Institute for Security Studies (ISS) – An Outfit in Desperate Need of Reform

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If ISS wants to remain a relevant voice in the UN reform process, it needs to clean its own house first.

If Institute for Security Studies (ISS) wants to remain a relevant voice in the UN reform process, it needs to clean its own house first
ISS should not be allowed to use its consultative status to disseminate false and unsubstantiated allegations about Eritrea or any other member state as it will threaten its UN standing as well as integrity and reputation as a reliable think tank.


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that as the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to develop, it is concerned about scams, negligent business practice, and misinformation.

In a recent UNCTAD article, Pamela Coke Hamilton and Teresa Moreira write:

“… [T]here are pestilences and there are victims”, wrote Albert Camus in the Plague, “and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.” Today, there are those joining forces with the COVID-19 pandemic…”

That reminded me of something I read a few weeks ago. It was supposed to be an analysis, but it came off as something of an indictment against Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia, for making peace, for trying to work for cooperation as opposed to competition, for partnership as opposed to brinksmanship, and most of all, for trying to replace peacelessness in the region with stable peace.

Reading the UNCTAD article about concerns for misinformation, and the adage by Albert Camus, it reminded me of a familiar Amharic saying. It goes something like this, የገበያ ግርግር ለሌባ ይበጃል, loosely translated, it means, the mayhem at the market place, or in this case, the global pestilences, is suitable for thieves and information launderers.

As has been stated many times, the change that swept the Horn region in 2018 is not sitting well with those who were accustomed to calling the shots, feeding the narratives, and steering the agendas. Even in Ethiopia, while there has been a change in the leadership at the government level, remnants of the previous decadent TPLF minority regime still linger. These remnants are found in the various enterprises it established across the country in the last 27 years.

They include pseudo research and academic institutions, and worst in the international think tanks such as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), which it managed to infiltrate and poison. Today, it seems there are some at ISS that insist on spreading misinformation and mal-information. Pestilences that undermine the credibility and reliability of global reports.

The Pretoria headquartered think tank is familiar to Eritreans as Eritrea has been the subject of its many analysis, articles, and reports in the past 20 years. Others may recognize it for its initiative “Elect the Council”, calling on UN Security Council reform, to “retrieve its legitimacy and relevance”. While it has produced several noteworthy publications, there were many that threatened to blemish its reputation and standing. ISS claims “to build knowledge and skills that secure Africa’s future,” but its publications on the Eritrea Ethiopia conflict, the Horn of Africa, and its regional organizations, have totally missed their mark.

More often than not, analysis produced by ISS interns, researchers, etc. reflected a one-sided anti-Eritrea narrative. A cursory look at its publications on Eritrea shows that a majority of them were authored by Ethiopians, and overwhelmingly by Ethiopian analysts and researchers closely associated with the former TPLF regime in Ethiopia.

The ISS has branch offices outside of South Africa where it is headquartered, and Ethiopia is one of them. Over the years, the Ethiopian branch has disseminated many reports (more like narratives) about Eritrea and its leadership.

So in a way, it is no surprise that it would seek to sneak one in at this time. Institutions like the ISS are relied on to provide independent policy analysis and scholarship, but unfortunately, the ISS’s record on Eritrea remains biased. The injurious TPLF narratives about Eritrea, its people, and leadership, marinated in these institutions remain pervasive.

Today, adding insult to injury, it has produced yet another ignominious report. But today, its regurgitation of past analysis, and outright misrepresentation of the facts, can no longer be ignored, as it is precisely these kinds of erroneous analysis that kept the Horn of Africa on the brink for decades on end.

The long-winded incongruent “analysis” “Is another regional alliance what the Horn needs?” makes much ado about nothing. Not sure what it is trying to say about the “alliance” between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

The “analysis” is written by Selam Tadesse Demissie, a research officer at the ISS branch in Addis Ababa. A repeat offender when it comes to Eritrea. This one seems to be in defense of the indefensible – the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Without providing any evidence to substantiate her allegations, relying on hearsay and innuendos, Tadesse seems to want to blame Eritrea for IGAD’s failures. Tadesse’s “analysis” begins with this:

“…The new regional cooperation between Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia comes amid a long history of distrust and unresolved boundary disputes between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Djibouti and Eritrea, and Kenya and Somalia…”

One cannot fudge history at whim. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary dispute was been legally resolved when the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission established pursuant to the Algiers Agreements signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2000, delivered its final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions in 2002 and 2007 respectively.

