A paper presented at a zoom conference among scholars and researchers on federal state structure and unitary state structure


The aim of this paper is to clarify the essence of federalism to resolve conflicts of power- sharing in political, economic, social and cultural livelihood of the Eritrean diversity. The Eritrean National Alliance has put two on its charter, “ the principles of federalism or democratic decentralization and the fundamental rights “ of the various communities of Eritrea. But, how are these principles be put in practice are still to be studied. The Eritrean scholars and intellectuals should focus their studies on the realities of Eritrea. In Eritrea, there is an oppressed and oppressor- this has evidenced after Eritrea’s independence.

Who is the oppressor, its structure and its functions, and its supporters will be exposed to the Eritrean people.

One cannot bury the facts and build a false history in Eritrea.( See The Agaziaan Movement) The state building in Eritrea must be based on the diversity of the Eritrean people wishes and aspirations not by imposing assimilative policies of a one- man dictatorship.

The analysis of issues of conflict in Eritrea has been discussed many times. The long traditions of political, economic and social differences inside the Eritrean socio-economic and socio-politic structures had been neglected and passed by saying , “ We Eritreans are one people and one heart,  “ or say don’t speak about our difference, because we can be divided. In the first place, the socio- economic and socio-political structure and its divisive forces – ethnic ( race , language and culture ) religion and political ideology must be addressed properly without fear. Generally speaking , Eritreans have been escaping from the realities, that Eritreans are different in their socio –economic and political structures. Eritrea can be divided into three categories based on its socio- economic and political structures. 1. The west and east lowlanders. 2. The kebesa people- comprising tigrinya speaking christians and jeberti moslems and the Saho People on the eastern escarpment of the province of Akele- guzai. 3. The Afars of the  Red Sea.

The knowledge of these communities’ socio –economic and political structures help us understand the contradictions that disunited Eritreans to build a nation. Neither, the colonialists, nor the liberation movements have brought integrative changes , except divisive and polarising politics in Eritrea. The politics of division and polarisation have been inherited by the ruling party of PFDJ, direct after post liberation. The building of a nation in Eritrea by PFDJ/ EPLF.

Nation –building can not be achieved by enforcing/ coercing the various communities in Eritrea , without taking their views and respect their  fundamental rights of citizenship. The PFDJ and its proponents , policy of “  tight centralism “ for building a strong  government in Eritrea is, indeed a colonial heritage, disregarding the Eritrean diversity. The dream of building a strong nation dominated by one ethnic group- kebesa christians and its aggrandizing politics plunged Eritrea into wars inside and outside. The dream of Issyas still is not materialized. The consequences of tight centralism adopted by

PFDJ are clear. The argument for tight centralism, especially advocated by the Kebesa christian intellectuals and intelligentia had never led to solutions of the Eritrean internal conflicts. The process of unity still is not completed in Eritrea. The government in Eritrea supported by the kebesa christians created a bitter hate against the other ethnic groups. The kebesa christians consciously or unconsciously are still supporting this government, despite its brutality even against them.

The Eritreans still lack an experience and knowledge to find ways and be able to live together under one nation, in equal terms. When a solution to the internal problems be available, then the internal disruptions will be avoided and all Eritreans, regardless of their ethnic, religious and cultural origin will be proud of their Eritreanes.  As I understand the feeling of hegemony of the christian kebesits in general and their elite power greediness that make the Eritrean people live in misunderstandings and fears of each other.

The Eritrean people need a political innovation- rearranging them to come close together and grasp modern conceptions of organizing political, economic and social activities that promote mutual understanding and satisfaction. For this reason, I have selected today, in this paper to discuss about,

 “Democratic Decentralization “and federalism as the only methods of uniting the diversity of Eritreans in Eritrea “

In the first part of this paper I will try to define the terms federalism and democratic decentralization, the territorial characteristics, and the essentials of federalism.

  1. What is federalism?

The Eritrean state formation re-examined

The experience of state formation in Eritrea by the EPLF/ PFDJ was an old method of the Western colonial states by concentration of power to individuals and  capital accumulation in the name of the people mainly to control the people and deprive their territories. This is not the traditional African experience at the village level. The league or the idea federalism is not western idea but is African.

Federalism is a political concept in which a diverse of people are united together by covenant/ constitution with a governing representative. It is when the sovereignty is constitutionally divided between the federal authority and constituent political units.( state, provinces, cantons) It is a system based upon a democratic rules and institutions in which the power is shared between national and the units. It is not the size of the country or the number of the population that decides that one will adopt the federal system of governance but its being the best tool for solving internal problems of power sharing. It is the right formula uniting the diversity under one nation. Most Eritrean intellectuals and political elites relate federalism with separation or secession. Some argue that Eritrea is a little nation and cannot afford economically. Such arguments are the same like those who say that economic development must come before democracy. The idea of federalism came for example in Switzerland when it was poor. It was motivated that the need to accommodate the diverse communities inhabiting the land.

Why federalism in Eritrea

Eritrea is a nation with peoples of diverse languages, culture and religion. Power over resources and identity often shaped by the powerful is the root conflict in Eritrea. Historically, from the early birth of Eritrean nationalism the politics that dominated and still existing is the zero-sum game where the winner takes all. The nation that will be built after post dictatorial Eritrea must first adjust the state structure where the politics of zero-sum games abhor and the politics where all the Eritreans win. In the next following section I will discuss decentralization which was adopted previously by the EDA and later by the ENCDC in its charter, comparing it with unitary system of governance.

What is democratic decentralization?

Decentralization refers to any arrangement by which the responsibilities of the central government for the direct provision and administration of services are reduced by allocating to co-ordinate authorities enjoying some measure of discretion. There are two kinds of federalism, administrative and democratic federalism. Administrative federalism is accountable to the central government but democratic is accountable to the people. The term, federation is a type of polity/ government operating constitutionally and works on two levels of government: as a nation and as a collection of related but self-standing units.

The objective of federation is a form of government for the people by the people. That is to say it is inherently democratic. It seeks on the one hand to create and maintain a nation, on the other hand to preserve the integrity of the units, their identity, culture and tradition. The objective of building and maintaining of  Eritrea as a nation need a unity of all the communities living in different regions in  Eritrea based on equality and justice and no dominance of one ethnic group on the others. In federation, no level of government is dominant over the other. The rights of all units should be guaranteed in the constitution.

Some Eritreans argue for decentralised unitary democracy in Eritrea. But there is fundamental difference between decentralised unitary democracy and federation. In a federation the rights of the people living in the regions are guaranteed by the constitution, while in the decentralised unitary democracy, lower level governments are merely statutory, they could be swept away by the central government at any time. In a federation. The central government has no constitutional relation, any influence is regarded as an illegitimate encroachment on the units rights. But additional contributions or funds for development of the unit are welcome.

The term centralism refers to a polity operating a constitution which works on one level government as one unit. It is inherently undemocratic and leads directly to dictatorship. The objective of building and maintaining of a nation is exclusive and is realised by dominance and force. This system of centralism is not accepted by the modern world, because it is a failed system. Nowadays, it is practised by some undeveloped countries, like that of Eritrea.

Arguments in favor of centralism is that Eritrea is inhabited by diversities of people, the only method to hold these diversities by is tight centralism. The second argument is that Eritrea is so poor that it cannot maintain or finance its units as federal states. The third argument is that it can lead to internecine wars , because of territorial boundaries.

We have defined the concepts of decentralization and federalism in contrast to centralism and unitary democracy, we will now proceed to its natural governmental organs:

  1. Elected Assembly representative of all units / states with fixed terms of years, related with the number of population decided by rules of election. It can be adjustable with the changing of population movements.
  2. An elected Senate of a fixed and limited number with equal representation of all states. Through this mechanism a weaker state feel that it can make a positive contribution to national policies.
  3. A Federal government capable of taking decisions quickly, preparing the draft of national budget, introducing new legislation, and suggesting constitutional amendments.
  4. Supreme Court or the Judicial administration is the watchdog of the constitution

The Federal government in Eritrea, should be better in a form of committees instead of president like that of the USA, because a president in a society like that of Eritrea can neglect the interests of the many units. A federal government led by committee ( Parliamentarism) elect a chairman from itself for a limited time. The president is not executive and has no outstanding importance.

  1. What are the geographical characteristics in Eritrea ?

Essentially, Eritrea have had 8 territorially and culturally administratively functioning provinces, during the Italian colonial period ,  federal period with Ethiopia and under Ethiopian occupation. These territorially divided provinces have their historical characteristics- the Lowlands of West and East Eritrea comprising the provinces of Senhit, Semhar, Sahel, Barka  , and the Highland Region- comprising Hamasien,  Seraye and Akele-Guzay and the Denkel- Assab region.

After independence, the regime in Eritrea has changed the structure of the past political organization and constituted Eritrea with 6 administrative regions without no studies and consultation of the people. The existing association of the people and territories is not consistent. The territorial adjustments, bringing or merging the people from different regions has only fomented conflicts of land appropriation between the various people in Eritrea.

The present division of Eritrea into 6 provinces is artificial to strengthen the power of the authoritarian ruling party of PFDJ. The ruling party has neglected the historical, cultural and geographical identities of the various Eritrean people.

In the federal form of government in Eritrea , the division of units/ states will be based on the historical, cultural and geographical identities. The states can show some variations, but all will abide under the constitutional law adhering to the parliamentary form of government. The differences in culture and religion should be respected.

  1. What are the essentials of federalism?

I attempted to define the essentials of federalism, now I will be dealing with the functions and structure of the federal government. Any attempt to analyse or create , a decentralized system of government , whether federal or not, one must pay attention to the political and legal aspects. If the future governing structure is federal or unitary. The institutions of government and the party system should be devised clearly without causing obstacles to the functioning of the government. Procedures and institutional forms based on the constitutional rules must be established and maintain the federal ruling system viable. Political parties can compete through the machinery of federalism for their interests without state restrictions. The role of the party system within the federal system should be clear. The function of the political parties in a federation should bridge the gap between the Federal and State governments and bring the two levels of government into harmonious relationship. If political parties do not cut across boundaries, but perpetuate local level and sectional loyalties, then the danger of civil war is enhanced, and the functioning of federation disrupts. Political parties must provide the mechanism   of co-operation - by bringing the different opinions closer together until political compromise is reached. Political parties that have the ability of drawing support based on linguistic, racial, and religious factors can challenge the work of the government and make it unable to conduct its policies.

