Monday’s critical hearing will shape American policy towards the Horn – Sanctions against Eritrea need to be on the table

Speaking to the US Senate

On Monday the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a closed meeting to hear a report-back from President Biden’s Horn of Africa Special Envoy, Jeffrey Feltman and other top officials.

The session is entitled: “Challenges and Opportunities for the United States in the Horn of Africa.”

Since it will be a closed meeting we will only learn what is being proposed from briefings after the event, but there are already some pointers.

First: Feltman has just come to the end of a long tour of the region. He travelled to Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia from May 4 to 13, 2021.

His public objectives were spelled out and can be seen  in full below. Essentially, he was aiming to solve the war in Tigray, keep the Sudanese democracy programme on track, end the dispute between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt over the Nile as well as solve the Ethiopia-Sudan conflict over the al-Fashaga triangle. No mean objectives!

We know that his travels included Eritrea, where he sat down with President Isaias for three hours. He also held a meeting with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister.

Second: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has repeatedly spelled out American frustrations at Eritrea’s refusal to leave Tigray. He did so once again on Saturday, 15th May.

As Blinken said: “The continued presence of Eritrean forces in Tigray further undermines Ethiopia’s stability and national unity. We again call upon the Government of Eritrea to remove its forces from Tigray. Both Eritrean and Ethiopian authorities have repeatedly promised such a withdrawal, but we have seen no movement towards implementation.”

Third: It is now nearly two months since Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed said that Eritrean forces would leave Tigray. There is – as the Americans rightly observe – no sign of this happening. So how can it be brought about?

Sanctions – an essential part of the diplomatic toolkit

The only way of persuading President Isaias that the US and the EU mean business is to hit Eritrea’s sources of external funding.

The Eritrean diaspora has – for years – been forced to pay for President Isaias’s foreign adventures and subsidise his domestic repression. The notorious 2% tax is extracted from members of the diaspora. So too are taxes to pay for Covid and the military. Failure to pay up results in threats, abuse and a severing of all services by the Eritrean state.

The Dutch showed the way – expelling Eritrea’s top diplomat to make it clear that this would not be tolerated.

Canada took the same step in 2013. In 2007 the United States closed the Eritrean consulate in Oakland, California for funneling weapons to Islamists in Somalia.

The 2% tax – and how it has been extracted from Eritreans living abroad has been carefully studied. A Dutch report showed how this happened in Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Britain.

The US and the EU need to lead the way: Stop the 2% tax and cut funding for Eritrea’s war in Tigray

Source: US State Department

Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman has just completed his first visit to the region as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, traveling to Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia from May 4 to 13, 2021.

The Horn of Africa is at an inflection point, and the decisions that are made in the weeks and months ahead will have significant implications for the people of the region as well as for U.S. interests. The United States is committed to addressing the interlinked regional crises and to supporting a prosperous and stable Horn of Africa in which its citizens have a voice in their governance and governments are accountable to their citizens.

A sovereign and united Ethiopia is integral to this vision. Yet we are deeply concerned about increasing political and ethnic polarization throughout the country. The atrocities being perpetrated in Tigray and the scale of the humanitarian emergency are unacceptable. The United States will work with our international allies and partners to secure a ceasefire, end this brutal conflict, provide the life-saving assistance that is so urgently needed, and hold those responsible for human rights abuses and violations accountable. The crisis in Tigray is also symptomatic of a broader set of national challenges that have imperiled meaningful reforms. As Special Envoy Feltman discussed with Prime Minister Abiy and other Ethiopian leaders, these challenges can most effectively be addressed through an inclusive effort to build national consensus on the country’s future that is based on respect for the human and political rights of all Ethiopians. The presence of Eritrean forces in Ethiopia is antithetical to these goals. In Asmara, Special Envoy Feltman underscored to President Isaias Afwerki the imperative that Eritrean troops withdraw from Ethiopia immediately.

The political transition in Sudan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that can serve as an example for the region. As Special Envoy Feltman underscored to Sudan’s leadership, the United States will continue to support that country’s ongoing transition to democracy so that Sudan can claim its place as a responsible regional actor after three decades as a destabilizing force. We are also committed to working with international partners to facilitate resolution of regional flash points—such as the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and conflict on Sudan’s borders—so they do not undermine the fragile progress made since the revolution.

As Special Envoy Feltman discussed with leaders in Addis Ababa, Cairo, and Khartoum, Egypt and Sudan’s concerns over water security and the safety and operation of the dam can be reconciled with Ethiopia’s development needs through substantive and results-oriented negotiations among the parties under the leadership of the African Union, which must resume urgently. We believe that the 2015 Declaration of Principles signed by the parties and the July 2020 statement by the AU Bureau are important foundations for these negotiations, and the United States is committed to providing political and technical support to facilitate a successful outcome.

The Special Envoy will return to the region in short order to continue an intensive diplomatic effort on behalf of President Biden and Secretary Blinken.



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