Whilst the previous TPLF-led regime in Ethiopia rejected the EEBC’s ruling, the new government in Ethiopia, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, has said that it will fully abide by Ethiopia’s international commitments under the Algiers Agreements.

The writer ought to know about Ethiopia’s colonial history, not just its annexation and occupation of Eritrea, but the annexation of the Ogaden from Somalia too. The Kenya and Somalia issue is also of a similar colonial-era problem. Issues in the Horn are every intertwined and one cannot cherry-pick and use partial facts at will.

Contrary to what she implies in her introduction, there is “no long history of mistrust”. What existed is ugly machinations to create a wedge between brotherly states in the region by external forces and their lackeys in the region.

Today, the newfound peace has borne new dynamics in the region. Restoring and enhancing the trust and cooperation that is needed to better the lives of all the peoples will take time and conscious work.

Amongst the deluge, Tadesse repeats another false narrative on Eritrea, manufactured by the TPLF regime. How TPLF and its surrogates took advantage of the US’ global war on terror to advance its own myopic agendas in the region is a matter of record. But here is what Tadesse attempts to peddle:

“…Since 2006, Somalia has accused Eritrea of supporting the Islamic militant rival group to the transitional government in Mogadishu while Ethiopian troops were supporting the latter…”

The accusations against Eritrea were manufactured by the TPLF regime in Ethiopia and its handlers. According to the WikiLeaks documents, the story about Eritreans fighting alongside militants in Somali came from the TPLF regime’s “Somalia-watcher” Fiseha Shawel.

TPLF fed erroneous facts to the UN Monitoring Group, to think tanks, to the NGO and media community. Despite the erroneous accusations, and the imposition of a decade long unjust and illegal sanctions, the UN monitoring group were unable to find any evidence to support the allegations against Eritrea.

Suffice it to recall the comments made by H.E. Dumisani Kumalo, South African Ambassador to the United Nations, and Chairman of the U.N. Security Council’s Somalia Sanctions Committee to Reuters on 23 May 2008:

“… corruption in the lawless Horn of Africa country was rampant…” elements” of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) were involved in arms trafficking activities, which have the potential to undermine the peace process…Eighty percent of ammunition available at the Somali arms markets was supplied by TFG and Ethiopian troops…continued presence of Ethiopian troops on Somali territory as a violation of the arms embargo” on Somalia, where warlords, Islamist insurgents, and Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces clash almost daily…The monitoring committee received details of some 25 military flights by Ethiopia into Somalia and knew that Ethiopian troops had brought military equipment into the country to arm “friendly clans… Arms and military hardware are mainly transported to Somalia by boat and airplane, but traffickers also use horses and donkeys, making shipments difficult to track…”

As for Ethiopia “supporting the latter”, that was the biggest policy mistake in the region, a mistake that has had huge ramifications for the region that reverberate until today. It was in violation of UN Resolution 1744 that Ethiopia-under the TPLF regime- that invaded and occupied Somalia in 2006. That invasion resulted in the humanitarian catastrophe that ensued. Millions were displaced from their homes and villages and thousands killed and maimed. The TPLF’s excesses contributed to the peacelessness in the region and the policy failures at IGAD.

Had Tadesse bothered to refer to ISS’s own archives, she would not have contradicted its analysis. The analyst ought to read this balanced analysis, “A Confluence of Interests in the Search for Peace in Somalia”.