In the first part of this article, I shortly defined the meanings and the essences of decentralisation. In this part, I will deal with the issues ( geographical, cultural and religious ) that must be considered , when building and maintaining a state.

  1. What type of state can mitigate or help solve the internal conflict in Eritrea ?
  2. Have the various Eritrean Political Opposition a common map of building a state?
    1. Unitary state with tight centralism ? Why ?
    2. Unitary democratic state with decentralisation ? Why ?
    3. United federal democratic state ? Why ?

Each and every political or civic organisation should have a vision for future Eritrea. The most difficult issue is not the removal of the dictatordictators decay themselves and die by their actions. But , what is your proposal  on building state ? Saying , democratic Eritrea itself is not enough. Say something tangible. Choose one of the above and argue , which is the best device to settle conflicts of power and build peaceful and stable Eritra.

The centralised and one man rule is the source of all evils with rigid attitude of arrogance neglecting dialogue of resolving the endemic conflicts in Eritrea. Neither , the ruling dictator,  nor  those who are crying for salvation are no reliable in solving internal conflicts in Eritrea. Because they own no culture of dialogue.

Nation –building and state, where people’s rights are violated or neglected never achieve sustainable development. Why do conflicts flare up always between Eritreans ? . Does the origin of the conflicts depend on the socio-economic and political organisation ? In this part of this article, I would like to explore the dynamics and inclinations of the Eritrean political activities and organisation

This attitude of arrogance and dominance welcomes always dictatorship and totalitarian politics with a maxim,  “rulers never make mistake, “  and its attempt of establishing a strong and militaristic government in Eritrea couldn’t solve the substantial differences between the various of the Eritrean people. A way in which the fundamental issues are presented and resolved- thus creating national unity, where the rights of the people respected and political participation guaranteed were neglected by the party that has taken power after independence. The experience of the ten years’ of independence  marked by its atrocities and its failed policies, and the distortions that occurred should be examined and be acknowledged by the regime and its accomplices not to be repeated by next generation. The tension is between those who admired and supported the brutal regime and those who were victims of this regime since independence.

4. State Structure  and power- sharing

Given the Eritrean communities diversity in culture , religion and region , restructuring the state power reflecting this diversity is of great importance.  A state structure which accommodates the heterogeneous people of Eritrea  , where power should be decentralised equally to all regions and each region should have its identical relationship with federal government. Models of unitary government more or less lead to centralism and never help solve internal conflicts. A federal device in terms of the division of powers and the structure of institutions enables various kinds of accommodation to be made. It is more hospitable to compromise, based on discussions , mutual respect  and thereby reinforce these qualities. The advantages of federalism exceeds its disadvantages.

The counter arguments of federalism are those presented by the leaders of majority because they lose power. They fear that it can trigger to secession. These fears can solved by arranging the system of governing so that maintaining the unity of the nation, on the one hand, and preserving the integrity of the units / states / regions, their identity, culture and tradition, on the other hand. The objective of state building and maintaining a nation implies that the free movement of  labour , capital and the unity of commercial and financial policy from one region to another must be ensured. The units never be allowed to secession or violate the rights of the other region. This should be guaranteed in the Constitution.

Territorial nationhood/ regionalism is one of the elements which constructs the country. It is one of the markers of nationalism.  Regionalism as a policy is the device of decentralisation for effective and accessible administration. The people living in that region take the responsibility for good governance and maintain their own culture and identity. Therefore, regionalism has nothing to do with segregation , or divisions , it contributes more to Eritrean nationalism and unity. Eritrea is a composition of the various geographical and cultural identities.

This distinct geographical and cultural identities must be viewed from the

Eritrean historical importance. The attempt of nation –building by the regime in Eritrea  has not taken , in consideration  , the cultural and territorial distinction  of the people in one region. For example, the redrawing of the provincial boundaries , the land belongs the state, proclaimed by the PFDJ is a direct deprivation of the rights of the people of their land and identity. This policy was to settle the highly populated tigrinya –speaking christians to the less populated lowlands. This has only brought conflict between the new settlers and owners. The existing pattern, internal relationships, history, degree of autonomy and organisational structure of the region is dependent on the decision of the people.

The self –appointed regime of PFDJ has changed the existing pattern in the name of unity.

The re-mapping  of  the provinces and the proclamation of the land as of state is one of the root causes of the conflicts in Eritrea. This is one of the area of conflicts concerning disputes over territory. For example, the government in Eritrea has been selling land to those who have money by taking the land from landowners. Territorial disputes have taken place between the state and the people. A viable nation- building in Eritrea requires the use of innovative institutional arrangements that deliver equitable economic resource allocation for all the citizens without segregation. Such arrangements can dampen calls for secession. Eritrea , with its diverse people needs institutions that promote conflict management. This arrangement can be federalism or other decentralisation of power.

State–building in Eritrea has run into aground and provoked an opposite reaction among many influential linguistic and religious and cultural groups : the emergence of rival ethnic and religious movements at this time are apparent evidences of the failure of state-bulding in Eritrea.

Language and religion, however , are  identity markers that are shared by all Eritreans, irrespective their origin, basing national identity on a particular language is an essential political concept which is invoked frequently in Eritrea. The language policy adopted by the current regime in Eritrea is one of the main issues of conflict in the building of the state. This policy has secondary effects on the ability of the people to seek employment: those whose language is chosen for official use have an obvious advantage over others. For example, in Eritrea , those who speak arabic language has no opportunity to get employment, because arabic language has no official use in Eritrea at this time. Language policy is one of the factors used in building a state.

The role of religion in Eritrea :religion in Eritrea tends to be part of our human experience and is by any means indispensable for the Eritrean society. Eritrean identity is sometimes described by moslem/ christian national identity since the inception of Eritrean nationalism. During the Federal period ( 1952 -1962 ), both arabic / tigrinya and moslem /christian were declared to define Eritrean national identity. The post-liberation period of nation –building in Eritrea has not given respect to these identities  , when adopting a particular language policy in Eritrea.

A viable nation –building in Eritrea need a language policy that accommodate the diverse ethnic groups integrated, but not assimilated. Language pluralism is not disadvantage but is advantage. Language conflict can be managed by providing the minority languages freely used and giving incentives to learn the official languages, ( Arabic and Tigrinya ) because people have the advantage to learn many languages. To day it is a common to speak more than one language in many countries. Switzerland is a classic example of how culturally diverse groups can coexist  peacefully, rather than melting ethnic groups into a new culture. A nation is not necessarily have one language to be or to share a sense of belonging.  “Can’t you speak tigrinya? Aren’t you Eritrean ? “ are the modern  times , explicit or implicit ideas of assimilation.

To-day , it is only the tigrinya language, used in schools, administration, the army,and public life in general. Even the names of the places and villages settled by the newcomers are given the names of tigrinya. This is a deliberate action of tigrinyatisation. Despite, many protests, the policy assimilation of the ruling party has gone beyond correction.

The mother tongue education policy is only sham and pretentious. Those who attended or mastered the mother tongue are considered as illiterates. They have no opportunity of employment and other professional rewards and promotion. Even , they are not allowed to sign or write their names in their languages. Then

, what is the use of learning mother tongue for five years ? Isn’t that  squandering with national resources ?

5. The Current Situation in Eritrea

The ruling party in Eritrea  with its ten years’ experience of hostility, bloodshed and civil war under unworkable constitution and a tight centralism has never provided an appropriate solution to the internal conflicts in Eritrea. The ruling party in Eritrea has the same policies as that of the former  imperial powers. Many proponents of the tight union, either members of the ruling party , or in the opposition believe that the diversity in Eritrea must be brought by force to build a nation in Eritrea. The Eritrean diversities of  race, culture and religion are so strong that a strong government with no autonomy of these peoples’ rights is not viable.

Today, the devout supporters of the ruling party even pronounce that

Constitution is not necessary in Eritrea.  They repeatedly argue that ,what the Eritrean people need is food, but deserve no rights.  The need for food and its acquisition is one’s civil right. Food , housing and other necessities of life are the natural fundamental rights of the human being. They are not granted by the rulers of the country. A government that deprives these rights is not the people’s government. A country that neglects these rights is doomed to fail.

The post –independence period and its devastating wars with neighbouring countries would have been avoided if  Eritrea has adopted a democratic device to build a democratic state. The main cause of all these horrors is the wrong path of building a nation adopted by the ruling party in Eritrea.

The ruling party ( PFDJ ) vested all power to one man in order to build a strong government without no institutions and constitution. This was the main factor leading the country in spiral of conflicts and wars with all internal an external forces. To prevent recurrent dictators and the tight  centralism that breeds disunity among Eritreans, it is time to  search a  device that unites all Eritreans to build a viable nation.

In part one of this article, I have discussed the organs of federal government, and part two has discussed the Eritrean distinct geographical, cultural and religious identity that must be respected and maintained to build a viable nation. In this part of my article, I will be concentrating on , why the major characteristics of  the Eritrean territorial components and integrity are important in building a state in Eritrea.

6. Historical Overview

The present Eritrea is born from the distinct territorial components determined by the time of colonial and internal actions in the period of  1890 – 1991. The zones of occupation were first known as , Highland Eritrea ( Kebesa ), East and West lowland Eritrea ( Oriental  and Occidental Eritrea ) and the Land of the Danakil ( Afarlands ). This division was  the first path of shaping Eritrea as a colonial nation. It was of practical, cultural, economic and geographically satisfying the colonisers and the local people. These regional administration has historical bases. Out of these three regions, the occupiers constructed  the later administrative provinces. It was an effective reorganisation of the Eritrean territorial and political life that took around 1908. The country was divided into provinces and districts.

The provinces of  Hamasien, Seraye and Akele Guzzai  are located in the

Eritrean Highlands. The provinces of  both East and West Lowlands are Semhar, Sahel, Senhit and Barka. Assab is the province of the Afarland. The various communities living in these regions and provinces had their own way of  associations. They formed their own village and territorial rules and laws under the colonial rule. These three territories were separately administered.

