As the Obama Administration threatens to punish Eritrea for its involvement in strife stricken Somalia, there are reports of an assassination attempt on the life of President Isayas Afewerki. Quoting sources from inside the ocuntry, two Eritrean Diaspora websites, Assenna and Asmarino, said the attack on the president’s vehicle occurred on August 13 on the road between Asmara and the Red Sea port of Massawa. The president was said to be unharmed. The sources describe the attacker as 43 year-old member of the national army, First Lieutenant Daniel Habte Yihdego. He was killed on the spot by presidential guards. The alleged attempt would come as no surprise to Eritreans and foreign observers given the government’s brutal and repressive policies. The Eritrean government has denied the report.
Meanwhile, there is a lull in Eritrea’s criticism against US policy on Somalia following Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s serious threats of counter measures against the Asmara government. “We intend to take action” if Eritrea refused to “cease and desist”, said Clinton earlier this month in Nairobi as she began her seven nation African tour. She did not rule out the use of military force against Eritrea over and above political and economic sanctions if Asmara refused to stop its backing of Al-Qaeda linked Al Shabab. Clinton regards Al-Shabab’s military successes in Somalia as a threat to US national security.
A few days after the US warning, the Eritrean government website, Shabait.com, announced the arrival in Asmara of Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi’s special envoy for talks with President Isayas. Shabait said the envoy delivered Gaddafi’s message inviting the Eritrean leader to take part in the AU conflict resolution summit in Libya next month. It is also thought that the envoy would have conveyed Gaddafi’s concern over US threats against the Isayas’s government based on his own bitter experience with Washington in the past. In retaliation against Gaddafi’s anti-American activities, US President Reagan unleashed the biggest air strike against Libya in April 1986 bombing selected targets in Tripoli including military bases, oil refineries and Khadafy's residence itself.
The Libyan envoy’s trip to Asmara coincided with the news report in StrategyPage.com on August 12 stating that the Obama Administration had appointed a special envoy to “deal with Eritrea”. According to the report, the US objective is to get Eritrea to stop supporting Al Shabab and other armed insurgents battling for the control of Somalia.
This is America’s carrot approach which sympathizes with some issues relating to Eritrea’s position on its unresolved dispute with Ethiopia. Eritrea’s support of Al Shabab and other armed groups such as the Ogaden (Somali) Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front is aimed at weakening its political rival and arch-foe, Premier Meles Zenawi’s government in Ethiopia. It is very unlikely the US will be able to reconcile the bitter rifts between the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaderships. The Obama Administration will, therefore, not be able to go beyond sympathy for the Eritrean demand for the immediate return of the town of Badme to Eritrea in accoridance with a UN resolution.
At any rate, Eritrea’s support of Somalia’s Islamist extremism on the one side and its lingering dispute with Ethiopia are not related. As such, the US may find no other option but to take action against Eritrea if it fails to cooperate in the effort to curb the growing Al Qaeda and Al Shabab influence in the Horn of Africa.
By making Somalia a national interest issue, the Eritrean government has managed to divert public attention away from its brutal domestic policies where torture and slave labor are the order of the day. In a letter to the British Guardian newspaper (guardian.co.uk) on August 1, 2009, Andy Gregg, a long-time supporter of the Eritrean independence struggle against Ethiopia, says he is “horrified and ashamed by the brutal regime that is now terrorizing the entire Eritrean population, both inside and outside the country”.
The assassination attempt on the life of the Eritrean President by one of his own army officers clearly signifies the people’s anger and resentment against terror and tyranny. It is futile to think that the government will ever contribute to peace and security in Somalia and the rest of the Horn region unless it first brings justice and freedom to its own people.