-Accuses the West of using Eritrea’s presence in Ethiopia as a pretext
-Plans to rejoin a functional IGAD, end isolation
Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki has downplayed Eritrean troops’ involvement in the two-year war in northern Ethiopia. He also said that the West was using Eritrea as a pretext to prevent the Pretoria and Nairobi peace agreements from being carried out.
Isaias maintained his composure in the face of inquiries from reporters from the BBC, Washington Post, and AP during a stressful media conference during his unplanned two-day visit to Nairobi.
“You talk about the withdrawal or not of Eritrean troops. It is nonsense. Why are you bothered about Eritrean troops who are there or are not there, who come out or do not come out? Let us assume that the peace process in Ethiopia is proceeding without obstacles. We want to see the Pretoria and Nairobi agreements implemented on the ground for the benefit of Ethiopia and the whole region,” Isaias said.
“Do not use Eritrea as a pretext for the problems in Ethiopia and the region. Do not drag us into the situations. If you do not want these Pretoria and Nairobi agreements to be implemented, do not make Eritrea’s presence in Ethiopia a pretext. This has nothing to do with the implementation of the peace agreements,” he added.
The West is using the issue as a pretext to create conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, according to him.
Regarding the human rights violations committed by Eritrean troops during the war in northern Ethiopia and the number of Eritrean troops killed during the war, Isaias responded that it is “a fantasy.”
“Everybody is talking about human rights violations, rape, and looting. This is a fantasy in the minds of those who are manufacturing misinformation,” he said. “Go ask those who are fabricating disinformation. It is a fantasy of those who want to derail any peace process on the ground from achieving its goal.”
Isaias went on to remark that this was a waste of time and that the media is being intoxicated by these lies.
In response to a question about the number of Eritrean troops slain in the Tigray conflict and his retirement, he stated that it was not the correct question.
Isaias-led Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) consider the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a bitter enemy. Human rights groups have reported grave violations committed by Eritrean troops that crossed into Tigray to aid the Ethiopian government in its two-year conflict with the TPLF. Human rights groups and international organizations have urged that Eritrean military withdraw from Tigray.
In its February 2023 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated, “Eritrean security forces have been heavily involved in operations in support of the Ethiopian government since the outbreak of conflict in November 2020 and have carried out some of the conflict’s worst abuses.”
Eritrean forces have committed large-scale massacres, pillaging, and the most heinous forms of sexual violence in Tigray, as well as targeting civilian infrastructure, killing and raping Eritrean refugees, and destroying two Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray, according to the report.
The HRW demanded that the Eritrean government be held accountable for the atrocities.
After Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power in April 2018, Asmara and Addis Ababa ended their decades-long impasse.
The relationship between Isaias and Abiy has stalled since the Pretoria agreement, which the federal government and the TPLF signed on November 2, 2022, putting an end to the two-year war.
William Ruto (PhD), the President of Kenya who was elected in September 2022, has already made a name for himself in the Horn of Africa and has become a peacemaker between the difficult diplomatic relations between the governments of the region and western powers.
Political observers, however, think Isaias latest trip to Kenya was mostly intended to settle a simmering dispute between Asmara and Addis Ababa.
Along with breaking Eritrea’s isolation, Ruto is dedicated to normalizing relations with the region and the rest of the world. During their most recent encounter, Ruto told Isaias to open a Kenyan Embassy in Asmara. Isaias last traveled to Kenya in 2018.
The two nations decided to develop comprehensive plans on agricultural, air travel, investment, trade, mining, energy, and regional integration during his most recent visit to Kenya last week, according to Ruto.
Additionally, the two nations decided to permanently abolish visa requirements.
Isaias contends that the integration and inclusion of the entire East African region are necessary for the implementation of the bilateral accords. He promised to reevaluate Eritrea’s membership in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as a result.
“We have to work harder and faster to compensate for what we have lost in the past two decades. We need to reconsider our membership in IGAD. I readily say there is no question about that. We are coming back to IGAD with the idea of revitalizing this regional integration organization,” he said.
Eritrea cannot achieve its bilateral agreements in the region without the broader integration vision of the region, according to Isayas. “We also need a functional, real organization for the region. Otherwise, goodwill and ideals cannot be productive. We need a functional and result-oriented regional organization.”
However, officials of IGAD The Reporter reached out to claim there has not been an official request made by Eritrea to rejoin IGAD so far and that there is also no clear path for how the return will be processed.
“Usually, it is the foreign ministries of the member countries that process such issues. It is not clear how Isaias directly made the statement. Of course, Isaias also went to Nairobi for other issues. Basically, Ruto promised, when he was elected, to bring Eritrea back to IGAD. Now Isaias says he will reconsider it. So basically, it is Ruto’s initiative,” an IGAD official said.
Eritrea’s return to IGAD will be very good for the peace and stability of the Horn of Africa, according to the official. The official also says it is not clear what Isaias wanted to imply, referring to his statement about the need for “revitalizing” and making IGAD a “functional organization.”
Abebe Muluneh (Com.), head of the IGAD Security Sector Program, says not much procedure is required for Eritrea to rejoin the regional bloc. “Ruto and Isayas discussed the issue at the head of state level. Isaias said he is reconsidering joining IGAD. Basically, Eritrea suspended itself from IGAD. They can be present at the next IGAD general assembly and reactivate their membership.”
Eritrea left IGAD for the first time in 2007 due to differences with Addis Ababa. Despite rejoining the IGAD in 2011, Eritrea’s officials departed the bloc during a meeting in Addis Ababa. There were attempts to rejoin in 2018, but it did not materialize.
Nonetheless, IGAD officials believe Eritrea’s return to the regional bloc appears genuine and will materialize.