It clearly states:

“…the issues raised by Eritrea, such as the notion that external forces are manipulating IGAD and that Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia needs a different approach, deserve attention, if sustainable peace is to be achieved in Somalia in the long term…”

Fortunately, the brotherly relations between Eritrea and Somalia have remained close, despite TPLF’s attempts to create a wedge between them. For 27 years the TPLF, its handlers, and surrogates burnt the midnight oil producing articles, reports, etc. to malign Eritrea and its leadership and silence it. Today, Eritrea’s mature and measured voice resonates, despite the cyber tantrums of the TPLF and its minions.

Tadesse seems to insinuate an ulterior motive when she writes:

“…In September 2018, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia held their first meeting to build comprehensive cooperation, resulting in a joint commitment to build closer political, economic, social, and security ties and promote regional peace and security…Many observers have wondered about the motivation behind this new alliance and its impact on interstate relations in the Horn of and East Africa, and what it means for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional body…More than any other time, the Horn requires a strong regionally coherent bloc that articulates and negotiates the interests of its over 282 million citizens. In the face of security threats such as political conflicts, terrorism, drought, and external powers’ interference, the new alliance will only be useful if it complements and strengthens IGAD, rather than creating disharmony with other member states…”

There is absolutely no doubt that the Horn region deserves better than what IGAD has offered in the last 20 years. As for “external powers’ interference”, now that is laughable. IGAD itself allowed and invited external interference in the Horn region. This excerpt from a November 2009 WikiLeaks document says it best:

“…IGAD allows the international community to put an “African face” on efforts to confront issues in the East Africa region. Working under the IGAD banner offers regional legitimacy to international programs…”

Furthermore, it is well within the purview of states to create alliances that better serve the interests of their peoples, and unfortunately, IGAD’s record in the region is rather bleak. It is not the time for IGAD or anyone else to launch assaults at Eritrea, Ethiopia or Somalia for making peace. It is instead, a time for greater retrospection. How can a new alliance weaken an already inept and weak organization?

Tadesse should do less finger-pointing and analyze why IGAD was unable to represent the interests of the “the vast and diverse East African region”, and why IGAD remains ill-equipped to handle “the complexities and tensions in an already fraught region”, or reduce them.

As for its future, it would be very hard for the countries to trust an organization that benefitted from the interstate conflicts and chaos of the past. IGAD brought to question its own credibility, integrity and whatever the countries in the region decide to do to advance their own national interests can never be predicated on IGAD’s existence. After all, if an organization, such as the League of Nations, an international organization with far bigger and wider representation and reach can be abolished…so can IGAD. But it would be dishonest to blame its failures on any new alliance or grouping in the region.

Does IGAD have the tools and the wherewithal to defend the region against external intrusions today? Why was IGAD easily employed by TPLF and its handlers to engineer sanctions against a member state? What were its institutional weaknesses? Why did it’s “security sector and counter-terrorism” programs fail in the region? Why was it not able to prevent crisis in the Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia? Why did it serve as the “African Face” for external powers?

It is well-known that the TPLF regime and its cadres, who controlled most of the IGAD organs, were the main beneficiaries of IGADs projects in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, and not the people of the region. The people continued to suffer as wrong and inadequate responses to conflicts and extreme humanitarian emergencies were imposed. The TPLF regime’s reckless internal and external policies, its invasion and occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories, and its 2006 invasion and occupation of Somalia contributed to the 27-year long peacelessness that defined the region. At the helm of IGAD, TPLF cadres, bonifide conflict entrepreneurs, created NGOs and funneled funds into their own coffers in name of peacebuilding, mediation, and research. Why didn’t IGAD act to stop the TPLF’s excesses?

On Eritrea, it should be recalled that in December 2009, with IGAD under Ethiopia’s leadership, working in tandem with Susan Rice, the then US Ambassador to the United Nations, engineered the illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions against Eritrea. IGAD delegation met several times with the UN Security Council and presented inaccurate information about Eritrea, its people, and the government.

IGAD was not worried about regional integration and the people’s welfare when it advised the UN Security Council to cut off remittances from the Eritrean Diaspora. IGAD was not worried about regional peace and security when it looked the other way as Ethiopia invaded and occupied Somalia. When Ethiopia refused to accept the final and binding decisions of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission, IGAD remained silent and refused to press Ethiopia to abide by its international obligations.