The three regions / territories or the provinces vary widely in population , area and resources. The largest in area is the Western Lowland and the smallest is the Highland.  ( Kebesa ) Population -wise, the Eritrean highland is more densely populated , while the Eritrean Lowlands are scarcely populated.  The people living in the former territories  were dependent on agriculture and herdsmen. The various communities living in the three regions had their own basic laws as a form of governing at the chief level. Some have written constitutions that were formidable and detail. They have a system of judicial administration through their own constitutional courts. These land laws still works in the villages. The Eritrean post –liberation nation-building has never taken these historic characteristics that were established many years ago. The differences in culture and religion which distinguishes the Eritrean communities from one another should not be neglected.  A nation –building that does not  include these regional identities is doomed to fail.

The current  unimplemented constitution of the  current regime in Eritrea did not provide any vertical and horizontal division of  power and function. Even the organs of the government and  their authority is not clearly defined. All power lies on the president. There are no defined basic laws , except decrees. The 6 administrative zones have no autonomous administrative authority provided by the constitution. This is one of the main problems in the state structure in

Eritrea. The unimplemented constitution in Eritrea is not because many Eritreans had not participated in it ,  but because it produces a situation of tight power concentration within the system of governing. This model is obviously dysfunctional in Eritrea. The view of those who support this Constitution is only the view of those who want to build the Empire of  Eritrea under one king

The people living in the Highlands of Eritrea, except the Saho and the Jeberti , had strict and more centralised way of ruling at home. The Saho people had more liberal and decentralised way of life. The people living in the West and East Lowlands , and the Afar people were  following more decentralised way of life. These two aspects of  civilisation ( culture )  the tight centralism under one feud , practised in the Eritrean Christian Highlanders , and the decentralised one practised by the other Eritrean people should be  noted. The later politics pursued by  the Eritrean political elites emanated from the attitude of  centralism with desire of power or prestige , and decentralisation with power -sharing. The military and dictatorial regime in Asmara has abolished the former regional and provincial boundaries and replaced them with its own scheme under a  “ Unification Decree” favouring one segment of the Eritrean people  at the expense of others. This new boundaries never forged harmony and unity between the Eritreans but greatly served to intensify the inequalities between the new settler and  the former natives. Given the paralysis of centralism,  it is essential to discuss the issue, what type of government is appropriate in Eritrea after the removal of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea ?

It should be clear by now that the method of  organising a government with equal distributing of power and wealth in Eritrea in the future must rest on the claims of the Eritrean people maintaining the distinct regional differences and diversities. A governmental organisation operating as a safeguard against the concentration of too much authority at the centre and its calamities is important in Eritrea to hold the diversity in unity.

  1. The root cause of the conflict

The internal conflict in Eritrea is rooted in the ideas of identity based on race, religion, culture, language and so on, plus the distribution , or sharing of the economic, political and social resources. The combination of this identity- based factors with its wider perception of unjust distribution of resources fuels the deep rooted conflict. The opportunistic leaders  of Eritrea manipulated this identity and distributive  policies and make the conflict insoluble. The internal conflict in Eritrea involves claims of  rights: ethnic rights , religious rights and cultural rights. The conflict in Eritrea is where one community dominates , and others are deprived their fundamental rights. It is a conflict threatening the existence of others. An enduring settlement to the internal conflict in Eritrea depends on building an appropriate democratic political structure.

This appropriate democratic political structure can keep the country from splitting. This political structure can be instituted as a federal governing system that can keep the Eritreans united , where power is devolved equally to all regions and each region has an identical relationship to the central government. For example, the adoption of federalism in Switzerland and Canada were motivated by the need to accommodate the diverse communities. Many Eritreans have negative perception of federalism. They relate this idea as divisive and disuniting. But, in contrary federalism is a device to unite and get together for mutual defence and advancement.

In this part 4 of the article, I will deal  on the origin of the theory of federalism and its practices in the world.

8. Theory and origin of federalism

The ancient Greeks were the first who theorised and practised federalism. Their experiment can be traced from the fifth century B. C. At an early stage the Greeks  have two types of alliances thus called symmachia and sympoliteia meaning , “ leagues “ in english language. Symmachia is a military alliance while Sympoliteia is sharing of political life or political power at that time. This political life implies that there was a central government and local governments. At that time control of the army, foreign affairs and jurisdiction in case of treason belonged to the central government , while other matters belong to the federating communities. Such federal states were mostly developed during the

Hellenistic period. There were other classical leagues such as the

Peloponenesian, Aetolian, Achaean and Boeotian. This earliest and long-lived leagues / federations had been flourishing until 336 B.C.

The Greek leagues have similar patterns to the modern federation: there were two government organs- the Council and the Assembly , and two level governments: the central and local governments. There  are no tangible evidences, if there were federated city-states during the Dark Ages ( the early Middle Ages ) The famous Lombard League  was only a temporary alliance of the cities around Milan against the attacks of empires of France.

In the thirteenth century, the Swiss have attained a form of confederation before they formed a nation. The interest and relevance of leagues has been considered by the Hanseatic League of north German towns. Lubeck and Hamburg joined together to protect the gulfs of the North and Baltic Seas.  All the leagues / federations at that time were engaged in sea trades. As we see, the idea of federation is an ancient , but later on developed as a means of drawing the diverse citizens for the common benefit for building a nation. Federation is the propensity to live together for mutual defence and development. It is a method of governing. Successful federations are those that satisfy all citizens and build up a nation without disruption , where citizens are proud of their nation and feel more to protect it. For example, these are true today in Switzerland, Germany, USA, Canada , Australia and India except some troubles.

Federalism like democracy has its origin from the ancient Greeks but has changed gradually. The federal system of the  modern times is different from that of the ancient Greeks. The features that make a particular political system federal is:

  1. A constitution which guarantees to each of the two levels of government an independence of each other sufficient to enable them to engage the continuing support of significant elements of the political system,
  2. A constitutional and political system which links the two levels with a significant degree of interdependence, such that neither level can subordinate the other to it, nor act wholly independently of the other across the whole range of government functions.

It is this combination of genuine independence with genuine interdependence which distinguishes the federal State from decentralised State. In decentralised State, the central authority may delegate power and authority and draw it at will. The lower government seems have a degree of independence , but if the forces that support it are unable to influence the decisions of the upper level, then  it is not genuine. Genuine constitutional safeguards not only in paper but enforced  by courts,   where the two levels of government work together financially, administratively and organisationally giving them a continuous significance.

The nature of the theory of federalism of the ancient and the nineteenth century  are different as clarified above. The nineteenth century federalism is more concerned with the values of representation , democracy and national feeling. The twentieth century federalism adds  to these values – social justice and legislative policies and finances.

What is the relationship between federalism, democracy and nationalism ? A representative democracy based upon the nation building with a strong sense of national unity depending on mutual trust elects  its representatives. If the representatives use their authority against the interests of  some citizens , then the problems of unity be complicated and as a result nation building is not safe. If the representatives use their authority in a way which broadly recognises  the common interests and aspirations of all , then sense of unity exists and nation building be strong. The emergence of sense of community is eased when people share common traditions, common language, religion and economic interests. When they do not , the problems of unity are difficult to achieve.  The acceptance of nation building requires years of struggle, development of symbols like the flag, or anthem. Many aspects of nationalism are historically related in the process of nation formation and national identity based on participatory democracy. A community excluded from this participatory democracy loses the sense of citizenship.

Federalism was adopted by some countries during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, the Balkan system of small states. These federalism contained two principles: first, the modern federal State responding nationalistic aspirations-widening the sense of community in each of the units which was being federated; second, the federal State involved at one and the same time attempts to strengthen national unity and democracy in nation building including all communities. Thus federalism asserts the rights of the minority and limits the dominance of the majority.

A working constitution of a federal system must met three major conditions to be successful: first, it must provide division of power in a federal sense. Second, it must establish  institutions and constitutions of certain political, economic and social actions. Third , there must be a set of mechanism for the dynamics of the rules concerning the division of powers so that changes in technology, social values and government functions in a federal system  are accommodated and respected in the country.

With these points in mind , the idea of federalism is not the twentieth century phenomenon but ancient, later developed as a system of  government. Today, Switzerland , Germany, USA, Canada and Australia are the  highly developed federal democracies in the world. India and Nigeria are also  ruled by federal system of governing. There are many quasi –federal states in Africa , Asia and Latin American countries. The Arab Emirates in the Gulf are federal kingdoms.

9. The Role of the parties in federalism

Having discussed the idea  and nature of federalism , we must now proceed, how the institutions in the government and the party system interact. In the past, during the communist era, the federal idea was weakened by former socialist countries. To understand the collapse of the socialist federations one can not judge it from the historical speculations about the supposed incompatibilities but rather see the structural , behavioural and the normative weakness of the socialist model applied to the federal idea.

These countries have adopted an asymmetric federal structures, where the dominant chose to battle the non-dominant, for example , the Serbs in

Yugoslavia. More complications  for continuance of the federal idea can be also, when federations are based on ethnic and religious national principles, endangering the very survival of the nation. Another factor that can hinder federalism is the one party authoritarian rule.

The seventy- five year period of communist rule destructed the idea and role of federalism. Socialism has weakened the processes, institutional , and public and elite linkages with the federal idea so that no one came to defend it when communist regimes collapsed. Institutionally, the structures were not designed for conflict resolutions but for to express support for party program.

Economically, it was closely linked with plan economy, increasingly ineffective and wrong allocation of resources. Politically, under socialism, federalism was a bureaucratic-administrative tool and has not served the rights of the people ; but used  as a  means of control and oppression.

In federalism , Constitutional rules are not enough to give life and vigour to the political system. The two principles of federalism- interdependence and independence of the two level governments must be devised and remain distinct and perform the necessary functions without collapsing the whole system of  federal governance. The constitutional and institutional structure of federalism is important to keep power balance between the Federal  and State. Power separation between the Federal and State facilitates the operation of compromise and co-operation , balancing the various interests at regional, provincial and local level in all the Eritrean Communities.

We will now argue , how political parties function in federal system of governing.

The role of the parties in a federal governing system is to bridge the gap between the Federal and State governments , to cut across sectional and regional loyalties, and to bring the two level governments into a relatively harmonious relationship. When disputes evolve between the Federal and the State governments, the parties must provide the mechanism through which the points of view of  both levels are brought closer together until a political  compromise is reached. If political parties do not cut across boundaries, do not  create national system, but perpetuate local and territorial loyalties, then the danger of disintegration or the disruption of the federation is increased. This has been experienced in the past socialist federations. The American and Australian parties have performed this function well.

