Author: Daniel R. Mekonnen,a post-doctoral researcher at the Human Rights Centre at Ghent University - 1 March 2009
TheEuropean Development Fund (EDF) of the European Commission (EC) is soon to consider the country strategy paper for Eritrea which allows for the donation of 122 million Euro to Eritrea. This issue has regenerated a heated debate in the Eritrean Diaspora communities and among other stakeholders. The importance of development and humanitarian aid that flows to countries with impoverished population groups, such as Eritrea, is incontrovertible. Equally, it is important to revisit the fundamental guiding principles that govern development cooperation.
According to the Cotonou Agreement, EU development cooperation with the developing world should always give due consideration to respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law. Seen against this background, the quite diplomacy of the EU in its relations with Eritrea is proving counter-productive. It runs foul of the fundamental principles by which the EU is guided.
When dealing with the Eritrean government, the EU should realise that this is a government which is ruling a country that does not have a working (operative) constitution, a functioning parliament, an independent judiciary and free press, to say the least. Worst of all, the country has never seen free and fair elections since its independence in 1991 and some conservative estimates indicate that there are currently more than 20,000 victims of detention without trial and enforced disappearance in the country. These are indisputable factual situations which are incongruent with democratic governance, the furtherance of which is boldly decorated in the Cotonou Agreement.
A brief contrastive analysis needs to be drawn here between Eritrea and Zimbabwe to assess the attention given to the human rights crises in the two countries by the EU. Undoubtedly, there is a clear case of European double standard as regards the treatment of Isaias Afwerki and Robert Mugabe, because the Eritrean human rights crisis (fortunately or unfortunately) does not involve the element of race. As put by one Eritrean writer, Mugabe is unwelcome in Europe for rigging or stealing elections in 2002 and 2008, while Afwerki surprisingly has never allowed elections to rig or not to rig; and yet he is sometimes regarded as the darling of some EU officials who said they were “very, very honoured” to receive him at the EU headquarters in 2007.
At this point in time, the EU should only focus on humanitarian aid that should be donated in the form of food aid to needy population groups. This shall be donated via impartial monitoring mechanisms to be implemented by international NGOs, not the local GONGOs such as NUEYS, NUEW, NCEW, etc. If the EU decides to provide unconditional development aid (in cash) despite legal, political and practical concerns, it can only do so at the risk of compromising its own long-held principles on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The insatiable political adventurism of the ruling elite, which has caused not only national mayhem but also regional havoc in the entire Horn of Africa, should not be embolden by unconditional development aid that sends all the wrong messages. We are talking about a government which “delights in the misery of its own people.” Since the disgraceful dismissal by Eritrea of the Italian Ambassador to Eritrea (who was also the EU representative in Eritrea) in 2001, quite diplomacy proved inherently futile. There is no reason to believe why appeasement would be effective in the future.