IGAD, under Ethiopia’s Chairmanship from 2008-2018, became a cash cow for TPLFs schemes in the region- from peacekeeping to mediation. The millions amassed by TPLF cadres serving in the various IGAD organs is an open secret. IGAD’s failures to defend the rights of member states, failure to promote the economic, political interests of its member states contributed to its weakness, and its fledgling credibility and integrity, and undermined the confidence of its members. The revitalization of IGAD should not mean business as usual, maintaining the status quo.

The Horn of Africa needs organizations that address the needs of their peoples and the most pressing issues of peace, stability, and security for all. Failure of IGAD’s inability to achieve its stated policy objectives- vis a vis Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia may render it irrelevant as the region seeks to consolidate the gains it has made thus far.

IGAD violated its own principles on the sovereign equality of all Member States; Non-interference in the internal affairs of Member States; The peaceful settlement of inter- and intra-State conflicts through dialogue; Maintenance of regional peace, stability and security; etc. Revitalization of IGAD means getting rid of its obsolete initiatives and processes and really reforming if it wants to remain relevant in the region.

Despite the many violations against Eritrea and its peoples, Eritrea was prepared to return to IGAD in 2011 and resume its rightful place, but its delegation was denied participation by Ethiopia, whilst the other IGAD members remained mute.

It is quite disingenuous and pretentious to now speak of IGAD as if it were an organization that served the interests of all the peoples in the region. Its record speaks loud and clear and the discord and dysfunction within IGAD cannot be blamed on the “new alliance”, or Eritrea.

At a time when UN member states are working hard to reform the UN, how this organization interacts with think tanks and NGOs will be important. Those most suitable for working in conjunction with the UN and its subsidiaries are those that are transparent, and do not push narrow ideological and political agendas, have the capability to produce substantiated reports that are based on credible sources, and use a single universal standard applied equally to all countries.

Politicized groups with biased agendas are not part of the solution to the problems plaguing the UN today, they are part of the problem. If ISS wants to remain a relevant voice in the UN reform process, it needs to clean its own house first. Continued attacks on a UN member state risks jeopardizing its long-held ECOWOS consultative status. Eritrea’s magnanimity should not be mistaken for weakness.

It is also not clear why ISS would jeopardize its reputation and standing by repeatedly producing inflammatory reports against Eritrea, a UN member state. It will only further undermine its credibility and integrity. Africa’s future cannot be secured by misrepresenting facts and repeating false narratives.

ISS needs to retain its independence to truly be a credible influencer of policy and to be trusted by the UN and other international organizations, as a channel for dialogue. It should stop serving as a mouthpiece for TPLF and its coteries.

ISS should not be allowed to use its consultative status under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to disseminate false and unsubstantiated allegations about Eritrea or any other member state.

The ECOSOC consultative status confers groups such as ISS with significant power and influence including the ability to recommend agenda items and participate at UN meetings, submit written statements to official UN bodies, and provides these agencies forum to share new ideas. Unless ISS addresses problems within its own organization, it will threaten its UN standing, as well as its integrity and reputation as a reliable think tank.

Its ECOSOC consultative status should not be abused to provide remnants of the TPLF regime and its partners in the region, a forum to promote anti-Eritrea agendas masked in the rhetoric of “peace and security”, “war on terrorism”, etc.

A bit of advice for Selam Tadesse Demissie, if she wants to build her credibility as an analyst in the region. She ought to use reliable, verifiable sources, talk directly to the main actors. Eritrea and Somalia have embassies in Addis, and the last time I checked, PM Abiy still leaves in Ethiopia, so no excuses for the lazy “cut and paste” analysis.

Parroting unsubstantiated allegations against African states without adequate knowledge and reference is unacceptable. Undermining others to elevate Ethiopia’s stature in the region is no longer the game in town. Respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, abiding by agreements signed, non-interference in the domestic affairs of states, cooperation, and integration based on mutual respect remains the only way forward.