- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Aiding Eritrea

The ambassador from Eritrea yesterday insisted that his country values foreign assistance from the United States but has major problems with how that aid is spent.

Ambassador Girma Asmerom said Eritrea wants to become self-sufficient and not end up like other African nations that are addicted to foreign aid. He said his government wants to direct more assistance to programs that will bring long-term benefits to the impoverished nation in the Horn of Africa.

“We are not rejecting U.S. aid or any foreign aid,” he told Embassy Row. “We are rejecting the old and traditional methodology of foreign aid.”

Mr. Asmerom said his government has reviewed the billions that have been spent on aid throughout Africa in the 20th century and noted that the money has done little to end poverty.

“We’re not going into that black hole,” he said, referring to overdependence on foreign assistance. “Eritrea should be commended for this position, not misunderstood.”

The ambassador said reports on his government’s complaints about the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have distorted Eritrea’s position on foreign aid.

In Eritrea yesterday, the government repeated its request that the United States close the office of the USAID office in the capital, Asmara. However, National Development Minister Woldai Futur said his government does not want the United States, the biggest donor food aid, to cut off the assistance.

“The decision is irreversible,” he told the Agence France-Presse, referring to the request for the closure of the USAID office.

He added, “It is our hope that the departure of USAID would not result in the stoppage of emergency assistance and development assistance to Eritrea.”

Embassy Row earlier this week reported on the reaction of U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi, who expressed his disappointment over Eritrea’s decision on the USAID office but said the United States will honor the government’s wishes.

Mr. Futur told Mr. DeLisi last week that Eritrea wants more control over the expenditure of foreign aid, calling for the “ownership of programs.”

Eritrea “strongly believes that assistance and partnership have to be supportive of Eritrea’s aspiration to be self-reliant, as well as affirmative of its desire to assure ownership of programs,” Mr. Futur said in an Aug. 24 letter released yesterday by the Eritrean Embassy.

He repeatedly emphasized his government’s appreciation for U.S. assistance, citing the “$200 million worth of food that has been pledged” this year.

“However for the assistance to have full impact, focus is needed on what the government of Eritrea considers pressing needs and priorities,” Mr. Futur said.

He added that Eritrea would like to be able to use the money, itself, to purchase food and farm equipment on the open U.S. market instead of relying on U.S. aid programs to award domestic contracts in the United States.

Mr. Futur yesterday cited the example of the $75 million the United States spent in 2004 on food aid to Eritrea.

“The U.S. buys its food from the U.S. market, so it is a subsidy to U.S. farmers, a very high price. It transports the food in U.S. vessels, which cost you four times as much,” he said.

Azeri opposition

The leader of the political opposition in Azerbaijan yesterday urged visiting members of the U.S. Senate to insist on free and fair parliamentary elections next month.

Indiana Republican Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama, a committee member, met with Isa Gambar of the Musavat Party at the end of a tour that included stops in Russia and Ukraine.

Mr. Gambar told reporters in the capital, Baku, that the visit will send a message to President Ilham Aliyev that Washington will closely monitor the Nov. 6 election.

“I hope their presence here will send a clear signal to the Aliyev government that fraud and intimidation will not be tolerated,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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