Federal institutions with highly decentralised political institutions can provide a power base for the State or local politicians to build upon. Such institutions are a desirable for a successful federalism. Local political parties are able to call upon a very high degree of support and loyalty from the people in their particular State or locality and they can draw upon linguistic, racial, religious or other kinds of emotions disabling the central government to conduct effectively the required national policies.

Federal institutions in socialist federations were highly centralised and did not behave as federal consultative bodies. They were rather mechanisms for party control. There were no political parties that can communicate, bargain and compromise upon the problems evolved in the political affairs at the different levels of governments. In the socialist federations, political power flowed from party institutions to federal structures , which meant that the communication – authority flow among federal institutional levels had little significance for policy makers. Communism was intolerant towards free expression, unanimity but not diversity was the celebrated value. In all the socialist federations, party organisations and leaders were not federalist but anti- capitalist movements. There were no mutual trust and confidence and the party did not provide mechanisms of negotiations and compromise. The party platform , and the role of the ethnic or republic delegates at the national level was only to endorse and support the party program. Those who did not support , or criticise were severely repressed or labelled simultaneously anti- communist or antinationalists.

In the Western Federal systems of governing, political parties fight their battles through the machinery of federalism without being committed to States’ Rights or the Federal Government. They are only concerned to promote their political interests and ideologies.

Federal Governments in the Western Countries maintain a two-party system or multi-party system. The federal politics provide the parties free and competitive rights.

Federalism has been misconceived by many Eritreans as divisive and disassociative , but in contrary it is unitary and creative if it develops gradually and entail the necessary conditions related with its development.

The character of the regional units- the way in which the boundaries of the federating states are drawn is the most complicated issue. The financial and administrative issues, the separation of powers and the judiciary will be the next issues to be discussed.

10. Drawing boundaries of the federating states

In the previous series of articles I tried to illustrate the main ideas and elements of federalism. I will now try to shed light on the importance of drawing boundaries between the states. Adopting federal form of government needs an appropriate planning of mapping so that unnecessary incompatibilities be avoided.

The organisation of the State and Local Governments is the most interesting aspect of  federal politics. The objective of this organising is to see that no State should be in a position of dominating others. The State should be compact in its administrative, territorial, cultural historical association and respect the wishes of the citizens. Each State should carefully select its capital supposed to be convenient and accessible for all residents in that area.

The path of federalism is never smooth regarding drawing boundaries between States. Drawing boundaries based on regions or based on administrative provinces have their advantages and disadvantages. For example ; the first experience of Nigeria is interesting in this respect. The Nigerian federation was first based on regions- three state regions from the British period. The desire for a greater number of states was refused because on non-viability. But the decision was disastrous. Friction between the regions has arisen; and further complicated by the larger regions. The incompatibility is that putting people to live together in a large area which is not possible to work smoothly.

The first experience of drawing boundaries regionally in Nigeria has resulted in regionalism and infighting ( Ex ; the case of Biafra ) In January 1966, immediately after the civil war a new boundary was redrawn, avoiding the incompatibles yoking people together. Regions have been replaced by a number of states. Today, there are 19 states in Nigeria , entirely secular with freedom of movement. Complete equality before the law, free press and all occupations open to all religious and tribes. This new reorganisation of boundaries strengthened the federal politics in Nigeria.

The Swiss experience, from the thirteenth century consists a number of separate sovereign states called cantons , which joined together to secure certain common objectives, especially defence, foreign policy and large public works. The first three original Forest Cantons made their first treaty of alliance in 1291. The alliance of these three cantons was the cradle of the Swiss Confederation. This alliance has endured through all the changes and troubles and is one of the successful federations in the world. The arrangement of  the boundaries of the cantons differed from time to time , however over the past years a steady expansion of cantons had appeared. The number of cantons has now grown to twenty- five.

The Confederation was not safe, to some extent some infighting were taking place. There were quarrels  and even infighting between the rural populations. Inspired by the French revolution, individual cantons began gradually to get rid of their oligarchies and move towards democracy. The young began to orient themselves with the ideas of democracy. People began to come together closer into the government. Continual contacts between people and governments have been promoted. The devices of initiative and referendum has become popular. The cantons were successful helped by their decentralised way of governing.

The German federalism boundary drawing was based on territorial components determined by the actions of the Western occupying powers in the period of 1945 -49. The zones of occupation were divided into provinces, partly because of practical and convenience matters. Some of them had a historical basis such as Hamburg and Bavaria. The Federal Republic of Germany was constituted in 1949 original containing 11 states excluding West Berlin.

The provinces vary widely in population , area and resources. The present shape of the German federation stems from the decisions taken when the country was divided and was in difficulties. After so many years in federation , with differences in culture and religion , the states today are more homogenous and united.

When the monopolistic dictatorial regime in Eritrea collapses , what is the kind of government the Eritrean Opposition in mind is not clear. Politically centralised framework providing monopolistic rule is not acceptable. The main point in this article is that the Eritrean political Opposition should have schemes for configuring Eritrean state-building along a political structure that accommodate Eritrea’s various communities.

The idea of federalism provokes serious discussion, its utility as a viable tool or process of peacemaking need thorough study.

The recently formed movement , called Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement has declared that a federal arrangement  is an appropriate to Eritrea’s configuration of ethnically and religiously interwoven or mixed communities and its traditional politics of polarisation.

The present discussion, what is the appropriate state structure following the fall of the dictatorial regime is  the main issue of the Eritrean Federal Democratic Movement. The transition to democracy in Eritrea after the fall of the dictatorship should facilitate conflict resolution and conflict prevention. The Eritrean internal conflict stems from the strong competition for control over the state power. This conflict can be managed by restructuring the state and powersharing. Federalism as a model of conflict settlement provides the instruments of distribution, division and separation of authority and power based on the people’s will and desires.

10. The Principles of Federalism

The Eritrean  people cannot rest content until they have a genuine structure of government expressing their will and wishes in all vital matters. The Eritrea people is in a situation that is intolerable charged with hatred, filled with misfortune and pain- wars , hunger and aids. Reverting this situation need hope and positive reaction. Hope followed by action would bring the reasonable settlement in Eritrea. Out of this suffering , we must fashion  a new Eritrea free from prejudices and barriers. How can we create a true unity in Eritrea ? By devising the principles and foundations of unity leading to peace and stability in the country.

In this part of the  article, I will deal with the principles of the method of unifying( federalism ) Eritreans, ie the principles of federalism.

The principles of federalism evolve from the historical and different experiences in the past. Out of these experiences, there are three main principles that distinguish the federal system of government than the national government system. Thus, they are : the constitutional  distribution of power, the separation of the legislative and executive power and the division of legislative power into two powerful chambers.

11. The constitutional distribution of power between the federal and state governments

The relationship of the Federal , State and Local governments depends on the competence  within their own domain and subject to the constitution. The federal constitution provides each government with significant decision making power, administrative responsibility and operational influence. The federal Constitution provides a vertical distribution of authority and functions between the federal government and the federating states, according to which each is state is a co-ordinate but not subordinate with the others. Some powers lie with the federal authority and some with member states, and each domain has scope for independent action within its power. The principle of co- ordinate and independent powers plays a big role in strengthening the relationship between the federal government and the states as provided in the basic law.

The basic principles should be expressed in the articles of the basic law. The exercise of state powers and the distribution of  state functions and competence rests with the states. The states are responsible for establishing their own administrative services and procedures. The federal government cannot promulgate decrees without the consent of the state representatives. The principle of administration by the states should be qualified within the area of its competence.

So far we have been dealing with principles of autonomous states’ administration and their legal qualifications, the subsiding will be on the legislative and executive powers.

11. The principles of federal legislatures

In a federal form of governing, there are two-chambers ; the national assembly consisting of the popularly elected national assembly and the second chamber representing the states , known as the senate or state council. The members of the senate are all members of their respective state governments.

The functions of the government are divided between the legislature which has power authority over the whole nation and those legislatures which have authority over their own territories. The relationship between these two legislatures is not like the relationship between superior and subordinate as in a unitary government of the current and dreamers of the future in Eritrea , but is a division of governmental functions between one authority, usually called federal government and the state government. In federalism , there is no such relationship. The division of functions of government are embodied in the written federal constitution which is the supreme law of the land. In unitary constitution, all power is concentrated in the centre- in the executive organ.

The motive of the principle of separation of power is to restrain the tyranny in governments and work transparently under the law of the constitution.


The Eritrean political conflict is based on the role of the state structure and organization. The state is the most powerful organization. Control of the state usually provides access to economic power. What the Eritrean people experience and see is that the regime in power is today dominated by one sector of the Eritrean people. There is a strong competition for control over the state apparatus and this will be the main cause of post dictatorial Eritrea. The Eritrean

Oppositions thorny issues are the issues of state structure and the kind of covenant/ constitution building process. If the Eritrean opposition for democratic change wants to prevent this conflict it must restructure the state and have a new constitution that can solve the internal conflicts of power sharing and redistribution of economic resources. A more productive strategy is to look at tools devolving power via federalism.


  1. Ghai, Yash.Ed 1998. “ Decentralization and the Accommodation of Ethnicity”
  2. Lapidoth,Ruth. 1996. autonomy:Flexible Solutions to ethnic conflicts.
  3. Dahl RobertA. 1983. “ Federalism and the Democratic Process.
  4. Elazar, Daniel.J. 1968. Federalism.
  5. Kymlicka,Will 2001. “ Minority Nationalism and Multination Federalism.”
  6. Lijphart, Arend 1977, Democracy in plural society.
  7. Azar, Edward E.1991, “ The analysis and management of protracted conflict.

OCTOBER 21, 2020  NEWS

Source: Reporters Without Borders

RSF Case against President Isaias

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) filed a complaint today with the office of the Swedish prosecutor for international crimes accusing Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki and seven other senior Eritrean officials of a crime against humanity by holding a journalist incommunicado since 2001.

Their victim, Dawit Isaak, who has Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality, is the world’s longest held journalist. RSF hopes the complaint leads to a serious criminal investigation that results in the eight officials being prosecuted and convicted for the torture, abduction and enforced disappearance of Isaak.

Filed in Stockholm by two Swedish lawyers on RSF’s behalf, the complaint names Afwerki, the northeast African country’s president since 1993, as well as the foreign, justice and information ministers, and four other senior administrative and security officials.

