A Tale of Three U.S. Sanctions: One in Africa, Two in the Americas

the AU has little to show for itself
In its decade of existence, the AU has little to show for itself. Its “uselessness” is evident not only in its political impotence and economic ineptitude but also in its failure to defend African common positions in achieving peace and security.


A CURSORY view of the responses of the continental organizations to three U.S. sanctions, one in Africa and the other two in the Americas, shows in a stark way the abysmal lack of independence among the African nations in setting their foreign policies.

The nations in question are Eritrea, Cuba and Venezuela. However, this is not about the targeted nations, and the purpose here is not to focus on the sanctions themselves. The focus here is on the responses of the nations and organizations of the two continents the targeted nations represent to the imposition of the sanctions by the United States — directly or through the United Nations. 

When the United States decided to impose sanctions against the very young nation of Eritrea in 2009 and again in 2011, the African nations and their organizations, from the African Union on down, didn’t seem to have second thoughts about participating in the Washington-driven victimization of this member nation being “punished” for having an independent mind in making its foreign policy. The Obama administration saw Eritrea as being less “directable” — compared to Ethiopia—an African nation that “couldn’t be relied upon to do certain things that Washington might want it to do.” So, when these African nations, individually and collectively, were told to jump, all they wanted to know was “how high!

This shameful chapter in the sad history of the African Union (AU) and its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), opens in 2009 when the Addis Ababa-headquartered organization asked the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on a member nation, Eritrea, without any basis in fact. In addition to undue influence of external powers, this also shows the extent of the influence and political grip of the host country, Ethiopia, Eritrea’s archenemy, over this continental organization. This was also reflected in the clamor for sanctions by the regional organization, IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development), leading up to the AU action. We don’t put a whole lot of stock in this because, as a senior Kenyan parliamentarian put it, “there is no IGAD; IGAD is Ethiopia” with the other nations in the region playing cheer-leading roles. But, we didn’t expect the AU to sink to the level of IGAD.

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Now compare this to the role South and Central American nations have been playing individually and collectively to protect themselves and their member nations from undue pressure and actions from their more powerful neighbor to the north. The current thawing in U.S.-Cuba relations, for example, is the result of decades of opposition from the nations in the region. For example, the last two summits of the Americas were not able to issue joint declarations because of issues relating to Cuba. The South and Central American nations continually put the U.S., which tried to isolate and destabilize Havana, on the defensive on Cuba.

We see this even clearer in Washington’s recent sanctions against another South American nation: Venezuela. Last month, all of the 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) came out against the sanctions. The only nations of the Americas not represented in this 33-member continental organization are Canada and the United States. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has also expressed its strong opposition to the sanctions imposed on Caracas. Even the Organization of American States (OAS), the oldest of the Americans’ organizations and traditionally heavily influenced by the U.S., has not been fully supportive of President Obama’s Executive Order declaring Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national interest.”

This shows the region is in near total opposition to the U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Venezuelan officials in March of this year. Furthermore, many of the South American nations issued individual messages rejecting the sanctions against Caracas.

Some see this as a clear reflection of America’s declining ability to influence the situation in its backyard. As the New York Times put it, “Washington is finding that its leverage in Latin America is limited just when it needs it most, a reflection of how a region that was once a broad zone of American power has become increasingly confident in its ability to act independently.”

Compare all these responses by the nations in the Americas to the shameful role African nations played, except for Libya, when Washington went step-by-step “to teach Eritrea a lesson.”

Susan Rice, the then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had no problem lining up African nations to play parts in this diplomatic drama to camouflage it as an African initiative. First, she got two African member nations of the U.N. Security Council at the time (Uganda and Burkina Faso), to spearhead the process to reinforce the charade that the whole thing was an Africa-driven action. However, secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks indicate otherwise. The cables reveal that

“[Susan] Rice reminded [Uganda’s] Museveni that past experience suggested that the UNSC would not block a resolution led by African members and supported by the African Union. If Burkina Faso and Uganda co-sponsor this resolution, the British will support, the French will ‘keep their heads down and will not block.”

Then two years later, Kenya was one of the nations that were happy to play the part in imposing another politically-motivated sanctions based on even more outrageous lies concocted in Addis Ababa by Ethiopia’s propaganda operatives and their Washington lobbyists. The Kenyan accusations were so outrageous that even the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group — known for being a factory of fabrications itself—dismissed them as groundless. The group “found no evidence to substantiate allegations that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab with arms and ammunition by air in October and November 2011. No evidence to substantiate the allegations that one or more aircraft landed at Baidoa International Airport between 29 October and 3 November 2011, or that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab in Baidoa by air with arms and ammunition during the same period.”

As we said before, these two resolutions were politically motivated and they were based on naked lies and fabricated stories that came out of Ethiopia. A year ago, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and veteran Ambassador Herman Cohen, with years of experience and intimate knowledge of the region, said it well:

Those of us who know Eritrea well, understand that the Eritrean leadership fears Islamic militancy as much as any other country in the Horn of Africa region.

There was no, and there is nointelligence, real or fabricated”, that links Eritrea to Al Shabaab or any form of extremism in the region other than that what the Ethiopians and their Western enablers told us.

For the final word, we will leave it to history that usually judges harshly those who bend the truth and sacrifice those who trusted them to appease the powerful and for some diplomatic crumbs.