Eritrea contradicted the “Africa Rising” narrative in a United Nations address on Saturday, with the Horn of Africa nation cautioning that talk of an African Renaissance, of fastest growing economies, is misplaced and premature.
“We should not flatter ourselves, or allow others to flatter us,” Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed declared.
“Africa remains a producer and small-bit exporter of primary products,” he said, adding that “the most marginalised of all continents” benefits little from trade skewed in favour of non-African companies.
Mohammed observed that: “Processing of primary products, value-addition, industrialisation, technology development barely exist.”
In an unusually caustic speech at the annual gathering of world leaders in New York, Mr Mohammed said Africa will not take “its rightful place in the world” until its level of development more accurately reflects its great potential.
Africa must address the relative weakness of its economies, infrastructure, health and educational institutions, as well as its artistic, scientific and technological output, the Eritrean minister urged.
“More importantly, the quality of life of its citizens” must be improved, he said.
The way forward, Mr Mohammed suggested, is by resisting “ethnic polarisation and rampant corruption” while relying mainly on Africa’s own resources.
He pointed to his own country as an example of what can potentially be achieved despite an unjust international order in which “a small minority holds the reins of power and wealth”.
Eritrea, he said, “has faced demonisation, ostracisation, sanctions and armed aggression”.
This sustained hostility has slowed Eritrea’s progress but has not halted it, the minister told the UN General Assembly.
Mr Mohammed reiterated his country’s call for lifting UN sanctions imposed in 2009.
The Security Council took that action partly in response to Eritrea’s alleged support for Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
Assessments by UN experts in recent years have found no evidence of Eritrean assistance for the Islamist fighters.
Human rights violations inside Eritrea are persistent and egregious, UN monitors have reported.
These abuses are so severe, a UN commission found in June, that they amount to “crimes against humanity”.
In his speech on Saturday, Mr Mohammed asked the Security Council to put an end to what he described as Ethiopia’s 15-year-long occupation of Eritrean territory, saying it represents a “flagrant violation of international law”.