No matter how high their rank, the individuals who imprisoned Dawit Isaak and left him languishing there for nearly 20 years must be held criminally responsible,” said lawyer and Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, one of the complaint’s signatories. “Justice in Eritrea will not progress as long as these persons are able to act with complete impunity and no attempt is made to convict them by the countries that can.”

A journalist, poet and naturalized Swedish citizen, Isaak returned to his country of birth to serve “a free Eritrea” and launch a pro-reform newspaper, but was arrested during a series of round-ups of government opponents and independent journalists in September 2001 and has been held incommunicado ever since.

At no point in the past 19 years has he been allowed to see his lawyers or family, or receive a visit from UN or Swedish representatives, despite his Swedish nationality and many requests for visits. The last “proof of life” dates back to 2005. He is likely being held in appalling conditions at the Eiraeiro detention centre in the middle of a desert in the Northern Red Sea Region, where burning hot containers are used as cells.

When RSF’s lawyers filed an initial complaint with the Swedish courts in 2014, the Stockholm prosecutor general recognized that “crimes against humanity, at least in terms of enforced disappearance” had been committed against Isaak in Eritrea, that these crimes came under Swedish jurisdiction, and that there were “serious grounds” for opening a preliminary investigation.

But no such investigation was initiated because, after consultation with the Swedish foreign ministry, it was decided that this “could affect Sweden’s relations with Eritrea,” which could in turn “diminish the chances of pressuring for [Isaak’s] release.”

This argument is no longer valid,” said Paul Coppin, the head of RSF’s legal unit. “Five years after this decision, Dawit Isaak is still missing and the Swedish authorities have obtained nothing – neither his release, nor a visit, nor proof of life. The many resolutions and condemnations by international bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, have not achieved anything either. A criminal investigation is therefore now urgent.”

During a parliamentary hearing in Stockholm in 2019, Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde was herself “forced to conclude that Eritrea has not in any way listened to our concerns and has not followed up on them.”

The complaint filed on RSF’s behalf aims to pressure the Swedish judicial authorities into arresting those held responsible for Isaak’s fate if they enter Sweden and, if necessary, issuing international warrants for their arrest with the aim of trying them in Sweden.

In light of a complete lack of progress in the disastrous human rights situation in Eritrea, the Swedish justice system could thereby have a decisive impact in terms of assisting Isaak and the other journalists held since 2001. It could also help to end impunity for crimes of violence in Eritrea and help improve press freedom there.

Drafted and filed by the Swedish lawyers Percy Bratt and Jesús Alcalá, the complaint has been co-signed by Isaak’s brother, Esayas Isaak; by historian and expert in international affairs Susanne Berger, who coordinates the Raoul Wallenberg Research Initiative; by Björn Tunbäck, who heads the Dawit Isaak team within RSF’s Swedish section; and by Antoine Bernard, international lawyer and senior advisor for International strategic litigation at RSF .

Eleven prominent jurists and well-known international figures have also backed the initiative: 2003 Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi; former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay; former African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights chair Pansy Tlakula; former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler; Bernhard Docke, a lawyer and member of the German Federal Bar’s human rights committee; international human rights lawyer David Matas; Eritrean Law Society director Daniel Mekonnen; Philippe Sands, a British and French lawyer who is president of English PEN; Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa executive director Gaye Sowe; Straniak Academy for Democracy and Human Rights director Hannes Tretter; and University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights director Frans Viljoen.

Eritrea is ranked 178th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Sudan’s strange, landmark deal with the USA

Wednesday, 21 October 2020 11:50 Written by




Details are sketchy, but the deal outlined in this exchange of Tweets seems clear.

Sudan will pay the USA £335 million to pay for its part in terrorism. In return President Trump moves to remove Sudan from the list of terrorist states.

But it does not end there. The reports below provide further information.

  • Sudan effectively accepts responsibility for Islamic terrorism because it allowed Osama bin Laden to be based in Sudan between 1991 and 1996 when he controlled al-Qaida. More than 224 people died and 4,000 were injured in the double bombing of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 by al-Qaida, then run by bin Laden from Afghanistan, as well as an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
  • This will be followed by a congratulatory phone conference involving Trump, Chairman of Sudan Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fatah al-Burhan, Sudan Prime Minister Abdel-Fatah al-Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The deal could could pave the way for Sudan to recognize Israel.
  • In return the US will announce an economic aid package that will include food and medicine, as well as $750 million in cash from Arab Gulf states. The US will also pledge to support Sudan debt relief from bilateral and multilateral creditors, facilitate private investment by US firms, as well as work to get Sudan off last January’s travel ban to the US which which prohibits Sudanese nationals from obtaining diversity visas.

Trump gives green light for removing Sudan’s terrorism designation

Source: Sudan Tribune

October 19, 2020 (KHARTOUM) – The U.S. President Donald Trump sent Sudanese cheering after announcing on Monday his intention to remove Sudan from the list of states that sponsor terrorism after being stuck in this blacklist for almost three decades.US President Donald Trump (Kevin Lamarque | Reuters)

“GREAT news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!” Trump tweeted at around 8 pm Khartoum time.

The tweet was part of a deal reached between the US and Sudan last week after the former presented a new offer to Khartoum after Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok kept resisting previous versions that would have required him to agree to normalizing ties with Israel before getting off the terror list.

Sudan Tribune was reliably told that international actors worked behind the scenes to nudge Hamdok into accepting the last-minute agreement.

According to US sources, the tweet was supposed to be published on Sunday but was delayed for timing reasons related to the presence of US officials in Manama where they witnessed agreements signed between Bahrain and Israel.

The next step would be for Sudan to deposit money related to a settlement with terror victims in an escrow account after which Trump will formally notify the Congress that he has decided to delist Sudan after the east African nation satisfied the statutory requirement per US law. The decision would be effective after 45 days unless Congress seeks to block it through a resolution by a veto-proof majority, a highly unlikely scenario.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Jim Risch called Trump’s decision a “major step to resolve important issues that stand in the way of Sudan normalizing relations with the international community. Sudan has made impressive democratic & economic reforms, & I look forward to working with @POTUS & others as Sudan moves forward”.

Following this notification, a congratulatory phone conference is scheduled to be conducted involving Trump, Chairman of Sudan Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fatah al-Burhan, Sudan Prime Minister Abdel-Fatah al-Burhan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is also expected that the US would announce an economic aid package at some point that will include food & medicine as well as $750 million in cash from Arab Gulf states.

The US will also pledge to support Sudan debt relief from bilateral & multilateral creditors, facilitate private investment by US firms as well as work to get it off the travel ban list from last January which prohibited Sudanese nationals from obtaining diversity visas.

In line with the deal, Burhan and Hamdok immediately tweeted at Trump in response to his tweet.

“Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much. This Tweet and that notification are the strongest support to Sudan’s transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people. As we’re about to get rid of the heaviest legacy of Sudan’s previous, defunct regime, I should reiterate that we are peace-loving people and have never supported terrorism” Hamdok said in a series of tweets from his account.

A tweet on behalf of Burhan was published by the Transitional Sovereignty Council (TSC) account said: “I would like to express my deep appreciation and that of the Sudanese people to President Trump and to the US Administration for the constructive step taken to remove Sudan off the Terror List in recognition of the historic change that has taken place in Sudan I would like to express my deep appreciation and that of the Sudanese people to President Trump and to the US Administration for the constructive step taken to remove Sudan off the Terror List in recognition of the historic change that has taken place in Sudan”.

A contentious part of the agreement would be for the US administration to push Congress to pass the “legal peace” bill to shield Sudan from future lawsuits connected to the time it was on the list of states that sponsor terrorism. The $335 million in compensation will not be released to the victims until that happens.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee Robert Menendez, as well as the minority leader Chuck Schumer, oppose the bill on the grounds that it strips families of the 9/11 terror attack from the right to sue Sudan among other things.

Menendez wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo obtained by The Jerusalem Post on Monday in which he stated that while he is supportive of Sudan, he will not support the bill unless concerns related to 9/11 victims are addressed and also alluded to the disparities between compensation allocated to US citizens versus non-US citizens in the twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

He said there is a need to “ensure that 9/11 claims are not terminated or otherwise disadvantaged given that those claims were not addressed in the negotiations with Sudan, and; address the inferior treatment of naturalized US citizen victims of terrorism and related issues concerning third-country nationals who were injured or killed in terrorist attacks while working for the United States government”.

“Absent an acceptable resolution, passage of the legislation will be extremely difficult and likely impossible to achieve regardless of any commitments or escrow arrangement between the [State] Department and Sudan,” Menendez warned.

His Democratic colleague on the committee Senator Chris Coons who drafted the bill and has been the lead on this issue said on Twitter that the “Trump administration and Congress must redouble efforts to pass legal peace legislation for Sudan to deliver long-awaited justice and compensation to terror victims and families”.

Stuart Newberger, an attorney at Crowell & Moring who represents US victims and their families, told CNN that Congress must pass the legislation because the agreement between Washington and Khartoum “requires that Sudan be basically relieved of being sued in federal court as a sponsor of terror under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.”

“So that’s why Congress has to get involved to provide Sudan what’s called ’legal peace.’ The President can’t do that on his own; that’s something only Congress can do,” he said.

Edith Bartley, a spokesperson for some the families of Americans who were killed in the embassy bombings, welcomed the announcement by Trump.

“On behalf of the families killed in the 1998 bombing of the Nairobi embassy, I wish to express our appreciation for the long hard work of the State Department, and the new civilian regime in Sudan, to secure Sudan’s payment of compensation to our diplomatic families for that act of terror,” said Bartley, who herself lost her father and brother in the attack in Nairobi.

“The escrow fund established by that agreement, once it is released to the victims, will fulfil a longstanding commitment first made by President Bush, honoured by President Obama, and now affirmed by President Trump, to condition normalization on compensating survivors and the families of those who were lost to acts of terror. In so doing, we vindicate the sacrifice of our diplomats abroad,” she said.

In her statement, Bartley also called for Congress “to immediately pass the legislation that is needed to implement the agreement and begin the payment process. Congress cannot let this agreement fall victim to legislative gridlock and bickering.”

However one of the victims by the name of Doreen Oport, who worked at the US embassy in Nairobi and was injured in the attack, said in a statement carried by CNN, “We want a resolution but cannot accept one that betrays so many US embassy victims and the most basic principles of American justice”.

