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What lies behind China and Russia’s interest in the Eritrean leader?

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Tuesday, 30 May 2023

What lies behind China and Russia’s interest in the Eritrean leader?

Posted byBy Larmbert EbituMay 30, 2023Posted inHorn of AfricaPolitics
What lies behind China and Russia’s interest in the Eritrean leader?
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki is right now a very busy man. Two weeks ago, he completed a 4-day State Visit to China at the invitation of President Xi. Early today, President Afwerki again left for Russia, at the invitation of President Putin for another 4-day State Visit.  These visits have raised eyebrows and sparked curiosity worldwide. What is behind China and Russia’s keen interest in the Eritrean leader? 

Independence from Western Influence

China and Russia’s strategic overtures toward President Isaias Afwerki reflect their intent to forge alliances beyond the confines of Western influence. Historically, African nations have been subject to the interests and impositions of Western powers.

These Western nations have often viewed the African continent through a lens of exploitation and neo-colonialism. However, under President Afwerki’s leadership, Eritrea has demonstrated a degree of autonomy and resistance to such external pressures.
On the contrary, the majority of African leaders are slavishly subservient to Western powers. Their countries operate as client or vessel states for the US and its allies. The Western view influences their governance, economy, and even social perspectives.

Isaias of Eritrea, on the other hand, has consistently proven to be independent of Western influence and opposed to it in Africa. This demonstration of sovereignty and commitment to pursuing Eritrea’s own interests without excessive reliance on foreign powers has earned the respect of Xi and Putin.

Eritrea’s Self-Reliance

Eritrea is perhaps the only country whose economy does not depend on the West. The country’s self-reliance policy, which has earned it the ire of the West, has been described as a model for other countries to emulate. Xi and Putin see President Isaias as proactive and resourceful,
They find Isaias’ emphasis on developing domestic industries, infrastructure, and capabilities, rather than relying heavily on foreign aid or assistance, something unique among most African leaders.

They see in Eritrea’s self-sufficiency an unmatched strength and resilience. They also see a reflection of the struggles their respective nations experienced in the years preceding their economic and political rebirths.

Insistence on engaging as Partners

Since Eritrea’s independence in 1993, President Isaias has adopted a stance of engaging with foreign powers as partners rather than as a client state, setting it apart from most other African countries.

The country has rejected the giver-beggar aid structure that many African nations are subjected to and instead pursued symmetrical partnerships. As a result, Eritrea has enjoyed significant benefits from its relationships with international organizations such as UNDP.
China’s Xi and Russia’s Putin view this desire for more balanced and mutually beneficial relationships as a sustainable approach. They see President Isaias as assertive, principled, and dependable.

This is due to his bold departure from the traditional power dynamics, where one country is dependent on another for economic or political support, a path that most African countries are not actively pursuing.

President Isaias’s incorruptibility

Xi and Putin therefore see in President Isaias, a courageous principled, selfless, incorruptible leader who has refused to sell his country’s natural resources for pennies along with the dignity of his people.

It is not lost on them that President Isaias has indeed resisted Western pressure longer than even they have. So for some reason, the idea that Xi, and now Putin, are projecting President Isaias as an example for the rest of African leaders, holds water.

The West has always leveraged its economic and military power to diminish President Isaias’s influence on Africa and stop the rest from emulating his great governance and economic model. Only recently, the United States renewed its hostilities toward Eritrea. In obviation of this, China and Russia are seeking to platform President Isaias.

Eritrea as a good ‘good example

Former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton once referred to Eritrea as a bad “good example”. This was an admission of Eritrea’s excellent governance and economic path, but also an admission that they did not want the rest of Africa to emulate it.

Everything they did thereafter, was to subdue Eritrea and ensure that its success story never goes beyond Eritrean borders. On the contrary, Russia and China, are trying to give that success story a chance to be seen for what it truly is. They are trying to demonstrate to the rest of Africa, that Eritrea is a good ‘good example’ that they should emulate!

Indeed, today’s visit to Russia comes barely a month before the July Russia-Africa summit to which Putin has invited all African Heads of State. Why is that? Why has Putin chosen to meet President Isaias alone first, when he could just as easily wait and meet him on the sidelines of the upcoming summit?

It is safe to say that Russia, following in the footsteps of China, is aware of Africa’s slavish subservience to the West. Both believe that the only way to awaken the African continent is by supporting the only country whose leaders and people truly understand independence. Perhaps, through the example of Eritrea, other nations will shed the vestiges of colonialism.

Overall, China and Russia’s interest in President Isaias Afwerki transcends mere superficial diplomacy. The allure lies in the Eritrean leader’s independence from Western political influence. It further lies in his pioneering role and potential to spark an awakening of the consciousness of other African nations.

What lies behind China and Russia’s interest in the Eritrean…

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