|Yared Bekele Mekonnen||March 24th 2008|
As an Ethiopian-American, I read with great interest your recent article focusing upon Rep. Donald Payne's embrace of terror-state Eritrea at the expense of U.S. allies Ethiopia and Somalia.
I offer my congratulations to The Cutting Edge News for truly living up to your name and delivering the cutting edge revelation of Rep. Payne's trip to Asmara. I do not recall reading about his strikingly low-profile visit to that terror-sponsoring regime in any other U.S. media outlet.
I share Abdirahman Warsame's righteous indignation regarding both the trip itself, as well as Payne's “misguided” vision for the Horn of Africa. I can only scratch my head in wonderment at how an individual clearly so out of step with rational U.S. Africa policies has managed to find himself in such a powerful position.
Evidence of just how detached Rep. Payne appears to be from reality emerged last week during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy options for the Horn of Africa. The transcript that I read of the hearing suggests that it was a wide-ranging conversation that competently illustrated the complex dynamics in the Horn, and explored how critical the region is in terms of American interests in Africa.
If there was one central theme that seemed to run through the testimony of the senior U.S. officials called upon to testify before the committee, it was the overwhelmingly negative role that Eritrea continues to play.
In her prepared statement and in answer to questions from the senators, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer assailed Eritrea, saying its human rights record is “deplorable and is steadily declining” and accusing the regime of sponsoring instability in neighboring nations and undermining the efforts of U.N. peacekeepers along its border with Ethiopia.
I found it heartening to hear a top administration official speaking the truth about a country that restricts religious freedom and has been accused of detaining, torturing and deporting members of minority religious parties, according to the State Department's 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.
Frazer also provided extensive evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and terrorist groups operating in Somalia that are funded, armed and trained by Eritrea. Just days after the hearing, the State Department added one of the deadliest of these groups, al-Shabaab to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organizations.
With Eritrean support, al-Shabaab has undermined regional stability in the Horn of Africa by threatening Somali civilians and shooting and bombing Ethiopian and African Union troops and Somali political leaders trying to stabilize Mogadishu.
Surely Rep. Payne has access to the same information as the State Department regarding Eritrea's support for such repugnant terrorism. So how can it be that he seems so hell-bent on embracing this rogue regime and attacking Ethiopia?
The senators in attendance at the hearing asked tough questions of the administration's representatives and certainly challenged their approach to the Horn of Africa. However, not a single senator seemed to even remotely suggest that the United States should shift its alliance away from its proven ally Ethiopia and toward Eritrea. In fact, HR 2003 - the official number of the legislation introduced by Payne that would threaten the U.S.- Ethiopian relationship - was not mentioned even a single time during the course of the two-hour long hearing.
As a supporter of a strong U.S. - Ethiopian relationship, I hope that this is a signal that the Senate will not be so quick to take up Payne's bill, which Mr. Warsame correctly noted is a thinly disguised attempt to undercut American support for Ethiopia and drive America toward a partnership with the terror-sponsoring state of Eritrea.
Thanks in large part to The Cutting Edge News, the unbridled animus of Donald Payne toward Ethiopia and his clear affection for Eritrea (as evidenced by his slinking off to Asmara below the radar screen during a Congressional recess) is no longer a secret. Armed with the facts, the American public is wholly justified in questioning Payne's motives and judging him by his actions.
Yared Bekele Mekonnen
The writer is vice chairman of the Ethiopian American Forum.