By Samuel Mahaffy (Ph.D),
THE singular exclusion of Eritrea from the invitation of African leaders to participate in the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington D.C. is misguided, inappropriate and does not serve the cause of peace and prosperity in the Horn of Africa.
The Summit, called by President Obama to be held in August 2014, is an historic opportunity for dialogue. We commend President Obama for taking this historic step. The exclusion of Eritrea from the dialogue process is unfortunate. Hank Cohen, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs has pointed out that it is “time to bring Eritrea in from the cold.”
There are compelling reasons to include Eritrea in any meaningful dialogue about fostering stronger ties between the United States and Africa. Eritrea has had significant successes in “sustainable economic growth and development”–one of the central topics of the Summit.
The exclusion of Eritrea from the invitation list is particularly illogical. Eritrea has been singled out for significant criticism for human rights violations. Yet, the Summit invitation list includes countries in the region–some bordering Eritrea–that are currently involved in imprisoning protesting students, arresting journalists, and flagrant violations of human rights.
It is time for the United States to engage in respectful dialogue with Eritrea. Analysis of events in the region show that Eritrea has the potential to be an island of stability and a partner for promoting regional peace. The call for respect for human rights should exclude no country. Neither, should the invitation to dialogue.
The exclusion of Eritrea is clearly political. It is also ill-conceived. Eritreans in the United States make significant contributions in nearly every metropolitan area. Professional Eritreans are lawyers, social workers, nurses, and caregivers. They are taxi cab drivers, restaurant owners and tax payers. In short, they are our neighbors. They are a community that contributes much to the cultural diversity that make cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington D.C., San Diego, Philadelphia and other population centers great places to live. Eritreans here, who make a great civic contribution, are disrespected by the exclusion of their homeland from the invitation to the White House.
We are initiating a petition to President Obama that he reconsider the decision to exclude Eritrea from the invitation to the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit. That petition is also being sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and to Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield who leads the Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs.
Our position is not a political one. It grows from a conviction that peace in the Horn of Africa and the continent as a whole is furthered by dialogue that is inclusive and not exclusive. The conversation about human rights and peaceful international relationships begins with opening doors and not shutting them.
We invite you to contact your U.S. Congressional Representative or the White House directly to encourage and support an inclusive dialogue that does not selectively choose to eliminate some African leaders.
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Samuel Mahaffy, Ph.D., is a Senior Advisor to Salaam Urban Village Association in consultation with Amanuel Yohannes, Executive Director of Salaam Urban Village Association. Both Samuel Mahaffy and Amanuel Yohannes were born in Eritrea and reside in the State of Washington. Samuel Mahaffy is a consultant and facilitator who has assisted more than five hundred nonprofits and NGO’s and is active in supporting immigrant and refugee families in the United States. Salaam Urban Village Association, in partnership with the East Africa Institute, is planning a visit to Eritrea to further dialogue and collaboration between Eritreans in the United States and in their homeland.