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

Eritrea Ethiopia

(Source: Eritrea Hub, By Martin Plaut) – 

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 Corvid 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.


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