IN the same week that Japan sent a delegation to Eritrea, laying the groundwork for a new embassy there, the U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning about Eritrea painting a grim picture of Eritrea as an unstable and dangerous country. As the global community continues to open to both diplomatic missions in Eritrea and exploration of economic and trade opportunities, the question must be asked: “Is the continuing effort by the U.S. to isolate and paint a negative picture of Eritrea misguided?”
It appears to be very much the case that invisiblizing Eritrea is not contributing to peace and stability in the Horn of Africa or improving bilateral relations.
When the White House hosted the 2014 U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, Eritrea was one of only three African nations excluded from the invitation list. The Summit was a transparent effort of the United States to catch up with relationship building that China has been fostering with African nations for some time. It is time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world and seek respectful and open dialogue with Eritrea. The cause of regional peace can only be served by positive engagement with the country of Eritrea which has consistently eschewed extremist groups. Unlike neighboring countries that have demonstrated ambition for expansionist control, Eritrea has demonstrated that its focus is on maintaining the integrity of its own borders as an independent nation.
The newly released U.S. State Department warning against travel to Eritrea is a thinly veiled rehash of a systematic strategy to portray this nation in a negative light. In the process, accurate and current information and analysis are sacrificed. The misrepresentations of the state-of-affairs in Eritrea are blatant and disturbing in their inaccuracy. The implied suggestion that Eritrea has been involved in “high seas piracy” plays on Western ignorance about the region and particularly the coastal waters around the Horn of Africa. The suggestion that the capital city of Asmara is unsafe because of armed citizens roaming the streets at night does not match reports that come every week from Eritreans living in Asmara or U.S.-based Eritreans visiting the city.
While the role of the U.S. State Department to caution citizens about parts of the world where travel might be dangerous is valued and respected, broadly inaccurate portrayals of conditions in Eritrea do not serve the cause of either peace or regional stability. Instead, they simply ferment mistrust and the honest and respectful communication that must happen if there is to be peace and prosperity in the region.
It is time for the U.S. to wake up to the reality that the strategy of isolating Eritrea simply has not worked. Eritrea has one of the highest per-capita number of diplomatic missions in East Africa. Eritrea is increasingly being recognized as a stable country in a volatile and conflict-ridden region.
Eritrea is not without its faults. My recent engagement as a speaker at two gatherings of Eritreans from around the world left me with the impression that the Eritrean community and leadership are candidly open about areas where improvements are needed. By teleconference with Asmara, Eritreans asked a variety of questions that were answered in a transparent and direct way by the Office of the President of Eritrea. Positive change begins with engagement and dialogue. The strategy of isolation of Eritrea should simply be pronounced as ineffective and abandoned.
Eritrea is here to stay as an independent nation charting its own course. Respectful engagement with Eritrea is an opportunity that should no longer be missed.
– – – – – –
Dr. Samuel Mahaffy is a U.S. citizen born and raised in the country of Eritrea. He has been involved in conflict transformation work for several decades. He is an independent consultant and facilitator and writes frequently on topics relating to peacemaking and Africa on his website at www.samuelmahaffy.com