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As Somalia goes up in flames again , fingers are being pointed at Eritrea for its alleged role in fuelling the conflict. East African regional body IGAD and the continent-wide African Union have both called for sanctions on Eritrea – including a no-fly zone and blockade of its ports – for allegedly supplying arms and equipment to Al Shabaab and other militant Islamist insurgents fighting Somalia’s interim government.The accusations have been around for years, and have surfaced in U.N. reports on breaches of a weapons embargo for Somalia. Asmara says its arch-enemy Ethiopia is driving the accusations, helped by CIA agents in the region, and denies it has given any material aid despite its antipathy towards President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government.Asmara says the government, formed in January during a U.N.-brokered process in Djibouti, is an illegitimate administration imposed by foreign powers. It challenges its critics to produce hard evidence, and says the accusations are particularly hypocritical given Ethiopia’s recent armed intervention in Somalia.Analysts say the spat plays into the wider, unfinished conflict in the region between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They fought a border war between 1998-2000 – just a few years after Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia – and their armies still face each other, while the governments spit enmity between them. So who is right? How can the rest of the world know the truth? What should Eritrea and Ethiopia both do to further peace in Somalia?
I hesitate to blog again on Eritrea, given some of the vitriol that greeted a post last year. For some, Reuters was an apologist and mouthpiece for Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, simply for interviewing him in May 2008. For others, we were doing the CIA’s work by taking some awkward lines of questioning to Asmara.
The passion on both sides reminded me of the torrent of deeply felt responses I used to receive when reporting on Fidel Castro from Cuba between 1998 and 2002.