state of reporting by Western mainstream media. It was during this portion of our extended and lively conversation that the visitor explained that they were genuinely flummoxed and increasingly troubled by how so much of the reporting and discourse that they had been exposed to prior to their arrival in our nation had been extremely negative and, as they could now clearly see and judge for themselves first-hand, blatantly wrong. It was, to use their exact words, “as if Eritrea had been targeted.”
For 40 years, Eritrean Festivals have been held around the world to sustain the diaspora community’s connections to their homeland and to one another. But this year, a violent, well-coordinated international campaign of sabotage left festival goers badly injured and property damaged. Major Western media reported the pogrom-style attacks as “clashes,” “riots,” “fights” and “violence” in a way that implied these had broken out between two sides, masking the reality – that hooligans had attacked peaceful festival goers. They also implied that the violence was warranted because Eritrea is run by a “repressive” government on the wrong side of the new Cold War.
United States plans for aggression and disruptions abroad are developed by current and former officials whose names may not be well known. They often leave government positions to become fellows at a plethora of think tanks that are connected to high level policy makers. It is important to know what they are saying, as their words have an impact on US foreign policy decisions. Michael Rubin is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) , the rightwing think tank in Washington, DC, that mostly disseminates a neoconservative interventionist agenda, and where Rubin spends his time churning out misleading information and lies about the Red Sea State of Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. Rubin was a Pentagon staffer from 2002 to 2004, and an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority during America’s disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003.
As someone who spends a lot of time studying African conflict, I often witness and find myself drawn into discussion with groups demanding that “the international community” do something to stop genocide and mass atrocities in their country. Of course I sympathize with any community under attack because of their racial, ethnic, clan, national, class, or political identity, but why would anyone in Africa or elsewhere in the Global South expect “the international community”—meaning the US-dominated West—to stop genocide and mass atrocities? The US dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan even though the Allies had already won WWII in the Pacific, turned Korea and Vietnam into human barbecue pits during the 50s and 60s, and overthrew or attempted to overthrow 47 governments between 1949 and 2014.
Western officials and pundits never stop trying to drive a wedge between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Their screams that Eritrea must get out of Ethiopia have grown louder and louder every day since Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace agreement to end the two-year civil war. The US should get out of Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and outer space before it brings an end to life on earth, but of course that’s not on the table. Instead we hear that the Ethiopian peace agreement is likely to collapse if Eritrean troops don’t leave Ethiopia. Biden, Blinken, and rabid pro-TPLF Congressmen like Brad Sherman, D-CA, continue to threaten Ethiopia, but even more so Eritrea, with sanctions.
The Ethiopian and Eritrean armies now seem close to winning a two-year war with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF,) a US-backed clique that ruled Ethiopia brutally for 27 years, from 1991 to 2018. As I write this, on October 24, 2022, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces are in control of most major cities in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region. They are reported to have surrounded Mek’ele, the Tigrayan Region’s capital, but it’s not clear whether or not they are inside. On Saturday, October 22nd, huge crowds rallied for Ethiopian sovereignty in Addis Ababa and across the country, holding up signs that read “No More to a Proxy War,” “USA Respect Ethiopian Sovereignty,” and “No Intervention in the Name of Humanitarian Aid.” Establishment outlets including the Associated Press and Bloomberg News felt compelled to report the rallies.
Events in Ethiopia continue to rapidly develop. Ethiopian federal forces have taken control of a string of major towns and cities in Tigray Region in recent days, and they are now reported be on the outskirts of Mekelle, the regional capital. The city’s airport, located some kilometers from the heart of the capital, was taken over by federal forces on Tuesday evening following fierce fighting. Meanwhile, high-level delegations from both the Ethiopian government and the TPLF have reportedly flown to South Africa for much-anticipated peace talks. Like all conflicts, the one that has been raging in northern Ethiopia during the past two years has been fought both on the ground and along the information front. Within the latter battle, a recurring, ever-present element has been disinformation.
As I scroll through my cell phone snapshots, I come across one taken several days ago from the back seat of a bajaj, aka “tuk tuk,” one of the three-wheeled blue taxis in service all over Ethiopia. Drivers decorate these vehicles with their favorite decals, including the phrases “#NoMore” and “It’s My Dam,” images of Ethiopian Emperors Menelik and Tewodros, and the image of Bob Marley. The driver of this bajaj had affixed a red, green, and gold “RASTA” decal to one side of his front window and a red, green, and gold cannabis leaf decal to the other. Emperor Haile Selassie gave land to a Rasta community in Ethiopia, but smoking the sacred herb is still illegal. This is one of many things I still don't understand here.
I had no idea until today that International Workers’ Day is a national holiday in Eritrea. I missed the celebrations because I was rushing to the airport to get from Addis Ababa to Asmara, the Eritrean capital, but today I took a cell phone snap of the banner “Long Live May 1 International Workers’ Day” still hanging outside a park. It’s no surprise that the US has done everything it can to turn a nation that celebrates International Workers’ Day into a pariah state. Free education through college and subsidized health care don’t suit its neoliberal model either, nor does its determination to negotiate fair prices for its considerable natural resources. Eritrea may have most offended US policymakers, however, by its defiance of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the US puppet that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist from 1991 to 2018, then started the ongoing Ethiopian war by attacking the nation’s Northern Command base in Tigray Region in November 2020.
The word “sanctions” emerged in the Middle Ages, meaning ecclesiastical decrees. Today it’s a sanctimonious word for economic warfare, including even outright theft. Despite all the terror about what could happen in Ukraine next, Afghans are still facing freezing cold and starvation and the US has seized—not just frozen but seized—their $7 billion in assets on deposit at the Federal Reserve. And Ethiopia and Eritrea face brutal sanctions in House Resolution 6600. The US has imposed sanctions on roughly a third of the world’s population , most famously now on Russia, but more on developing nations than not. In mid-February a bill to impose new sanctions on Ethiopia and Eritrea, House Resolution 6600 , moved out of the House Foreign Relations Committee onto the House floor.
The motives behind US aggression towards Ethiopia have not been altogether clear. Is it simply that they lost their long standing puppet government led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front? Competition with China? Or is it the regional Tripartite Agreement between Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, which poses too much independence from US global hegemony? Ethiopia borders both Eritrea and Somalia, and Eritrea has made its Red Sea ports available to Ethiopia since leaders of the two countries negotiated peace in 2018. Together, Eritrea and Somalia share a combined coastline of 2,672 miles in one of the most strategic corners of the world, on the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean.
On December 23, Ethiopian government’s Minister of Communication Service, Legesse Tulu, announced that all parts of eastern Amhara and the entire Afar state have been liberated from the occupation of the US-backed Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF, which started the civil war in November 2020 by attacking a federal army base in Tigray state’s capital city Mekelle, had invaded these two neighboring states after the federal government’s unilateral ceasefire on June 29.
In the last few months, the left media outlets from various camps, in their sincere attempts to demonstrate solidarity and spotlight conflict in the Horn of Africa and internal developments in Ethiopia, got it wrong. They have been uncritically centering active ideological players on two opposing camps. The significant focus on the TPLF attacks on Eritrea, its invasion of Afar and the Amhara region, and its existence as a willing proxy actor of Washington was correct. They got it wrong, however, in their uncritical framing of neoliberal Abiy. They have chosen to over-amplify the Abiy camp’s reactionary narrative on the long ideological internal struggle concerning the path forward for Ethiopia and the Horn.