Issayas Afeworki the Piracy Phantom – by Abdullah Habashi

May 6th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

In recent years, just like drug trafficking, piracy has exploded off the Red Sea and Somalia shores as the globally threatening bandits continue to get huge ransoms in the millions of dollars.

Do or Die – Desperation for Dollars

Piracy business has become the Eldorado of the Eastern Africa coastal areas. Perhaps piracy is the biggest moneymaker operation in the Gulf of Aden and the sea shores of Somalia because almost always pirates get paid with huge sums of hard currency. At the moment, as I write, there are 19 ships being held by Somali pirates. Last year, dozens of ships were seized and an estimated $1-million per boat was paid in ransom for their release, according to analysts. Each pirate is believed to get on average $10,000 for a successful hijacking. Ship owners typically air drop the plastic-wrapped cash into the sea. Owners of ships plying the pirate-infested waters off Somalia’s coast drew back the idea of having firearms onboard, despite an increasing number of attacks where bullets pierced hulls or rocket-propelled grenades whooshed overhead. Ship-owners fear pirates would be more likely to continue shooting once on board if they confronted weapons, and the company might be held liable for deaths or injuries inflicted by someone on the vessel.

Fishing in Troubled Waters

Actually, how does this globally feared and in recent days widely talked about piracy business functioning so successfully in the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean waters? Despite the grand political chaos in Somalia and despite the political isolation of Eritrea by the Western World, astonishingly, the actual piracy preparation and reinforcement networks are tightly linked with the clandestine training workshops in Asmara, and Massawa where capacity building for tactical and professional piracy operations are devised and spread throughout the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Young people form parts of Coastal Africa but mainly from Somalia are recently sent here in batches for training in arms operatives.

Domestic Situation in Somalia and Eritrea

The pirates’ amassed wealth mainly begotten from capturing vessels passing on sea waters is all the more shocking considering Somalia’s disintegrated and Eritrea’s isolated governance situations. In Somalia there has been no effective central government in nearly 20 years, plunging this arid country into chaos. Every public institution has crumbled; and there is untold exodus and dispersion of Somalis into the outside world.

Likewise, nearly 2-decades after Issayas Afeworki has come to power, the Eritrean sovereignty question remains on shaky-grounds and at critical stake. Its internal and external problems reflect distinct political, economic and instability and a state in political crisis. More so, Afeworki’s Eritrea remains isolated from the rest of the world due to Issayas Afeworki’s contemptuous and malicious internal and external actions since 1993. A riddle in point is the fact that there is no clear demarcation set between Eritrea and Ethiopia to date. This puzzling feature puts Eritrea’s legitimacy into an open ended question and with a likely war breakout in the near future. Heaven knows what may happen to this tiny nation if Afeworki’s tyrannical regime is removed from power.

Afeworki – the Robin Hood of Massawa

But evident enough, Issayas Afeworki continues spreading his ‘Robin Hood’ styled political propagation focused on sheer fight against Imperialism and capitalist allies around the region surrounding Eritrea. Amidst all this upheavals, faced with tough times, the political and economic plights in Eritrea continue to cause untold exodus and dispersion of young Eritrean people due to Afeworki’s one-man tyrannical and oppressive regime. Although totally alienated from the rest of the world and from the African Union, Afeworki continues to commit flagrant violations of human rights by turning Eritrea into a country where democracy and justice are absent; where its population yearnings for independence and freedom are ultimately trapped in intimidation, indecency and untold old time serfdom tradition. Issayas Afeworki’s cohorts (those that seldom complain about him) and the silent majority of the rural poor consider this staunch and stubborn leader as their hero who must be obeyed by all means, by all accounts, and at any cost without whose effort they would not have been estranged from the “colonial legacy”.

Sharif Sheik Ahmed’s New Transitional Government

Last June, U.N. sponsored talks in Djibouti paved the way for the January withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the merger of the transitional federal government with a moderate faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia opposition group led by Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Al-Shabab and other hard-line Islamist groups, including the hard-line faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, say the unity government of President Sharif is a “western stooge.” Attacks against the government and its supporters, and a contingent of 4,300 African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu have continued.

Somalia’s recent accusation of Eritrea of Illegal Arms Shipments

Somalia’s new government led by Sharif Sheik Ahmed is accusing neighboring Eritrea of arming insurgent groups in Somalia. The allegation is a repeat of events two years ago, when the United Nations accused Eritrea of secretly sending weapons to Somalia’s militant al-Shabab group. Somali Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden says planes loaded with weapons from Eritrea arrived last week in Somalia. According to the minister, “an arms shipment arrived last week. One arrived on Tuesday, and two more shipments arrived on Friday at an airport on the outskirts of Mogadishu.” And the government in Asmara is likely to send more arms because it is determined to undermine Somalia’s transitional government by arming groups opposed to the newly elected Somali government.”

