A Shift in Eritrean Regional Policy?

Barry Malone at Reuters says Eritrea is taking a less confrontational line toward its neighbors:

In recent months, some analysts say they’ve detected a “softening”.

[President] Isaias [Afewerki] reached out to Djibouti and a peace deal was struck. He sounded more conciliatory tones towards neighbours in interviews. His foreign minister went on a serious hand-shaking spree on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Uganda.

And, last weekend, a meeting took place that surprised many. Isaias welcomed UN special representative for Somalia, Augustini Mahiga, to his capital Asmara for talks. The Eritreans could not have been more diplomatic in their statement afterwards.

“President Isaias pointed out that the UN has a higher responsibility to find a peaceful solution for the Somali issue and expressed Eritrea’s full support for the initiatives being taken by the world body,” a statement posted on an Eritrean government website said.

“Moreover, President Isaias expressed his conviction that the Somali issue would be resolved in a politically inclusive manner and emphasized the UN’s responsibility in creating conducive grounds for the Somalis to resolve their differences.”

Some analysts see the moves as proof that Eritrea – on the brink of a potentially lucrative gold mining boom – is worried about becoming isolated. It has also tried to forge friendships with Qatar, Iran, Israel and Egypt.

Malone asks whether the shift is purely tactical, echoing a statement that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gave to him. My questions would be, rather, how much of a shift has occurred? And if a major one, then why? It strikes me that most of the changes relate in some way to Somalia (Djibouti hosts French and American soldiers, after all). If thousands of Ugandan troops are going to pour into Mogadishu, and if America is going to increase its involvement in Somalia, perhaps the Eritrean government wants to make sure it ends up on the right side of the struggle. Is Eritrea just putting a finger to the wind?

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