A delegation of senior Italian diplomats has visited Asmara, as part of the drive by the European Union to mend fences with Eritrea. As ever, they came away without firm assurances from President Isaias, who allowed his political adviser to make vague promises about future reforms. Worse still, Eritrea is calling for Europe to stop granting asylum to young Eritreans fleeing persecution in their own country.
The best comment was from the French diplomat who attended the Italian briefing: “The nonsensical drivel of Yemane Ghebreab on the upcoming reform and democratization of the country, in ‘its own way’, are ridiculous and laughable. Moreover, this is nothing new. For the last two decades, Eritrea has allegedly been ‘on the verge of great changes’.
Source: Radio Erena: 10 April 2015
A delegation composed of the Director for Africa, the Director of International Cooperation and the Director of Migration issues in the Farnesina stayed in Asmara from 24 to 26 March. It was received by the President Isaias, met with his political adviser Yemane Ghebreab and was able to meet several ministers (national development, health, agriculture …).
From the reports to the EU States ambassadors by the Italian part (delegation and ambassador of Italy), this Post holds that:
1. Political issues – essentially dealt with Yemane Gebreab.
The Advisor to the President indicated that it would take three to five years for Eritrea to achieve a democratic system in the sense heard by the “West”, but that it would get there by its own ways and means. The GoE said it was aware of the need for changes and planned a general review of its procedures and policies. The first reform would be one of the Party; then the administration, with a focus on more decentralization. The first elections to be held in Eritrea are said to be local elections. Economic reforms are also needed. It is necessary to move towards a convertible currency and a flexible exchange rate system.
Human rights issues were brought on the table by the Italian side, who had particularly advanced the idea that Eritrea is doing itself great harm by remaining adamant about the fate of the most famous political prisoners. Eritrean smiles; it was a matter of high treason and national sovereignty.
In total, according to the Italian report, they enjoyed an “open and frank dialogue” (said the Africa director), and even a “breakthrough” (said the Italian Ambassador).
2. Bilateral Relations and Development Cooperation – Topics discussed with the President
The President held a relatively lucid and not too ideological speech, with a clear vision of priorities: energy, education and agriculture. After 10 years of interruption, Italy has decided to resume bilateral development cooperation with Eritrea. € 2.5 million will be allocated to projects in the fields of health (training and capacity building) and agriculture (especially in connection with the FAO). This resuming of relationships was made possible by the pragmatism of both countries. Rome hoped to pave the way and said that its decision would encourage others to come back.
Isaias then had embarked on an unexpected development on Ascaris, the former soldiers of Eritrean proxy during the Italian colonization, and presented them as having embodied an Italian-Eritrean alliance before the hour.
3. Migration – A subject mainly discussed with Yemane Ghebreab
There has been a serious and constructive debate, according to the Italian part. The Eritrean language to Europeans is now clear and consistent: end the almost automatic granting of political asylum to Eritreans and help us to keep young people in Eritrea by funding training.
There has been a confirmation by the Eritrean part of the return to an 18 months term for the national service for young people who have been called up in 2014 (the reality of this commitment will not be verified until 2016). The Italian side had encouraged the Eritrean officials to formally communicate on the subject. Yemane has explained that the authorities would then have the burden of 15,000 young people on the arms, or on the streets next year, and asked the Italians to help channel them. The fate of those who have entered national service before last year has not been raised.
The Eritrean side has been positive about the process of Khartoum, but with no excessive enthusiasm. It explained it wants to work on this issue with the EU, but not with the African Union, nor with the IOM, to which Eritrea has not adhered. At this stage, the Eritrean side expects from the Khartoum process: financing information campaigns for potential migrants and capacity building (for the benefit of the state apparatus).
Comment by French diplomat attending the Italian briefing.
The nonsensical drivel of Yemane Ghebreab on the upcoming reform and democratization of the country, in “its own way”, are ridiculous and laughable. Moreover, this is nothing new. For the last two decades, Eritrea has allegedly been “on the verge of great changes”.
The “frank and constructive dialogue” that the Italian delegation was pleased to have had, is nothing more nor less than the one we have been having with the Eritreans on a daily basis in Asmara, more sporadically in our capitals whenever Yemane Ghebreab is received, at one level or another. Nothing new. Confronting the regime in Asmara is neither helpful nor effective. We know that. Nevertheless, it must be put into the context of the “long history” of this issue. Eritreans have already been dealt with, according to an accommodating line. Without any result! “We must be clear with the Eritreans, but not put conditions”, said the Italian Africa director. Rome will therefore resume assistance, admittedly modest. However, is the Italian-Eritrean dialogue really clear?
Given this position, there is no alternative to the currently followed European policy: the European Development Fund (EDF), because it is in our interest to be present and to fund projects that suit us and which fall within the long term, and nothing but the EDF. The 11th EDF is generous to Eritrea with an envelope that will be between 200 and 300 million euros (one of the largest in regards to the reported number of inhabitants). Additional assistance must always be conditional. The greatest caution should be particularly rigorous regarding the migration issue that Eritrea is seeking to exploit shamelessly. Italian vision is clearly different.
Nostalgia … The Italian delegation noted with regret that the potential for cooperation between Italy and Eritrea was obviously much lower than in 1991, when many Italians who left Asmara in 1975, when the first violence of the Ethiopian revolution broke out, were all eager to return. This would have changed the face of the country! But Isaias did not want to hear about it … The unexpected tribute by the same Isaias to Ascaris has clearly hit home and moved his interlocutors. The Eritrean President although probably knows how slippery this slope is. The brief occupation of Ethiopia by Italy led to a litany of documented war crimes that were never judged, and that are intimately associated with Ascaris.