The United Arab Emirates is no longer being welcomed with open arms in Eritrea despite efforts by Abu Dhabi to sweeten the diplomatic pill with humanitarian aid to combat Covid-19.
The United Arab Emirates has been providing food and medical aid to several countries affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and commanders at its Eritrean base in Assab had been hoping to extend this soft diplomacy in the Horn to Eritrea. But when they offered to donate aid to the local population in Assab, the proposal was turned down in no uncertain terms by General Teklai Kifle, aka “Manjus“, who in February took over the reins of Eastern Operation Zone 4 where the Emirati base is located.
Issayas blows hot and cold
Along with Colonel Melake Teklemariam, the chief of staff of the head of the Eritrean navy Houmed Mohamed Ahmed (aka “Karikare“), General Kifle is the Eritrean army’s interlocutor with the Emirati military, but both men are opposed to the UAE’s presence on Emirati soil. They have criticised Abu Dhabi for disregarding instructions set out by President Issayas Afeworki by having direct dealings with the local population.
The sudden deterioration in its relations with Eritrea has caught Abu Dhabi by surprise as it had been on very good terms with General Karikare when he was still capable of exercising his full duties, but that is no longer the case. Although still officially the head of the navy, he has been forced through illness to delegate sensitive dossiers to his chief of staff and is often absent for medical treatment. Indeed, thanks to his good relationship with the Emirati military, he has been receiving treatment at the hospital at their base in Assab – a state of affairs that is unlikely to be viewed positively by his subordinates…
Asmara rejects anti-Covid aid
A key plank of Abu Dhabi’s diplomatic strategy has been the provision of medical equipment to combat Covid-19 in order to consolidate its influence in several African countries and in the Horn in particular. But Eritrea has refused all donations of supplies, whether for the government or local populations, and is the only country on the continent to have turned down aid from Jack Ma, the former boss of Alibaba.