Fighting or flirting, elephants continue to trample on the grass By Kiflu Hussain
On 18 August Douglas Mpuga who hosts a talk show called Reporters Roundtable on VOA put me on air to pick my brain regarding Isaias Afwerki, President of Eritrea’s apparent change of heart to come out of the diplomatic freeze which was partly self-imposed. On the show were Suleiman Mugula an independent political analyst based in Durban and Charles Mwanguhya a political editor for Daily Monitor as well as host of Hot Seat on KFM.Seizing the occasion that brought Afwerki to Kampala, all of us in the show agreed on the ulterior motive that drove these strongmen from the Horn and the Great Lakes to meddle in Somalia under various pretexts. While Suleiman described Afwerki’s visit by equating it with Museveni’s earlier so-journ in Kigali as a “fence mending campaign,” Charles expressed his optimism on the possibility of “a glimmer of hope” for Somalia that has been ravaged by a civil and “proxy war”/my description of Afwerki’s opposite stance in Somalia from his former secessionist bosom friend,Zenawi of Ethiopia who outwitted him by ingratiating himself to the West/.Due to time constraints in the half hour talk show, none of us elaborated on how the two former comrades pitted Ethiopians and Eritreans in a bloody war in 1998-2000 after promising that the “liberation” of Eritrea from Ethiopia would seal the fate of all warmongers in the region, thus closing all venues for war drumming. Again time was not our best ally for one of us to highlight the speculation that Museveni may attempt to bring the two rulers together whom he described once as his “brothers in Ethiopia and Eritrea” so that they “mend fences” like he did with his counterparts in Rwanda.
Unfortunately, irrespective of a fence mending campaign, the travails of the region is far from over. To begin with, even if our rulers manage to put aside their bickering, there is no guarantee that it won’t be short lived like Ethiopia’s former dictator Mengistu Hailemariam and the late Gaafar Nimeiry of Sudan’s brief reconciliation. Since the present rulers like their predecessors have little quality of statesmanship, they are unable to attain durable peace and stability. On the contrary, they are in that “school of thought” that since chaos and instability gained them “legitimacy” that it would also sustain them. On the rarest occasion they seem to have achieved lasting peace, the peace dividend like their other ventures such as “liberation, development”etc never trickle down to their subjects. Just as the war they unleash cause unspeakable suffering; their coziness too doesn’t augur well. Although, the short-lived making up between Mengistu and Nimeiry didn’t give them chance to trade off on their respective dissidents among whom were insurgents like South Sudan’s SPLA and Ethiopia’s TPLF and EPLF, depending on the order of the day, dictators have always bartered on dissidents by harboring them or handing them over. The fact that the State they purport to lead is signatories to the Geneva Convention and similar other international instruments have never deterred them from violating the rights of refugees. For instance, the regime in Djibouti wasted no time before it gained notoriety in the forcible repatriation of Ethiopian refugees right after its emergence as an independent State. /See “Djibouti-A Model for Repatriation?” Available on internet by googling the title/.It’s a case study collected in 1983 by Cultural-Survival partnering with indigenous peoples to defend their lands, languages and cultures. Djibouti still caters to the needs of its counterpart in Ethiopia that emerged from the bush after toppling the one from the barracks.Accordingly, in July 2005; it deported two bona fide asylum seekers who defected in a helicopter gunship they were flying despite the knowledge that they might face torture prior to the possibility of being sentenced to death.Sadly,the UN Refugee agency/UNHCR/supposed to oversee the protection of refugees almost always collaborate with these regimes in the forcible repatriation of refugees under the aegis of a so-called Tripartite agreement. That’s what happened in Djibouti in 1983.And recently in 2010-2011, it happened to Rwandese refugees in Uganda while the UNHCR just looked on. /See Press Statement titled “Is Rwanda safe for all citizens to return?” By Refugee Law Project, Faculty of Law, Makerere University/.
By and large, the freezing or resumption of relationships by our rulers makes one wonder as to how safe the grass would be even when elephants are flirting. If Rwandese refugees in Uganda cannot feel safe while the host country’s and their own strongman’s relation is at an all time low, imagine what would happen, when they get chummy again. Perhaps, they will sign a deal like the one signed recently between the regime in my country and my host which was termed “Strategic Framework Agreement.” The document provides for extradition treaty the details of which to be worked out. One hopes the 8th parliament of Uganda which reportedly hindered the President from having the usual free ride, to also see through the veil of this “extradition treaty” during mention for its ratification.
An Ethiopian Human Rights Defender exiled in Uganda