WHO LOST ERITREA? From A "Model Relationship" To Mutual Condemnation.

15 December 2005

It must be a new low in relationships when a U.N. Secretary General "condemns" a member state while its leader advises the Secretary General that his "good self" was not in a position to make judgment on moral standards.

A recent request by Eritrea to pull out certain U.N. troops alongside its borders with Ethiopia, along with a ban on helicopter flights delivered a crippling blow to the Peacekeeping Mission, whose staffers have been doing their best while the U.N. top echelon was lost in ponderosity.

A hurriedly visiting head of U.N. Peacekeeping Jean Marie Guehenno, was left cooling his heels two days in Asmara while Eritreans indicated they were not ready to talk to him. Why did he go without adequate preparation? If it was to force the Eritreans' hand, he was totally out of touch with reality. Eritreans are proud and tough fighters, not easily intimidated by a lightweight diplomat parading as another special envoy. They are fed up of all those "envoys," expediently accommodated at their expense and on their behalf while, they are convinced, the Secretary General continues to try confusing the issue of a binding decision on the demarcation line.

The Algeria Accord, singed by all, was not being implemented. The clear judgment for Eritrea on Badame was not firmly followed. Instead, one envoy after another was appointed (deliberately, the Eritrean suspect) to avert pressing Ethiopia to comply.

It may be that those who fought for thirty years against great odds are very sensitive to any perceived slight. They may have felt since the beginning of their disagreement with Ethiopia that the current Secretary General always tilted towards Addis Ababa, his first U.N. posting. They have no problem with Ethiopians around him or amongst regular staff whose attitude have been exemplary. But they may point out to a political appointment earlier on of someone who was a member of the Ethiopian Mangusta regime -- their deadly enemy -- as an adviser in the Secretary General's office. Another political appointment of an adversary was duly noted. The multiplication of envoys and what they felt was a backhanded treatment deepened their suspicion that the political deck at the 37th and 38th floors of U.N. headquarters was stacked against them. A recent attempt to pressure them through an intended appointment of a former U.S. Chief of Staff under President Clinton may have backfired.

It is a real shame that a promising relationship between the U.N. and Eritrea has soured that badly. The positive U.N. role in the independence of that young dynamic country was so promising. In 1993, official reports by all parties (including the Ethiopian government) described the U.N. role "as a model for such future endeavours elsewhere." That official report added: "Both sides shared the goodwill and the determination to create a working relationship which could foster close cooperation between them. The salubrious working environment that they created and the good, official and personal, relationships that they succeeded to create facilitated formal and informal consultations and agreement on all major issues."

That's a long way from the mistrust and tension of today.

Does it matter?

It does indeed.

For after all those colourful bubbles of mini-proposals on reform or civilization alliances burst, what shall remain is what we have done to maintain our credibility and promote the human dignity of peoples who once trusted in us.

And Eritrea is just one clear example.