In a statement to the nation, late Monday Hamdok said the delisting would allow for better management of the economy and open the door for debt relief as well as rebuilding critical sectors of the economy.

Trump to remove Sudan from US terror blacklist

Source DW

The US president has said he is willing to remove Sudan from a terror blacklist once it pays an agreed compensation package to American victims and their relatives.

Sudan's government signed a peace deal with rebels earlier this month.

Sudan will be removed from a US blacklist of countries accused of sponsoring terrorism, US President Donald Trump said on Monday.

He said that the African country’s year-old transitional government had agreed to pay a $335 million (€285 million) package to American victims of attacks and their relatives.

“At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan,” Trump posted on Twitter.

“Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list,” he added.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok replied to Trump, thanking him for the move.

“We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much,” he wrote.

Washington blacklisted Sudan in 1993, accusing the regime led by Omar al-Bashir of supporting terrorist organisations.

Bashir, who was ousted by protests last year, had links with Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin-Laden.

The US said Sudan provided a safe haven for its operatives under his watch.

The package would compensate victims and families from a series of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, as well as an attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

Sources quoted by the Reuters news agency said that the payment could pave the way for Sudan to recognize Israel.

The Trump administration has brokered similar peace deals between the Israeli government and Arab nations in recent months.

Both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have agreed to normalize ties with their former foe.

Asked whether an Israel-Sudan breakthrough was imminent, Israeli Finance Minister Israel Katz told Israel’s Army Radio: “There are contacts, accompanied by the Americans, and there is complexity. I hope that the intensive contacts will yield positive fruit.”

Earlier this month, Sudan’s government signed its own peace deal with rebels aimed at ending decades of war in which hundreds of thousands died.


Sudan discusses Arab-Israeli peace and terrorism list with U.S.: statement

By Reuters Staff


KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan and the United States have discussed how Khartoum could advance Arab-Israeli peace, authorities said on Wednesday, adding the talks also covered the removal of the former hardline foe of Israel from a U.S. list of terrorism sponsors.

Meeting in the United Arab Emirates, a Sudanese delegation and U.S. officials held talks on how peace could stabilise the region and secure a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question, the ruling sovereign council said.

The UAE, a leading regional partner of the United States, and Bahrain normalised ties with Israel this month in deals brokered by Washington, the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to break a longstanding taboo.

In August, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue of Sudan establishing ties with Israel during a visit. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told him at the time he had no mandate to do so.

A Sudanese team led by General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, head of the council, flew to the UAE on Sunday to hold talks with U.S. officials on several issues including the removal of Sudan from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Sudanese officials held “serious and frank talks” on the future of Arab-Israeli peace, which would lead to “stability in the region and preserve the right of the Palestinian people to establish their state according to the vision of a two-state solution”, a council statement said after the return of the delegation.

The two sides also discussed “the role that Sudan is expected to play in achieving this peace,” it said, without giving any details.

The council, made up of the military and civilians, has been in charge of Sudan since the toppling of autocrat Omar al-Bashir last year.

Ties with Israel are a sensitive issue in Sudan, which was among the hardline Arab foes of Israel under Bashir.

In February, Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, a meeting condemned by Sudanese protesters. He afterwards cast doubt on any rapid normalisation of relations, though Israeli aircraft soon began overflying Sudan.

The talks also tackled lifting Sudan from the terrorism list, which hinders its ability to access foreign loans to tackle an economic crisis, the council said, without giving details.



There have been a number of indications of what is taking place.

There was President Isaias’s trip to Ethiopia. Plus discussions between senior intelligence officials from Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. And – of course – there has been the attempt to isolate Tigray since it succeeded in holding an election.

Below is an article and a discussion which may be helpful.


Source: Africa ExPress

The Afworki trip to Ethiopia ignores the perpetuation of human rights abuses in Eritrea

By Cornelia Toelgyes on October 21, 2020

From our Correspondent
Saba Makeda
Somewhere in Eritrea

From the 12th to 15th of October 2020, President Isaias Afworki was on an official visit to Ethiopia. Yemane Gebremeskel, the Eritrean Minister of Information, announced the President’s travel on the 12th of October as a working visit to consult and discuss “…bilateral ties as well as the consolidation of regional cooperation. Mr Yemane Twitted that: “President Isaias Afworki and his delegation were accorded warm welcome by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on arrival at Jimma Abajifar Airport, earlier in the day.”

Abiy Ahmed, primo ministro etiope, durante la sua recente visita a Sawa, campo militare eritreo

This Eritrean trip follows the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s (PM), Abiy Ahmed, travel to Eritrea in July when the PM visited Eritrea’s SAWA military training camp1. Abiy’s presence in Sawa normalises it as a military facility. Such normalisation of SAWA is unfortunate; it ignores its role in the perpetuation of human rights abuses as well as entrenching the never-ending National Service both critical reasons for the flight of the Eritrean youth.

During the three days, President Isaias Afworki has visited a coffee plantation and the University in Jimma, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)iv; Gibe-III hydropower plant (on the Omo River), the Ethio-Engineering Group, the Ethiopian Air Force, and the newly inaugurated Entoto Natural Park.

This visit, like all previous visits between the two leaders, is notable for the fact that neither the Eritrean people nor the Ethiopian people have any idea as to what “bilateral and regional issues” the two leaders are discussing or resolving.

Eritreans are bewildered and disgusted at the royalvi and obsequious treatment that PM Abiy is conferring on President Isaias whenever he is in Ethiopia. They also point out that, since 2018, Isaias has inaugurated more projects and visited more Universities in Ethiopia than he has in twenty-nine years in Eritrea. As President Isaias admires the capacity of the Ethiopian airforce, we remember that Brigadier General Habtemariam, the man responsible for re-building the Eritrean airforce from scratch, is in prison for fifteen years now. And like so many prisoners, the whereabouts of Brigadier General Habtemariam is not known.

As Eritreans, the Eritrean Government’s shuttle diplomacy, facilitated by the UAE who have provided the Government with a Boing 737ix, is a cause for concern and further bewilderment. Though the Government has access to an airplane, it has made no effort to evacuate Eritrean citizens stranded in Ethiopia because of COVID 19. There is no report of President Isaias even meeting with such citizens in Ethiopia. The information from Addis Ababa is that Eritreans wishing to repatriate are required to register with the Eritrean Embassy and pay USD 300. They are also required to pay for their fourteen days quarantine upon arrival in Eritrea. As many Eritrean citizens cannot afford the costs, they are now begging in the streets of Addis Ababa.

Isaias Afeworki, presidente dell’Eritrea e Abiy Ahmed, primo ministro dell’Etiopia

The Ethiopians are equally bewildered, disgusted, and disconcerted as to the behaviour and the relationship of President Isais and their Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. They are also puzzled by the total lack of progress and transparency of the Ethiopia Eritrea peace process. The Ethiopian media and media analyst, like the Eritreans, are asking what the purpose of President Isaias multiple trips to Ethiopia is. The media colleagues in Ethiopia (Abbay Media; Ethio360media) ask why a person who cannot manage his own country, who has closed Asmara University is travelling to Ethiopia to visit Universities and industrial parks. They point out that President Isaias has transformed Eritrea into prison and a land of the aged from which the youth are fleeing.

The Ethiopian journalists and media commentators describe the performance of the two leaders as an act for the benefit of the cameras. Still, in the end, there is no improvement in the lives of the Ethiopian and Eritrean people. The border between Eritrea and Ethiopia remains closed, and the two people are not able to work and move freely between their respective countries. And Ethiopia continues to host Eritrean refugees. Ethiopians, like Eritreans, do not see that any benefit has accrued to them as a result of the Ethiopia Eritrea peace process.

The relationships between the Ethiopian Prime Minister and the Eritrean President is interpreted based on the fact that both Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afworki are un-elected leaders of their respective countries whose common enemy is the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF).

Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia, on the 2nd of April 2018, following a leadership contest within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The House of Representatives confirmed his position in the expectation of general elections in August 2020. By the end of 2019, the Prime Minister had transformed the EPRDF into the Prosperity Party. This transformation is a cause of tension between the PM and the founders of the EPRDF, included the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The tension between Addis Ababa and Mekelle heightened further when the August general election, was postponed to 2021. Since 2018 the Eritrean Government has adopted an increasingly hard line against Tigray and the TPLF. It identifies the TPLF as a critical stumbling block to peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian people have not elected Abiy Ahmed. In Eritrea, Isaias Afworki has been in power for twenty-nine years, and the country has not had a general election.

Finally, since the 2018 peace accord, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea have met frequently. But, the peace agreement is not progressing, the legitimacy of PM Abiy and President Isaias is, increasingly, questioned. And, neither the Eritreans nor the Ethiopians have any idea of what their leaders are discussing.

Makeda Saba

OCTOBER 18, 2020  NEWS

Yesterday, an Eritrean won a place in New Zealand’s Parliament. Congratulations!

Ibrahim OmerIbrahim Omer’s story is one every Eritrean will appreciate.  He has just been elected as a Labour Party MP.

This is what the party said about him in the run-up to the election.

“Meet Ibrahim

Ibrahim Omer is standing as a Labour candidate to represent communities who often struggle to have their voices heard. His experience spans fleeing his home country, being in a refugee camp, working as a minimum wage cleaner, graduating from university, and representing low paid workers as a union organiser.

Ibrahim’s wide personal experience makes him the real deal. He left his home country of Eritrea in 2003, making the dangerous border crossing to neighbouring Sudan. He spent years in UN-run refugee camps where he worked as an interpreter, until being detained on suspicion of being a spy. It was only when the UN stepped in that he was rescued and offered the chance to come to New Zealand.

He moved to Wellington where he worked as a cleaner and dreamt of studying at Victoria University. That dream came true in 2014 when he was promoted to cleaning supervisor. He paid for his study by working full time at nights, cleaning the university he attended.

Since becoming involved in politics at university, Ibrahim has taken every opportunity to work for a better tomorrow. He has chaired the board of ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum, been involved in governance for the Living Wage Movement, and knocked on hundreds of doors and made thousands of calls as a Labour volunteer.

Ibrahim wants to be in parliament to fight for people in the positions he has been in to have better opportunities for a decent life.”