Evidential Circumstances

Somali officials are considering reporting neighboring Eritrea to the UN Security Council for undermining the government despite Issayas Afeworki’s sharp denial. Two years ago, a U.N. group monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia reported that between December 2006 and June 2007, Eritrea shipped a huge quantity of arms to al-Shabab in Somalia. The monitoring group’s report said Eritrea supplied al-Shabab with various weapons, including at least six SA-18 surface-to-air missiles. One of them was used to shoot down a cargo plane in March 2007 at the international airport in Mogadishu. In addition, a report released in December 15, 2007 by the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee stated that the Eritrean government is giving “direct assistance to Sri Lanka’s LTTE. Indeed, Eritrea is arming, training and financing terrorists from Somalia to Sri Lanka.” Currently, a panel of experts from the United Nations which has been monitoring an arms embargo on Somalia has often tagged Asmara as the main weapons supplier for hard-line insurgents in the Horn of African region.

Eritrea’s Absolute Denial

As business as usual, the Eritrean government denied recent accusation on the spot. Asked to respond to the latest allegations that the regime in Asmara is shipping arms to Somali insurgents, and pirates Eritrean spokesman responded that Eritrea does not recognize Somalia’s unity government and could not comment on the shipment of arms. Asked about links the Eritrean regime has with few opposition groups of Somali and Ethiopian origin the Eritrean spokesman replied that OLF, ONLF, and EPPF, and Ginbot-7 are all results of absence of justice in Ethiopia. There wouldn’t be any ethnic faction if there was no ethnic discrimination. Eritrea can’t sideline ethnic factions that were simply the results of recent past problems.

Which way Eritrea?

As though reminding the metaphor: “In a nation where one-eyed man is the king”, the euphoria of Eritrean freedom and the dance of independence suddenly faded away just within a period of three years (1990-1993). And since 1993 when Issayas Afeworki presided over his Eritrean leadership, serfdom became the official doom of the day in Eritrea; the Eritrean public is now caught-up in sheer disdain and disillusionment of independence; as they are living under the iron-handed Afeworki’s regime in totalitarian slavery camps wherever they may be within the Eritrean bounds.

Ridiculous enough Issaias Afwerki totally underscored Shabiaa’s alliances with Islamist fundamentalists and Somali pirates while at the same time the whole world openly knows now that he is eagerly looking for any financial means that comes from insurgency trafficking and piracy operations. He even undermines respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring countries while claiming that this is not within the political culture of Eritrea at all. In addition he stated: “imposing so-called “government” from the outside and acts of interference through servants only complicate matters rather than bring about a solution. In this connection, Issayas Afeworki asserted that Eritrea along with other concerned parties is striving to play modest role.” Afeworki knows very well that establishing any foreign military base in Eritrea is totally unacceptable. But as long as he can manipulate any opposition groups from the region as his political and financial sourcing channel, he simply gives deaf ears and blind eyes to the accusations coming from the outside world. After all, why should he care for the imperialist, capitalist world that has totally ignored his totalitarian regime any way?

Well, Issayas Afeworki may try to suppress the truth for the time being but he will not obliterate it for all times. His entanglement with pirates and Islamist fundamentalists is coming out to the fore by the day; no matter how clandestine he attemps to keep it from the global public eyes and ears. He may hijack the peace and stability of the region as well as the inherent human liberties by using his army and security forces as tools that keep him in power. But it may not be long when the Eritrean people start openly questioning the hitherto hidden but boiling under the surface. Political matters are cooking; resentment and dissatisfaction are observable. Issayas Afeworki’s current political stands that isolated Eritrea totally from most of the globe have shocked everyone in and outside Eritrea.

Conclusive Remarks

In summing up in the last six decades the Eritrean problem has gone through three Ethiopian regimes and it is still with us claiming life, limb, time, resources and, psychic energy. It changes colors and styles from time to time and from era to era, but it is still pervasive, destructive and seemingly intractable. All together it reminds us of what one senior Ethiopian diplomat once put it: “The Eritrean problem has been like Gum-Arabica in the mouth; one cannot chew it, swallow it or even spit it out. One is stuck with it.”

The political turmoil in this tiny but troublesome nation must come to semblance as soon as possible.

Sources of references:

(11) C. Clapham – Conference on the current Peace and Security Challenges in … –
(12) S Shay – 2008 – – Somalia between jihad and restoration
(13) I Farah, A Hussein, J Lind – Scarcity and Surfeit: The Ecology of Africa’s Conflicts. …, 2002 – – Deegaan, politics and war in Somalia

Issayas Afeworki the Piracy Phantom – by Abdullah Habashi

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