By Ray Ja Fraser,
AS MAINSTREAM hysteria about Eritrea and the recent UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report continue, Ms. Bronwyn Burton recently offered some level-headed, rational insights into both the country and the report. Bronwyn, you’ll recall, is Deputy Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. She has written extensively on Africa in general, and the Horn of Africa specifically, and several months ago gave a detailed interview about her trip to Eritrea.
While the COI report was widely covered by the mainstream press, and has led to a substantial amount of discussion regarding Eritrea, it has also come in for considerable criticism, with several detailed articles rebutting different parts of the report (see 1 , 2 , 3 , and 4). Bruton’s recent comments on the issue also suggest that the general narrative about Eritrea and the picture painted by the COI are inaccurate and quite unhelpful.
In a series of tweets, Bruton acknowledges that she recognizes the “sincerity of my human rights colleagues, but pointing fingers at decades-old problems [is] not very constructive.” She goes on to note that the COI report is “weak” on the most important issue (i.e. examining Eritrea today compared to 5, 15, or 20 years ago). Specifically, the situation in Eritrea is “fluid, not static, as implied.”
Bruton also identifies the contradictions that exist between perspectives about Eritrea from those who have been to the country and reports from outside. As such, “[p]olarized views [are] usually a sign of poor scholarship [or] hidden agendas…” As an example of the problems and inaccuracies that can arise from poor access or understanding of the situation, Bruton refers to the assumptions leading many to believe that Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts were affiliated with Al-Qaeda in 2006. Instead, as has been subsequently documented and concluded by numerous analysts and scholars, the Western-initiated intervention in Somalia, based on miscalculations, actually served to give rise to Al-Qaeda in Somalia.
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MUST LISTEN : Bronwyn Bruton on “Understanding Eritrea” (AUDIO)
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Bruton’s critiques are not only restricted to the COI, as she also criticizes the international community’s general approach to Eritrea. She correctly notes that “isolation [policies] and accusations have failed to help those suffering in Eritrea.” Consequently, it is clear that it is “time for a new approach.” Here, she points to advice she has received from Africans, suggesting that “the best way to get human rights is to put food on everyone’s table.” Last, in a telling statement that contradicts the broader narrative of Eritrea’s intransigence and inflexibility, Bruton states (as has the Eritrean government on numerous occasions), the “Eritrea [government] is ready to partner with anyone [and] everyone for economic transformation [and] the rest will follow.”
With Bruton’s comments coming on the heels of yesterday’s mass protest in Geneva (where thousands of Eritreans flocked to demonstrate against the COI process and conclusions), it has become increasingly apparent that both the COI and the general narrative about Eritrea are plagued by considerable problems.