He has also been profiled by Amnesty International

As a teenager, Ibrahim was forced to flee his home, escaping a repressive regime, the potential to end up a child soldier or face prison for refusing national service, which is both compulsory and endless.

“There was a shoot to kill policy on the border by the regime, I had very limited options, either to be shot, or get arrested and spend years in underground or metal shipping containers, or make it safe to Sudan,” said Ibrahim.

Speaking at the Public Hearing of Our Voices at Parliament on 15 February Ibrahim said he wanted to tell his story to give those listening some idea why people choose to leave their country, why millions of people take the deadly risks, why they put their loved ones in danger of drowning in the oceans, or falling prey to greedy human traffickers.

“The answer is because they run out of options, because they would rather die trying than dying a slow and painful death.”

Ibrahim was lucky he made it to Sudan, but safety wasn’t guaranteed and he faced the very real prospect of being deported back to Eritrea until the UNHCR intervened and referred his case onto third countries for resettlement.

“It was at this crucial moment of my life New Zealand came asking for any special cases, luckily I got accepted, that was the day that changed my life. If it wasn’t for this wonderful country I would be languishing somewhere in an underground prison in a desert.”

“It was at this crucial moment of my life New Zealand came asking for any special cases, luckily I got accepted, that was the day that changed my life. If it wasn’t for this wonderful country I would be languishing somewhere in an underground prison in a desert,” said Ibrahim.

Today, he said he couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more proud. As a third year student at Victoria University he is working hard to give back to the country that gave him a second chance.

But he also makes a special plea to the government of New Zealand: “As a former refugee who got the second chance in this beautiful country, I would like to add my voice to the thousands of Kiwis across the country who are calling on our Government to double the refugee quota.”

Labour MP's Wellington

OCTOBER 17, 2020  NEWS

Since the peace agreement with Ethiopia in September 2018 and the lifting of UN sanctions in November that year, we have had some acknowledgement from the Eritrean Government of their willingness to engage and a recognition that there is room for improvement in the area of human rights especially around reform of national service. However, there have been very few signs of progress so far.

Source: Lord David Alton

UK Africa Minister Responds to concerns about human rights violations in Eritrea and says he is “concerned, about the large numbers of Eritreans who continue to leave Eritrea…the continuing detention of political opponents as well as journalists; and, the restrictions placed on unregistered religious communities.

Oct 17, 2020

James Duddridge MP
Minister for Africa
King Charles Street
Tel: 0207 008 5000
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Lord Alton of Liverpool
House of Lords
Our ref: MC2020/12278
16 October 2020

Dear Lord Alton,

Thank you for your email about the UN Report on Eritrea and Freedom of
Religion or Belief, and for your work in continuing to shine a light on human rights issues
around the world.

Please accept my sincere apologies for the lateness of the reply.

As you know, Eritrea remains one of the FCO’s countries of human rights concern and,
both through multilateral fora and our Embassy in Asmara, we seek to raise human
rights concerns with the Government whenever possible. Since the peace agreement
with Ethiopia in September 2018 and the lifting of UN sanctions in November that year,
we have had some acknowledgement from the Eritrean Government of their willingness
to engage and a recognition that there is room for improvement in the area of human
rights especially around reform of national service. However, there have been very few
signs of progress so far. We noted this in our statement at the Human Rights Council on
30 June. It is clear that the Eritrean Government’s focus continues to be on their own
security in their region.

Despite this, we have been trying to reset the relationship with Eritrea to create a better
environment where we can discuss the full range of our concerns. Over the past year,
we have been able to increasingly discuss these difficult issues, and our Ambassador
has raised the closure of the Catholic health centres, the release of unregistered
Christian groups, freedom of the media and the release of detained journalists and of
course, reform of national service. We have pressed the Eritrean Government to engage
on the UPR recommendations as they acknowledge that they are prepared to work in
this forum.

You noted particular points around freedom of religion and belief (FoRB). Our
Ambassador regularly raises these issues with Eritrean Government interlocutors. He
last raised this topic on 27 August with Ambassador Gehartu, the Eritrean MFA’s Head
of Multilateral Department – he regularly represents the Eritrean Government in Geneva,
including at the Human Rights Council. At that meeting, our Ambassador lobbied for the
release of followers of the Pentecostal church. The Ambassador also raised the
continuing detention of followers of the Pentecostal church with the Minister of
Information on 7 August. The UK has welcomed the recent release of a number of
Pentecostal followers – some held for many years – and Muslim worshippers held
following demonstrations over school closures in 2018. Although the pressure applied
through our lobbying and that of other international partners is unlikely to have triggered
this release, we will continue our efforts to encourage the Eritrean Government to
release all political and religious prisoners held without trial. Respect for human rights
and democratic freedoms underpins the UK’s foreign policy and we will continue to be a
strong advocate for accountability and justice.

In general, discussions with the Eritrean Government on FoRB are difficult – they believe
that Eritrea already allows the freedom of worship (albeit limited to the Orthodox,
Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Sunni Islam faiths). In their view, once Covid is over,
we will see the resumption of faithful participation in services across the country.
However, we are still keen to hold a specific dialogue around greater religious tolerance
perhaps through a visit by the PM’s Envoy on FoRB, once a new Envoy has been
appointed. We raised this with the Eritrean Government pre-Covid.

The UN Special Rapporteur fulfils a vital role on maintaining a focus on FoRB and
human rights in Eritrea. Like the Special Rapporteur, we welcome Eritrea’s participation
in The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women
(CEDAW), their engagement through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
framework to improve crime prevention and criminal justice reform and their ratification
of the eight International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions. We are concerned,
however, about the large numbers of Eritreans who continue to leave Eritrea because of:
a desire to avoid national service in search of better economic livelihoods; the continuing
detention of political opponents as well as journalists; and, the restrictions placed on
unregistered religious communities.

Our Ambassador returned to Eritrea on 12 July following his drawdown from post on 18
April. He continues to seek openings to raise human rights. Raising cases and areas of
concern help underline the importance that we attach to respect and protection or
human rights and the UK’s role as being a force for good post-Brexit. However, alone
they are not delivering the progress that we want to see.

I hope it will be possible for our Human Rights Ambassador to visit post-Covid, as well
as the PM’s envoy on FoRB. We also need to find areas where we can encourage
positive change and engagement such as on the UPR recommendations, which Eritrea
agreed, or around areas like gender, which the Special Rapporteur highlighted. I hope
that we can maintain a dialogue with you and the wider APPG on Eritrea at this time and
perhaps encourage a visit by the group to Eritrea in the not too distant future.

James Duddridge MP

Minister for Africa

OCTOBER 16, 2020  NEWS

Professor BabikerThe UN Human Rights Commission has appointed Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

It is an excellent appointment.

Professor Babiker is  Dean of the School of Law at the University of Khartoum, with vast experience in this field [see his CV below].

Perhaps most importantly, he was was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as Humanitarian expert with the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG), Security Council resolution 2385 (2017) and the Panel of Experts (POE) on Somalia, Security Council resolution 2444 (2018).

So he knows about Eritrea’s operations in Somalia and – coming from Sudan – must be fully aware of President Isaias’s role inside Sudan as well.

We wish Professor Babiker every success, and look forward to working with him.

Dr. Mohammed Abdelsalam Babiker is Associate Professor of International Law, Dean of the School of Law at the University of Khartoum, and founding Director of its Human Rights Centre. He is the author of Application of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law to the Armed Conflicts of the Sudan: Complementary or Mutually Exclusive Regimes (Intersentia, Antwerp: Oxford, 2007). He has also co-edited a number of books including: Constitution-Making and Human Rights in the Sudans (Routledge, UK, 2019; Anthropology of law in Muslim Sudan: (Brill, 2018); Child Soldiers and Protection of Children’s Rights in Conflict and Post Conflict Environments in Central and Eastern African (L’Armatan, France, 2013).

Dr. Babiker has published extensively in the areas of human rights, international criminal law, international humanitarian law and migration law, and contributed chapters in books and journal articles in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, USA and South Africa ( Refugee Quarterly Survey (Oxford Journals, university of Oxford), Journal of Peace Research InstituteJournal of African Renaissance Studies, University of South AfricaEuropean University Institute (EUI) and Robert Schuman Center for Advanced StudiesLaw Africa, Kenya, Nuremberg International Principles Academy, etc… ).

In December 2017 and 2018, Dr. Babiker was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as Humanitarian expert with the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG), Security Council resolution 2385 (2017) and the Panel of Experts (POE) on Somalia, Security Council resolution 2444 (2018).  He was also nominated by the Consultative Committee of the UN Human Rights Council for the position of Special Rapporteur for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Session, Human rights Council, 33 session, September 2016.

Dr. Babiker  also worked as a Legal Advisor and a Human Rights Officer with UN and AU peacekeeping operations and a number of UN agencies.

Eritrea faces new desert locust threat

Thursday, 15 October 2020 23:29 Written by

OCTOBER 15, 2020  NEWS

Source: FAO

Swarms increasing and moving in the Horn of Africa

Desert Locust Threat

The situation is expected to deteriorate as more swarms and another generation of breeding commences from the Red Sea to Somalia, which could be supplemented by swarms coming from Yemen. This is likely to threaten Kenya where swarms could arrive in the north from mid-November onwards. Nevertheless, the situation is less dramatic than one year ago and countries are better prepared.

ERITREA. Hopper groups and bands are present in some Red Sea coastal areas from Idd in the south to Mehimet in the north. Mature adult groups are laying near Mehimet. Ground control operations are in progress. More breeding is expected, causing hopper bands, immature adult groups, and perhaps a few swarms to form.

President Isaias enjoys right Royal benefits

Thursday, 15 October 2020 23:23 Written by

Eritrea: While his countrymen and women live in poverty, often without power or water supplies, President Isaias has taken to travelling round in a jet supplied by the Abu Dhabi government.

Young Eritreans risk all to cross the Sahara or the Mediterranean while the President flies in comfort to his next destination. Sad, but apparently true.

Saudi Oilfield

In 1974, at the height of the oil crisis that followed the Arab nations -payback for U.S. military support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War -quadrupled oil prices. Inflation soared, the stock market crashed, and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin. A deal was struck: the basic framework was strikingly simple. The United States would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.

