In East Africa, hopes are high that the long-running Somali conflict will soon abate with the United Nations Security Council’s approval Monday of tougher sanctions against Eritrea. The nation is accused of supporting Somali militants, including al-Shabab. For its part, Eritrea denies the allegations and calls the sanctions “illegal and unjust.”
Analysts and some of those involved in the long-running Somali conflict say they are hoping for a quick end to the fighting following Monday’s decision by the United Nations Security Council.
Among those expressing optimism is Colonel Felix Kulayigye, a spokesman for the Ugandan army, whose troops are in Somalia under the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM.
“Normally, sanctions are supposed to reduce the capability of the affected country in its financial muscle. And, therefore, if Eritrea faces sanctions, if they are comprehensive enough, that means it will have not a spare penny to spend on negative elements,” said Kulayigye.
Somalia’s neighbors, such as Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, have long accused Eritrea of funding the Islamist militant group al-Shabab and other armed opposition groups, which are battling AMISOM and the Somali transitional government.
In July, a United Nations Monitoring Group released a report detailing Eritrea's political, financial, training, and logistical support.
Analyst Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, head of the research group Southlink, said he thinks Western-backed forces battling Somali rebel groups will soon get their big break.
“If the sanctions become effective on Eritrea, what I’m sure is that they can easily defeat those militia within Somalia,” said Abdisamad.
He said he thinks the sanctions will have an impact on what he calls the “Eritrean route." These are flights between the Somali coastal city of Kismayo and the Eritrean capital of Asmara, which he said are used to transport support to the rebels.
Sanctions effectiveness questioned
Sanctions levied against Eritrea, though, will have negative effects on Eritrea’s people and development, said Girma Asmerom, Eritrean Ambassador to the African Union.
“Where everybody is talking Millennium Development Goals, sustainable development, alleviating poverty, where do they expect Eritrea - which is not dependent on foreign aid - where do they expect Eritrea to achieve all this if they are sanctioning its natural resources. Is God or Allah going to throw it from the sky? So this kind of sanctions are, again, a crime against any developing country,” he said.
Girma also said he would not wish these sanctions on any of his neighboring countries, and said he thinks the whole region will suffer as a result of the sanctions.
In a press release, Eritrea rejects what it calls the United Nations’ “illegal and unjust” sanctions.
Analysts generally agree that Eritrean involvement in Somalia has very little to do with Somali politics, but is more about the relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
'Proxy war' with Ethiopia alleged
Emmanuel Kisiangani, senior researcher with the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, calls Eritrea’s involvement in Somalia a “proxy war” with Ethiopia.
The two countries have had a longstanding border conflict over an area called Badme, with brutal warfare between the two at one point.
Kisiangani also noted that in 2006, Ethiopian forces entered Somalia to back the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government fighting a group called the Islamic Courts Union. At the same time, Eritrea went in and began supporting elements that were to eventually become al-Shabab.
“Eritrea has had differences with Ethiopia over the Badme border region, which the Court of Arbitration at The Hague awarded to Eritrea, a decision which Ethiopia has not respected," said Kisiangani. "It all boils down to the two actors supporting different parties. It is only that Ethiopia has played its cards well and what it does is acceptable to the international community.”
Girma said his country supports regional integration because all countries need to rely on each other for their development.
“We have never thought to destabilize any of the countries because they are our potential markets, they are our assets, we want a strong, viable Ethiopia,” he said.
He called the view that Eritrea is supporting al-Shabab “lies and deceptions,” and said Eritrea has never, and will never, support al-Shabab.