Eritrea: There Is No Such Thing As “Smart” Sanctions

Eritrea Asmara Mining ProjetLast Thursday, a U.N. Security Council draft called for sanctions including an arms embargo against Eritrea. The alleged sanction in the name of “aiding Islamist insurgents in Somalia” targets at travel bans and asset freezes for government officials and military leaders.

However, there are also claims that the call for sanctions against Eritrea touches on trade barriers for protecting its domestic market. U.N. diplomats said that the resolution was drafted by temporary Security Council member Uganda and has been circulated to other members of the 15-nation panel.

IGAD is supporting the sanction strongly. IGAD member States include – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. The accusation against Eritrea claims supplying al Shabaab rebels with money and weapons to Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

The draft includes the ban of all sales of weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts  to Asmara. Besides, it is targeting technical assistance, training, financial and other assistance, related to the military activities.”

Eritrea denies supporting al Shabaab and has said that the threat of U.N. sanctions is of “no concern at all’’. However, the Security Council, African Union (AU) and United States insist that Eritrea is destabilizing Somalia. They accuse Asmara of sending plane- and boatloads of munitions to Somali rebels, as well as providing them with logistical support.

Yet it is not clear when the council would vote on the resolution. Nevertheless, diplomats call for the need to revise the case to avoid a veto from China and Russia, which are not pro-sanctions.

Reuters reports that ‘’the resolution would authorize U.N. member states to inspect “all cargo to and from Somalia and Eritrea” via land and sea if there were grounds to suspect that the cargo included banned items.’’

However, the draft is not clear and lacks substance. First of all, the council has yet not provided any evidence on ground regarding the case to the public. Besides, the accusations should not include the issue of trade barriers. The US by itself protects its farmers through subsidies and the same goes to the European Union killing many subsistence farmers in the third world who do not have the capability to compete.

It is very tempting to draw the line between “smart sanctions” and “smart bombs”.  The new “smart bomb”, which helps to shape new geo-political and economic realities, is called “smart sanction” and can hit a specific target like a precision guided munition. They call it modern warfare and it’s like star wars.

Some analyst caution that the widespread belief targeted sanctions could not hurt the ordinary population could be misleading.

Perhaps sanctions are not smart at all as the example of a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean comprising of an archipelago of about 322 islands and a population of 849,000 shows.

The state is called Fiji and is ranked number 40 in the list of the world’s smallest countries next to Qatar and Cyprus.

Sugar exports and a strong tourism sector were the backbones of the national economy providing major income from foreign exchange and a strong growth in GDP. In 1999, Australia and New Zealand used to have close ties with Fiji because of business interests in tourism, natural resources and fisheries.

In 2006 a military commander of the armed forces staged a military takeover accusing the prime minister of promoting corruption in the government. It has to be mentioned that there had been two military coups earlier in 1987 and 2000. Nevertheless, as a consequence of the coup in 2006 Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the United States followed by the international community implemented the so called “smart sanctions” against the tiny island state.

Academics at the department of economics at the University of the South Pacific warned the international community to be mindful regarding sanctions as they could be counterproductive and hurt Fiji as a whole. They were referring to developments such as the announcement by the Government of New Zealand to exclude Fiji from a guest worker scheme for seasonal workers and stop issuing scholarships to Fiji students.

The danger of “smart sanctions” becomes also evident in the example of how the European Union dealt with the blurry and distorted definitions of targeted sanctions. For example in 2007 the European Union froze funds used to subsidize sugar farmers in Fiji categorizing them as non-humanitarian aid.

It was the experience made in Fiji that generic travel bans on all citizens serving on government or quasi government boards only seemed to undermine governance and social stability. In a recent statement the Australia Fiji Business Council called the international community to lift travel bans because it limits the ability of both the public and private sector from recruiting and training the best available talents.

The fact is that the public and private business sector heavily depends on the freedom of movement of public servants, government officials and local authorities especially in small countries such as Fiji or Eritrea. “Smart sanctions” do not translate into practice in general, not for citizens in Fiji or in any other country of this world.

As a result of the “smart sanction” Fiji’s sugar exporting industry has been harmed and brought to a still stand, tourism arrivals were down by 6% in 2007. The tourism industry is damaged and facing uncertain recovery time. The fact is that “smart sanctions” target the GDP of a country which is basically the same as targeting the population of a nation.

In 2007 the GDP of Fiji dropped by 7% hurting directly the people of Fiji. In the list of countries ranked by their GDP Fiji dropped by 16 places from number 137 in 2005 to 153 in 2008. The problems between the current Fiji government and the international community have not improved and constructive dialogue has been replaced by tension and mistrust. The latest development is that Fiji is turning its back on the West looking for new allies such as China, which has strategic interests in the Pacific region.

Fact is there is no such thing as “smart sanctions” and isolating Eritrea might make things worse for Eritreans. The good news is there is hope that the permanent UN Security Council member states China and Russia might block any resolution to put sanction against Eritrea in place.

The question is does it make a difference or not? Just recently a student holding an Eritrean passport in Europe told me, “I have been one of the best performer at my University and was competing for a scholarship at my faculty due to a lack of funds. They refused to support me because today it can make a big difference, whether you are Eritrean or Kenyan. There was a time not too long ago you could get scholarships from Universities in places such as Canada, USA, England, Netherlands and Sweden without any problem. This has changed! We are singled out!”

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By Editorial Team