Source: Bloomberg

The untold story behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-year U.S. debt secret


https://martinplaut.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/william-simon.jpg?w=101 101w, https://martinplaut.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/william-simon.jpg?w=202 202w" sizes="(max-width: 580px) 100vw, 580px" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-size: 17px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 400; line-height: 1; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; text-align: left; height: auto; max-width: 100%;">Former Treasury Secretary William Simon, who served under President Richard Nixon and is shown in 1982, went on a trip to Europe and the Middle East with a secret goal: neutralize crude oil as an economic weapon and find a way to persuade a hostile kingdom to finance America’s widening deficit with its newfound petrodollar wealth. To do it, he leveraged U.S. debt. (Ira Schwartz / AP)

Failure was not an option.

It was July 1974. A steady predawn drizzle had given way to overcast skies when William Simon, newly appointed U.S. Treasury secretary, and his deputy, Gerry Parsky, stepped onto an 8 a.m. flight from Andrews Air Force Base. On board, the mood was tense. That year, the oil crisis had hit home. An embargo by OPEC’s Arab nations-payback for U.S. military aid to the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War-quadrupled oil prices. Inflation soared, the stock market crashed, and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin.

Officially, Simon’s two-week trip was billed as a tour of economic diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East, full of the customary meet-and-greets and evening banquets. But the real mission, kept in strict confidence within President Richard Nixon’s inner circle, would take place during a four-day layover in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The goal: neutralize crude oil as an economic weapon and find a way to persuade a hostile kingdom to finance America’s widening deficit with its newfound petrodollar wealth. And according to Parsky, Nixon made clear there was simply no coming back empty-handed. Failure would not only jeopardize America’s financial health but could also give the Soviet Union an opening to make further inroads into the Arab world.

It “wasn’t a question of whether it could be done or it couldn’t be done,” said Parsky, 73, one of the few officials with Simon during the Saudi talks.[Most read] Second stimulus check updates: Pelosi dismisses latest White House COVID-19 relief offer; GOP roasts Mnuchin on conference call »

At first blush, Simon, who had just done a stint as Nixon’s energy czar, seemed ill-suited for such delicate diplomacy. Before being tapped by Nixon, the chain-smoking New Jersey native ran the vaunted Treasuries desk at Salomon Brothers. To career bureaucrats, the brash Wall Street bond trader-who once compared himself to Genghis Khan-had a temper and an outsize ego that was painfully out of step in Washington. Just a week before setting foot in Saudi Arabia, Simon publicly lambasted the Shah of Iran, a close regional ally at the time, calling him a “nut.”

But Simon, better than anyone else, understood the appeal of U.S. government debt and how to sell the Saudis on the idea that America was the safest place to park their petrodollars. With that knowledge, the administration hatched an unprecedented do-or-die plan that would come to influence just about every aspect of U.S.-Saudi relations over the next four decades (Simon died in 2000 at the age of 72).

The basic framework was strikingly simple. The United States would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.

It took several discreet follow-up meetings to iron out all the details, Parsky said. But at the end of months of negotiations, there remained one small, yet crucial, catch: King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud demanded the country’s Treasury purchases stay “strictly secret,” according to a diplomatic cable obtained by Bloomberg from the National Archives database.

With a handful of Treasury and Federal Reserve officials, the secret was kept for more than four decades-until now. In response to a Freedom-of-Information-Act request submitted by Bloomberg News, the Treasury broke out Saudi Arabia’s holdings for the first time this month after “concluding that it was consistent with transparency and the law to disclose the data,” according to spokeswoman Whitney Smith. The $117 billion trove makes the kingdom one of America’s largest foreign creditors.[Most read] Security guard for TV station in custody after fatal shooting at dueling protests in Denver »

Yet in many ways, the information has raised more questions than it has answered. A former Treasury official, who specialized in central bank reserves and asked not to be identified, says the official figure vastly understates Saudi Arabia’s investments in U.S. government debt, which may be double or more.

The current tally represents just 20 percent of its $587 billion of foreign reserves, well below the two-thirds that central banks typically keep in dollar assets. Some analysts speculate the kingdom may be masking its U.S. debt holdings by accumulating Treasuries through offshore financial centers, which show up in the data of other countries.

Exactly how much of America’s debt Saudi Arabia actually owns is something that matters more now than ever before.

While oil’s collapse has deepened concern that Saudi Arabia will need to liquidate its Treasuries to raise cash, a more troubling worry has also emerged: the specter of the kingdom using its outsize position in the world’s most important debt market as a political weapon, much as it did with oil in the 1970s.

In April, Saudi Arabia warned it would start selling as much as $750 billion in Treasuries and other assets if Congress passes a bill allowing the kingdom to be held liable in U.S. courts for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the New York Times. The threat comes amid a renewed push by presidential candidates and legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties to declassify a 28-page section of a 2004 U.S. government report that is believed to detail possible Saudi connections to the attacks. The bill, which passed the Senate on May 17, is now in the House of Representatives.[Most read] WGN weather anchor Paul Konrad lists Near West Side condo with rooftop penthouse for $2.95 million »

Saudi Arabia’s Finance Ministry declined to comment on the potential selling of Treasuries in response. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency didn’t immediately answer requests for details on the total size of its U.S. government debt holdings.

“Let’s not assume they’re bluffing” about threatening to retaliate, said Marc Chandler, the global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. “The Saudis are under a lot of pressure. I’d say that we don’t do ourselves justice if we underestimate our liabilities” to big holders.

Saudi Arabia, which has long provided free health care, gasoline subsidies, and routine pay raises to its citizens with its petroleum wealth, already faces a brutal fiscal crisis.

In the past year alone, the monetary authority has burned through $111 billion of reserves to plug its biggest budget deficit in a quarter-century, pay for costly wars to defeat the Islamic State, and wage proxy campaigns against Iran. Though oil has stabilized at about $50 a barrel (from less than $30 earlier this year), it’s still far below the heady years of $100-a-barrel crude.

Saudi Arabia’s situation has become so acute the kingdom is now selling a piece of its crown jewel-state oil company Saudi Aramco.[Most read] The Columbus statues are gone, and there’s no parade or CPS holiday this year. But Chicago Italian Americans say Columbus Day will live on. »

What’s more, the commitment to the decades-old policy of “interdependence” between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which arose from Simon’s debt deal and ultimately bound together two nations that share few common values, is showing signs of fraying. America has taken tentative steps toward a rapprochement with Iran, highlighted by President Barack Obama’s landmark nuclear deal last year. The U.S. shale boom has also made America far less reliant on Saudi oil.

“Buying bonds and all that was a strategy to recycle petrodollars back into the U.S.,” said David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. But politically, “it’s always been an ambiguous, constrained relationship.”

Yet back in 1974, forging that relationship (and the secrecy that it required) was a no-brainer, according to Parsky, who is now chairman of Aurora Capital Group, a private equity firm in Los Angeles. Many of America’s allies, including the U.K. and Japan, were also deeply dependent on Saudi oil and quietly vying to get the kingdom to reinvest money back into their own economies.

“Everyone-in the U.S., France, Britain, Japan-was trying to get their fingers in the Saudis’ pockets,” said Gordon S. Brown, an economic officer with the State Department at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh from 1976 to 1978.

For the Saudis, politics played a big role in their insistence that all Treasury investments remain anonymous.[Most read] Couple seeks to block sale of ‘Windy City Rehab’ host’s Bucktown home »

Tensions still flared 10 months after the Yom Kippur War, and throughout the Arab world, there was plenty of animosity toward the U.S. for its support of Israel. According to diplomatic cables, King Faisal’s biggest fear was the perception Saudi oil money would, “directly or indirectly,” end up in the hands of its biggest enemy in the form of additional U.S. assistance.

Treasury officials solved the dilemma by letting the Saudis in through the back door. In the first of many special arrangements, the U.S. allowed Saudi Arabia to bypass the normal competitive bidding process for buying Treasuries by creating “add-ons.” Those sales, which were excluded from the official auction totals, hid all traces of Saudi Arabia’s presence in the U.S. government debt market.

“When I arrived at the embassy, I was told by people there that this is Treasury’s business,” Brown said. “It was all handled very privately.”

By 1977, Saudi Arabia had accumulated about 20 percent of all Treasuries held abroad, according to The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets by Columbia University’s David Spiro.

Another exception was carved out for Saudi Arabia when the Treasury started releasing monthly country-by-country breakdowns of U.S. debt ownership. Instead of disclosing Saudi Arabia’s holdings, the Treasury grouped them with 14 other nations, such as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria, under the generic heading “oil exporters”-a practice that continued for 41 years.[Most read] Chicago Cubs roster outlook for 2021: Who will return and who will be gone? »

The system came with its share of headaches. After the Treasury’s add-on facility was opened to other central banks, erratic and unpublicized foreign demand threatened to push the U.S. over its debt limit on several occasions.

An internal memo, dated October 1976, detailed how the U.S. inadvertently raised far more than the $800 million it intended to borrow at auction. At the time, two unidentified central banks used add-ons to buy an additional $400 million of Treasuries each. In the end, one bank was awarded its portion a day late to keep the U.S. from exceeding the limit.

Most of these maneuvers and hiccups were swept under the rug, and top Treasury officials went to great lengths to preserve the status quo and protect their Middle East allies as scrutiny of America’s biggest creditors increased.

Over the years, the Treasury repeatedly turned to the International Investment and Trade in Services Survey Act of 1976-which shields individuals in countries where Treasuries are narrowly held-as its first line of defense.

The strategy continued even after the Government Accountability Office, in a 1979 investigation, found “no statistical or legal basis” for the blackout. The GAO didn’t have power to force the Treasury to turn over the data, but it concluded the U.S. “made special commitments of financial confidentiality to Saudi Arabia” and possibly other OPEC nations.[Most read] The 25 best pizzas in Chicago — from scrappy newcomers to beloved classics »

Simon, who had by then returned to Wall Street, acknowledged in congressional testimony that “regional reporting was the only way in which Saudi Arabia would agree” to invest using the add-on system.

“It was clear the Treasury people weren’t going to cooperate at all,” said Stephen McSpadden, a former counsel to the congressional subcommittee that pressed for the GAO inquiries. “I’d been at the subcommittee for 17 years, and I’d never seen anything like that.”

Today, Parsky says the secret arrangement with the Saudis should have been dismantled years ago and was surprised the Treasury kept it in place for so long. But even so, he has no regrets.

Doing the deal “was a positive for America.”