Reports are beginning to circulate that as part the deal President Isaias struck with Somalia in Ethiopia, he is preparing to deploy troops to support the government in Mogadishu.
There is no confirmation at the moment that this is about to take place. But, as Kjetil Tronvoll remarks, if it did take place it would mean an end to plans to reduce the length of National Service, which currently continues indefinitely.
Sending Eritrean troops to Somalia would – of course – solve one of President Isaias’s dilemmas: what to do with thousands of demobilised young men and women, for whom he has no work. Having them hang around towns, including Asmara, could prove very difficult. With nothing to do and all day to do it they might become restless and law and order could evaporate.
Eritrea’s forgotten wars
Far better to send them on another foreign adventure.
This would not be Eritrea’s first international intervention: it has had a number of forgotten wars since independence.
These include conflicts in:
Back into Somalia
President Isaias invervened in Somalia in the past.
The previous occassion followed the re-location of Somalia’s Islamic Courts to Eritrea in 2007, after the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia.
Eritrea subsequently sent advisers and military equipment to the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, which arose out of the Islamic Courts.
As the UN Monitors put it in their 2011 report to the Security Council: “Asmara’s continuing relationship with Al-Shabaab, for example, appears designed to legitimize and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process. Moreover, Eritrean involvement in Somalia reflects a broader pattern of intelligence and special operations activity, including training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Sudan and possibly Uganda in violation of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009).”
In President Isaias’s own words
Although the president later denied supporting Al-Shabaab, this was not always his position. As he declared in 2009: “We support all resistance from anyone in Somalia.”
This came in an interview with Channel 4 – the independent British news channel.
This is what he said:
In an interview with Channel 4 News Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki defended Somalia’s militants saying that as his country supported all Somalis it would be a “mistake” to limit this support to “one or two groups.”
“We support all resistance from anyone in Somalia,” he said.
“Somalis have worked with outside forces for money for fame for what have you. They have collaborated with outsiders, we are against collaborators – we are with Somalis.”
“You may not agree with the ideology of al-Shabaab, Somalis may not agree with the ideology of al-Shabab but it’s up to them to have their own ideology. You need to respect their choice.
“Categorising anyone political group as terrorist isn’t qualified as a common understanding of that qualification. Now, anyone in any government will call an opposition a terrorist organisation.”
Mr Afwerki claimed that the United States and its allies had “created a situation of chaos in Somalia by providing weapons” to warlords but that he didn’t think a culture of blame was the solution.
“I wish we had the resource and we had the ability to support Somali resistance in any way. Physically, it hasn’t been possible. Theoretically, we may want to see that happen.
“We don’t want to get into this cycle of accusations and counter-accusations on who’s being supplying this or that faction in Somalia for the last 20 years.
“We would like resistance to succeed in Somalia and Somalis to be left alone to find a solution for their own problems without an external intervention.
“If you agree to that, pull out from Somalia. Don’t supply weapons to warlords. Don’t divide and weaken Somalia. You leave Somalia to Somalis and Somalis will find a solution for themselves. As long as this conflict continues, we remain supportive of the resistance in Somalia in any form.”
Intervention in 2019
If the report quoted at the start of this article is correct, and the Eritreans go into Somalia again, it will be on the other side.
They will be backing President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” – not Al-Shabaab.
However this would not alter one fact: young Eritreans would be dying in a foreign land.
That has been the pattern of foreign policy followed by President Isaias since 1991: he is unlikely to change.